Photo of Don Capps
Don Capps

The Value of Greeting Cards

by Donald C. Capps

From President Maurer: In the Federation we do a good deal of fund-raising. Part of our purpose is to collect the funds to carry out our programs. Another part is to inform others about the capacity of the blind. Here is an article by the senior member of the NFB Board of Directors, Donald Capps. It provides insight about the life and career of one of our leaders and also illustrates the many benefits of sending literature and other items to individuals through the mails. This is what Don says:

I grew up in rural northeastern South Carolina on a tobacco farm during the Depression. I was the eleventh of eleven children, and our wonderful Christian mother never passed up an opportunity to tell everyone that I was her baby. She continued to do so even four decades later. My siblings thought I was spoiled, and perhaps they were right. I grew up in a large antebellum house which did not have modern conveniences like indoor plumbing and electricity, but it nevertheless had charm. Put together with pegs, this old farm house featured high ceilings and both front and back porches with high back rockers, which we used a great deal during the summer.

Just about every room in the house had a large fireplace. Before the arrival of cold weather, the wood bin would be filled with cut wood from the farm. To this day I can still hear the crackling of the burning wood and an aroma different from any other. In the large dining room there was a homemade table, which was always covered by an oil cloth that could be easily cleaned. Long, homemade benches flanked both sides of the table. These accommodated my large family. Unlike today's hectic pace, with family members eating at different times, we were always together at meal time, which made it special. My mother, who was an excellent cook, served hot biscuits with each meal, and they always went fast.

My blindness was due to congenital glaucoma. I cannot recall ever having any sight in my left eye, and I had seriously impaired vision in my right eye.

Since my father died when I was six years old, I don't remember a great deal about him. However, I was extremely fortunate in having a wonderful mother, who wanted me to have the very best in life. Recognizing my limited vision, she took me to an optometrist who fitted me with eye glasses. In the mid-1930's, it was not considered cool for a six-year-old to wear eye glasses. No sooner had I entered the first grade than I began to be taunted by my classmates. It was necessary for me to sit close to the blackboard, which set me apart from the rest of the kids, so the taunts increased. For four-and-a-half years I continued to struggle in the public school system despite diminishing vision and terrific headaches. This situation forced my mother to remove me from public school in January, 1939. Traveling thirty miles from my country home to Florence, then considered a railroad center, I boarded the train for the South Carolina School for the Blind in Spartanburg, more than 200 miles away. As I boarded the train, my mother and I both cried. At age ten I had never been more than a few miles from my home. Although I was treated well at the School for the Blind, the adjustment was difficult, and I experienced a lot of homesickness. The school served wholesome food, but it was not much like the home-cooked food I had been accustomed to on the farm. At home we raised most of our own food, so it wasn't necessary to buy many items from the store. For example, we did not eat cereal. The school served a lot of cereal. To me the worst of these was All-Bran, which seemed to be the meal planner's favorite. At times I rebelled, refusing to eat the All-Bran, but I eventually had to give in since I was not permitted to leave the table until my bowl was empty. I must confess that, since leaving the school more than fifty years ago, I've eaten very little cereal and no All-Bran at all.

During the five-and-a-half years I attended the School for the Blind, I profited immensely from the education, learning all of the basics including English, algebra, Latin, history, and a little music. Unquestionably, however, in later life I would come to understand that the Braille instruction I received was particularly important. In the 1940's blind students had no option but to learn Braille, even though in my case it was necessary to blindfold me to be sure that I used my fingers rather than my limited vision.

During my sophomore year I told my classmates and others that I was not coming back the next year but would enter public school in my hometown of Mullins for my junior and senior years. No one believed me. During the five-and-a-half years I attended the School for the Blind, I was always made to feel that with my bit of sight I was superior to those who were totally blind. Undoubtedly this false notion affected my thinking and decision to leave the school for my final two years of high school. Because of the excellent training and education I had received at the School for the Blind, I did well during my junior and senior years at Mullins High School, graduating in the top ten percent of the class. I was able to take fewer courses because I had already had many of them at the School for the Blind.

Meanwhile, my older brothers had left the farm for greener pastures, making it necessary for my mother to give up farming and move to the town of Mullins. This occurred in 1940 when I was twelve years of age. I soon learned that just three houses up the street from my new home lived a beautiful ten-year-old blond-haired girl, who would eventually become my wife. Her name was Betty Rogers, and we got along fine. She would even let me ride her bicycle since I never owned one of my own.

In those days homes were not air conditioned. However, just about every home had a front porch and a swing for summer enjoyment. The house in which Betty lived was no different. That particular swing stands out in my mind. When I was fourteen-and-a-half and Betty was twelve, we were swinging together one summer evening, and I managed to steal a kiss. Was it puppy love?--I think not. Six years later Betty would become my beautiful eighteen-year-old bride. On June 25, 1999, we will celebrate our golden wedding anniversary with our two adult children, Craig and Beth, and three grandchildren.

In 1947 I was fortunate enough to acquire a junior claim examiner trainee position with Colonial Life and Accident Insurance Company. From the beginning it was difficult for me to read the material that came across my desk. With my sight gradually but steadily diminishing, it soon became necessary for me to use the strongest magnification device available in those days to read claim forms, hospital records, death certificates, and other items including an occasional lawsuit. In early 1953 my ophthalmologist and I concurred that the time had come when I could no longer see well enough, even with magnification, to do the necessary reading for my job. I returned to the office and went straight to the rest room, where I wept.

