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50th Anniversay Letter #2

Fellow Federationists and Friends,

 

In the first 50th Anniversary letter we sent out earlier this year, we included an article about how the National Federation of the Blind of Nebraska was Affiliated in 1971. We also included a short biography of our first president, Richard “Dick” Parker. If you missed that letter, you can check it out on our website, http://ne.nfb.org.

For this edition, we want to concentrate on some of the achievements of the Federation in Nebraska. While the efforts, persistence, and determination of the Nebraska affiliate have accomplished much over the years to improve the lives of blind people both here and beyond, we have been challenged when it comes to keeping a searchable archive. In lieu of articles about specific events, I would like to share with you an article from News from Blind Nebraskans’ 1995 Winter Edition. It was written by Lauren Eckery (now Merryfield), and tells some of the history of the first 25 years of our reorganized Organization.

Next time we will bring the story of the NFB of Nebraska from 1995 to the present day, recounting some of our more recent struggles and accomplishments.

 

Twenty-Fifth Anniversary Celebration Report

National Federation Of The Blind Of Nebraska

By Lauren L. Eckery

 

When I was young, I disliked history with a passion.  I thought "What does that have to do with me?  I wasn't even there."  I complained about having to learn all about "barbaric men who went around killing people and everyone cheered.  How stupid!"  My teachers did not like this attitude, but I held to it for many years.  As an adult, I found, much to my surprise, that history in specific areas of my interest seemed quite fascinating.  Music history, social work history, and, of course, our NFB history, all seemed not only interesting but also broadened my understanding in these courses of study.  I hope that those of you who have come into the NFB in the 1980's or 1990's will stay in the room to experience with us some of our memories, tears and laughter, which we are so eager to share with you now.

When several of us were growing up, we attended the Nebraska School for the Blind which was later regressively renamed the Nebraska School for the Visually Handicapped.  The "Civil War" (between the NFB and the ACB) was going on in the early 1960's when some of us were children.  We heard little about organizations of the blind, but some of us do remember hearing that the name Jernigan was something to fear.  The National Federation of the Blind was seen as "elitist" (that was not the term the adults used, but we got the gist).  We were predisposed to American Council of the Blind-type thinking which, in essence, was something like: "watch out for those Iowa people! They're a bunch of radical blind people who went blind later in life.  They know nothing about how congenitally blind adults can function.  Being totally blind from birth means that you cannot expect to be as competent as these NFB people say.  They're filling your minds with false hopes and you'll only stumble and fall someday, trying to do more than you can do."

When we graduated from high school and attended the alumni organization, and when we met other blind adults who had not attended NSVH, this NFB-phobia continued.  No one seemed to have concrete reasons or answers for us. 

When the Nebraska Association of Workers for the Blind chose to affiliate with the American Council of the Blind, we were sucked in.  Later on, in the 1970's, we realized what had happened.  Hank Vetter and I made and seconded a motion to disaffiliate with the ACB and to become, once again, an alumni organization of NSVH.  Fortunately, this was accomplished.

Sometimes I wonder how it might have been if there had been an active NFB chapter at the school, preparing us to be and do our very best.  Might we have been more confident and fulfilled if this had been so?

It wasn't until we were young adults that we realized we had been betrayed into accepting less for ourselves and other blind persons--children and adults.  I hope that blind children today who already know who they are in the NFB might realize the blessing they have been given.

Thinking further, perhaps being predisposed to mistrust the Federation, coupled with receiving shabby services from Nebraska Services for the Visually Impaired, under the direction of Dean McDermott, helped to light the spark of anger within us which made us stop and think. 

We had experienced the humiliation of the "nuts and bolts" routine at SVI.  We were assigned to counselors who didn't know the difference between prerecorded tapes, blank tapes and empty reels for tape.  Furthermore, these counselors thought Braillers went to be fixed in Watertown, Pennsylvania rather than Massachusetts.  Some of us at the University had a counselor named Payne and he certainly was one.  (Up to that time, the only Payne we had heard about was Thomas Payne who wrote "Common Sense.") It seemed that we were not exposed to much of that at SVI. 

