Letter to the Editor

Letter to the Editor

Tuesday, January 30, 2007

Services needed for

disabled persons

Dear Editor:

On Jan. 14, 2007, a very special lady passed away at Christian Health Care. She was age 98 years, 11 months old, missing her goal of reaching age 100 by 13 months. She was my mother Verna Leona Falen Griggs, born Feb. 13, 1908, the eighth of ninth children, to a poor farm family at Bridgeport, Kan.

At age 20 months she became very ill. This resulted in paralysis of both legs. The doctor treated it as spinal meningitis when it was actually polio. Her right leg recovered but her left leg was rendered useless for the rest of her life.

At age 3, she obtained crutches but only used one of them, which eventually resulted in a curvature of her spine. At age 5, the family moved to a 240 acre farm four miles east of Lindsborg, Kan. At age 7, she began her education at Mount Hope School one mile south of the farm. Due to her disability, her sister Veola pulled her to school in a wagon. The children were very mean to her because the family went to a different church and had sheep when they all had cattle. They often tipped her wagon over, getting her only dress dirty.

Even though Mom was disabled, she had chores to do around the farm. One time she had to walk home from school, making her late to herd the sheep. Her ill-tempered father became very angry, beating her with a stick. After breaking it, he then beat her with her own crutch, which did not break. At age 12, her mother took her to the McLain Orthopedic Sanitarium in St. Louis for treatment of her lame leg. Her mother stayed for one week, while Mom stayed for six months. She was fitted for a leg brace making it possible for her to walk for the first time without a crutch. In 1924, Mom was ready for high school and her sister Ruth was ready for the first grade. Since there were no buses, their parents rented them a room in Lindsborg so they could attend school for the next eight school years. Her parents felt that in order to support herself in the future, Mom would need a college degree. They feared she would never be married. In the fall of 1928, she enrolled at Bethany College in Lindsborg. In 1929, the Great Depression hit making it a financial hardship on her parents to pay the $600 yearly tuition, room and board. In 1932, Mom graduated with a Batchelor Arts. and a teaching certificate making her one of two out of nine children to obtain a high school education and the only one to obtain a college degree.

In 1932, Mom became a Christian giving her life to God. This sustained her the rest of her life. From 1932 to 1936, she was unable to find employment because of the Great Depression and ultimately her disability. She had many doors shut in her face due to her disability facing every prejudice imaginable. People treated her as if it wasn't just her leg that was disabled, but her mind also. With no income, she was forced to live at home with her parents.

In 1936, she at last found employment as a live-in housekeeper in Kansas City, Mo., and later in Salina, Kan., earning $3 -- $5 a week. When World War II, started labor was scarce. So she was hired out for three different jobs: first in a laundry, next at Schilling Air Base upholstering seats for army jeeps, and finally at a tent-and-awning company. During the war, she read a letter in the Salina Journal, written by a soldier named Russell Griggs. Drafted at age 34, he had been a farmer in Falun, Kan. She started corresponding with him. Near this time, she moved into the boarding house of Russell's mother, Cora Griggs. Upon Russell's return from the war, the two began dating, resulting in marriage on July 19, 1946.

They lived in Salina until late 1947, when they purchased a poor, 80-acre farm southeast of Nevada, Mo. Women with polio rarely gave birth to children, but I was born on June 22, 1949. Later, in 1955 -- at ages 47 -- my parents adopted my brother, Faylon. Before my birth, money was scarce, so Mom sought employment at many places here in Nevada. She never applied for jobs she was unable to perform -- but was rejected everywhere due to her disability.

In the early '50s, Dad purchased a Pontiac car with automatic transmission, so that Mom could learn to drive. She drove until age 79, and was the only woman in her immediate family to ever have a driver's license.

By the mid-'50s, she gave up on using her college degree. She contented herself being a homemaker, rearing two sons, growing large gardens from which she canned the vegetables. She also tended by herself a flock of 500 laying hens and sold the eggs to Cottey College for many years. In the '60s, our farm prospered, and Mom and Dad took numerous vacations across the entire United States from 1968-1992.

Dad passed away on July 8, 1993, but Mom continued living alone with limited help until July 2002. She fell, breaking her hip, and spent her last 4.5 years in a nursing home. It breaks my heart that because of her disability she was denied the chance to ever use her teaching degree. All I've got to say is -- Mom, you were the greatest teacher my younger brother and I could have ever had so not being able to use your degree wasn't in vain.

Why were handicapped people discriminated against for so many years? The Americans with Disabilities Act should have passed long before 1990 as it sure could have benefited my Mother.

Blaine Griggs