50th Anniversary Letter 1

Fellow Federationists and Friends,


January 1st not only kicked off the start of a new year but also the 50th anniversary year of the National Federation of the Blind of Nebraska. It has been a lot of fun this last month or so digging through our Affiliate’s history and we look forward to sharing pieces of it with you Over the course of the coming year. celebrating some of our Triumphs and successes of the last 50 years as we look forward to the next 50 years.

We are currently working on plans that will peak during our 50 th State Convention in October to be held in Omaha where it all started back in 1971. We hope that all of you celebrate with us throughout the year and join us in Omaha in October.

I thought that at this time it would be appropriate to share with everyone the following 2 articles from the Braille Monitor. The first was written by Mary Ellen Anderson (now Mary Ellen Jernigan) and was published in the April 1971 edition of the Braille Monitor. The second was written by our first Affiliate President Dick Parker and appeared in the February 1972 edition of the Braille Monitor. We hope that you enjoy these memories of our beginnings and celebrate with us throughout this year.



by Mary Ellen Anderson

Prominent signs all over Nebraska display with pride the words, WE ARE NUMBER ONE. The reference, of course, is to Nebraska University's recent victorious football season. These signs have come to symbolize something entirely different to the blind of the State, who on January 30, 1971, established the National Federation of the Blind of Nebraska, thereby earning the number one position on the 1971 NFB scoreboard of organizational victory.

Late in 1970 President Jernigan had met with Jack Swager, president of our Nebraska affiliate, the Omaha Association of the Blind, and with other blind Nebraskans, exploring plans for statewide expansion.

Following that preliminary planning, Arlene Gashel (wife of NFB Student Division president, James Gashel) and I drove to Omaha on January 8, to finalize arrangements for a full-fledged organizational drive later in the month. Our host, Jack Swager, treated us to a delightful dinner that evening and later arranged for us to meet with other leaders of the Omaha Association of the Blind.

Soon we had established the framework for the expansion. The goal: a vigorous, effective, statewide affiliate of the National Federation of the Blind. The vehicle: a constitutional convention to be held in Omaha, January 30, 1971, and to be conducted by NFB President, Kenneth Jernigan. The team: members of the Omaha Association of the Blind, other interested blind Nebraskans, Mrs. Melvon Ireland of Lincoln, Susan and John Ford of Montana, Jim Omvig and Mark Hieftje of Des Moines, Arlene Gashel, and myself. The scope: new chapters in Lincoln, Grand Island, North Platte, and the Omaha metropolitan area, members at large throughout the State.

The following morning Arlene and I negotiated convention arrangements with the Hotel Fontenelle, deposited a trunkload of Braille and talking book Federation literature into Jack Swager's safekeeping, and headed west for Lincoln. Before leaving Nebraska on Tuesday, January 12, we had collected a long list of Monitor additions, many commitments for the January 30 meeting, and several members at large.

On January 19, Arlene and I returned to Nebraska, soon to be joined by the rest of the team. Beginning in Lincoln, I worked my way west to Grand Island, while Arlene established headquarters at the Fontenelle in Omaha. Mr. and Mrs. Jim Omvig arrived in Omaha Friday night and worked through the weekend. On Sunday, John Ford, president of the Montana Association of the Blind, and his wife Susan arrived, as did Mark Heiftje of Des Moines.

Early Monday morning the team dispersed throughout the State. Susan and John set off to North Platte. Arlene and Mark journeyed to Fremont, while I manned the Omaha headquarters. The middle of the week found Susan, John, and me in Lincoln, with Arlene and Mark back at headquarters. It was about this time also, that I began paying close attention to my speedometer, having some fear of renewing my acquaintance with the radar officer I had met while driving from Grand Island to Omaha.

Everywhere we went the story was the same. Blind Nebraskans stood ready, willing and able to accept the responsibility and the challenge of joining the organized blind movement. Soon a host of them were actively involved in the effort. Commitments to attend the organizational meeting mounted steadily.

Leaders from Lincoln, Grand Island, North Platte, and Omaha were on hand at the Fontenelle to meet with President Jernigan when he arrived on Friday evening. Incidentally, you'll be happy to learn that the President arrived without being required to make his customary stop for replacement of burned-out tires.

Early Saturday morning contingents of blind persons began gathering for an eventful and productive day. Shortly after 10:00 a.m. Dr. Jernigan called the convention to order. Broad discussion throughout the morning session brought the purposes and goals of the Federation into sharp focus. In a spirited debate prior to the luncheon break, the group elected to call itself the National Federation of the Blind of Nebraska.