We decided to find out what these people from Iowa had to say.  They seemed to have a much better vision of a brighter future for us and other blind people.

It was in this transitional stage that we realized that ACB-minded persons could not, and did not, deliver.  It was when we still feared the NFB, that some of us were approached by the right people--and they happened to be from Iowa!

Though I am no longer as young as I was when I joined the Federation in 1975, it is that youthfulness of spirit that keeps me going. This is what keeps our Federation going also.  I am, like many others, proud to have been there near our beginning, and I am still proud to be a staunch Federationist in 1995.  Many of our founders, as you will notice, were there in the beginning but have since left us (in the physical sense).  Congratulations to all of us who were there then and are still here now! 

Reorganizing of the National Federation of the Blind of Nebraska began in 1970.  Federationists such as Mary Ellen Anderson (now Mrs. Jernigan), Arleen Gashel (now Arleen Hill), Ruth Ireland (mother of Ramona Walhof, Susan Ford and Curtis Willoughby), Jim and Sharon Omvig and Kenneth Jernigan himself, took on the task of finding us and bringing us together to reorganize the NFB of Nebraska. 

Personally, I remember visits by Mary Ellen Anderson and Arleen Gashel as they answered a zillion questions which Barbara and I had when we were students at the University of Nebraska at Lincoln. We knew very little about either alternative techniques for independent living or the social and political barriers to be surmounted in the predominantly sighted world out there.  We were given so much hope and we were assured that we, seemingly insignificant Laurie and Barbara Beach, could be very helpful in the cause for our security, equality and opportunity.

Some of us did not join the NFB at it's first meeting. We had much to think about and we read the NFB literature given to us, including a subscription to the Braille Monitor. 

Let me digress a bit to tell you how I obtained the extremely important information about the reorganizing of our state affiliate.  When I was asked to make this presentation, I searched my own memories and came up rather short.  In contacting Barbara Walker, I was reminded of the article written by Mary Ellen Anderson which appeared in the April, 1971, edition of the Braille Monitor.  Neither of us had easy access to the information contained in that article.  Subsequently, I asked John Klingman to call the National office during the daytime since I cannot make long-distance phone calls from work.  He did this and received the valuable information from none other than our Aloma Bouma.  It is this type of love, trust and communication that has kept the NFB going in the past which will continue into the future. 

[Editor's note:  The article by Mary Ellen Anderson will be reprinted in the next issue due to space considerations.]

Here is the rest of the interesting information which I knew at one time but had somewhat forgotten.  We reorganized in Omaha on January 31st, 1971, with 198 members from five chapters--Tri-County (now Omaha), Lincoln, Grand Island, Adams County (Hastings) and the Great Plains Chapter (North Platte area). The officers were: President, Richard Parker, Omaha; First Vice-President, John Smith, Lincoln; Second Vice-President, Jack Swagart, Omaha; Secretary, Mrs. Melvon Ireland, Lincoln; Treasurer, Dick Gulizia, Omaha.  The four board members were:  Dick Zlab, Omaha; Stan Yank, Omaha; Ralph Doud, Grand Island and Larry Wallace, North Platte. 

The goals of the affiliate were:  1:  removal of the lien law; (according to Hank Vetter who was at the meeting in 1971, blind persons who owned property but were on public assistance, could, without notice, have a lien put on their property, finding it sold right out from under them to the county.)  2:  passage of a Model White Cane Law; and 3:  passage of a Little Randolph-Sheppard Act in Nebraska.  Since the time of reorganization, the first two of these goals have been accomplished! We tried numerous times to get a Little Randolph-Sheppard Act passed in Nebraska only to meet opposition from Dr. Nyman, the new director of SVI and blind vendors themselves.    