Unfortunately, in 1953 I did not have knowledge of or the support of the National Federation of the Blind and its wholesome philosophy concerning the respectability of blindness and the capability of blind people. My only course of action seemed to be to go to the president and co-founder of the company, who had hired me, to explain that I could no longer read and therefore I was submitting my resignation. I was fortunate in having a boss who had observed my work for a half dozen years and believed in my overall ability. He quickly responded, "Donald, I have known for some time that you would not be able to read much longer. I want you to know that we're not paying you just to read. We are paying you for what you have learned during the past six years, including your ability to interpret policies, evaluate claims, dictate letters, and supervise others. We have invested six years in your training, and we do not want to lose the benefit of your knowledge and expertise. We'll get you a reader, and you will continue to have a full-time secretary. I see no reason why your blindness should in any way affect your continuing to do the things for which you have been trained."

In 1953 there was no Americans with Disabilities Act, but my boss was ahead of the times. Furthermore, my boss's attitude was far superior to any provision of the Americans with Disabilities Act. As a result of his understanding and faith in me, for more than thirty years I successfully functioned as a blind person in claims administration, enjoying a thirty-eight-year career and rising to middle management.

I joined a local organization of the blind in August of 1953, but it was another year before I heard about the National Federation of the Blind. That year my employer received a box of greeting cards and some literature in the mail from the NFB. I was immediately asked about this organization and given the information to review. I agreed with every word in the literature and suggested to my employer that he would do well to contribute to the NFB. Additionally, I promptly wrote to NFB headquarters and requested more information.

The following year Kenneth Jernigan, then a member of the NFB Board of Directors, made a trip to upstate South Carolina and met with Dr. Sam Lawton, founder of the Aurora Club of the Blind. Dr. Jernigan eased some concerns in the meeting with Dr. Lawton and facilitated the affiliation of the Aurora Club with the NFB one year later. In 1956 the three chapters of the Aurora Club became a state organization and subsequently affiliated with the National Federation of the Blind.

I attended my first National Convention in July, 1956, in San Francisco. There I met two giants in the National Federation of the Blind. They were Dr. Jacobus tenBroek, the distinguished founder of the NFB, and Dr. Kenneth Jernigan, who would serve the NFB as President from 1968, the year of Dr. tenBroek's death, until 1986 and as President Emeritus until his death in 1998. Dr. Jernigan had a profound impact on my life and served as my mentor from the earliest days of our friendship. The sound philosophy and policies of the National Federation of the Blind have improved the quality of my life. From the beginning I gave my best efforts to my employer, attending to my assigned responsibilities and then some. However, the wholesome philosophy of the NFB taught me to compete successfully with my sighted co-workers for recognition, promotions, and salary increases.

The Capps' home and family life were typical of those of any family of four during those years. Our two children recognized that I went to work each day and was a normal dad despite blindness. In fact my blindness was never an issue with them. Beth, about five at the time, was playing with a neighborhood friend one day who remarked, "Beth, your dad is blind."

Beth responded matter-of-factly, "Yes, and he's smart too."

Like other blind persons I've had a variety of experiences, some of which were humorous and others not so pleasant. Some years ago, in a small town about fifty miles south of Columbia, where I now live, an old train depot was converted into a seafood restaurant. It rapidly gained a reputation from Columbia to Charleston as the best seafood restaurant in the state. During our first visit the restaurant cashier observed my white cane and realized that I was blind. She also recognized that we were from out of town. Upon learning that we were from Columbia, she commended Betty for being nice enough to drive me there. During our next several visits the cashier thanked Betty each time for being so nice to me. Finally, one Saturday afternoon, when my favorite college football team had lost badly and I was therefore not in a good frame of mind, we decided to visit this seafood restaurant. As though she were programmed, the cashier once again thanked Betty for driving me down. At this point I lost my cool. I had had enough; I firmly told the cashier that I agreed with her that it was nice of my wife to drive me down from Columbia, but it was also nice of me to go to work everyday and make the payments on the car. From that day on the cashier never thanked Betty again.

While the cashier had meant well, it was clear that it had never crossed her mind that blind people could work, maintain a home, raise a family, or meet normal obligations. What I have learned through my years in the National Federation of the Blind enables me to deal courteously but firmly with this subtle form of discrimination. The National Federation of the Blind has also taught me to accept other responsibilities within both my church and my community. My fellow Rotarians elected me President of the club in 1974. Other than relying upon a Braille agenda and a Braille watch, I presided in the same way as any other Rotary president.

Always active in the church, I have served a number of terms on the Board of Deacons and as Chairman of the important Personnel Committee. One night after I had efficiently presided at a meeting of the Personnel Committee, one member—a man with complete confidence in my ability to do the church's business— said he would be glad to drop me by my house if I could tell him how to get there. I assured him that I could indeed give him accurate directions to my house, for otherwise I might wind up in trouble.

What is the value of greeting cards? The National Federation of the Blind greeting cards certainly changed my life for the better. They brought me a message of hope, and indirectly they taught me to love my fellow blind. Thus it is impossible for me to place a true value on the National Federation of the Blind greeting cards received by my employer some forty-five years ago. The National Federation of the Blind way of life not only has greatly enriched my life but has enabled me to work harmoniously with thousands of blind Americans to improve their lives. For this wonderful opportunity I am deeply grateful.