MINNESOTA

                      BULLETIN

 

Quarterly Publication of the

National Federation of the Blind of Minnesota, Inc.

100 East 22nd Street

Minneapolis, Minnesota 55404

Voice:  (612) 872-9363

Website:  www.nfbmn.org

Tom Scanlan, Editor

 

Volume 73, Number 3, Fall 2007

 

WE ARE CHANGING

WHAT IT MEANS

TO BE BLIND

 

Table of Contents

 

Les Affaires. 1

Passing the Gavel 7

Greetings from the New President 9

New Perspective on Immigrants. 12

Joyce Scanlan:  A Friend, a Mentor, and a Leader 13

The Banquet Speech Not Given. 16

All Blind. 24

Bill Laack Recognized by 2007 Phillips Award. 25

Long Journey Leads To Sweet Success. 26

Convention Alert! 28

Dates to Remember 29

Acknowledgements. 29

 

 

 

 

 


 

Les Affaires

By Joyce Scanlan, Past President

 

Today is November 1, All Saints Day, the day after Halloween, and one day before Minnesotans go off to our 2007 state convention in Bloomington.  After more than 34 years, this will be my last convention as president.  My greatest hope is that I’ll have as many more years as a member of this forward-looking people’s movement.  In any event, this will be my last contribution to the Minnesota Bulletin as state president, and the column entitled Les Affaires will be retired.

 

I was first introduced to the National Federation of the Blind when the organization came to Minneapolis for its annual convention at the Leamington Hotel in 1970.  That was definitely the period in my life when everything hit absolute bottom.  I was at the lowest point of my entire life—unemployed, impoverished, and without any clear prospects for success or happiness in the future.  Despite this utter devastation and absence of hope, I did not leap at the chance to go to that convention; a friend kept at me, claiming, “We could go there for the beer busts at hospitality and meet some guys.”  The beer busts didn’t interest me at all; the guys offered a slight attraction but not enough to overcome all sorts of excuses to turn down the invitation.  Although it wasn’t until recently that I would admit it, my real reason for avoiding the convention had more to do with my own lack of confidence and feelings of inadequacy as a blind person.  Ultimately, I ran out of excuses and reluctantly went off to check out this gathering of blind people.

 

When I arrived at the Leamington and stepped into the very crowded lobby, I somehow became caught up in the registration line and paid money for the convention badge, agenda, and a banquet ticket.  As I read the agenda and found the scheduled teachers’ division meeting and several items on the general session program dealing with discrimination experienced by educators and the related legal cases, my interest was captured.  As a blind teacher of secondary English, Latin and history, I knew about discrimination from firsthand experience.  The people I met were very cordial and seemed genuinely interested in my life as a blind person.  White canes were tapping all over the place, and everyone moved about with confidence and ease.  Dog guides were present also with their tails wagging.  It never mattered what the travel tool; people were getting wherever they wished to go.  I met many longtime Federationists, who encouraged me to become involved in the organization and to continue my pursuit of teaching as a career.

 

The banquet was also an outstanding and very memorable event of that convention.  The title of President Jernigan’s address was “Blindness:  The Myth and the Image.”  In his speech were many philosophical statements that are now trademarks of Federation beliefs.  He said, “Who is it that dares thus to disturb the peace and upset the apple cart of traditional definitions?  The aggressors are here in this room.  They are you and I.  They are the organized blind of the National Federation.  It is we who have brought on our own identity crisis—by renouncing and repudiating our old mistaken identity as the ‘helpless blind.’  It is we who are demanding that we be called by our rightful and true names:  names such as competent, normal, and equal.  We do not object to being known as blind, for that is what we are.  What we protest is that we are not also known as people, for we are that, too.  What we ask of society is not a change of heart … but a change of image—an exchange of old myths for new perspectives.”  He also said, “The real problem of blindness is not the loss of eyesight.  The real problem is the misunderstanding and lack of information which exist.  If a blind person has proper training and if he has opportunity, blindness is only a physical nuisance.”  My spirits were lifted as I heard and understood these simple but persuasive statements.  Such compelling beliefs as “Blindness is only another human characteristic like being tall or short or being left-handed.”  These were declarations I could comprehend and with which I could identify.  His presentation was filled with a set of refreshing ideas about blindness and blind people.  Wow!  My self-esteem and hope for a real future suddenly soared to highest optimism.  I was thrilled with everything I heard in that banquet address.

 

I also enjoyed Dr. Jernigan’s leadership style as he chaired the general sessions with usually boring discussions of constitutional amendments, etc.  He was extremely warm and friendly and yet efficient and businesslike.  I was impressed with the competence of Dr. Jernigan and so many others I met.

 

That convention actually turned my life around.  Everything about blindness and my own expectations for a meaningful future changed, and I ceased looking to the past as the only measurement of success and began looking ahead.  I was suddenly hooked, and nothing in my life would ever be as it had been.  I was suddenly energized to venture forth and check out laws talked about at the convention, and I finally joined the local affiliate of the National Federation of the Blind—something I had vowed I’d never do.

 

Probably the aspect of the National Federation of the Blind that has always been most outstanding to me is that it is different from all other membership organizations in the field of blindness.  It promotes a clear and positive philosophy of blindness.  It is blind people speaking for themselves, rather than sighted people or some agency speaking on behalf of blind people.  The Federation is a community of like-minded people who believe in one another and are actively involved in promoting social and attitudinal changes that will benefit their community.  The organization is not any kind of company union, which bows and scrapes to whatever some service-providing agency says or does.  The Federation has a concise process for determining its policies beginning at the grassroots level and expects its members to support and promote the policies adopted by the majority vote at conventions.  Members follow the policies agreed upon.  Belonging to the Federation has meaning.   Furthermore, Federationists give support to one another and share a common set of beliefs about blindness.  The mentoring available through the Federation is valid and carries with it meaningful encouragement and not just a pity-party partnership that thrives on the “blindness is Hell” philosophy and demands all sorts of accommodations and costly services in order to gain minimal independence.  The National Federation of the Blind is a unique organization in many ways.

 

Minnesota was on the move after the national convention in 1970.  Many blind people had been stirred into action.  The student division was organized; many college students joined in the cause.  It was discovered that there were no blind people on the board of the Minneapolis Society for the Blind (MSB, now known as Vision Loss Resources or VLR), and we were determined to do something about it.  Everyone was busy with meetings on all fronts.  We were learning of our rights and our capacity to assert those rights.  It was a terrific time.

 

In the next election for office, because the bylaws required that there be two candidates for each office, many of us were prevailed upon to run for office.  I was asked to run for secretary against Rosemary Varey, a very competent and experienced secretary.  How I received forty-five votes in that election I will never understand.  Rosemary was easily elected, as she should have been.  In 1972 I ran for vice president; Ingvald Gunderson (Gundy) also ran for that office.  I won the election by two votes.  That was the beginning of my political career in Minnesota.  In May of 1973, I ran for president—again against Gundy—and was elected by 38 votes. 

 

I was re-elected every two years thereafter.  Since all elections in those days were contested, I benefited from another bit of helpful advice from Dr. Jernigan who said, “If you have the votes, you can afford to be gracious; if you don’t have the votes, you have to be gracious.”  I have always tried to follow his advice and be gracious, and my career as president will end this Sunday, November 4, when I will not seek office as president.