I was among many others who came into the NFB in 1975, shortly after Dr. James Nyman became Director of the Nebraska Services for the Visually Impaired.  At that time, Dr. Nyman gave some of his staff the opportunity to choose an agency for the blind to visit.  Barbara Beach (now Walker) was on the SVI staff and made a trip to the Iowa Commission for the Blind.  She carried with her many more of the questions she and I had.  Every single question raised at that time was answered in a most remarkable and reasonable fashion by Dr. Jernigan and his staff, and we joined the Lincoln chapter in January of 1975.  With so many of us coming in to the NFB at this time, as eager Federationists, we suddenly became a most exuberant and powerful state affiliate, with Dick Parker as its state President. 

On May 15th, 1976, at our fifth annual convention, the slate of officers changed dramatically:  President, Barbara Beach; First vp, Richard Parker; Second vp, Richard Zlab; Secretary, Laurie Beach Eckery; Treasurer, William Pfeiffer.  Board members were:  Marsha Bangert, Doran Oltman, John Cheadle and Ralph Doud.

Our concerns and accomplishments at this time and into the future included, but were not limited to:  1:  attempting to administratively transfer the Library for the Blind to the Services for the Visually Impaired; (At that time, Mr. Cylke was not our friend--what changes have come about since then, nationally.); 2:  becoming incorporated; 3:  the participation, by some of us, in the White House Conference On Handicapped Individuals, which we renamed the "outhouse conference" for its failure to include disabled persons in all aspects of its functioning; 4:  continuing to interact with Radio Talking Book in its growth and expansion; 5:  the ongoing process of working with parents of blind children, towards achieving equal education and integration of blind children into society as first-class young citizens; 6:  working with the Nebraska School for the Visually Handicapped, under the direction of Superintendent Jerry Regler, to bring about the learning of Braille, cane travel and the use of power equipment in the woodworking shop for all students whose only disability was blindness; 7:  the case of Laurie Eckery versus Bishop Clarkson Memorial Hospital, an eleven-year process beginning in 1977 as she was told:  "We don't have any openings down here and even if we did, there is nothing down here that you could do."  This case was botched by the Nebraska Equal Opportunity Commission,Larry Myers, Director; taken to the Office for Civil Rights, assisted by John Halverson and finally settled with the assistance of our own current National President, Attorney Marc Maurer; 8:  Gary Doty's case against the Roller Rink in Lincoln and the right of the blind to skate using a long white cane; 9:  the right of blind Nebraskans to bring into the voting booth, the person of our choice to mark our ballots, with Dr. Nyman's memorable testimony; 10:  the right of the blind of Nebraska to equal access to insurance being neither excluded nor charged extra, championed by Jim Walker; 11:  the airlines struggles of many of us, locally and nationally, resulting in testimonies, letters, and vigilance through a most controversial era; 12:  working to protect and improve public transportation; dealing with budget cuts and bureaucracy which were usually not in our favor; 13:  the right of blind Nebraskans to equal housing, which came after the passage of our White Cane Law; 14:  the right of the blind of Nebraska to equal employment, including the removal of blindness-related questions on state job applications, steered by Marsha Bangert; 15:  our efforts to have a positive influence on the direction of services from our rehabilitation agency with much debate on the Advisory Committee to SVI; 16:  the need to swallow our joy in a blossoming rehabilitation center which suddenly reversed its progress; 17:  continuous fund-raising, with such memorable items as pocket pals, (calendars) brief cases and tote bags, gigantic wooden NFB mug racks, the proceeds from several walk-a-thons and that most delicious Ludwig candy! Remember that? (Some of our money raised funded such projects as:  NAC-tracking, Washington Seminars and assistance to State and National conventions.)  18:  our constant task of educating ourselves through seminars, reading NFB literature etc.; 19:  educating the public through producing public service announcements such as those done by Jerry Eckery, handing out literature, speaking in schools and anywhere else we could get in, writing oodles of letters and newspaper articles, (including those in our state newsletter); and, most of all, 20:  spreading the word through our own individual everyday life achievements which are part of the fabric of our continuing emergence into first-class citizenship.

