[nfb-talk] Miss Rovig is leaving the building, or Goodbye MD, Hello MN!

David Andrews dandrews at visi.com
Tue May 6 15:23:36 UTC 2014

My Federation Friends,

It’s time to let you in on my plan. I bought a 
house in southern Minnesota because I’m retiring 
from my work at the National Federation of the 
Blind, and moving my membership from Maryland to 
Minnesota. Not having done it yet, I’m not sure 
how living on my retirement plan is going to work 
out when it comes to the fun extras of life, so 
the 2014 July convention in Orlando may be my 
last national convention. Although, if the money 
permits, I can see me coming back like former 
students go to their high school reunion just to 
enjoy being with their old friends. My last day 
on the staff will be July 11, 2014. Now when did 
this all start, you may ask. After all, I’m a sighted guy.

Back in the summer of 1975, I had decided not to 
sign the contract to continue as the librarian at 
a 500-student high school in southern Wisconsin 
because I had nothing in common with anyone in 
that small town. So, job hunting are us! One fine 
summer day on a bulletin board in the multi-story 
library school of the University of Wisconsin 
Madison campus, from which I had received my 
masters in library science degree, I saw a 3 by 5 
typed card that said, “Librarian Needed. Must 
have some knowledge of textbooks. Iowa Commission 
for the Blind, Des Moines, Iowa, (phone 
number).”  A teacher in the library school was 
passing by just as I finished reading and I asked 
her, “Have you ever heard of this library?” She 
said she’d heard it was the largest library for 
the blind in the country. Well! After a tiny high 
school, that sounded interesting! And Iowa being 
next to Wisconsin, I could drive back to visit my 
family on the holidays. That it was “for the 
blind” never really registered with me. I figured 
a library was a library. Oh, my! Little did I 
know how my life was changing from that very 
minute. So I called and made an appointment to interview.

As it happened (here comes Fate dropping in 
again), my brother was buying a house to be close 
to his new job in northwest Iowa so he and his 
wife and I rode in the same car. He dropped me 
off in Des Moines, where I was to interview for a 
few hours. Then I rode with them up to see their 
new home, and would come back to Des Moines to 
have a second interview “if” I was invited to do 
so.  During the first interview –with Head 
Library Florence Grannis, and Duane 
Gerstenberger, her replacement in training, it 
was all about my ability as a librarian. The Iowa 
Commission for the Blind had a large library – a 
point in its favor, and, when fully staffed, six 
librarians serving patrons statewide! I was 
interviewing to be in charge of obtaining 
textbooks from APH or our own transcribers for 
all (300?) of Iowa’s K-12 and college-level blind 
and visually impaired students and all the adults 
who needed materials for their work, plus the 
Braille collection, the large type collection, 
and the small professional collections of print 
books by blind authors or about blindness and the 
historical collection of early Braille, New York 
Point, Moon Type, and such books. Nope, I did not 
know Braille; did not know anything about the 
NFB, or about how blind persons handle things. 
But I did instinctively know that “Gone with the 
Wind” is still “Gone with the Wind” whether it is 
in print or in Braille; and I passed Mrs. 
Grannis’s several tests of my competency.  So Mr. 
Gerstenberger gave me a stack of banquet speeches 
that agency director Kenneth Jernigan had made in 
his other job as president of a federation for 
blind people, and I was set up for a second interview. Hello Fate.

All the long way to northeast Iowa I read the 
speeches. Very interesting! And solid philosophy! 
Those speeches just made sense to me. Of course 
blind Americans should not be treated that way! 
And I read them some more all the way back to Des 
Moines. I got my second interview, this time with 
Kenneth Jernigan.  I sat in the chair across from 
Dr. Jernigan at his big desk and his assistant, 
Mrs. Anderson (now Mrs. Jernigan), sat on a couch 
to my right side. As I figured out later, this 
was a subtle test of attitude­would I look and 
speak to the sighted person or the blind boss? 
Right. It just made sense to me to talk to the boss and, well, I got hired.

