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Gallaudet Reunion Day Two: An Overview

July 12, 2014
By Tara Congdon, E-'05

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The first full day of Gallaudet University’s 150th Reunion on Thursday, July 10 offered attendees a full slate of events ranging from a plenary session to a competition that pitted graduating classes against each other in a test of knowledge. The Gallaudet University Alumni Association also presented Laurent Clerc Cultural Fund awards to two notable alumni. 

Plenary Session: Looking Back
When Ann Tennis, G-’43, arrived on campus at what was then Gallaudet College, she slept in Fowler Hall, watched cows grazing outside her classroom window, and drank onion-flavored milk.

Albert Couthen, ’66, and Dr. Deborah Blumenson, ’58, joined Tennis for a “Looking Back” plenary session guided by moderator Lance J. Fischer, ’71. The panelists discussed their memories of their years as students at Gallaudet.

Traveling to Gallaudet was an eye-opening experience for Tennis, who grew up on a farm in Tekamah, Nebraska. With the support and encouragement of her aunt and uncle, Ellen Parker Stewart,’17, and Roy J. Stewart, 1899, Tennis found a scholarship to attend Gallaudet and earn a master’s degree in education. 

“I loved it here immediately at Gallaudet,” said Tennis, who explained that the milk students drank came from cows who grazed on green onions that grew on campus. Tennis continues to attend GUAA meetings and drove all the way from California for the 150th Reunion. 

In her 31 years as faculty at Gallaudet, Blumenson taught art history to more than 3,000 students. But before she taught, she was a student herself. 

Blumenson enrolled at Gallaudet in the 1950s after growing up oral. She spoke about having to take aspirin after spending hours learning sign language.   

“I found great freedom when I was here,” Blumenson said.

She also shared an anecdote about her time as a student. She married during her junior year at Gallaudet and became pregnant with Samuel Sonnenstrahl, ’79 & G-’84. Dr. Benson refused to allow Blumenson to live on campus, but after she explained that her husband was living in New York and she needed a place to live, Benson agreed to allow her to live at Fowler Hall.  

Couthen reminisced about the hazing he experienced as a freshman at Gallaudet, during Freshman Fun Week, a tradition that ended in 1971. Through that shared experience, Couthen became close with many members of his class.

“We survived together, and the hazing tradition was what I am proud of, as I felt a strong tie with my class,” he said.

Couthen also succeeded in athletics at Gallaudet and credits Thomas Berg, a longtime Gallaudet track and field coach, for helping him win gold in long jump at the 1965 Deaflympics.  

“Berg taught me about distance,” Couthen said, through training drills and four years of hard work. Couthen also recalls Berg saying, “You always need to put your effort in the first jump.” 

Couthen went on to become a track coach himself, at the American School for the Deaf – yet another testimony to the enduring impact of a Gallaudet education. 

Reunion participants are encouraged to share their own stories with Deaf Stories Corpus, an ASL-Deaf Studies Project that gathers stories on video for future generations. People can sign up at the registration desk for an appointment or catch crew members who are dressed in buff and blue T-shirts and carry video camcorders.  For more information, email deaf.corpus@gallaudet.edu.

Workshops
A collection of workshops provided attendees with information about a wide range of topics related to Gallaudet and deaf history and culture. For a recap of the workshops, click here. 

GUAA/LCCF Award Presentation
Immediately after the plenary session, Linda Bove, ’68 & H-’91, took the stage to present Elizabeth “Lizzy” Weiss with the 2014 LCCF Alice Cogswell Award for her valuable service for the Deaf Community by advancing awareness about deaf people and their culture and language.

Weiss is the executive producer and writer of ABC Family’s “Switched at Birth,” now in its third season and which averages 2.6 million viewers. Weiss was inspired to create the show after taking an ASL course in college, Bove said, and while she was pregnant with her second child, she began wondering how two families would be affected by babies being switched at birth.  

“Weiss is able to show to mainstream society that deaf people are normal, and what is culturally acceptable,” Bove said.

During her research and writing process, Weiss learned about accessibility issues and includes closed captioning and ASL interpreters on the show. 

Weiss thanked Gallaudet for the award via video, in ASL. 