During the action-packed afternoon session, two local chapters (Lincoln and Tri-County) were established, a constitution adopted, and officers and board members elected.

Dick Parker of Omaha was elected president. A barber before losing his sight about five years ago as a result of diabetes, Dick has since been employed as a machinist and is currently seeking employment in that area. A true Federationist who hadn't yet heard of the Federation is the best way I know how to describe his overall philosophy. A lovely wife, three children, ages eight, six, and six months, wood working, and citizen's band radio fill Dick's spare time.

First vice president is John Smith of Lincoln. John, a Monitor reader for many years, is a Rehabilitation Services Consultant with Nebraska Services for the Visually Impaired. A graduate of Louisiana State University, John has done graduate work at Southern Illinois University and at the University of Minnesota.

Second vice president, Jack Swager, veteran President of the Omaha Association of the Blind needs little introduction. Jack is self employed as the operator of Nebraska Blind Products.

Mrs. Melvon Ireland of Lincoln was elected secretary. The only sighted member of the board, Mrs. Ireland is by no means new to the Federation. As a matter of fact, three members of her family are currently officers in other State affiliates: son, Curtis Willoughby, first vice president of the Iowa Association of the Blind; son-in-law John Ford, president of the Montana Association of the Blind; and son-in-law. Chuck Walhof, first vice president Gem State Blind, Idaho. Additionally, daughter Ramona Walhof is past chairman of the NFB Teacher's Division and a former officer of the Student Division. Mrs. Ireland's husband, Melvon, is a minister in the United Methodist Church.

Treasurer, Dick Gulizia, of Omaha is a teacher of modern problems at Holy Name High School and is completing residence requirements for his Ph.D. at the University of Nebraska. Dick and his wife have two sons and a daughter, age eight, seven, and four.

Board member Dick Zlab of Omaha is an assembler for Western Electric, and a former member of the Colorado Federation of the Blind. Stan Yank of Omaha was elected to fill the second board position Stan is employed as Personnel Director for Douglas County Social Services. A graduate of the University of Nebraska with graduate work m sociology, Stan is vice chairman of the Mayor's Committee on Hiring the Handicapped, a board member of the Governor's Committee on Employment of the Handicapped, and a Chapter One board member of the Nebraska Welfare Association. Third board member is Ralph Doud of Grand Island, president of the NFB of Nebraska's new Central Chapter. Before retirement, Ralph was employed by the Omaha World Herald. Larry Wallace, president of the North Platte Chapter, was elected to the final board position. Larry is a vending stand operator and an active Jaycee.

The National Federation of the Blind of Nebraska begins its existence with one hundred ninety-eight members and five chapters. Immediate attention will be given to removal of the lien law, passage of the Model White Cane Law, and enactment of a little Randolph-Sheppard bill. A big undertaking for a new affiliate, but then, this is a big new affiliate. And remember, these guys have all those NUMBER ONE signs to live up to. My bet is that they'll do it!




By Dick Parker

Where does one begin to describe himself? I guess the best place is at the beginning. I was born in Council Bluffs, Iowa (one of six children). We moved to Hastings, Iowa when I was five. I attended school there through the eighth grade. We moved back to Council Bluffs in 1959 after the death of my father. I attended high school in Council Bluffs. After graduating from barber school in Omaha, I worked as a barber until at age twenty-two I lost my sight due to diabetes.

I worked as a machine operator for a local company until it went bankrupt in 1970. I am now the president of my own small manufacturing company which makes pet products. I have a lovely wife, who is also a staunch Federationist, and three children. What more can I say except that I have never been happier or prouder than I am now since becoming an NFB member last January.

We the blind in Nebraska have just awakened from a long nap. Since reorganizing in January, 1971, we have thus far been able to secure passage of the Model White Cane Bill and also remove the lien law against not only the blind but the disabled and elderly. We hope in the near future to introduce and secure passage of the little Randolph-Sheppard Act.

We started our new existence in January with a rousing attendance of one hundred. Our State-wide membership is approaching the neighborhood of two hundred sixty. We have local affiliates in North Platte, Grand Island, Lincoln, and two in the Omaha metropolitan area. All five locals worked on a fundraising drive which took place in October. Each local affiliate determined for itself the manner in which it wished to raise funds. All affiliates participated at the same time, contributing fifty percent of the profits to the State treasury and retaining the other half.

We in the NFB of Nebraska are proud to have joined with you and President Jernigan on the barricades. We have just begun but begun we have. President Jernigan on the first occasion I met him asked me a very embarrassing question. I feel it might not only be appropriate for us in Nebraska but for every blind person to ask himself the same question, "Why haven't you joined the blind movement before now?"