 

What a great time we have had over the past 34 years!  Not all of my treasured memories can be recounted here, but pardon me if I do a bit of reminiscing!

 

Very few people today remember The Minnesota Home and Center for the Blind.  Well, it’s true—our affiliate owned and operated such a facility at 1605 Eustis Street in St. Paul, making us the brunt of   jokes nationwide.  At board meetings every month we had to vote to pay all the bills, groceries, staff salaries, trash removal, lawn care and snow removal, pest control—all kinds of services related to running such a residence.  Very little of this activity seemed relevant to community involvement or public education or civil rights of blind people.  We began to have some rather heated discussions at board meetings.

 

And there were gates at the tops of the stairways to protect the residents from falling down.  One of my early lessons from Dr. Jernigan dealt with those gates.  Because so many members were new and enthusiastic about what blind people should be able to do, several of our folks approached me with the idea that those gates created a negative image of blind people, were not needed, and we should remove them.  Being young, inexperienced, and not a bit politically perceptive, I approved the removal of the gates.  Oh, what a brouhaha ensued!  Somehow, Dr. Jernigan received word of what had happened, and he called me to discuss what I had done.  He said it was a mistake to take the gates away, because those residents felt they were needed.  He persuaded me to return the gates to their usual place because the residents depended upon those gates.  He also said that if I expected to accomplish everything we hoped to do for blind people, I would need the cooperation and support of those residents of the Home.  He also reminded me to do this with good grace and not in a manner that might be construed as rude or demeaning to the residents.  So, the gates were returned to their rightful place at the tops of all stairways at the home.  I am not sure the residents ever fully again trusted me, but I know that in future elections, many of them gave me their votes.  Yes, today I wish I had at least one of those gates as a living memorial to the hard lesson I learned from this incident.

 

I have always enjoyed working with our fellow Federationists in Minnesota and throughout the country during all these years.  Large numbers of our members truly enjoyed being together to carry out our work.  Our efforts covered a broad range of topics:  numerous problems with airlines and crazy rules related to our white canes, guide dogs, and emergency row seating; the need for a mechanism to provide blind people the opportunity to have a voice in the operation of agencies and programs serving them; promoting Braille instruction for all students who are blind; participating in our Washington seminars and national conventions; working at the state legislature to pass the Human Rights Act, secure funding for public transportation, the state agency, NFB-NEWSLINE®, etc.; the value of having a rehabilitation agency serving blind people separate from the general unit serving other disabilities; building chapters throughout the state and helping to strengthen other Federation affiliates; serving as Federation reps on community boards and councils; speaking out about key issues in the media to build better understanding and establishing the Federation as the voice of blind people; advocating for other blind people experiencing problems with employers, service-providers or public entities; establishing a viable training program in which blind people have the deciding voice; planning state conventions and seminars on a variety of issues; and dealing with other concerns too numerous to list.

 

I can’t forget the fun we’ve had together with move-a-thons, letter-writing sessions and chapter meetings—always with dinners out together afterwards.  We have socialized whenever the work was done and reminisced about the fun we had being together.  There have also been occasions when we have grieved together over the loss of close friends and members.  I remember how when Tom and I lost our pet dog Militant (Mili), our Federation friends extended their sympathies.  Mili was a true Federationist also; she leaped with excitement at the very sight of a person with a white cane.  She participated in the Federation activities that took place in our home and at state conventions for sixteen years and helped to celebrate our Federation successes.  These are some of my fondest memories of our work together.

 

As I look ahead, I am hopeful that Minnesota can have a strong and vibrant organization of blind people.  In my travels to 51 of 52 affiliates over the past 37 years, the enthusiasm and commitment of Federationists throughout the country have been encouraging and uplifting.  Our members appreciate the inspiration and vibrant activity stimulated by our movement.  This is also true for Minnesota.  Our folks thrive on tackling troublesome issues, launching into serious efforts to address such issues and rejoicing when those matters reach resolution.  Members are our greatest asset for conquering social and economic barriers.  Our struggles to reach first-class status in society are by no means over; many remain unfinished, and new problems invariably appear on the scene and demand resolution.  Involvement is the key to accomplishment and growth for our members.

 

Finally, I thank everyone for the support, advisement, and cooperation  I have had as president over these many years.  Our progress has been great, and although we haven’t resolved every single issue, our successes have been steady and significant.  If our persistence, determination, and enthusiasm continue in the years to come, Minnesotans who are blind will have the useful tools to continue opening doors and increasing opportunities for full participation in society.  Always keep expectations for blind people at the highest level.  A vibrant Minnesota affiliate of the National Federation of the Blind with its insistence on membership participation based on a solid belief system can make it come true.

 

November 5, 2007—the 2007 convention is now history, and Jennifer Dunnam is our state president.  She brings new ideas and a fresh approach to our organization.  Please give her your full support.  Help her to understand what you as members want and need and support her in carrying out Federation activities.  As you have always done with me—and I have definitely appreciated it—you will help her if she happens to make a mistake.  No one is perfect.

 

And to President Dunnam I will say, Never shy away from listening to what members tell you.  While you may not always agree with everything you’re told, a president needs to encourage participation of all kinds and always keep her ear to the ground.  Never be afraid to let people know what you expect and hear what others want.  As one of our old friends often said, “The only trouble with a people’s movement is dealing with the people.”  Just one more thing—don’t ever remove the gates from the stairwells, but if you do, save a gate for me.  I know you’ll do well.  Good luck to you!!!


Passing the Gavel

By Tom Scanlan

 

The National Federation of the Blind of Minnesota convention on the weekend of November 2, 2007 marked an historic point in our organization’s 87-year history.  Joyce Scanlan has been elected president every two years for 34 of those 87 years.  This year, she chose not to run again. 

 

Under her leadership, the NFB of Minnesota grew from a mostly-elderly membership focused on an out-dated housing program for a few blind people to a diverse organization focused on security, equality, and opportunity for all blind people.  Most of the people who helped early in that transition, such as Jim Schleppegrell, Rosemary Varey, Clarence Johnson, and Marie Whitteker are now gone.   Others, such as Tom Scanlan, Steve and Nadine Jacobson, Andy Virden, Tim Aune, RoseAnn Faber, and Jan Bailey are still with us.  Still others, such as Mary Hartle-Smith, Stewart Prost, Curt and Peggy Chong, and Eric Smith, are now living elsewhere and active in their respective NFB affiliates.  However, they were all bound together by a common vision led and nurtured by Joyce.

 

She also led the organization from a Minneapolis/St. Paul focus with only two meetings a year to a statewide organization with monthly chapter meetings and two statewide conventions.  

 

Other organizations were affected too.  The Minneapolis Society for the Blind (MSB) was widely regarded as the leading blindness-related organization in 1973 when she was first elected president.  After she led the challenge to MSB on its treatment of blind people, it had lost so much public esteem that it tried to hide its past by changing its name.  MSB was eventually taken over by the St. Paul Society for the Blind and was renamed Vision Loss Resources.