July 23, 1975, 8 a.m., I started work at the Iowa 
Commission for the Blind as one of their six 
librarians, and I continued working there for 
nearly 13 years. I am proud to be part of “the 
Iowa connection.” I joined the NFB at the July 
1975 chapter meeting. As part of staff training, 
Dr. Jernigan had me reading several decades of 
back issues of “Braille Monitor,” in class with 
Jim Omvig as our teacher for blind civil rights 
history, and taking cane travel lessons under 
sleepshades with Field Op counselor Dick Davis as 
my instructor. I really liked cane travel. For my 
graduation exercise, I walked a four-mile route 
around Des Moines. No problem. I learned how to 
do some other things under sleepshades too. All 
of this got me started in understanding how a 
blind guy handles whatever he or she wants to do. 
And in September1975, President Jernigan invited 
me to his annual Labor Day weekend NFB Leadership 
Seminar at the old Randolph Hotel, where I met 
Diane McGeorge and my first guide dog. I am a 
proud alumna of the Bathroom Seminar, along with 
Barbara Pierce, Barbara Beech (Walker Loos), and 
many other current leaders of the Federation (not all of them named Barbara).

I went on many weekend protests against NAC, 
driving for the first time ever a 
huge15-passenger van to get to that hotel near 
the O’Hare Airport, on the crazy Chicago 
freeways, and this was before GPS was invented. I 
marched on Hennepin Avenue in Minneapolis. With 
Tami Dodd (now Mrs. Jones), Eric Duffy, and 
Sharon (now Monthei)­those three blind and all of 
us wearing sleepshades to prove we weren’t 
peeking­I swung my cane and marched in our NFB 
White Cane Marching Team in three town parades 
and at one NFB national convention. I drove for 
tons of candy sales. Thank goodness one of the 
blind students that rode to Oskaloosa knew how to 
change the tire on the van when it went flat 
halfway there, surrounded by cornfields. None of 
us in the van will forget the time I drove the 
four-hour trip to the Minnesota state convention 
and Curtis Willoughby and Bob Ray taught us songs 
to sing in a bar, and I ran out of gas on that 
Interstate superhighway, but coasted down the 
miraculously appearing ramp right into a gas station and next to a pump!

After a few years, a new chunk got added to my 
library work, I became the boss of Iowa’s radio 
reading program and along with one other staff 
person would cut up the “Des Moines Register” to 
precisely fit our time slot before being one of 
our many readers on the air. We were proud to 
know our radio service was one of only two RRS in 
the country that operated on a public channel. 
Thanks to using the radio station at the Des 
Moines tech high school, we were heard as far as 
50 miles out of the city! A truck driver told me 
he listened as he made deliveries to farms outside the city.

Dr. Jernigan and his extraordinary Orientation 
and Adjustment Center for blind adults went on 
all around us in that multi-story building at 4th 
and Keo. We’d find newly blind and scared cane 
travelers lost in the Talking Book stacks or get 
out of their way as after a few weeks they’d be 
striding down the city sidewalks outside on their 
errands. Students made wonderful smells (and some 
not so much) come out of the kitchens; students 
came to check out a first shortest book possible 
to practice reading Braille. They’d be gathered 
in our comfortable library reading room late into 
the night, reading and talking.  We who were 
there every day saw in the change in the 
students, from their first day to their 
graduation. We literally could see that the NFB 
method of teaching worked splendidly. We saw 
students learn a new positive attitude along with 
their skills, and we saw those few students who 
did not learn the NFB attitude toward blindness. 
They would go home with their skills, more or 
less, but sooner or later start again to be what 
the sighted folks around them thought they should 
be since, after all, they were blind. Students 
that joined and got involved with their support 
group, the National Federation of the Blind, were the adults that thrived.

