by Parnell Diggs
From the Editor: When I think about the blessings of a long marriage and an example of an inseparable couple, two people come to mind: Betty and Don Capps. They were the original inspiration for finding a prominent place in the February issue to commemorate Valentine’s Day for lovers of all ages, but when I asked NFB of South Carolina President Parnell Diggs for a contribution of several paragraphs about them, he found it impossible to write only a few words. Here is his wonderful tribute to the power of love, to the importance of going for what you really want and figuring out how to get it, and to the commitment of two valentines who continue to enrich each other’s lives.
Those of us who have grown to know and love the National Federation of the Blind know that the organized blind movement was established in 1940 and that Dr. Jacobus tenBroek presided over the first convention of the National Federation of the Blind in Wilkes-Barre, Pennsylvania, with sixteen people registered. But this piece is not about Wilkes-Barre.
It is about Mullins, South Carolina, and a place called Procter Street, where two Federationists formed a bond that proved to be the foundation of the love of a lifetime. Coincidentally, this star-crossing also happened in 1940: when a twelve-year-old boy whose family had just moved to Procter Street saw a beautiful, blond-haired girl walking down the street in front of his house. He described Betty Rogers as "the prettiest girl in the city," and conveniently she lived just three houses up the street. Less convenient, however, was the fact that during the school year he found himself over two hundred miles away from Procter Street at the South Carolina School for the Deaf and Blind, and he could call on her only during summers and holidays.
But call on her he did, and the preteen courtship of Donald Capps and Betty Rogers ensued. He had observed that Betty (about ten years old at the time) had received a new bicycle for Christmas. Since he did not own a bicycle, young Capps often strolled down to her house and asked if he could ride the bike. In fact, he recalls putting more mileage on that bike than she did.
They also made good use of a swing on Betty's front porch. It was big enough for three, but most of the time he was successfully able to dissuade others from joining them. In his Kernel Book story entitled “The Value of Greeting Cards,” Dr. Capps writes, "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."
In the summer of 1944, when Capps was fifteen, he walked from his home about ten blocks to Mullins High School, where he asked to meet with a school administrator about entering public school in eleventh grade. This was thirty years before Public Law 94-142, at a time when it was widely accepted that blind students attended residential schools, and that was that. "We don't have any visually impaired students," Mr. McCormick said. But, being the resourceful lad that he was, Capps was able to talk his way into the student body at Mullins High School, rising to the top ten percent of his class, and graduating in 1946.
That fall Capps enrolled at a business school in Columbia, South Carolina, completed the program in 1947, and remained in Columbia, accepting a position as a junior claims examiner trainee at Colonial Life and Accident Insurance Company. Betty was still in high school, and he found himself once again seeing her when he could get to Mullins. Over the next two or three years, then, Capps often (as in at least two hundred times) hitchhiked to Mullins to see Betty and back to Columbia to continue building a career. "I would just depend on my old thumb (recalled Capps). “It never failed me. Always someone would stop and pick me up. I was never stranded; it was the most incredible thing."
Dr. Capps recently observed that "Times have changed so much since 1946. As a seventeen-year-old youngster you would not dare to get out on the highway and just thumb anything that comes along and hop in the car. That's what I did." On one of these trips to Mullins in July of 1948, recalled Mrs. Capps, he popped the question, so Donald Capps and Betty Rogers were married on June 25, 1949, only twenty-two days after Betty graduated from high school. By then his hitchhiking days had ended, and the couple settled-down in Columbia, South Carolina.
In 1954 young Capps was asked by his boss to review a package that had been sent to Colonial Life and Accident Insurance Company: a box of greeting cards and some literature about the National Federation of the Blind. He was so impressed with the package that he crossed the country, along with Mrs. Capps, to attend the 1956 NFB convention in San Francisco, California. With no interstates, it was a five-day drive one-way (Dr. Capps doesn't care to fly when he can avoid it), but the trip took three weeks and included both the national convention and a leadership seminar conducted by Dr. tenBroek.
They would attend fifty-five of the next fifty-six national conventions together, with Mrs. Capps missing only the Boston convention of 1958, because she was under doctor's orders not to travel so close to delivering their second child and only daughter Beth. Their only son Craig had been born in 1955.
While still in his twenties, Dr. Capps developed a close friendship with Dr. Kenneth Jernigan, who would eventually succeed Dr. tenBroek as NFB president in 1968. That year in Des Moines, Iowa, Capps was elected first vice president of the National Federation of the Blind and held that position until 1984. He had served as second vice president from 1959 through 1968.
