Braille Monitor                                                 January 2013

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A Colleague’s Salute to Jim Omvig

by Jim Kesteloot

Jim KestelootFrom the Editor: Jim Kesteloot, a former director of the Chicago Lighthouse for the Blind, made a presentation at the 2011 national convention of the National Federation of the Blind in Orlando, Florida. He spoke about the need to change the law permitting payment of less than the minimum wage to people who are blind or otherwise disabled. He also talked about his service on the AbilityOne Commission and about the fine work of one of his colleagues, James H. Omvig. In July of 2012 Mr. Omvig retired from the AbilityOne Commission, and here, lightly edited, is what Mr. Kesteloot had to say in honoring James Omvig at that ceremony:

When I think of Jim, I think of three things: he's tall, handsome, and brilliant. Jim, did I say that the way you told me to? Seriously, the three things I think of are: 1. Here is the AbilityOne annual report that was just handed out this morning. Its front cover says "National Treasures." On the cover is a picture of the Statue of Liberty. When I think of Jim, I think of Jim as a national treasure; no one knows more about adjustment to disability, rehabilitation, and motivation than Jim Omvig. As he leaves AbilityOne, he will be hard to replace. Oh sure, another good person will be appointed, but there will be only one Jim Omvig. In our industry, he's like a priest, minister, and rabbi all rolled into one. In my own service I have always sought his counsel and guidance.

My wife Barb told me that Jim is like the Dalai Lama. Jim has wisdom. He is a philosopher. You know, Barbara Walters interviewed the Dalai Lama in early July on ABC's 20/20. Walters asked the Dalai Lama whether he thought he was God. The Dalai Lama said, "No. I don't think I'm God. I am not God. I'm a teacher." That's Jim, a teacher. In my service here I have so often found myself thinking, “What would Jim do; what would Jim say; how would Omvig handle this?” Jim Omvig, a teacher and national treasure!

2. When I think of Jim Omvig, I think of QWE, a Quality Work Environment: CRP employees being paid not just minimum wage but living wages, employee satisfaction; a safe and comfortable working environment; opportunities for advancement/upward mobility; employees provided decent benefits; having opportunities for a career rather than just a job; access to further training and so much more.

You know, in the late nineteenth century and twentieth century there were some great civil rights leaders: Gandhi, Martin Luther King, and others. In our industry Jim Omvig is this caliber of leader—Jim Omvig, a national treasure!

3. When I think of Jim, I think of love. Jim loves Sharon. Sharon and Jim love each other. In our industry you need to know how to love. If I have learned anything over my forty-five years in the field of rehabilitation, it's that love is the most important ingredient in rehabilitation. Rehabilitation is gaining or regaining the capacity to live independently: independently to one's maximum potential. It's hard enough to adjust to the onset of a severe disability. How can you adjust if you are not loved and lacking such support? I always feel this sense of love when I'm around him. Jim Omvig, a national treasure!

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