The Braille Monitor                                                                        November 2005


The First of the First Ladies, Mrs. Hazel tenBroek, Dies

by Marc Maurer and Sharon Gold

Hazel tenBroek, December 19, 1911, to October 7, 2005
Hazel tenBroek, December 19, 1911, to October 7, 2005

From the Editor: On Friday, October 7, my phone rang at lunchtime. It was Sharon Gold telling me that at 1:30 that morning Mrs. tenBroek had slipped away to rejoin her beloved Chick. It was fitting that Sharon was the one to deliver this news to the Federation family. For many years she was the president of the California affiliate and a close friend of Mrs. tenBroek until her death. In fact, from the time of Mrs. tenBroek's move to Sacramento in 1988 until her move to a nursing facility, Sharon was probably her closest friend and greatest support. Here are President Maurer's and Sharon Gold's recollections of and tributes to Hazel tenBroek. We begin with President Maurer's:

On Friday, October 7, 2005, as I was attending the convention of the National Federation of the Blind of Colorado, I learned that Mrs. Hazel tenBroek, the widow of our founding president, had died during the previous night. She had been ill for a long time.

About five years ago I went to visit her in an assisted living facility, and we enjoyed a conversation that lasted for more than two hours. The Parkinson's had affected her muscles so that she had difficulty holding a pen or writing, holding a fork or a glass, or doing much of anything else with her hands. Her voice also had been affected. Her speech was slow and often difficult to comprehend, but she spoke of the early days in the National Federation of the Blind and of her time with Dr. Jacobus tenBroek. She remembered especially her tasks in support of Dr. tenBroek--of helping with his writing, of helping with the entertaining that occurred in their home, and of the extensive driving assignments she had for Federation gatherings. She and Dr. tenBroek had purchased a great big used 1929 Buick, which was just right for picking up hordes of Federation members. Unfortunately, after they had driven the car for a couple of years, somebody stole it. Mrs. tenBroek thought the vehicle had been particularly suited for bringing crowds to meetings, gatherings, and political events. She was proud of having driven so much for Dr. tenBroek and for us.

I first met Mrs. tenBroek in 1969. She was then associate editor of the Braille Monitor, a job she held through 1976. At each convention of the Federation the first item on the afternoon agenda for the first day of sessions is the presidential report. During the time that Mrs. tenBroek served as associate editor of the Monitor, the item following the presidential report was her report from the Berkeley office. I first heard her voice as she delivered the Berkeley report from the podium in 1969.

Mrs. tenBroek was warm and generous to us, but she was also a fierce advocate, who could speak her mind directly when the Federation was attacked. During the NAC wars she took the scoundrels to task and demanded that they be responsive to the blind of the nation.

Mrs. tenBroek shared her home with Federationists: dreaming with them, planning with them, preparing for action. During many conventions her room was a gathering place for good talk and the fellowship that goes with convention.

In 1997 Mrs. tenBroek gave to us the documents and papers Dr. tenBroek and she had collected. We said then that we would establish a library with these papers as the central element of a collection on blindness. We broke ground for our new building in 2001, and we finished construction in 2004. The biography of Dr. tenBroek written by Floyd Matson is among the first volumes to be placed on the shelves in the tenBroek Library. The biography was completed in time to be released at the 2005 convention of the National Federation of the Blind. We sent Mrs. tenBroek an inscribed copy. Her spirit and her strength are reflected in the book.

Mrs. tenBroek helped to make the Federation what it is. Her fierce, bright, indomitable character will be part of our movement as long as the blind walk the earth. She and Dr. tenBroek were inseparable; she and the National Federation of the Blind are also inseparable. We will miss Hazel tenBroek.

That was President Maurer's personal recollection of Mrs. tenBroek. Here is Sharon Gold's:

On October 7, 2005, Hazel tenBroek, the first first lady of the National Federation of the Blind, died in Overland Park, Kansas, after suffering a long siege with Parkinson's disease. She was born December 19, 1911, and was nearly ninety-four years old.

