Braille Monitor                                                                              August-September 1986

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Uldine Thelander Dies

by Ramona Walhof

Note From President Jernigan: This article by Ramona Walhof appeared in the June, 1986, Gem State Milestones, the newsletter of the National Federation of the Blind of Idaho. Uldine Thelander was certainly a respected leader of the blind of Idaho and the nation. She was also greatly loved and respected. I first met her in the 1950's at Idaho conventions. She was sensitive and caring, and she was also the stabilizing force and center of strength of the Idaho affiliate.

Later, when the Idaho Commission for the Blind was being formed, Uldine and I were in constant communication. No sacrifice was too great for her to make if it would make life better for blind people. Because of her advocacy for the blind even though she was a state employee in the program that often exploited the blind, and because of her strong commitment to the Federation, she was often the object of attacks and criticism--but she never wavered; she never asked for recognition; and she never even considered quitting. Uldine served on the Board of Directors of the National Federation of the Blind, and she served with credit.

She was my close, dear friend, and I mourn her passing. However, she led a long, full life, and she left the world better than she found it. May as much be said of all of us.

The following is quoted from the Idaho Statesman, June 1, 1986:

"Mrs. Thelander, a retired state instructor for the blind, was born Uldine Jesse Gartin on January 13, 1898, at Jordan Valley, Oregon, a daughter of James Gilmore Gartin and Ella Woodruff Gartin. The family lived at the Soldier Creek cattle ranch 15 miles south of Jordan Valley, which they developed from homesteads. They moved to Caldwell in 1905 where her father was in business for many years.

"She graduated from Caldwell High School in 1916, and from the College of Idaho in 1920 with a Bachelor of Arts degree. She was a school teacher at Sand Creek in Ada County, and at Apple Valley. She completed graduate courses at the University of Oregon from 1931 to 1933, and at Western Reserve University in 1944.

"Mrs. Thelander was the first home teacher for the adult blind in Idaho, and as an instructor for the Idaho Department of Public Assistance, she traveled throughout the state for more than 20 years with her seeing eye dog, bringing hope and encouragement to hundreds of Idaho blind people. She married E. Victor Thelander on January 12, 1964. He died in 1971.

"She was a member of the Worldwide Church of God, Delta Kappa Gamma (the national honor society for women teachers), and the Gem State Blind; was a Sunday school teacher for an adult blind Bible class at the Christian Church; and was named Woman of the Year in 1964 by the Boise Altrusa Club.

"She was appointed to the Idaho Commission for the Blind in 1967 by Governor Samuelson, serving until 1972. In 1973 she was awarded a special Certificate of Recognition by Governor Andrus at the dedication of the Idaho School and Training Center for the Blind. She served as President of the Gem State Blind; as President of the Idaho Progressive Society for the Blind; as Director of the National Federation of the Blind; and as President of the Western Chapter. In 1975 the National Federation of the Blind of Idaho elected Mrs. Thelander President Emeritus for her lifetime."

The obituary in the Idaho Statesman tells us some interesting things about the life of Uldine Gartin Thelander. It does not convey the feelings of hundreds of blind persons in Idaho and beyond the borders of the state. How very much she did for all of us.

Uldine Gartin completed high school struggling to read the materials she wanted to learn very much. She was determined to have an education. We believe she had some reader service during college. She was one of the first blind persons to complete college in Idaho. It was later that she learned Braille, largely from correspondence. Her determination carried her forward. It would be informative to know more about those early years.

Uldine's work for the blind began in earnest during the 1930's. It was then that she began her career as a home teacher for the Department of Public Assistance. It was also then that she joined the organization of the blind, first formed in 1935. And it was then that she got her first dog guide. She must have traveled to New Jersey at that time (probably alone) by bus or train, quite an undertaking from Idaho. Thousands of people remember the lady with the dog guide traveling by bus all over this state to help other blind people--and she did help. She helped them learn Braille, as well as travel as it was done at the time. Hope and confidence were what blind people needed most, and Uldine took those commodities with her everywhere she went.

Who was in a better position to know how much work there was to do for the blind? There was far more than one or two home teachers could hope to accomplish--and good as she was, Uldine could not do it all; but she tried.

Uldine was first elected President of the Gem State Blind (now the National Federation of the Blind of Idaho) in 1960. In 1963 she retired from the Department of Public Assistance. In 1964 she married a former student, Victor Thelander. With full vigor and the help of her husband, Uldine Thelander pursued the work of the Federation. In 1967 she led the little band of blind people who went to the Capitol every day to talk to the Legislature about creating a Commission for the Blind. And they did it. My husband, Chuck, met her in 1965. Although retired, she taught him Braille, and as usual, she taught him hope and determination. When I met him in 1967, Chuck was a better Federationist than I was, and he credited Uldine Thelander for guiding him. Mrs. Thelander was appointed to serve on the board of the Idaho Commission for the Blind in 1967 and again in 1969. She helped to build that agency she worked so hard to create. Also, in 1967 and again in 1969, Uldine was elected to the Board of the National Federation of the Blind. She never overrated her accomplishments and seemed more surprised than anyone else at this election, but took great pleasure in attending National Board meetings and reporting back to the NFB of Idaho.

At seventy-three she retired from the Presidency of the NFBI and at seventy four from the board of the Commission for the Blind. But she stayed active ad remained a leader. In 1975 she found the man who could truly continue her work and campaigned to see that Norman Gardner was elected President of the National Federation of the Blind of Idaho. She made the right choice. The greatest measure of love and respect was paid to the Thelanders when the NFBI established the Vic and Uldine Thelander Award to honor our leader and to honor those others who have made outstanding contributions to the blind. The award has meant much to all those who have received it, from Senator Frank Church to Frank Smith. With its presentation, we renew our commitment to continue the work of Uldine Gartin Thelander.

She will live forever in the history books of the progress of the blind and in the hearts of all of us who knew her.