 

State Services for the Blind (SSB) was an unofficial division of the Department of Public Welfare (DPW), reflecting an attitude that blind people were more interested in receiving a public dole.  Although many of the SSB staff thought otherwise, they were hampered by the focus of the department.  In 1985, she led negotiations with the legislature, DPW, and the Department of Economic Security (DES) to move SSB to DES and make it a legal division.  That move had two extremely significant effects: it moved SSB from a welfare-oriented department to one focused on employment and it gave legislative protection to separate programs for the blind by requiring that SSB be a separate division with its own budget. 

 

And then there is Blindness: Learning in New Dimensions (BLIND), Inc.  Joyce was the driving force behind the founding of BLIND in 1986, and the beginning of operation in 1988.  She served as its first executive director from 1987 to her retirement in 2003. 

 

Picture of Joyce Scanlan holding her awardIn recognition of these accomplishments, at the convention banquet Joyce was presented with an award consisting of a crystal gavel and an engraved base.   The base reads:

 

JOYCE SCANLAN

NATIONAL FEDERATION OF THE BLIND OF MINNESOTA

PRESIDENT, 1973 – 2007

YOU HAVE CHANGED WHAT IT MEANS TO BE BLIND

 

She is pictured here with that award.  

 

Steve Jacobson, Jennifer Dunnam, and Tim Aune produced an audio tribute consisting of snippets of some of Joyce’s speeches and articles beginning with a 1972 report on picketing the Minneapolis Society for the Blind that she gave as secretary of the student division and ending with the grand opening of the current NFB of Minnesota and BLIND, Inc building.  The parts are introduced by Steve Jacobson, Shawn Mayo, Jim Sarbacker, Jan Bailey, Dick Davis, RoseAnn Faber, Judy Sanders, Nadine Jacobson, Tim Aune, and Jennifer Dunnam.

 

To hear the entire 24-minute tribute, including Joyce’s response, visit our website at www.nfbmn.org/joyce.

 

Now the time has come to pass the gavel to a new generation.  Jennifer Dunnam has been vice-president and has worked very closely with Joyce.  The members elected Jennifer as the new president.  However, Joyce is not going away.  The members also wanted to keep her experience and ability and elected her to a position on the board of directors.

 


Picture of Joyce Scanlan handing gavel to Jennifer DunnamAt the end of the final session of the convention, President Joyce Scanlan presented the official NFB of Minnesota gavel to President-elect Jennifer Dunnam.

 

 

  

 

 

 

 

Jennifer’s Picture of Jennifer Dunnam rapping the gavel to adjorn the conventionfirst official act as president was to adjourn the convention.

 

May our new president serve as fruitfully and well as our past president.  We are sure she will.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Greetings from the New President

By Jennifer Dunnam, President

 

As I write this it has been a little over a week since you elected me as your new president and since Joyce Scanlan handed me that fine wooden gavel with the NFB of Minnesota logo engraved upon the handle.  Joyce has led us long and well, and has done more than anybody else has to improve life for blind people in Minnesota, not to mention her important work throughout our country.  It is my great fortune to have her experience to call upon, as well as an affiliate full of capable and committed people with whom to work.

 

I have been active in the Federation since I was a teenager in 1985, and Joyce Scanlan was the national representative at my first state convention in Louisiana.  Up to then, my parents, teachers, and others had worked hard to see that blindness did not prevent me from growing up a normal child, but there were some things they did not know about being blind.  As adulthood came into view, I had started to become a little afraid about what life would be like for me as a grown-up. For one thing, I had very little in the way of skill in getting around independently, which was beginning to have a negative and limiting effect on my experience of school (I attended public school from kindergarten through high school).  Certainly, I had dreams of what I wanted to be as an adult, but the day I read a book on summer jobs for teenagers and could not find even one there that I thought I would be able to do, the dreams seemed on very shaky ground. 

 

At that first state convention, I met blind role models full of good ideas and enthusiasm, who inspired me and challenged me by the confident way they presented themselves and the grace and ease with which they traveled wherever they wanted to go.  They kept after me to stay involved with the NFB, and a few years later I began attending Washington seminars and national conventions, reading speeches and articles, and in general assimilating the philosophy of the Federation into daily life, because it made sense to me.  I attended a training center much like our Blindness: Learning in New Dimensions (BLIND), and that training, along with the many Federationists who included me in their activities, helped me get the skills and confidence I needed to travel wherever I wanted to go and to achieve things I could never have imagined before my first NFB convention.

 

After a college experience that included three summers of study abroad, I moved here to Minnesota and worked at BLIND Incorporated as a braille and cane travel instructor for several years.  After that, for nine years I worked at the University of Minnesota, overseeing the production of braille and other alternative formats for course materials, supervising a staff first of twenty-five part-time student workers and then of five full-time employees, and overseeing a testing center that administered about 1,300 exams every semester.  I now manage the National Federation of the Blind’s Braille Certification Training Program under contract with the Library of Congress.

 

All that I have seen and learned so far in life tells me that if blind people are to have a future of opportunity in this world, there is no choice but for this organization, the National Federation of the Blind, to make itself known even more, as the resource and as the force that it is.  Blind children need to know, without a doubt,  that they can travel around freely and safely with a white cane, that they can read and write braille just as fast as their classmates use print, that they can play and have adventures and explore the world around them because it is theirs just as much as anyone else’s.  Blind students need to know, without a doubt, that they can meet the same standards as their peers, and that they can and must manage their own accommodations to succeed in school and to be ready for work and life after school.  Blind senior citizens need to know, without a doubt, that they can still live an interesting and productive life.  Family, friends, co-workers, potential employers, classmates—every blind and sighted person in Minnesota and in society at large—needs to know, without a doubt,  that the amount of sight one has does not determine one’s capacity, and that blind people of all ages are normal and can be expected to pull their weight in the world. 

 

There is no one else who can make these things known, as can we in the National Federation of the Blind of Minnesota.  This organization is a treasure trove—with our chapters and divisions around the state full of knowledgeable people willing to teach what they know and to help solve problems; with our internationally-recognized training center, BLIND, Incorporated, providing students with an environment where they can gain skills and confidence to live full and productive lives as blind people; and with our collective voice and our strong will to make life better.  Teachers and rehabilitation agencies can have a positive impact, but to do so they need to know us, the organized blind of all ages and all walks of life, so they can know enough of the truth about blindness to really believe in blind people and set their standards and expectations high.

 

Are there challenges?  Of course there are, and it is up to us, with our collective experience, to find our way through them and act to conquer them—be they attitudinal, technological, or any other kind large or small.  We must work together to see that the things that blind people need are done—either by doing them ourselves or working with others to see them done.  We must work together to see that things we do not need are not put in place to add to the misunderstandings that surround blindness. 

 

I promise to do my very best for this organization; although there is no way that I could ever pay back what it has given to me, I will try with all my might.  Our history is illustrious, and our future is bright. Remember, though, that there is no organization without each one of its members.  You are the eyes and ears, the hands and feet, the minds and hearts of our organization.  You know what it’s like to live as blind people today, what is working and what is not working.  Our organization requires all of us to do our part—to bring our ideas, our wisdom, and our energy to the task of changing what it means to be blind in today's changing world.  I look forward to working with all of you as we build upon our past and dream and plan for our future.