We began a state newsletter around the mid-1970's with Barbara Cheadle as its editor.  The officers at the time of our first publication were:  President, Ralph Doud; First-VP, Karen Woodford; Second-VP, Dick Gulizia; Secretary, Barbara Parker; Treasurer, William Pfeiffer and board members:  Richard Zlab, James Radcliffe, Barbara Beach and Betty Hoffman.  I became its editor in 1981 with a new name, coined by Dick Zlab, "News From Blind Nebraskans," which has NFBN in its name.  Articles from many of our contributors have since appeared in the Braille Monitor, Future Reflections and other publications of the National Federation of the Blind. Our newsletter is sent throughout the country.  News From Blind Nebraskans is currently being edited by Evelyn Haines, with assistance from Hubert Paulson, Cheryl Livingston and others who were with us as production assistants for many years. 

We have seen excellent Federationists who got their NFB roots, or continued growing them, while in Nebraska, only to go on to bigger and better things--those such as John and Barbara Cheadle, David and Debbie Robinson, Fred and Cathy Schroeder,Fred and Mary Wurtzel, Rosemary Lerdahl, Chris Roberts Boone, Aloma Bouma, Ellen Waechtler, and others far too numerous to mention.  You know who they are. 

During this time, we developed and presented four awards to those who have contributed outstandingly, beyond measure, to our cause.

The Richard Parker Memorial Award goes to a Federationist. Dick Parker was its first recipient (before it was a memorial award), followed by Mary Handley (now Doty), Jim Walker, and Barbara Walker.

The Duke Snyder Award goes to a state legislator. After Senator Snyder, Senator Gerald Koch received this award.

The Marsha Bangert-Williamson Memorial Award goes to a media person. Cindy Wanek of Channel Ten/Eleven KOLN/KGIN in Lincoln received this award.

And, finally, the James D. Walker Memorial Award goes to someone in the public at large. American Charter, in Lincoln, received this award. 

We have lost some of our leaders in the past few years, in the physical sense, including:  Richard Parker, Ralph Doud, Marsha Bangert-Williamson, and James Walker, to name some.

Dick Parker led us in a tireless, often flamboyant and controversial manner.  You didn't want to mess with Dick, and the public HAD to listen!

Marsha Bangert-Williamson led us in a quiet, determined, purposeful resolve as did Barbara Walker.  She kept her sense of humor, too. 

Jim Walker, like Barbara, served as staff member to SVI and state President simultaneously, maintaining his position as a steadfast Federationist.  He was straight-forward, often controversial in his dealings and was never in a popularity contest.  Equality of the blind was one of the ideas uppermost in his mind, with his family, his job and his Federation work.  Dr. Jernigan, in his August, 1989, Braille Monitor article, characterized Jim as follows:"As I think of Jim Walker, certain characteristics predominate to form the image.  Above all, he had integrity and loyalty.  When integrity and diplomacy clashed, he always chose integrity.  When he had to decide between loyalty and expediency, there was no question.  It was loyalty."  Dr. Jernigan also described Jim's wife, Barbara, in these words:"If you had to characterize Barbara in a single sentence you would probably say something like this.  "She was a person of quiet strength and deep sincerity." 

In our culture, we are usually not encouraged to like our in-laws, but Jim was probably more like me than anyone I have ever known.  To me, he was not just a brother-in-law, but truly a brother. He is the brother of all of us.  This "siblingship" in the National Federation of the Blind, is what brought about our national founding in 1940, led by Jacobus tenBroek; continued by Kenneth Jernigan, and further continued by Marc Maurer.  It is this kinship and common purpose that brought about the reorganizing of our affiliate.

We are grateful to our current leadership in our state President, Della Johnston, and in our chapter Presidents, Nancy Oltman, Adams County; Norma Groff, Great Plains; Ardyce Earl, Grand Island; Dave Hunt, Lincoln and Larry Streeter, Omaha.  But most of all, it is the commitment of each individual member who is willing to be an active leader and/or follower

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