by Theodore Lubitz
A short time ago, Ted Lubitz, who is eighty-three, wrote to me and enclosed a copy of his life story. He thought that I might be interested in hearing what it was like to be blind in America during the early years of his long life. I was, and I believe the readers of the Kernel Book Series will be, too. His story has a simple eloquence and is a strong reminder of the vigor and toughness of those who have gone before and paved the road for us who have come after. Here it is:
I was born on August 21, 1909, at Marion, South Dakota. When I was real little, I lost my father and lived with my mother and my grandparents. My grandfather was a blacksmith, and my grandmother was a seamstress. My mother operated a cream station for the Bridgeman Russel Company of Sioux Falls.
When I was about four-years-old, I developed real sore eyes and had a lot of pain. My folks called a local doctor at Marion. He put the wrong medicine in my eyes, and it burned the corneas and the pupils, which gave me even more pain in my eyes. This left scars on both eyes when it healed. I could only see around the scars.
I was then taken to several doctors to see what they could do, but they could not do much for me. In the meantime I went to the Lutheran School at Marion. In the morning I learned German, and in the afternoon I learned English. School was hard for me because most of the work was done on the blackboard.
Later on we heard of a doctor at Omaha, Nebraska, and I was taken there. We stayed for a whole week, and at the last meeting the doctor said that the best thing for me was to attend the school for the blind.
That September I enrolled in the school for the blind at Gary, South Dakota, in 1921. I was already eleven years old. We could not really tell them what grade I was in, so I started all over in the first grade. It was hard for me to get used to reading Braille by touch, so I used my eyes. They had to put a blindfold on me. They found out that I had musical talent, so they put me on the violin and piano right away, along with my regular school work. I took violin, piano, making baskets, rug weaving, putting seats on chairs, making brooms, and so on.
In 1925 I was chosen to try to make my own violin. We had an employee who was a very fine violin maker. I worked every day after school and all day Saturdays on this violin, and in April I finished it.
I advanced very fast in my music. I did not like the piano as well as the violin. In 1928 I entered the high school music contest and won first place. When I got into high school, I started learning to become a piano tuner.
There was a girl at school named Agnes Redepenning who sort of fell for me, and that was fine with me. We sang a lot of duets together and attended all the school dances. I said to some of the students that "This is going to be my wife someday," and they all laughed! Agnes Redepenning started school the same year I did. We did not graduate together because Agnes was sick for a year and was taken out of school to live with her parents.
I practiced four hours a day on the violin. I was taking harmony, history of music, composition, and voice. I graduated in the spring of 1931, which was a bad time for anyone to finish school because of the Depression.
From 1921 until then there was very little done for the blind. There wasn't any employment for us. I had lost my grandmother in 1929, so I came home and put myself behind my stepfather and mother's table. The little money I made in piano tuning was just spending money once a week.
In 1938 I was contacted by the Williams Piano Company to work for them in Sioux Falls, so I went. It was better than staying at home. I lived in the YMCA. During that time I went to visit my girlfriend whenever I had a chance. Agnes and I prayed a lot about our marriage. We did not want to go into it unless it was right.
On March 23, 1941, Agnes and I married at Bellingham, Minnesota. The next day we went to Sioux Falls. In 1943 we moved to Watertown. I was called to Watertown by Al Williams, who was selling pianos and operating a second-hand store. Watertown at that time did not have a piano tuner. I have been here ever since. I have worked for Al Williams, David Piano Company, Art McCain's Music Store, and Alvin John's Music Store. I had my private work besides. When the Music Tree Store came to Watertown, I worked for them also. I had a driver for when I went out of town.
My wife was a very good cook, and her specialty was chicken and dumpling soup. She had a radio program every Sunday from Grace Lutheran Church for twenty-one years until she had to quit because of her health in 1971.
From that time on my wife's health went down hill, and she had to quit singing. You see, Agnes was a professional singer. She suffered a few little strokes, and each time it hampered her physically.
In December, 1987, Agnes suffered a very severe stroke, and in April she died. That was a great shock to me. I also landed in the hospital.
By the grace of God I have overcome all of my difficulties. Through prayer I have made it through my hardships. If it were not for the Lord, I could not function. God has been good to me. I am very happy. I have many friends!
I have several hobbies that I will tell you about. First, I am a Stephen Minister of the Grace Lutheran Church. I have been in this for two years. I belong to a voice-spondence club all over the United States. I talk to people all over. Then I have my model trains, which I like to show people. I also have a reading class, where I have a book on tape and invite the folks to come and listen to the stories. Also I have the Messiah on recording at Christmas time.
I keep books on all my expenses and have done this for sixty-one years. I have a system where I set aside three percent of every item that I buy for an emergency fund and also the income. It works. I draw from this fund when I need some extra money. I do a lot of reading. I teach Braille to the elderly. I am teaching Braille to a lady who is losing her sight. I listen to a lot of classical music and tape some of it. I have a small library of cassette tapes.
Well, this is the story of my life, and I hope those of you who read it will find a blessing in it.