National Federation of the Blind Awards for 1999

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            From the Editor: National Federation of the Blind awards are not bestowed lightly. If an appropriate recipient does not emerge from the pool of candidates for a particular award, it is simply not presented. At this year's convention three presentations were made. The first took place during the Board of Directors' meeting Friday morning. Sharon Maneki, who chairs the Distinguished Educator of Blind Children Award Committee, made the presentation. Here is the way it happened:

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Photo of Debbie Baker displaying her plaque while Sharon Maneki addresses the audience

and Diane Mcgeorge looks on.

Debbie Baker displays her plaque while Sharon Maneki addresses the audience and Diane McGeorge looks on.

 

                                      Distinguished Educator of Blind Children Award

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            Good morning, Mr. President, fellow Federationists. As we advance in our march toward equality and opportunity, sometimes our methods in the National Federation of the Blind may be categorized as using the stick. Sometimes our methods are categorized as using the carrot. This morning it's a great pleasure to be in the carrot category.

 

            About eleven years ago we started the Distinguished Educator of Blind Children Award to recognize outstanding teachers who worked with the students in the vision programs throughout the country. This morning the committee of Allen Harris, Joyce Scanlan, Jackie Billey, and me are bringing to you a truly outstanding and distinguished educator of blind children.

 

            She has been teaching for twenty-two years. She teaches students from kindergarten right through high school. Of course, she teaches academics, as a teacher would. She teaches the skills of blindness--Braille and so forth. Isn't this an interesting thing: I didn't know this but it really turned out that we picked out a very fine person. The other day, when I was perusing the newsletter of the National Association to Promote the Use of Braille, there was her name on the back as a lifetime member of NAPUB.

 

            This individual happens to be from Springfield, Ohio. She teaches her students how to stand up for themselves, how to advocate for themselves, and while it can be lonely for a blind person to be a teacher in the vision field because her attitudes may be somewhat different from those of her colleagues, she is true to our philosophy and true to independence. Join me in congratulating Deborah Baker from Springfield, Ohio.

 

            I have just handed Deborah Baker the check for $500, and I'm going to read her plaque:

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                                                   The National Federation of the Blind

                                                                         honors

                                                                Deborah E. Baker

                                                Distinguished Educator of Blind Children

                                                      for your skills in teaching Braille

                                                        and the use of the white cane

                                                             for generously devoting

                                                         extra time to meet the needs

                                                     of your students, and for inspiring

                                                      your students to perform beyond

                                                                 their expectations.

                                                       You champion our movement,

                                                           you strengthen our hopes,

                                                             you share our dreams.

                                                                  Congratulations.

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            After receiving her plaque, Debbie Baker said:

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            Hello, fellow Federationists. I am deeply honored to be here. I thank you all and give special thanks to my supporters from Ohio, particularly our President, Mrs. Pierce, and Eric Duffy. I do teach my children about sight--the same sight that you and I have. I teach the youngest members of the NFB, and I teach them that foresight (a good name is luck) and insight are always necessary, but hindsight is the best because we all have twenty/twenty, and it enables us all to learn. Thank you.

 

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Pictured are Mike Romeo and Betty Nicely holding his Golden Keys Award

 

Mike Romeo and Betty Niceley display his Golden Keys Award.

 

                                                          The Golden Keys Award

 

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            At the banquet Betty Niceley, President of the National Association to Promote the Use of Braille, came to the platform to make a presentation. This is what she said:

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            The National Association to Promote the Use of Braille takes great pleasure in recognizing excellence. It is a special pleasure to find excellence among those quiet people who work in the background to make things happen. While trying to keep abreast of the continuously growing field of technology, we are extremely delighted to see that Braille has benefitted from all of this. There is one who has played a vital role in the development and evolution of personal and mass-production Braille embossers. In the late 1970's the Kentucky Modified Braille Embosser was developed. But this prototype machine had little potential for ever becoming available to many blind consumers.

 

            Then along came someone who performed a remarkable re-engineering job on this prototype, changing it into the world's first useable embosser in the low-price range. Many hundreds of blind consumers were then able to own a portable Braille embosser because this prototype was transformed into a viable commercial product. Because of this experience a young man was led to great creativity, which resulted in such things as the Braille Blazer embosser, the undisputed leader in the personal Braille embossers in the United States and in some foreign countries.

 

            He also designed technology that led to a number of other things such as the Romeo Brailler, which quickly led to the Juliet Brailler and certainly influenced other Braille embossers.

 

            Then this young man turned his attention to refreshable Braille displays and the machines that use them: the Braille 18, the Braille Lite 2000, and the Braille Lite 40. Each in turn has contributed significantly to the production of Braille and its use. There is no doubt that this individual is an engineer with rare talent for developing and improving Braille products for the blind.

 

            Tonight the National Association to Promote the Use of Braille wishes to honor him for the years of his continued dedication and for his contribution to Braille. Tonight we are pleased to add to the very short list of distinguished individuals who have received the Golden Keys Award the name of Mike Romeo. Mike, this is only the fourth Golden Keys Award that NAPUB has given in its fifteen years of existence. Please understand this award is not given lightly. This plaque says:

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                                     The National Association to Promote the Use of Braille

To you, Mike Romeo, we award these golden keys in recognition of your commitment to Braille and to the Braille readers who depend on it. To these readers you have given keys that unlock doors to the temple of knowledge.