But even after twenty-five consecutive years in the leadership of the National Federation of the Blind and a career-spanning thirty-eight years at Colonial Life and Accident Insurance Company, Capps was still only in his mid-fifties. It was then that he decided to retire as a claims examiner and dive into Federation work and service to his blind brothers and sisters fulltime. In 1985 the convention enthusiastically returned him to the NFB board of directors: a position he would hold for twenty-two consecutive years, until 2007. That year he told the convention that he and Betty were stepping back, not stepping away: thereby ending forty-seven years of service on the national board.
Dr. Capps believes that, when we elect someone to office in the Federation, we elect his or her spouse too. Mrs. Capps agrees and has been by her husband's side as they traveled to all fifty states, a handful of foreign countries, as well as Europe, Africa, and Australia, attending international meetings as representatives of the National Federation of the Blind.
With more than a half century of service now behind them, Dr. Capps recalls a wise decision he made (while still in his twenties and lacking experience in the Federation) that has affected the rest of their lives. Life is filled with watershed moments, and one such moment for Dr. and Mrs. Capps came at the 1957 national convention in New Orleans, Louisiana. He had been a state president for less than one year, and the Cappses were attending only their second convention. Here is how Dr. Capps recalled the incident. "Durward McDaniel (a national board member at the time), who seemed to be a good enough man, called me up to his room. I was green as a gourd. He said that we needed to amend the constitution. I said, `what's the problem with the current one?’ He said, `Well, not so much wrong with it, we need a provision mandating that a person in office can't serve over two consecutive terms.’ I said, `You mean to tell me, if you had the best leader for the blind in the world and he had served his two terms?’ `Well,’ McDaniel responded, `you might apply that to it.’"
Capps was onto him, and McDaniel admitted that the proposed amendment was aimed at Dr. tenBroek and Dr. Jernigan. It was the beginning of the Federation's civil war, and Dr. Capps refused to be persuaded to take a position that was contrary to his beliefs. "Well, see you later," Capps said to McDaniel. And the rest, as they say, is history.
Beginning in 1968 and for many years thereafter, Dr. Capps had the best seat in the house, right next to the podium, during most of Dr. Jernigan's banquet addresses. Regarding his friendship with Dr. Jernigan, Dr. Capps said, "I loved Dr. Jernigan like a brother, I really did, and likewise. We [meaning Dr. and Mrs. Capps and Dr. and Mrs. Jernigan] went together for our anniversaries on the QE2. This was shortly before Dr. Jernigan was diagnosed with terminal cancer.
"I really miss Dr. Jernigan,” reflects Dr. Capps, now approaching his mid-eighties. “There are times when I really would like to talk to him about things." Dr. and Mrs. Capps both recall Dr. Jernigan (at a much earlier time) skipping and running down the street with Craig and Beth in front of the Cappses’ home.
At the 2007 convention banquet in Atlanta, Georgia, the National Federation of the Blind bestowed upon Donald Capps the title Doctor of the Federation and bestowed upon Betty Capps the title Keeper of the Spirit of the Federation. In the tribute to Dr. and Mrs. Capps, Mrs. Jernigan observed that "two people are one. Exactly and precisely what I meant to say. For who among us does not think of Don and Betty Capps in the same breath, does not know that they are one heart, one mind, one treasure of the Federation!” In June of 2012 Don and Betty Capps will celebrate sixty-three wonderful years of marriage.
It can be said that the Federation is in their blood. It can also be said that they are in the Federation's blood, for they are a crucial component of the Federation's identity, strength, and vitality. In the Federation's voluminous library of materials accumulated through the decades is an audio recording of the 1969 convention banquet held in Columbia, South Carolina. That year the banquet address was entitled "Blindness: New Insights on Old Outlooks." Dr. Jernigan was holding the audience in the palm of his hand. And, as Dr. Jernigan adeptly dispelled the world's archaic views of blindness, if you listen to the audio recording very carefully, you can hear the voice of Dr. Capps coming over the microphone, spurring his young friend to lead us onto the barricades with the exclamation, "Go man, go!”
One of the great satisfactions in life is having the opportunity to assist others. Consider making a gift to the National Federation of the Blind to continue turning our dreams into reality. A gift to the NFB is not merely a donation to an organization; it provides resources that will directly ensure a brighter future for all blind people.
Seize the Future
The National Federation of the Blind has special giving opportunities that will benefit the giver as well as the NFB. Of course the largest benefit to the donor is the satisfaction of knowing that the gift is leaving a legacy of opportunity. However, gifts may be structured to provide more:
NFB programs are dynamic:
Your gift makes you a partner in the NFB dream. For further information or assistance, contact the NFB planned giving officer.