KEEPING THE RENT CURRENT

by Hazel Staley

The strength of the National Federation of the Blind lies in its members from the very young to the not so young. Here one of our senior members tells about her life. Her story reminds me of something I frequently tell people about us: We laugh and cry, work and play, hope and dream--just like you. Here is what she has to say:

I was number five in a line of six children born to a farm family in Union County, North Carolina in August of 1916. I lost my sight when I was two-years-old as a result of meningitis. I graduated from the North Carolina School for the Blind and received by A.B. degree from Flora McDonald College (now St. Andrews) with majors in French and English and a minor in psychology.

When I first entered Flora McDonald, the faculty was at a loss as to how to deal with me. There had been blind students there before, but they had all majored in music and the faculty didn't know how I was going to do the lab work in science, which was a requirement for an A.B. degree.

After considerable discussion they decided to put me on probation for the first semester to see if I could make it. Science just isn't my bag, but I felt diminished by being on probation; so I decided to do whatever I had to do to prove that I could handle the lab. My other subjects came easy to me; so I zeroed in on science and made the honor roll that first semester.

I had hoped to teach English in the state secondary school system; but finding this field closed to blind people, I enrolled in the graduate school of social work at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. I was employed as a social worker with the North Carolina Commission for the Blind for almost six years.

I met and married Bob Staley and resigned my position. Bob was in the U.S. Army, and I wanted to be free to go wherever he went. That was in 1947. Our only son, Ken, was born in 1951. Bob died of lung cancer in 1986. I have two lovely little granddaughters.

We were stationed at Fort Benning, Georgia, when Ken entered school, and I immediately got involved in the PTA. I served as vice president and president of the PTA, and I think I must have served as the chairman of almost every committee there was. I received a lifetime PTA membership from the state of Georgia.

One day in 1969 (I was again living in Charlotte, North Carolina) my employer, the director of the local agency for the blind, told me that a group of blind people wanted to meet in our conference room on Sunday afternoon, and that I should come and be responsible for opening and closing the building.

That meeting turned out to be one of the best things that ever happened to me. Leaders of the National Federation of the Blind had come to organize a chapter of the Federation in Charlotte. I had never heard of the Federation, but I realized at once that its philosophy had been mine all my life. I joined that day and immediately became active in the movement.

I have lived a very full life. I served two years as president of my homeowners' association and have been teaching Sunday School for more than twenty years. I have also served as president of my church's Women's Missionary Society and as director of church training. In 1978 I was named Charlotte's Outstanding Citizen and in 1989 I received the Jacobus tenBroek Award for my service in the National Federation of the Blind.

Someone has said that service to others is the rent we pay for the space we occupy on earth. I plan to keep the rent on my space current.