Dr. Jernigan did not just hang out in his fancy 
office. He taught you, whether you were student 
or staff, and not just about blindness. He was 
funny, wise, eccentric, surprising, demanding, 
giving, super-smart, super-educated, totally 
plugged in to Iowa politics, and sometimes 
ignorant of current cultural icons (like John 
Denver and his music!). He read 420 words of 
Braille per minute­I timed him, and he was a 
terrifically good cane traveller. We were walking 
downhill on Keo one day at his cane-swinging, 
lickety-split speed and me in my two-inch heels 
nearly sprinting to keep up, until one of my 
heels broke and he hammered it back on with his 
cane handle.  That man did more work in a day and 
night than three other people. Of course he had 
two full-time jobs­simultaneously the elected 
President of the National Federation of the 
Blind, building the Federation and working on 
serious issues nationwide, and the Director of 
the statewide vocational rehabilitation center 
for the blind, which included the training center 
for blind adults, the field services department 
with offices around the state offering home 
teachers and counselors, a store for products 
handmade by (agency-inherited) elderly blind 
women, the statewide Business Enterprise Program 
(which went from the previous popcorn and 
packaged candy counters to full-service 
cafeterias), the statewide regional library for 
the blind and physically handicapped, the lending 
office for NLS Talking Book machines, the 
textbooks for the blind program, the volunteer 
Braillists program (including for a number of 
years an operation in Iowa’s biggest prison), the 
volunteer readers making open reel masters which 
became cassette books at our building, and the 
radio reading service.  We were everything for 
the blind except the school for the blind at 
Vinton, Iowa, and the checks from Social Security.

About three years after I was hired, Dr. Jernigan 
resigned his state job and moved the headquarters 
of the National Federation of the Blind to 
Baltimore, Maryland.  A series of blind directors 
followed him; none making innovations worth 
commenting on and the NFB no longer recommended 
to students, nor, in some years, even mentioned 
in a favorable way.  I continued to be a steady 
member of the NFB, attending local meetings, the 
state conventions, and the national conventions. 
One day in July 1987, I got a phone call from 
Baltimore. It was Dr. Jernigan. He said, (read 
this in a deep, deep voice), “Miss Rovig, How 
would you like to be director of Job 
Opportunities for the Blind?” I said, “But Dr. 
Jernigan, I’m not blind.” And he said, “Miss 
Rovig, How would you like to be the director of 
Job Opportunities for the Blind?” Not being dumb 
twice, I said, “Yes sir, I would.” I was the director of JOB for 10 years.

At various times during that decade, Dr. Jernigan 
also put me in charge of the single staff person 
cleaning all the bedrooms in our bedroom wing (I 
personally cleaned every toilet we owned many 
times), cassette production (which, if I remember 
right, was more than 60,000 copies per year); and 
for a very brief period back in 1975, I was the 
reader and first engineer of the brand new NFB 
studio. Larry McKeever, “the voice of the Braille 
Monitor,” designed it to be, as he told me, equal 
to a big-time studio in Nashville. He taught me 
how to run the giant board and all the equipment 
over a couple days. As time went on and the 
monthly “Presidential Release” was recorded, Dr. 
Jernigan and I discovered I was an okay reader 
but a poor engineer. Yes, I lost that piece of the job. (Whew!)

JOB was a big part of my job. The NFB’s 
innovative program, Job Opportunities for the 
Blind, was funded by the U.S. Department of 
Labor. Mary Ellen Reihing (now Mrs. Gabias) and I 
used the NFB studio to produce six cassette 
newsletters per year. Half of it was articles 
about blind workers (I usually did the interviews 
and wrote them up) plus job hunting advice, and 
half of it was reading real job listings for all 
kinds of jobs all over the country­as long as 
they were not specifically to hire a driver of a 
vehicle or a life guard at a swimming pool. My 
all-time favorite came from the “Baltimore Sun” 
and said, “Seamstress needed. Steady work. Baltimore Casket Company.”