During her long life Mrs. tenBroek was the devoted wife and then widow of Dr. Jacobus tenBroek, mother of three children, grandmother of eight, and great-grandmother of ten. She was a true and loving Federationist and a great and wonderful "Jewish mother" to all of us in the National Federation of the Blind. Our memories of her go way back--for some further back than for others. We remember her in the big house on Shasta Road in Berkeley, California, with all of her books and files. We shared many meals that she had lovingly prepared for all of us to enjoy. Regardless of our religious backgrounds and beliefs, the long table where we sat and looked out over the San Francisco Bay held many people as we shared Passover and Hanukah meals and other celebrations with her.
As many others of you do, I remember spending time in my early days in the NFB learning about the history of our great movement at Mrs. tenBroek's capable hands and records. She was there in Wilkes-Barre, Pennsylvania, on November 16, 1940, when the National Federation of the Blind was organized. And she was a constant presence as the Federation matured and came of age.

Following Dr. tenBroek's untimely death in 1968, Mrs. tenBroek was employed by the National Federation of the Blind in the original Berkeley office to keep and manage all of the early records of the organization. As the associate editor of the Braille Monitor, she maintained all of the mailing lists of the NFB, oversaw the printing and mailing of the organization's publications, and worked hand-in-hand with the editor of the monthly magazine, helping to write the articles and doing all of the editing and proofreading of the publication. On occasion she was called to then NFB President Jernigan's office in Des Moines, Iowa, to work with him on special publications.

Mrs. tenBroek traveled to meet with state and national legislators to help fellow Federationists work toward improving the lives and rights of blind people. When we raised pickets against the repressive National Accreditation Council for Agencies Serving People with Blindness and Visual Impairments (NAC), Mrs. tenBroek was right at home walking among the blind in the picket lines. The last march against NAC was held in the San Francisco Bay Area after Mrs. tenBroek's health began to fail. She was concerned that her health would not allow her to participate. I encouraged her to come along to give us moral support, which she did. Much to our surprise and delight, soon after the march began, the spicy and determined Hazel tenBroek was outside marching with us around the hotel on that dark, cold, windy, and foggy night on the shore of San Francisco Bay.

When "Mrs. T" (as many of us in the Federation affectionately called her) came to NFB conventions, she held parties to which as many Federationists as could be stuffed into her room were invited. We ate from her supply of San Francisco sourdough French bread and dry salami, which always arrived at conventions in a green suitcase, and we drank from the cache of beverages that she served in her room. During these times she reminisced about the many years of our movement, discussed the development of the organization, and told new Federationists stories from the early days. No doubt many can remember her voice from the back of meeting rooms, where she always sat, when she corrected our English or made wise and necessary comments about what was going on in the meeting.

How many times did we look to Mrs. tenBroek for her expertise and guidance! And of course we remember the early morning walks she took with Dr. Jernigan for many years.

In about 1980 Mrs. tenBroek moved to Washington State to spend some time near her grandchildren. While there, she became active in the Washington affiliate of the Federation and served on the board of the NFB of Washington.

Mrs. tenBroek returned to California and settled in Sacramento in early 1988. At the time I was finishing preparations for the NFB of California convention. Mrs. tenBroek invited Michael Tigar, the highly acclaimed criminal attorney and student and friend of Dr. tenBroek, to address the convention. Mr. Tigar spoke at the memorial celebration of the twentieth anniversary of Dr. tenBroek's death. He told us of his experiences in the classroom of a blind academic (see the March 1989 Braille Monitor).

In Sacramento Mrs. tenBroek was again active in the NFB of California and became a member of the local Sacramento chapter. She spent many hours helping in the NFB of California office with mailings and other activities. She was always available to proofread the affiliate's newsletter and to help with the writing of resolutions.

Whether Hazel tenBroek is remembered for her devoted and lifelong work with Dr. tenBroek on research, writing, and academic and Federation concerns, or for the early morning walks at conventions with Dr. Jernigan, the parties she held in her room during conventions, or her remarks from the back of the meeting room, she will always be remembered and loved by Federationists across the country. She always said, "When you think of me, have a celebration." And we will.

The first first lady of the NFB, Hazel tenBroek, has left us. However, she lives on in the minds and hearts of the members of the National Federation of the Blind.