“I’m so honored to receive this award, and I’ve wanted to visit Gallaudet since writing this show four years ago,” Weiss said.  “I’ve learned a lot about the 1988 Deaf President Now (DPN) movement, and I’m impressed with the students’ courage, passion, and determination.”  

Later in the afternoon, GUAA also honored Richard Lindsay Macomber, ’95, with the LCCF Amos Kendall Award for his success in a profession not related to deafness. Robert Weinstock, ’76 and special assistant to the provost, presented the award between rounds during the Class Bowl in the Field House. 

Macomber is a professional harness racer and has raced horses for 20 years, winning $401 million in prizes and becoming the top racer in the history of harness racing in Indiana. 

“Thank you for selecting me for this Laurent Clerc Cultural Fund Award, which I am pleased with,” Macomber said via video. “I miss Gallaudet, but I am there in spirit.  Gallaudet was the best four years of my life.”  “I learned my positive attitude from being at Gallaudet and by interacting with people,” said Macomber, who majored in Business Administration. “I will cherish this award forever.”

Visionary Leaders Poster Session
One of the most popular events of the day was a poster session featuring the 15 Gallaudet alumni selected as Visionary Leaders for their contributions to the deaf community. 

Posters along two walls in the Field House gymnasium described the backgrounds and successes of each Visionary Leader, and several were personally present to interact with attendees and talk about their Gallaudet experience as well as their accomplishments. For those Visionary Leaders who are deceased or could not be present, other individuals stood in as narrators – or, in one instance, as an impersonator. 

The Visionary Leaders present were Jack Gannon, ’59; Bernard Bragg, ’52; Alice Hagemeyer, ’57; Wilma Newhoudt-Druchen, ’92; and Glenn Anderson, ’68. 

“I was shocked to receive this honor,” said Newhoudt-Druchen, who became the first deaf member of Parliament in South Africa. “But I’m always happy to come back here to Gallaudet.” 

Becoming a member of Parliament was challenging, she said.

“It was tough at first because many didn’t know anything about deafness. I had to lobby for everything I needed – such as interpreters. I had to be very vocal,” she said.

Reunion volunteer Lucas LaRocca, a Gallaudet student from Buenos Aires, Argentina, stood nearby and watched Newhoudt-Druchen interact with attendees.

“I feel so inspired by Wilma,” LaRocca said. “I hope to be able to follow in her footsteps and do the same things for my country.” 

One poster over, Robert Sirvage, DeafSpace Design Researcher at Gallaudet, stood in a trim, gray suit and spectacles reminiscent of the late 1800s, nearly a mirror image of the large photograph of Olof Hanson, 1886, mounted on the wall behind him. 

Across the gym, Andrew Phillips,’06 and an attorney at the National Association of the Deaf, narrated for Boyce Williams, ’32.

Williams was head of the Rehabilitation Services Administration for 38 years and was key to building job training and employments opportunities for deaf and hard of hearing people, particularly in the federal government, Phillips said. Williams also was the first deaf member of Gallaudet’s Board of Trustees and the first deaf administrator in the federal government. 

Attendee after attendee who knew Williams personally approached Phillips to relate their own stories about him.

“I feel honored to narrate his story,” Phillips said. “I’ve learned a lot about Boyce from the people here who knew him.” 

Class Bowl
Immediately after the poster session, alumni and visitors were challenged to answer questions about various topics during the Class Bowl. 

Diamond the dog once was a source of inspiration for depressed students; the old Kendall School stood where Kellogg Conference Hotel now is; and Quintus Pedius is the first deaf person recorded in history, in 444 B.C. 

These were just some of the answers required of volunteer participants from the audience, who in clusters represented a range of classes: 1943-1969, 1970-1978, 1979-1991, and 1992-2014.  

Questions came from four categories: current events, deaf history and culture, famous alumni trivia, and Gallaudetiana, or general trivia questions about Gallaudet.Team No. 1 won the match. 

“This shows that we’re not senile yet, and we have a rich background from the past to the present,” said Ronald Nomeland, ’58, who worked in Gallaudet’s television department for 26 years.

Andrew Phillips, ’06, was gracious in defeat. “I definitely found the current events easiest. After all, they happened during my lifetime, unlike many Gallaudet history questions,” Phillips said.  “I very much enjoyed playing against my elders!”

12 July 2014
By Tara Congdon, E-'05

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Tara Congdon, E-'05

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