 

New Perspective on Immigrants

By Sharon Monthei

 

(Editor’s Note:  This is the winner of the 2007 Metro Chapter essay contest.  Sharon Monthei is a very active member and past treasurer of the Metro Chapter.)

 

As a young person who desperately needed training and who got it when needed (although I resisted at the time), I became grateful for that training.  At 19 years old, I decided to dedicate my life to helping other blind people to receive the belief and training that I had received.  I went to college, stayed active in the Federation, and began my career as a Rehabilitation teacher, "a very good place to start."

 

Along the way, I taught travel in Chicago, and I encountered many immigrants as I learned my way around the city and taught students to do the same.  I found myself being incredibly annoyed with them, because it seemed to me that every other person I asked couldn't give me directions.  Either they didn't speak English, or I couldn't understand what they said.  Because I grew up in Iowa, I had never even encountered anyone from another culture until I was an adult, and my experience in Chicago did not help my understanding of this group of people.

 

Recently, I was asked to help State Services for the Blind (SSB) serve the blind immigrant population better, providing guidance to blind immigrants in Minneapolis and to the English as a Second Language (ESL) programs and our counselors working with them.  As I have gotten to know these men—so far, they have all been men—I have come to see them as our blind brothers who have many obstacles to overcome.

 

Those who have come here as refugees and many who have not, have especially difficult circumstances to overcome.  Many have spent years in refugee camps, sometimes growing to adulthood there, receiving little education and having no structured life.  Many have lost family members and everything they had.

 

When they arrived here, they had little or no English and were blind as well.  Yet, they are taking classes and hoping for a better future.  I got to know most of them before I knew of their horrendous backgrounds and never guessed the circumstances under which they arrived in this country.  I have found them upbeat and ready to learn whatever they needed to survive and thrive in America, no matter how long it takes.

 

I am no longer impatient with immigrants, and am determined to help these brothers—and I hope to find sisters—to become full, participating citizens in this great country of ours.  Immigrants now make up about 10% of our population and, of course, we are a nation of immigrants.

 

To learn about serving our immigrant brothers and sisters, I have been to Seattle to learn how to teach English to blind people, and I am taking classes at Hamline University in St. Paul to learn more about teaching English as a second language or "English language learners."

 

The challenge I am facing is that most classes use many visual techniques in teaching, and the teachers do not know Braille.  Students in the beginning classes cannot receive feedback from their teachers on their writing skills.  As a result, their speaking and listening skills progress far beyond their reading and writing skills, or they really don't progress as quickly as their sighted counterparts do.  This would not be a problem, except that standards are now being put into place telling state and federally funded programs how long they can allow any given student to stay at one level.  These standards are in danger of causing programs that have been willing to take blind students to be more reluctant to do so and may cause some programs to refuse to take blind students altogether.  Where are they to go to learn English if this happens?

 

We, as the National Federation of the Blind, need to address this problem and find workable solutions.  I have learned that there are nonvisual ways to teach English to immigrants, but most teachers in ESL programs are unwilling to change their methods to accommodate blind students.  We must find some blind individuals who are willing to learn about ESL methods in order to fill this need.  At present, these students are faced with ESL teachers unwilling or unable to teach blind students and Braille teachers who are unwilling or unable to teach ESL students.  Join with me to find a way to help our blind brothers and sisters to have a better life in America.

 

Joyce Scanlan:  A Friend, a Mentor, and a Leader

By Mary Hartle-Smith

 

(Editor’s Note:  Mary Hartle was the first president of our student division, and Joyce Scanlan was its first secretary.  After graduating from college and working in Minnesota, Mary moved to Iowa where she met and married Mike Smith.  They now live in Mesa, Arizona, and Mary serves on the board of directors of the NFB of Arizona.)

 

Joyce Scanlan, our long-time leader of the NFB of Minnesota is stepping down from the presidency.  Whether we are veteran Federationists or newcomers, Joyce has touched us all with her unwavering support of blind persons and strong philosophy of blindness. 

 

I first met Joyce in August of 1970.  This occurred after the National Convention of the NFB held in Minneapolis in July, which I unfortunately missed and that Joyce attended.  We started discussions about forming a student division of the Minnesota Organization of the Blind (MOB).  We met at 1605 Eustis in St. Paul, the MOB’s building.  Joyce and I became good “telephone friends” and began working together to improve public attitudes about blindness.  In November 1970, we officially organized the “Student Division” of the MOB. 

 

The MOB was working to pass legislation to create a commission for the blind to consolidate services for the blind in the state.  We worked together at the State Capitol, checking on new bills; talking with legislators; attending hearings; etc.  Joyce was, and still is, very astute about politics and political strategy.  We learned about legislative process from other leaders in the affiliate. 

 

In September 1972, after over a year of fruitless negotiation, seven individuals filed a lawsuit against the Minneapolis Society for the Blind, for expelling blind persons from its membership. Joyce was a steadfast force behind the lawsuit and testified in open court, as did Dr. Kenneth Jernigan, then president of the National Federation of the Blind.

 

In 1973, Joyce assumed the presidency of the re-named NFB of Minnesota.  In 1974, she also became a member of the National NFB Board of Directors.  Joyce developed strong leadership skills over the next several years.  She spearheaded the transformation of the affiliate into a modern organization.  In 1980, the NFB of Minnesota moved into new headquarters in the Chamber of Commerce building in downtown Minneapolis.

 

In 1979, the Minnesota Supreme Court ruled that the Minneapolis Society for the Blind (MSB, now VLR) had discriminated against NFB members, must open its membership to blind persons, and allow blind persons to vote for candidates for its Board of Directors.  Preparing for a special election on November 14, 1979, Joyce spun into action organizing a national effort to gather proxy votes.  MSB held its own national campaign in alliance with the American Foundation for the Blind, the National Accreditation Council for Agencies Serving the Blind and Visually Handicapped (NAC), and the American Council of the Blind, spending far more money than did the NFB of Minnesota.  In the final tally, eight Federationists were elected to the MSB board of directors on that fateful November day.  Joyce not only worked tirelessly to gather as many votes as possible; she endured threatening phone calls and verbal attacks from those outside of the NFB who were afraid of the organized blind movement gaining in-roads into the governance of MSB.

 

In 1985, Joyce provided personal support and organizational leadership of the NFB of Minnesota to me to pursue a lawsuit against the Minnesota Department of Human Rights, charging the agency responsible for preserving our rights with employment discrimination.  We won the case, gaining thousands of dollars to compensate for lost wages and to help pay part of the legal fees incurred.  Also, a memo containing false accusations of poor performance was expunged from my personnel file.

 

With planning having been initiated long before, Joyce spearheaded the effort to open an NFB training center called Blindness: Learning in New Dimensions (BLIND), Inc. in January 1988.  Starting with just a few staff, two students, and operating out of a two-bedroom apartment as office and classroom, Joyce launched a new rehabilitation program employing the positive attitudes toward blindness that is the hallmark of the NFB.  This organizational development necessitated establishing a new non-profit corporation; locating and remodeling classroom and office space; acquiring an establishment grant from State Services for the Blind; hiring and training new staff; and conducting outreach to the blind community. The search for permanent space culminated in the purchase and renovation of the former Pillsbury Mansion in south Minneapolis.  Today, BLIND, Inc. attracts national reorganization as a leader in rehabilitation services and draws students from everywhere.

