Participants in the “White Cane Walk”— an awareness builder and fund-raiser for the Akron Blind Center this weekend — weren’t about to let something like rain dampen their enthusiasm or, heaven forbid, cancel it.
Not when it was dedicated to someone as inspirational and weatherproof as Phyllis Cottle.
In fact, some in this special posse of nearly 140 sighted, blind and visually impaired who had gathered Saturday at the Firestone Park Community Center refused to call it rain. They elected instead to use a little poetic license and say that it was Phyllis crying tears of joy about the exceptional turnout.
Men, women and children from all walks of life had come to show their support and to educate themselves by getting blindfolded and taking the white cane walk.
Sam Moats, president of the Akron Blind Center, spoke poignantly about Cottle, who was the victim of a horrific attack in 1984 by Samuel J. Herring, who was a few weeks out of prison on parole when he raped, robbed, blinded Cottle with a knife and left her to die in a car that he set on fire. Miraculously, she not only managed to escape but also lived a full and joyful — albeit challenged — life with a lot of help from the Akron Blind Center. She died in January of complications from cancer. She was 73.
Cottle was well represented in thought and deed by her granddaughter Samantha Headrick and her dear friend Lucy Dobbins, who were on hand to applaud the awarding of the inaugural Phyllis Cottle Memorial Scholarship to 2013 Firestone High School visually impaired graduate Joe Chadbourne. He, like Cottle, has refused to allow his lack of eyesight to define his vision for his future. The University of Akron freshman, who is majoring in statistics, maintained a 4.176 GPA at Firestone where he was enrolled in the academically challenging International Baccalaureate program and was the valedictorian and an award-winning member of the swim team, among a staggering list of other accomplishments.
Akron Blind Center executive director Barb Bascetta, treasurer Shirley Hoefle, secretary Linda Lowdermilk, along with other ABC board members, were overwhelmed with Saturday’s turnout that included 28 members of the Delta Gamma sorority from the University of Akron whose national project is Service for Sight.
UA also was represented by 30 members from its girls’ swim and dive team. They were there in true team spirit to support one of their own, Amy Dorow, a senior biology major from Oil City, Pa., whose mother was severely visually impaired before undergoing a risky surgery.
Brown Mackie College also was well represented.
Judy Harpley — an orientation mobility specialist who works with blind and visually-impaired students in 15 school districts, including Akron — was accompanied by 13-year-old Hannah West, a visually impaired seventh grader from Jennings Community Learning Center.
Event organizers urged the sighted public to “respect the white cane” when they encounter visually impaired persons on the street, and again underscored the importance of not driving and texting and always yielding the right of way to the blind.
After that, they demonstrated the correct way to use the white cane for those about to embark on the blind-folded exercise that simulated walking in a blind person’s shoes, pouring a glass of water and more.
Twelve-year-old Robert West, who took the white cane walk, said he now has a real appreciation for what his sister, Hannah, who was wearing a “Love is Blind” in braille T-shirt, encounters on a daily basis and vowed to be more supportive. They were accompanied by their mother, Marlena West, and stepfather, Kevin Hunt.
Akron’s Pat Marks, 72, who is visually impaired courtesy of a birth defect in her left eye and years later due to glaucoma and macular degeneration in her right eye, gave the day her stamp of approval. She’s a regular at the blind center, especially on social day: “We need all the help we can get.”
T.K. O’Grady of 97.5 FM, host of the afternoon drive and assistant program director of the Rubber City Radio Group, channeled the spirit of Phyllis Cottle as he spoke about being a six-year prostate cancer survivor, and breaking down the real meaning of courage. Clearly, this message was not lost on anyone at this event, made even more festive with music by Martha’s Mistake, as the participants vowed to move forward with more understanding and celebration for those with visual impairments.
Like Marks said earlier, they can use all the help they can get.
Those interested in volunteering at the Akron Blind Center or donating to next year’s Phyllis Cottle Memorial Scholarship may call 330-253-2555 or send a letter to: Akron Blind Center, 325 E. Market St., Akron, Ohio 44304.
Jewell Cardwell can be reached at 330-996-3567 or email@example.com.