The Deaf Will Hear

by Don Meyer, Ph.D. | Mar 31, 2012
"Deaf people can do anything, except hear.”
I. King Jordan, former President of Gallaudet University

My first encounter with the Deaf culture took place over 50 years ago while I was in high school.  Our family was attending a hearing church where approximately 25 Deaf people attended.  The place was Cleona, PA, just next to Lebanon.

Because I didn’t understand the Deaf culture, I had the mistaken opinion that there were other things wrong with them besides not being able to hear.  I’m not sure why I felt that way other than perhaps what someone meant when they said that “We fear what we do not know.”

One of the ways my opinion changed was by just being around the Deaf.  My brother and I played on our church softball team and our second baseman was one of those Deaf congregants.  The more we played softball and just hung out together, the more we realized his Deafness was one of the few differences we had.

The pastor of that Deaf congregation was Helen Stewart.  She served in that role for approximately 20 years.  Her interest in the Deaf began when she took an evening course from Rev. Croft Pentz at Eastern Bible Institute, which later became Valley Forge Christian College.  Even as a student she and fellow-students Diane, Bobby and her sister, Shirley, drove over an hour one way to pastor that Deaf congregation.  

The second way my opinion changed was after I took classes from Helen to learn sign language.  In fact, just about everyone in our hearing congregation took at least one class to help us communicate with our Deaf friends.  

You can imagine my excitement, then, when Dr. Lottie Riekehof and Linda Martin informed us of their desire to fund an endowment which would help restore initiatives to help teach the Deaf at VFCC.  And, on March 2, 2012 we had a campus wide celebration of their generosity.

Dr. Riekehof was born in 1920 in Germany and came to the United States at the age of three.  After working for seven years as secretary in a chemical company, she pioneered Deaf churches in New Jersey and New York.  Dr. Riekehof then began working at Central Bible College (CBC) where she served for 20 years as Dean of Women and founded the CBC Deaf Program.  At CBC my wife, Evie, studied sign language for two years from her.

She went on to teach sign language at New York University where she earned her Ph.D.  From there she moved to Gallaudet University where she spent another 20 years.  While there she helped write the original Registry of Interpreters’ Code of Ethics and authored Talk to the Deaf and The Joy of Signing.  Her books have sold over a million copies.  

Linda Martin lost her hearing at the age of 11 due to a life threatening illness.  At the age of 23 she attended Central Bible College (CBC) and was taught sign language by Dr. Riekehof.  She also graduated from Texas Women’s University, Gallaudet University, and has a Ph.D., (All But Dissertation) from George Washington University.  After working for four years at Gallaudet University, she worked 31 years as counselor/teacher for Deaf students at the Montgomery County School District in Maryland.  From 1983 to 2001 she adopted 29 Deaf children from nine different countries.  

All year VFCC has been blessed to host its inaugural class of Deaf students:  Matthew Martin, Ebby Johnson, Deann (Bear) Dirkx, and Bonnie Elliot.  Because of the generosity of these two remarkable women, VFCC now has a four (4) year accredited college degree for the Deaf.

When I recently spoke to Helen Stewart we reflected on the role of her college to give her the tools for communicating to the Deaf.  We also talked about how, approximately 50 years later, that same college is not only continuing to provide tools for communicating to the Deaf, it is now committed to educating the Deaf.  

Think about it

Dr. Don Meyer is President of 
Valley Forge Christian College, Phoenixville, PA 
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