I got calls from all over the US­blind job 
seekers asking advice and, occasionally, an 
employer worried about the new ADA. What helped 
folks the most was our rock solid belief in their 
goal, and introducing a blind job hunter to 
someone who was blind and already at work in that 
same field or one with similar requirements. 
Networking built that essential positive attitude 
and provided the practical advice that one who is 
in a field knows.  Once a year I wrote a 
four-page “Employer’s Bulletin” like the one in 
1995 called, “Employer Nightmares about Hiring 
Blind Employees.” It started like this, “This 
bulletin is for employers who have hidden worries 
about hiring a blind person.”  Some bulletins are 
still posted on the NFB website, but they surely need updating.

Then we had the three-hours long JOB Seminars at 
national conventions for a live audience of two 
to three hundred NFB members.  I was the MC for 
our lineup of blind speakers. I’ll never forget 
the presentations by John Fritz on doctoring his 
Wisconsin dairy herd; Doug Lane of Nebraska, a 
professional baker for a large hotel; Joe 
Urbanek, owner of a B&B for newlyweds; Lloyd 
Watts, house parent in a group home for adult men 
with low IQs; Carla McQuillan on childcare in the 
home (before she started her Montessori school); 
Allen Schaefer of Illinois, a public high school 
music director and teacher (whose students went 
all the way to state several times), so many 
others. But, golly, my number one favorite was 
Robert Munz of Long Island, New York, telling us 
about his interview and his job working the Price 
Club fast food counter. He got the job of 
defrosting the pizzas and warming the big dough 
pretzels when he told the sighted HR lady that he 
cooked a meal for 40 as part of his training at 
the Louisiana Center for the Blind, and she said, 
“I couldn’t do that!” and Bob said, “You could if you tried.”

I am proud to say I started the JOB convention 
breakfast meetings targeted to different 
professions. Out of that networking, people found 
each other and they grew our NFB divisions for 
science and engineering, for voc rehab workers, 
and for medical fields, among others.

One day, Dr. Jernigan asked me, “Miss Rovig, 
would you like to go to the United Nations?” The 
NFB was invited to run an information table in 
the lobby of the UN in New York City alongside 
other self-help groups because it was The Year of the Disabled.

And one very memorable day, Dr. Jernigan asked 
me, “Miss Rovig, how would you like to go to 
Japan?” Of course, I said, “Yes sir, I 
would.”  The Japanese government office that ran 
training centers to train blind persons for 
employment asked for a keynote speaker to come to 
their convention to explain how the NFB worked on 
employment issues. Their chief push was to teach 
the use of the Opticon. Unfortunately that was 
the last year the machine was manufactured. 
Anyway, what a wonderful trip and what an honor 
to be chosen. I heard later from our contact, 
Chuji san, that my speech had been translated and 
published in the main Tokyo daily newspaper with my photo.

Well, after I’d done this job for ten years, DOL 
decided we’d been funded way longer than they 
normally would fund any program (normally only 
two or three years!) and ended our funding, so 
Dr. Jernigan switched me to being the 
writing-driving-reading assistant to our staff in 
the IBTC, the International Braille and 
Technology Center for the Blind. Working this job 
for two years, I learned a lot about modern 
equipment for blind persons.  I loved the time 
Robert Jaquiss and I drove to several high tech 
companies and saw the amazing, new, 3D printing machines.

After a while my several layers of bosses and I 
discovered I was an editor and proofreader.  My 
job changed to working in our Advocacy and 
Protection Department, mostly proofreading print 
documents that leave our building­letters, 
emails, petitions, invoices, language in new 
legislative bills, posters, website pages, fact 
sheets, and official reports. I helped proof the 
opus, “Walking Alone and Marching Together”­all 
thousand-plus pages of it. I wrote the wording 
for the Bolotin Award online under Jim Gashel’s 
direction. I began to proofread the “Braille 
Monitor” and “Future Reflections.” This is what I’ve done for the last decade.