 

Joyce’s constant perseverance and very hard work paid off as BLIND, Inc. developed into a very successful center to provide new opportunities for blind persons wishing to expand their horizons. 

 

Joyce retired from BLIND, Inc. in 2003.   But she did not retire from the Federation.  She continued as the affiliate’s president, strengthening membership and maintaining her vigilance for the rights of blind persons to obtain education, rehabilitation, and employment.

 

For over 37 years, Joyce has served as a stalwart Federationist—being a friend, a mentor, and a leader to thousands of blind Minnesotans.    

 

Joyce’s accomplishments have always been supported by Tom Scanlan, a leader in his own right, who serves as Treasurer of the state affiliate.  He has stood with Joyce through thick and thin, giving encouragement and advice.

 

While Joyce remains on the Board of Directors of both the NFB of Minnesota and BLIND, Inc., it is now time to turn the helm over to other leaders and support their efforts to carry on the advocacy work of the Federation.  Congratulations to our new president, Jennifer Dunnam, who will continue to spread the Federation philosophy of blindness to all corners of the state.

 

The Banquet Speech Not Given

By Scott LaBarre

 

Picture of Scott LaBarre at the podium(From the Author:  Those of you who attended the Annual Banquet of the National Federation of the Blind of Minnesota on November 3, 2007, know that I made a decision not to present my written banquet speech.  I was moved by the evening’s events to relate some more personal stories and reflections about my growth in the Federation under Joyce Scanlan’s leadership.  It truly was an honor and privilege to be the National Representative at this year’s convention and to be witness to an historic moment in our organization.  I salute you Joyce for your three plus decades of excellent leadership, leadership that has laid an excellent foundation for the future.  That foundation will allow Jennifer Dunnam, our new president, to continue building our organization as we draw ever closer to our collective goal of first class citizenship and true equality for the blind  of Minnesota and for the blind of this nation.  It was also a terrific evening  for me because many people special to me attended including my parents, Donna and Charles LaBarre; my younger brother, Craig LaBarre; my aunt and God Mother, Joanne Blakeslee; and a friend and local legal counsel for a number of Federation cases, Sonia Miller-van Oort.  Anyway, here is the actual banquet speech I originally intended to deliver.  My personal philosophy on blindness and growth expressed in the speech reflect the teaching, love, and support offered by my Minnesota Federation family.  For that gift, I can scribe the words thank you, but those words do not adequately express my gratitude.)

 

INTRODUCTION

 

According to John Lock, the great British philosopher and scholar, we are born a tabula rasa, a blank slate.  Lock believed that it is the experiences we encounter from birth forward that form the essential part of who we are.  Although Lock had his own spin on it, his ideas were not entirely his own.  This concept originates as far back as Aristotle who talked about the unscribed tablet.  This Aristotelian notion sharply contrasted with the previously held Platonic notions of the human mind as an entity that pre-existed somewhere in the heavens, before being sent down to join a body here on Earth.  A derivation of Plato's perspective is that our genetic make-up predisposes us to a certain pattern of life experience.  According to Plato and others, the tabula isn't so rasa.  We are talking about the classic argument of nature verses nurture.  As with most things in life, the truth probably lies somewhere between these competing theories.

 

With regard to our beliefs about blindness, are we born a blank slate or a preloaded program? Is one's belief system or perspective more important in shaping our response to blindness, or does blindness have certain limitations incapable of alteration?  The prevailing perspective on blindness falls more in line with the thinking of Plato.  Most assume that a life with blindness is one of inferiority, one of loss, one of tragedy, and nothing can be done to change the tragedy of blindness. 

 

I, like most of you in this room,  sincerely doubt that what we as human beings know about blindness is imprinted on our genetic make-up or predestine in some manner, incapable of change.  What we know about blindness is largely, if not exclusively, formed by our learning and our perspective on life.  One's perspective, or orientation towards life, is formed from a very early age and either reinforced or altered by experience. 

 

GOING BLIND

 

It is mid October, the year 1978.  The autumn sun sets earlier and earlier in the sky each day, leaving the house on the hill cloaked in darkness by dinnertime.  A young boy wakes up from an afternoon nap.  He strolls into the family living room.  He freezes and fear paralyzes him from head to toe.  A primordial scream from the deepest part of his being echoes through the house.

 

His mom and dad rush forth trying to console him, trying to calm him down, but efforts fail.  His younger brother sees his distress and starts crying too.  The day is dark and full of dread. 

 

The boy is ten and thinks his life is over.  He is now blind, never to see again.  All his learning and all his experience during his young life have taught him that to be blind means helplessness, means poverty, and means a sad life.  This boy is so young, but life already seems to have ended. 

 

Why does this young boy have such thoughts and powerful fears?  It is what he has learned, the perspective he has been taught.  Sesame Street showed him pictures of the blind.  They stand at street corners with their dark glasses and guide dogs selling pencils to those who would take pity.  The narrator tells the young boy that the blind have difficult lives and that those with sight should feel sorry for the blind.  Everything important takes sight.  How would this young boy survive and be successful? Is his perspective on blindness permanent or can it change? 

 

Those of us gathered here tonight have learned the answer, the proper perspective.  The proper perspective comes from the National Federation of the Blind.  There are many ways to analyze it, but I think the primary reasons why our perspective is superior come from our philosophy and our people.  We have a belief system free of prejudice and free of limits.  We have the people, full of talent and commitment.  We are changing what it means to be blind and first class citizenship awaits.  However, we aren't there yet. 

 

RECENT EVENTS

 

Even though life is getting better for us, we can all think of recent events that instruct us that we are not generally considered first class citizens.  Sometimes those events are rather subtle and sometimes they are blatant.

 

Recently, I was walking down a sidewalk close to my house.  There was nothing special about the day or anything that I was doing.  I heard someone approaching on a bike.  The guy yells out, as he cruises past, "keep it up buddy, you're doing great!"

 

That is the sum and substance of my encounter with bike man.  What exactly was I doing great, walking?  Maybe he admired my clothes, my stride, or my good looks.  Maybe he was a seer.  Certainly, he could tell that I am a very good trial lawyer and that my practice is going well.  Or maybe he could tell that I am a wonderful father to my children.  Yes, that guy must have been something else to tell so much about me as he whizzed by on his bike.  Well, I suppose it is possible for people to possess extra sensory powers, but I have had countless encounters with Bike Man in a variety of different settings.  Whether it is a guy riding by on a bike or someone else telling me how amazing I am, certainly it is impossible for all these people to possess extra powers and be able to know so much about me?

 

The truth is that they don't.  Most of them only know what they see and what they see is my blindness and nothing else.  They complement me for doing normal and basic things, like walking or shopping or some other daily task.  They tell me that I am amazing for doing things that they take for granted.  They do this because they don't believe that they would be able to function without their sight.

 

We, of course, know differently.  We know that with a positive attitude and proper training, blindness is a very manageable condition.  However, as long as a majority of the sighted believes otherwise, we will face barriers to education, employment, and to the mainstream of life.  Generally, the sighted do not possess ill will towards us but rather pity.  They feel sorry for us.  Regardless of the reason or motivation, second-class citizenship still means inferiority and suffering. 

