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U.S. SENATE HONORS KAREN MAYRY

From The Editor: (speaker is Senator Tim Johnson from South Dakota)

CONGRESSIONAL RECORD, Washington, Thursday, April 8, 2004:

Mr. Johnson: Mr. President: I stand today to recognize an individual who is a dedicated advocate for the blind in this nation, and especially in my home state of South Dakota.

Karen was raised in Hibbing, Minnesota. The second of five children, she learned at an early age to cope with people's afflictions. Her brother Robert was born with Down's Syndrome. It was from this early exposure that Karen gained some of the beliefs that would carry over into later life. At age eleven, Karen herself was diagnosed with type 1 diabetes, the disease that was to define the rest of her life.

In 1965, Karen married her long-time love, Marshall. While living in Tacoma, Washington, where Marshall was to finish out his military obligation, Karen found a job teaching in the Clover Park school system. In her first year on the job, she experienced her first hemorrhage in her right eye, which resulted in complete vision loss in that eye. Because of her love of educating children, she remained on the job teaching, despite experiencing a traumatic physical ailment.

Marshall and Karen moved to Denver, Colorado, after his military obligation was fulfilled. While in Denver, Karen lost still more of her vision, and for all purposes became "totally blind," then underwent eye surgery in the hope of restoring some vision to her right eye.

The surgery was deemed a cosmetic failure. It was also at this time that Karen discovered she was beginning to experience renal failure.

In 1969, Karen and Marshall moved to Rapid City, where she was hired as a Juvenile Probation Officer. She remained at this position for six years, until her renal failure had progressed so much that she was unable to continue her duties. As she experienced kidney failure soon after, her loving brother David offered one of his kidneys. After many months of complications delaying the surgery, the transplant was successful. Three weeks later, she left the hospital, and her kidney functions have remained excellent for the past 27 years.

Following the successful kidney treatment, she was approached by representatives of the National Federation of the Blind to become a member. The philosophy of the NFB matched her own; one of independence, and the abilities of blind persons -- if given a chance. Soon after joining, she became active that same year, and was elected NFB State President, a quite remarkable achievement.

Karen Mayry is the long-time president of the South Dakota Federation of the Blind. For many years, she has provided tireless advocacy for the blind residents of South Dakota and for the disabled population of the state. Under her presidency, the state affiliate has grown to five local chapters. She has proposed and lobbied for, and had legislation passed, which bettered the lives of blind South Dakotans. She has testified before the Senate, investigating transportation for the handicapped, and has annually made trips to our nation's Capitol to lobby for issues of importance to the blind of the country.
She is dedicated to advocating issues of importance, and she is committed to breaking down the structural and attitudinal barriers that impact the blind and disabled community in South Dakota. Her list of organizations is vast, and her accomplishments and awards are countless.

Despite various physical ailments in recent years, Karen refuses to be sidelined, and continues her stalwart advocacy. Her vitality and energy are commendable, and her advocacy and education over the years on issues affecting blind and disabled individuals have proven very successful. She works hard to educate and advocate for the Americans with Disabilities Act, which helps promote the skills and talents of the blind, and educated the business community about the importance of hiring individuals with disabilities.

South Dakotans with disabilities have many fighters in their corner, and Karen Mayry is one of their most ardent advocates. Karen doesn't mince words with elected officials. I, for one, have appreciated her frankness and candor over the years. Her insight is valuable on important issues, not only on matters directly affecting blind residents, but also on issues vital to all South Dakotans, disabled and non-disabled alike.

As residents of my state prepare for the annual South Dakota Federation of the Blind Convention in Sioux Falls, I take this opportunity to congratulate and commend Karen Mayry for her many years of outstanding advocacy work for the blind. I applaud her dedication and commitment, appreciate her advocacy, and wish her the best in her own individual battle to come. I look forward to continuing my work with Karen, concerning issues of importance to the blind and disabled citizens of South Dakota. It is with great honor that I share her impressive accomplishments with my colleagues.