                                                                     July 5, 1999

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            Mike, we are pleased to present this award to you, and we trust that you will keep up the years of dedication that have gone before and that many more will come. Congratulations.

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            While Mr. Romeo was coming to the platform, Betty explained that in addition to the text the face of the plaque includes seven keys in the configuration of those on a Braille writer. Mike Romeo accepted the award but preferred not to speak.

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Photo of Ramona Walhof addressing the audience.  Allen Harris holds his Jocobus tenBroek

plaque; his wife, Joy, looks on, applauding.

 

Ramona Walhof addresses the audience. Beside her Allen Harris holds his Jacobus tenBroek Award plaque while his wife Joy looks on applauding.

 

                                                     The Jacobus tenBroek Award

 

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            Near the close of the banquet, Master of Ceremonies Allen Harris called Ramona Walhof, who chairs the Jacobus tenBroek Award Committee, to the microphone for a presentation. This is what she said:

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            Dr. tenBroek was the founder of the National Federation of the Blind and served as our leader from 1940 until 1968. In his memory we have established the Jacobus tenBroek Award to honor one of our leaders who has made contributions beyond the call of duty to assist other blind people and the organization. This award is given only as often as there is someone who especially deserves it. This year the Committee to select a person for this prestigious recognition consisted of Joyce Scanlan, Jim Omvig, and me.

 

            This year's tenBroek Award recipient has been a member of the NFB for thirty years and a state officer from the beginning. At his first Federation meeting in 1969 he was elected Secretary of his state affiliate and the next year President of his local chapter, a position he held for five years. Some of you have guessed that I am talking about Allen Harris. Allen was elected President of the NFB of Michigan in 1976 and re-elected every two years, eleven times. From 1983 to 1991 he served on the Board of the Michigan Commission for the Blind. In 1992 he was selected National Blind Educator of the Year by the NFB.

 

            He was first elected to the Board of Directors of the NFB in 1981. In 1985 he became Secretary, and in 1988 he was elected Treasurer, and he has been re-elected to this position every two years ever since.

 

            In 1985 he was selected as one of two outstanding teachers of social studies in Michigan by the National Council of Social Studies. During a full career of teaching Allen Harris was chosen year after year by his colleagues as Chairman of the Social Studies Department at Dearborn High School. He was held in high respect by both students and teachers.

 

            When he coached swimming and wrestling teams, they won. Seldom has any coach taken as many champion teams to district and state competitions as Coach Harris did.

 

            I well remember the day in 1969 when I knocked on the door of Allen Harris's house. We were organizing in Michigan, and he had been recommended as a prospect. He was cordial and pleasant, but he was not sure what commitments he was ready to make. Yesterday he told us more about his perspective at that time. Many of us understand that feeling in the beginning. He promised to come to the organizational meeting we were planning for the following weekend, but I did not expect to see him there. Only a few months ago I asked Allen why he had actually made the trip from Detroit to Lansing for that meeting, and his answer helps to show why he is a leader. He said simply: "I gave you my word." Allen Harris has always kept his word. He does not let people down within the Federation or elsewhere.

 

            After twenty-three years as President of the NFB of Michigan, this year he resigned that position. He built the Michigan affiliate into a strong and enthusiastic one. Now he has moved to a new post for serving the blind. He is Assistant Director of Rehabilitation for the New York State Commission for the Blind. It is an exciting opportunity for him and for the blind of the nation. If this state agency is run in the way that Allen Harris knows how, not only will it bring tremendous advantages to the blind in New York, but it will also help set the tone for rehab throughout the country.

 

            So tonight we have chosen to honor our Master of Ceremonies and our Treasurer for all the ways he has served the blind and for what he is. Allen, we honor you, and we love you.

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            Ramona then read the text of the plaque:

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                                                             Jacobus tenBroek Award

                                                         National Federation of the Blind

                                                                     presented to

                                                                      Allen Harris

                     for your dedication, sacrifice, and commitment

               on behalf of the blind of the nation.

                Your contribution is not measured in steps,

                 but in miles, not by individual experiences,

              but by your impact on the lives of the blind of the nation.

                     Whenever we have asked, you have answered.

                      We call you our colleague with respect;

                         We call you our friend with love.

            July 5, 1999

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            Allen then said:

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            Thank you very much. I am going to ask Joy--you want to step up here with me? When you marry someone active in the Federation, you marry the Federation. However it goes, and in our case it goes each way. So I would like Joy to be here to share this moment with me. I could not have been more surprised. I love secrets, but mostly when they involve other people. I could not be more surprised. I thank you very much Dr. and Mrs. Maurer, Mrs. Jernigan, and all my friends and colleagues in the Federation.

 

            I have always considered myself just an ordinary member of the Federation who had whatever responsibilities I had. One of the things I was talking to someone about today was when Dr. Jernigan called me, I never said no. I used to plan how I might say no if he asked me to do something when I was busy or whatever, but I could never say no to him. And you know what? He never said no to me unless I suggested something that was off the wall.

 

            Like each of you I have tried to contribute in what ways I can. I have explained on many occasions just what the Federation has meant to me, how it has changed my life, how it has defined who I am. And to the extent that I possess energy and some intellect and capacity to do things, I have learned them within the Federation. And to the extent I am committed to anything in my life, continuing what has begun, giving to others what has been given to us by the blind people who came before us, I want to continue doing that. I am humble in my gratitude for the thanks and support, the tremendous honor that this award represents. I thank you very much and look forward to many more years of working together.