 

It is difficult for the public to imagine us as successful.  In my life, I constantly run into the situation where people cannot believe that I am a practicing attorney.  The sophistication of the people expressing their amazement that I am a lawyer ranges from the very uneducated to, well, lawyers themselves.  I will never forget the good old days of when I was classified a young lawyer.  I attended a fall conference of the American Bar Association's Young Lawyers Division being held in Vancouver.  I walked into the room where the opening session was to be held, and immediately another young lawyer grabbed my arm and started pulling me back towards the door while saying, "Sir, you're in the wrong place.  This is a meeting for lawyers."  He about collapsed on the spot when I informed him that I was a lawyer and that I had obviously found the right place.  That occurred eleven years ago, but it still happens to me all the time regardless of where I go and what I am doing.

 

LOW EXPECTATIONS AND SWEP EXPERIENCE

 

These experiences result from one thing, low expectations about what we can do as blind people.  Unfortunately, these low expectations often stem from—and are shared by—those who serve the blind.  I will never forget my involvement in the Summer Work Experience Program (SWEP).  Taking place on the campus of St. Thomas College, now University, SWEP was a program designed to evaluate the skill level and vocational aptitude of blind and visually impaired youth during their highschool summers as well as provide real work experience, for pay, in jobs typically held by teens.  Well, during my first summer in SWEP, it was the Program's idea that we would be evaluated vocationally by having us perform strictly manual tasks such as simple assembly of nuts and bolts.  After a few days of this, I complained to the supervisor and to my rehab counselor.  In way of context, I was an “A” student, and my plans included college and a profession thereafter, not work in a sheltered workshop.  At first, my complaints went ignored.  About the third time around, the supervisor yelled at me saying "shut up kid; sit down and do the work; you better get used to it because it is the kind of work you'll do for the rest of your life!"  My rehab counselor told me that I was arrogant and unrealistic to think that I would do anything different from sheltered workshop jobs.

 

At this time, I did not have the Federation in my life.  I seriously wondered if the supervisor and the rehab counselor were right.  Maybe I was too hopeful, too unrealistic.  Thank God they turned out to be wrong and that my initial beliefs and dreams turned out to be true. 

 

ACB AND CURRENCY CASE

 

Unfortunately, negative views of blindness persist, sometimes through blindness organizations themselves.  Many of you have undoubtedly heard of the "currency case," that of the American Council of the Blind v. Paulson wherein the ACB has sued the U.S. Treasury demanding that all currency is readily and tactilely distinguishable by the blind.  As you know, the lower Court, the United States District Court for the District of Columbia ruled that the Treasury is violating the law by not making the currency completely accessible.  Regardless of your views on this case, I want you to hear one of the justifications ACB used in its legal brief before the lower Court.  In describing the great trouble the blind have in managing U.S. currency, ACB's Brief says, "These burdens are significant for millions of Americans.  They are borne on a daily basis by the most vulnerable individuals in our society.  The current design of U.S. currency constitutes a major impediment to disabled individuals in independently engaging in daily life activities."  I don't know about you, but don't include me in that most vulnerable catagory!!  If the blind themselves say that they are the most vulnerable segment of society, is there any wonder about why society's negative attitudes persist?

 

HOPE ALIVE AND WELL

 

Now, I suppose we are at the point where we should ask whether the glass is half empty or half full.  I think it is at least half-full.  There is cause for hope.  For every bad experience, I have at least one good experience regarding my blindness, and I think that the same can be said for society in general.

 

This ACB Case is, if you will, a case in point.  The case is currently on appeal before the United States Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit.  Legal experts regard this Court as the second most influential court in the land, second only to the Supreme Court.  On the DC Circuit, there are fifteen judges, one of whom is blind.  David Tatel sits on that Court and does so with distinction.  Many have said that if the next President is of the appropriate political flavor, Judge Tatel may be on the short list for appointment to the United States Supreme Court.  Our founder, Dr. tenBroek, could have only dreamed of having a blind judge sitting on our nation's highest courts, yet we have made that come true. 

 

 BIRTH OF MY CHILDREN

 

My own life is replete with positive experiences involving my blindness.  Two that are very dear to me surround the births of my children, Alexander and Emily.  Alexander is our oldest, and when my wife, Anahit, and I were preparing for his birth in the fall of 2002, there was some question about whether the hospital and medical personnel would allow me to participate in the birth activities as all other fathers do, activities like cutting the chord and carrying my little guy from the labor and delivery room to the new born nursery.  I explained my desires and my abilities to our doctor, and no trouble occurred after that point.  Even though Alexander was born by emergency c-section, the doctors and hospital staff allowed me to participate fully.  One of my very proudest moments is carrying little Alexander, just minutes old, from the OR to the nursery, a distance of several hundred feet.  The nurse who walked with me simply gave me directions and did not make a huge deal of my blindness.  I felt like any new father should have felt, full of joy about my son's birth, full of relief that the emergency passed with both my wife and son in good health.  I thank God that my blindness did not play a role in denying me the joy and relief that any father would have expected.

 

CHANGING PERSPECTIVE

 

So, how do we change the prevailing perspective on blindness?  How do we convince society that blindness does not make us inferior and that it is simply a different way of experiencing the world?  Our Federation leaders, Dr. tenBroek, Dr. Jernigan, and Dr. Maurer, have delivered scores of speeches on this topic, and there certainly isn't just one formula.  However, one formula in particular has always stuck with me.  In 1991, Dr. Jernigan delivered a banquet speech to the National Association of Blind Students assembled in Washington DC.  He told us that we change what it means to be blind through individual action collectively focused.  Mostly, we do not change what it means to be blind through dramatic events but rather one simple act, one person at a time.  We may all think that we are powerless alone, but that isn't true.  Every life we touch makes a difference.  Therefore, it is important, dare I say imperative, to consider ourselves ambassadors.  We must conduct ourselves as we want the world to know blindness.  If we all do so, we will reach our goal, our dream of first class citizenship.

 

ALEXANDER AND THE LIGHTRAIL

 

Because of the depth and breadth of our collective action, I know that we will reach our goal, our dream, of a day when we are not treated in an inferior manner just because we cannot see.  I hope and expect that we will reach a time when our society adopts a perspective about blindness like my young son's.  About two years ago, Alexander and I were waiting for a light rail train, and he said "daddy can you see the train coming?"  And before I could say anything, he then said, "Oh, you can't see it because your eyes don't work but you can hear it.  You will know when to get on the train, right daddy?"  You're absolutely right, Alexander.  You in your very young years have learned that we might not see but we have different ways of getting the same job done.  You don't think that I am any less of a daddy because I can't see.  When will society learn the same lesson?  I don't know when but I know that it will happen.  It will happen because of us, the National Federation of the Blind.

 

CONCLUDING THOUGHTS

 

As you most certainly know by now, I am the little boy discussed at the beginning of this speech.  The feelings expressed were real, powerfully so.  In fact, words cannot adequately describe the terror I felt on October 18, 1978 and for days, weeks, months, and even years afterwards.  My growth from that point to where I am today has been long, and at times, difficult. 

