Arc celebrates milestone

Published 12:00 am Tuesday, May 20, 2003

It must have been like this a half century ago.

Mothers and fathers sitting in a room together. Bound by a common link -- their children -- and not to be denied.

Laughter, applause, tears would have punctuated the remarks then as it does today.

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Maybe, there were refreshments afterwards. After all, the birth of Arc Mower County was as important as reaching its 50th milestone.

Nancy Bauer, a board member since 1987, agreed to serve as president in 1995. She is still Arc's president today. Bauer welcomed guests to the Our Place Recreation Center (the former Peppermill Restaurant) along North Main Street near downtown Austin.

On Sunday, Bauer welcomed the Our Place audience to the anniversary celebration.

"We've had out good times and we've had our bad times, but I think the dedicated staff and wonderful clients we have indicated there have been many more good times than bad in our history," Bauer said.

Dawn Helgeson, executive director, recalled the organization's history, beginning with a meeting of parents of children with developmental disabilities in 1952 at the Mower County Courthouse.

There was no special education programming at the time. There was no Cedar Valley Services, no group homes, no government services, according to Helgeson.

All there was were two institutions at Sauk Center and Faribault. If a child was born with developmental disabilities, they went there . If there wasn't room, they went to homes for delinquent teenagers and filled the empty beds and dormitories.

"Parents jumped at the chance to help their children," Helgeson said.

Training centers came first and then the rest: government funding, special education programming in local schools, advocacy and more.

The Americans with Disabilities Act of 1992 made it official. There would be no discrimination anywhere.

The organization itself changed from within.

"There was a name change and we dropped the word 'retarded' from our title," Helgeson said.

Locally, that subtle change was the result of a client, according to Helgeson.

"She said 'We have more abilities than disabilities,'" Helgeson recalled.

Today it is "Arc Mower County."

Helgeson said the state budget crisis and the very real possibility that funding sources will be gone poses distinct challenges for the organization.

"We need to carry on and forge ahead," she said.

Past presidents were introduced to the audience and awards presented. Volunteer honors went to Nancy Qual, Steve Mallam and Sarah Salisbury.

Paul Spyhalski, a director and coach of the local Special Olympics team, welcomed new board members to the organization.

Norma Klaehn, one of the past-presidents, addressed the group. She said the "hope, advocacy and togetherness" found at Arc Mower County is a "burning flame" in the lives of clients and their families.

A special guest was Dennis Thede, president of Arc-Minnesota.

These said the Mower County chapter is one of the oldest in the state of Minnesota and that

Arc-Minnesota is considered a benchmark organization for others in the United States.

"They have lifted the bar higher than other organizations," Thede said.

Another special guest was Mike Severson, former district manager for the Social Security Administration in Austin and now of Alexandria. Severson echoes comments heard often Sunday afternoon, when he said Arc meets the needs of its clients as well as any agency.

One of Arc Mower County's success stories is Bill Sacker award-winner Phyllis Schuman.

A client who lives at the Twin Towers apartment complex, the 51-year-old woman is going home soon to Rockford, Ill. to be near her family.

"I've got a son, 36, and daughter, 25," she said proudly.

Putting aside her award certificate, the middle-aged woman disappeared for a moment. When she returned, she was carrying a large puzzle board. It was a 1,000-piece puzzle and it required the use of a magnifying glass for the woman to assemble.

"When I'm done, they're going to frame it and put it up on a wall for everybody to see. Won't that be something?" she said.

Lee Bonorden can be contacted at 434-2232 or by e-mail at