Dr. Jernigan had a dream of a national 
headquarters for the National Federation of the 
Blind, one that would work on all the different 
issues, with room for things like a library to 
educate the researchers and a research institute 
run our way, an educational center figuring out 
best practices, and lots of room for offices and 
meeting rooms to cover all the different jobs the 
NFB is doing and will want to do in the unknown 
future. This is not a school, but a think-tank at 
work to innovate ideas and train the trainers. We 
had 18 million dollars to raise so I helped build 
it. I had NFB accounting take a small portion of 
my paycheck every month to give $5,000 to the 
building of our National Center for the Blind, 
200 East Wells Street at Jernigan Place, 
Baltimore, Maryland 21230. Yup, my name is on the 
wall in the Wells Street lobby.

Five years ago, President Maurer changed my job 
again by appointing me to assist Anil Lewis, NFB 
state president in Georgia, with all the 
paperwork for our national scholarship program. 
Under Anil’s direction, I wrote the information 
on our scholarship website; answered half a 
zillion phone calls and emails, printed and filed 
the 500 to 700 or so scholarship applications we 
get each year, and handled lots of other 
time-consuming details. After a couple years, 
Anil accepted a staff position here in NFB’s home 
office and Patti Chang, Esquire, a full-time 
lawyer in Chicago and president of the NFB of 
Illinois, became my boss for this part of my 
job.  It is so very strange to think this is my 
last year working on this fun, important, 
expensive program.  I so enjoy meeting our thirty 
winners at convention and helping them find out 
that what the National Federation of the Blind 
offers to them goes way beyond a one-time check and a week in a big hotel.

I have been to every NFB national convention 
since 1976. This convention will be number 39. 
It’s the most fun you can have in a week and 
still be legal. I’ve been to every NFB state 
convention in the state in which I lived (Iowa or 
Maryland) plus some extra state conventions just 
for fun: Minnesota, New Jersey, Pennsylvania, New 
Hampshire, Virginia, and Washington, DC.  All 
were so different and yet all were totally NFB.

There’s never been a national convention that I 
didn’t have several jobs. I met and got to know 
hundreds and hundreds of our members when I had 
the job for many years of training and 
supervising volunteers for the NFB Store. 
Remember the time we had no customers at all, so 
joking around we got Ellen Ringlein to do an 
advertisement and demonstration for her table of 
Braille tools in German and got Fatos Floyd to 
advertise her Braille equipment in Turkish? Many 
of our volunteers had a first Braille lesson, 
many learned how to use the click rule and the 
abacus, and many strangers became friends as they sat beside each other.

So many good times!

Looks like I’m writing a book here, and not a 
goodbye! It somehow doesn’t seem proper to say 
only, “So long, and thanks for all the 
fish.”  Fellow members and friends, if you read 
between the lines, you know I will always 
treasure these things­getting to know the most 
extraordinary man I’ve ever met­Dr. Jernigan; 
having the chance to work, protest, and laugh 
with the many wonderful, hard-working members 
I’ve met since 1975; and, yes, I very much 
treasure the fact that, using such gifts as I 
have, I have helped the movement of all blind 
Americans toward full equality.  The conclusion I 
reached in a car crossing the hot summer 
landscape of Iowa in 1975 hasn’t changed­equality 
for the blind just makes sense.  So see you in 
Orlando! If you come to Minnesota’s NFB events, 
look for me there, or find me on NFB listservs.

With appreciation for the past and anticipation of the future,

Lorraine (also known as, Miss Rovig)

>Lorraine Rovig
>Assistant to Chairperson Patti Chang, Esq.
>Scholarship Program
>200 East Wells Street at Jernigan Place
>Baltimore, MD 21230
>Office: (410) 659-9314, x2415;
>Email: <mailto:scholarships at nfb.org>scholarships at nfb.org
>Website: <http://www.nfb.org/scholarships>www.nfb.org/scholarships
>The National Federation of the Blind knows that 
>blindness is not the characteristic that defines 
>you or your future. Every day we raise the 
>expectations of blind people, because low 
>expectations create obstacles between blind 
>people and our dreams. You can live the life you 
>want; blindness is not what holds you back.
>To make a donation to the National Federation of 
>the Blind Imagination Fund campaign, please 

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