 

I thank God that I have two wonderful families in my life, the LaBarre's and the National Federation of the Blind.  My mom and dad didn't know exactly how to handle my blindness.  They were as scared and depressed as I was.  One thing they did know, however, is that they wanted their son to live a normal life and to be happy.  Even though they wanted to protect and shelter me, they resisted the urge, let me be a kid, and I am so thankful that they did.  I want to take a moment here to recognize the fact that members of my family and a dear friend are here tonight.  Please join me in thanking them for their love, their encouragement, and their support of my involvement in this organization.

 

My other family is, of course, our Federation.  You couldn't allow me to speak long enough to describe fully how this organization, this family, has changed my life.  It has allowed me to believe, at a fundamental level, that I am normal and that my life need not be artificially limited. 

 

The answer to the question of how the blind can achieve first class citizenship and change the prevailing perspective is assembled in this room and throughout our great land.  It is the National Federation of the Blind.  The Federation is many things.  Perhaps most significantly, it is a gift, a gift created by Dr. tenBroek, built and strengthened by Dr.  Jernigan, sustained and further expanded by Dr. Maurer, and lived and expanded to new heights by all of us.  It is a gift we must not squander.  It is a gift that we must cherish, build and grow constantly.  It is a gift only limited by the extent to which we can dream, dream of a better life for the blind.  It is a gift that I know will lead us to a day of true freedom and equality where people will look at us as normal people who just do things differently.  Let us join our hearts, our minds, our hands, and our individual actions together and do the work we must to make our dreams come true!

 

I stand here tonight humbled and blessed.  It is impossible to express all the good we have done and that we will undoubtedly do.  It is impossible in a speech like this to express how much this organization means to me, how much it means to the lives of our blind community.  However, I welcome this difficulty because it means that we are truly changing the perspective on what it means to be blind in profound ways.  We are heeding Dr. Jernigan's advice and changing our destiny, one action and one person at a time.  I stand here tonight resolute in the knowledge that our standing in this society grows more and more each day.  First class citizenship for the blind is no longer just a fanciful dream.  It will be our reality.  We are not damned to a Platonic view of blindness where our destiny is predetermined.  Rather, we have the power to write our own tabula, the power to write our own script, a script of positive beliefs and true equality.  Because of our philosophy, our love for one another, and because of our commitment to changing the prevailing perspective on blindness, no barrier can stand in our way.  Our dreams must become our reality.  Now, let's join together, march forward to the future, and make it happen!!

 

All Blind

By Jeffrey Thompson

 

(Editor’s Note:  Jeff is the past president of our student division, and the newest member of the NFB of Minnesota board of directors.)

 

Some say that because I am a “partial” (i.e., I have some vision) that I do not need to use my long white cane or need to learn Braille.  Others think I am rude when I do not accept their seat on the bus.  Some think that I am enjoying the tuition breaks at college, assistance from the state services and discounted handicap bus rates. Some think that they “get it” when they find out that I have some residual sight saying, “Oh, I thought so, you’re not ALL BLIND.”  I smile and go about my way, tapping my NFB long white cane, carrying my BrailleNote, reaching for my U of M issued bus card, and wondering what it takes to be ALL BLIND.  My name is Jeffrey Thompson, I am a partial, and I am ALL BLIND.

 

I go to the mall with my children and they question why I bring my cane, when they see me at home and in the yard moving about without it.  I tell them it is because I am blind and they say to me that I am not ALL BLIND.  I read the Braille on my note-taker in class and some ask if I can read large print,  I tell them with a pause, “Yes, but not as fast.”  Oh, you’re not ALL BLIND.  I notice people rising from their bus seat and heading towards the back of the bus only to find me sitting right next to them five seconds later.  The others who tried to tell me where to sit bend their necks, quietly watching only to assure their seat partner that I must not be ALL BLIND.

 

I attend the University of Minnesota as a non-traditional student, seeking my new career, working on a bachelor’s degree in History and Political Science.  I had tutored for a year and a half in the subjects of Calculus, English, and ESL (English as a Second Language).  I worked in the learning center, lobbied for higher education while Vice President of the Minnesota State College Student Association, worked in the disabilities office and helped facilitate math tests for those needing the service.  Each step of the way, others observed me as a leader, hard worker, and ambitious student.  No one knew how hard it was to do what I did trying to imitate a sighted person.  I could almost pull it off—most of the time.  But, most of the time was starting to turn into some of the time and my ambitions dropped, my work ethics dropped, and leadership is something I really needed.  I wasn’t feeling ALL BLIND and did not know what to do.

 

I escaped from the public eye for two years, caring for my father and raising my son.  Was this what I was going to do?  Be “that blind guy” in the neighborhood, “that blind guy” who mows his own yard.  Was I going to let blindness define me?  I knew I had to do something right then before I became ALL BLIND.

 

Now, after national conventions of the National Federation of the Blind and graduating from Blindness: Learning in New Dimensions (BLIND), Inc., I can hold my shoulders high when I say that I am “that blind guy” in the neighborhood, I do mow my own grass, I don’t sit in the “handicapped seats” in the
front of the bus when I can physically sit elsewhere or stand just like most others.  I buy the U-pass bus card just like 20,000 or so others do.  I use Braille as much as I can.  Most of all, when I am out and about, flying or riding, shopping or entertaining, I use my long white cane.  This is not just for me, not just for those who recognize me with the usual trappings, but it is also for those who haven’t yet had the training and experiences that I have been privileged to have.  It is benefiting ALL BLIND when I use my cane and carry my shoulders high.  It is benefiting ALL BLIND when I succeed in classes while not depending on the services of the disabilities office.  It is benefiting ALL BLIND when I help change the ingrained stereotypes with which most of society plagues us.  It is benefiting ALL BLIND when I conduct myself in a professional manner, and I too, am part of the ALL BLIND when you do the same.

 

ALL BLIND people have the opportunity to change what it means to be blind.  Not ALL BLIND see the same.  Not ALL BLIND act in the same way.  ALL BLIND are uniquely different and I am just one who is doing it with ALL BLIND in mind.

 

Bill Laack Recognized by 2007 Phillips Award

By Tom Scanlan

                                                                                                       

Bill Laack is a long-time member of the NFB of Minnesota Metro Chapter, and has always lived the NFB philosophy of leading a full life on terms of security, equality, and opportunity.  Bill has participated in many NFB activities including chapter meetings, conventions, and running in our move-a-thon to raise money for the NFB of Minnesota in which he so strongly believes.

 

At the 2007 Medtronic Celebration of Courage on August 25, Bill was awarded a Phillips Award from the Jay and Rose Phillips Family Foundation.  The Foundation sponsors this award “to honor people with disabilities who have achieved success in their chosen careers.”   This is what the award says about Bill, to which we can only add our own agreement and congratulations.

 

William Laack, Minneapolis, Self-Employed Piano Tuner, Professional Jazz Musician.  William, 78, is a self-employed piano tuner, who works for private schools, homes, churches, and business establishments.  He has been the principal piano tuner for the Minneapolis School District for more than 20 years.  Born blind, William uses a white cane and gets around using the public bus system.  He has memorized the intricate map of Minneapolis streets and bus routes to be independently mobile.  Since he was 16, William has been a professional jazz saxophone and piano player.  Charles Clarke, a fellow musician and retired music teacher admires William "for many things, but I especially praise him for his pride, promptness, honesty and strong sense of independence.  He is a man of his word." And, if that weren't enough, William runs with the Achilles Track Club, ran his first marathon at the age of 56, and has completed seven marathons.  At 73 he started dat­ing his new lady-love and believes, "There's life after 75, and plenty of it."

