Future Reflections         Winter 2010

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The Jacobus tenBroek Award

presented by Ramona Walhof

At the convention banquet Barbara and John Cheadle stand on the platform holding their Jacobus tenBroek Award plaque.From the Editor: Jacobus tenBroek was a distinguished scholar who did groundbreaking work on civil rights law. He was also a founder of the National Federation of the Blind and served as its first president. It is fitting that one of the highest honors that the Federation can bestow is an award named in Dr. tenBroek's honor. The 2009 Jacobus tenBroek Award was presented by Ramona Walhof at the banquet on the final evening of the national convention.

The Jacobus tenBroek Award was first presented in 1976 to Perry Sunquist of California. It was presented twice more in that decade, and during the 1980's it was presented six times. In the nineties it was given seven times. In the twenty-first century we have recognized an outstanding leader of the National Federation of the Blind each year. The award symbolizes the depth and diversity of our leadership.

A study of the leaders we have chosen to honor with this award demonstrates that our organization is healthy and strong. Those we recognize served, not for years, but for decades; not in one state, but in ways that benefit the blind of the entire nation.

In 2007 my colleagues chose to honor me with the award, and I have never been more humbled standing alongside some of our best leaders. Tonight we are presenting the Jacobus tenBroek Award to two people who have served separately and together. They are known to all of you. They have lived and served in four NFB affiliates and in one large division. They joined the NFB in the 1970s, and I have been around long enough to have met them both in that decade. As they moved around, they grew in the Federation themselves and became builders and leaders. They have been leaders for more than twenty-five years.

Only once before have we chosen to honor a sighted person with this award. That was Mary Ellen Jernigan. Tonight the Jacobus tenBroek Award goes to (you have figured it out, I think!) Barbara and John Cheadle. [Applause.]

John and Barbara joined the NFB before they were married, when they lived in the state of Nebraska and both worked for the rehabilitation agency for the blind there. After they were married and after the birth of their first son, they decided to adopt a blind child, now known to us as Charles Cheadle. In the early 1980s they moved to Missouri, where John worked with the rehabilitation agency and Barbara began to edit a newsletter for parents of blind children. Next they moved to Idaho, where both were extremely helpful to me and the NFB when we were under attack there. Barbara Cheadle was elected president of the Parents of Blind Children Division for the first time while she and John lived in Idaho.

In 1985 the Cheadles moved on again, this time to Maryland, where John Cheadle has worked ever since as Executive Director of Buildings and Facilities at our national headquarters. In this capacity he does not receive a lot of recognition, but he is valued for his constant and wise leadership. His work makes us proud of our national headquarters. Constructing a large new commercial building is a huge undertaking, and John Cheadle worked as an essential part of the leadership team to bring the beautiful facility for our Jernigan Institute into being. He continues to supervise both the maintenance staff and contractors who are hired to do repairs and remodeling at our national headquarters.

After the Cheadles moved to Maryland, Barbara was reelected president of the Parents of Blind Children Division (renamed the National Organization of Parents of Blind Children, or NOPBC) every two years until she had served for twenty-five years. She continued to build the NOPBC during all that time. She edited our publication, Future Reflections, from its very beginning. As leader of the parents' division she traveled throughout the country. She planned seminars and meetings at our national convention and elsewhere. She organized state divisions of parents of blind children. She attended other conferences on parenthood and education as needed. She wrote and read widely in the field, and she headed the Braille book program for the American Action Fund for Blind Children and Adults, which makes it possible for blind children to receive their very own Braille books as they grow up. In short, she became deservedly the best-known leader among parents of blind children in this country. 

After twenty-five years Barbara decided to retire as president of NOPBC. Last summer the division celebrated its silver anniversary. Barbara retired as editor of Future Reflections this spring. There are and will be ripples as transition occurs, but the division remains strong. Many leaders are ready to move forward in new positions, men and women recruited and groomed in the philosophy and experience of the Federation by Barbara Cheadle. There are also blind children and youth who have grown up and others who are now growing up in the Federation in a better world for blind people because of Barbara Cheadle's work.

This year Barbara Cheadle is back with us at our convention. She is still working as a part of the NFB, and she always will. Barbara and John have been far more than staff members at our national center; they have given of themselves, learned and grown in their work, shared what they have learned with others, and helped to train the next generation of parents and of blind children. Many of these children are now Federationists, as are their parents. We find them in the Student Division, as scholarship winners, and in chapters and state affiliates across the NFB.

The Cheadles have raised three children of their own: John Earl, now in Cincinnati; Charles, who has joined the Peace Corps; and Anna, who lives in England. These young adults, like the blind children who have grown up in the Federation, are a testament to the wisdom and strength of John and Barbara Cheadle. I say to you tonight, John and Barbara, we give you this Jacobus tenBroek Award as a sign of our love and appreciation for what you are and what you do. Congratulations to both of you. We have a plaque for you. Here is the text:


"JACOBUS tenBROEK AWARD
NATIONAL FEDERATION OF THE BLIND
PRESENTED TO JOHN AND BARBARA CHEADLE
FOR YOUR DEDICATION, SACRIFICE, AND COMMITMENT ON BEHALF OF THE BLIND OF THE NATION.

YOUR CONTRIBUTION IS MEASURED NOT IN STEPS, BUT IN MILES; NOT BY INDIVIDUAL EXPERIENCES, BUT BY THE 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 8, 2009."

John: I'm overwhelmed. I was trying to think earlier tonight how long I've been coming to these conventions. Fred Schroeder said they've been coming thirty-one years, and I think this is our thirty-fifth convention. [Applause.] We want to thank all of you for everything you have done for us. You have done more for us than we've done for you.

When we first got into the field, we didn't know about the Federation. We had to go off to these regional meetings for rehab in Kansas City. We knew there was something better, someplace, there had to be. And here you are. Thank you.

Barbara: I was out to lunch with a couple of my wonderful friends in the parents' division today, and we were talking about this interesting hotel. Brad Weatherd said he had heard that the architect who designed it wanted there to be a surprise around every corner. Believe me, I will remember this as the convention of surprises.

I've been asked many things this week. Some people ask me if I feel lost or uncertain or sad about not having the position of parent division president. Some ask whether I'm not sure what to do. I'm not sad or unsure. I am so very happy. I am happy about the wonderful leaders and the parents and the children who are involved. The greatest joy I could have is that they are such wonderful people: Carol Castellano and that wonderful board who can take over so competently, so efficiently; and Debbie Stein who could take on Future Reflections. It's a source of great joy to me. I think the greatest sadness would be if everything started falling apart, because what would have been the point of all that work?

Most of all, I am happy because this is my family. You are my friends, and I love you. Thank you.

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