 

Long Journey Leads To Sweet Success

By Chuck Frederick, Duluth News Tribune

 

(Editor’s Note:  This article was published in the Duluth News Tribune on Saturday, July 28, 2007.)

 

Julie Vogt’s debut CD isn’t unique because of the wonderful music on it, nor is the gospel record unusual because it took her 14 years to record—one year for every song. The sweet-sounding, piano-and-vocals work of art is, however, more than a little special because Vogt produced it almost entirely with the help of blind people.

 

Blind people like her.

 

“I am so pleased with the final outcome,” said Vogt, who’s hosting a CD release party at 5 p.m. today in Pennell Park Commons on Arlington Avenue in Duluth Heights, where she lives. The party will move to Carmody Irish Pub on East Superior Street at 8 p.m.

 

 “It took so long to get done.  It felt like a big weight was lifted because it was something I had endeavored to do for so long,” she said.  “It’s been a journey.  Each song is like part of a journey.  That’s why I titled it “As God Leads.”  He promises he will lead his people who are spiritually blind.  I like to apply that to those of us who are physically blind as well.”

 

Vogt’s life, likewise, has been quite a journey.

 

She was born prematurely in June 1945, one of three girls raised in St. Paul on a car mechanic’s salary.  Tiny, she was placed as a newborn in an incubator where, perhaps, there was too much oxygen.  That can lead to blindness, though Vogt will never know for certain why her eyes didn’t fully develop.

 

At 3, she discovered music.  More specifically, she discovered the piano owned by the family who lived above her family’s basement apartment. “I just started tinkering on it and making songs out of what I heard on the radio,” she said.  But perhaps she tinkered too much.  Her neighbor eventually rigged the piano so the keys wouldn’t make noise.

 

At 6, Vogt was sent by her parents to the Minnesota State Academy for the Blind in Faribault, Minn.  The school then was known as the Minnesota Braille and Sight-Saving School, although Vogt always wondered, jokingly, “how much sight it really saved.”  The school was good for her, she said. She came home summers and vacations and every other weekend.

 

When she turned 21, Vogt decided to pursue music.  She enrolled at the MacPhail College of Music in Minneapolis.  After a year, the college merged with the University of Minnesota, and she experienced her “first taste of discrimination,” she said.  “The University of Minnesota did not want blind people studying music in their school.  They didn’t want us to be teachers.”

 

At 22, Vogt married and moved to Iowa.  But like her stint at the university, wedded bliss didn’t last long.  After only two years, with her husband focused too much on alcohol and other women, she divorced.  “I kicked him out,” she said.

 

Seven years later, in 1975, at her family’s urging, Vogt returned to Minnesota and became active with the National Federation of the Blind.  She also began playing piano, singing and performing at churches and elsewhere around the Twin Cities.  “I launched my music ministry,” she said.

 

She wrote her own music, too, and performed her own compositions.  In 1981, she recorded two of her songs on a 45 rpm single called “Smile, God Loves You.”   The flip side was “That’s Worth Everything.”

 

In 1993, as she learned how to use a computer to save the music from her keyboard, Vogt decided to record more of her songs onto a compact disc.  She paid a producer in Iowa to mix her work and produce a record. Six long years later, he delivered—with a mix so bad “I was sick to my stomach listening to it,” Vogt said. “I never thought I’d have the money to get it fixed.”

 

For 14 years, she saved as she moved from the Twin Cities to the Twin Ports.  Earlier this year she started working with a friend, a blind man at Affordable Studio Services of Cape Girardeau, Mo.  E-mailing songs back and forth, she and Chris Belle “rescued” her record.

 

It’s a wonderful CD.  I listen to it daily,” said Elaine Dickerson, who met Vogt seven years ago when Vogt performed at Dickerson’s St. Mark African Methodist Episcopal Church in Duluth.  “Julie’s a very, very Christian woman.  She has a beautiful heart and she’s one of the finest musicians I know. She’s a very caring, loving person and a musical talent.”

 

Vogt also has performed in Duluth at Carmody Irish Pub, for her neighbors on Sunday afternoons at Pennell Park Commons and elsewhere.  She’s saving her tips, she said, to buy a keyboard with a built-in recording studio.  Her hard-to-keep-tuned, 100-year-old piano won’t last much longer.

 

But Vogt’s music will.  Now that it’s recorded for posterity.

 

(Chuck Frederick is the News Tribune’s deputy editorial page editor.  He can be reached at 218-723-5316 or cfrederick@duluthnews.  “As God Leads,” a debut CD by Julie Vogt, is available from Vogt at 218-727-9093 or jcvogt@pressenter.com.)

 

Convention Alert!

 

Exciting times are coming in NFB conventions.  Keep these in mind as you plan your activities throughout the coming year.

 

The Semiannual NFB of Minnesota Convention will be held in April or May 2008 outside the Metro area.  Members will receive a letter with details about a month before the convention, and the letter will be on our website at www.nfbmn.org.

 

The National NFB Convention will be held during the first week of July 2008 in Dallas, Texas.  This is a whole week of friends, fun, and serious business.  It is a chance to be part of the largest gathering of blind people in the world.  The full convention bulletin will be in the Braille Monitor, and in the Upcoming Events section of the www.nfb.org website.

 

The Annual NFB of Minnesota Convention will be held on October 3-5, 2008 at the Kahler Grand Hotel in Rochester.  Room rates will be $69.00, plus tax.  Members will receive a letter with details about a month before the convention, and the letter will be on our website at www.nfbmn.org.

 

Dates to Remember

 

Metro Chapter — Twin Cities area; meets at 2:00 p.m. on the third Saturday of every month at NFB of MN Headquarters, 100 East 22nd Street in Minneapolis

 

Riverbend Chapter — New Ulm area; meets at 9:00 a.m. on the third Saturday of every month in New Ulm; contact Charlene Childrey at 507-354-2250 for meeting location

 

Rochester Chapter — Rochester area; meets at 7:00 p.m. on the fourth Tuesday of every month at Peace Church in Rochester

 

Central Minnesota Chapter — St. Cloud area; meets at 12:30 on the second Saturday of every month at Old Chicago Restaurant in St. Cloud

 

Runestone Chapter — Alexandria area; meets at 1:30 on the third Saturday of every month at First Congregational Church in Alexandria

 

Acknowledgements

 

Many people are involved in getting this issue to you.  The writers can write and the editor can edit, but until the material is printed, brailled, recorded, and distributed, it is just a computer file.  Therefore, we owe great thanks to the following people for the work they do in producing this publication.

 

Tim Aune duplicates the cassette tape edition.

Jennifer Dunnam transcribes the braille edition.

Art Hadley reads the audio edition for cassette tape and Compact Disc.

Judy Sanders proofreads and provides corrections for both the print and braille editions.

Tom Scanlan marks up the website edition.

Emily Zitek runs the copies for the braille edition, deals with the printer for the print edition, and mails all editions.