Wednesday, January 2, 2013

50 Years, 50 Stories – Ruth Wood

Welcome to the very first edition of “50 Years, 50 Stories,” where I will be sharing stories on this blog from a variety of individuals associated with Imagine! (and the many other names our organization has operated under throughout the years) in celebration of our 50th Anniversary. Since this is the inaugural edition, it seems like it makes sense to start at the beginning.

Below is a remembrance from Ruth Wood, who in 1963 became the very first Executive Director of what was to eventually become Imagine!.

Sadly, Ruth is no longer with us, so what you see below is what she wrote back in 1988 about the formation of Imagine! for the organization’s 25th Anniversary.

Please note that some of the language below is no longer considered politically correct. I wanted to be true to her words and not change the language simply to fit our more recent sensibilities. Even if she didn’t use language that is considered appropriate today, it doesn’t change the fact that her heroic efforts changed the lives of so many back then, and established a foundation for Imagine! that enabled the organization to still be in operation and changing lives for the better a half century later.

Philosophy and Beginning Community Centered Programs in Boulder, 1963

By Ruth M. Wood

Ruth Wood in 1988

Until 1963, there were very few private or community programs for the severely mentally retarded persons anywhere. Parents would not have preferred to keep their children at home if adequate programs had been available, and the state also wanted to reduce the ever growing need for custodial care in the state institutions.

So in 1963 the general assembly established House Bill #121, providing for a pilot program relating to community centers for mentally retarded and seriously handicapped persons. It was to be a demonstration utilizing local resources and the cooperation of existing agencies. Boulder County was chosen especially because there was local support and interest, already providing limited services through the non-profit Boulder County Sheltered Workshop in Boulder and the Tiny Tim Center in Longmont, as well as cooperative agencies such as Easter Seals, Health Department, Welfare, C.U. and school districts.

Previously, several meetings had been held by the agencies, and a proposal had been made to the state requesting to be chosen for the pilot program. Numerous other counties had also submitted proposals. However, Boulder was chosen. The agencies formed a board and became incorporated as a large entity. They chose the name Boulder County Interagency and Citizens Council on Mental Retardation, and many name changes have been made since then. Agencies represented on the first council included: County Commissioners, the two school districts, Tiny Tim and the Sheltered Workshop, the Boulder Association of Retarded Children, County Health Department, County Welfare Department, and C.U.

I was granted a leave of absence from the Boulder Valley School District, and started working as the Coordinator and Administrator of the program. I had already served and been an officer on several of the cooperating boards, so it was not as difficult as it could have been. We had such tremendous support from people and agencies in all the towns in the county. The Jaycees and labor union members responded immediately by preparing rooms that could be used for classes and staff in the old county hospital buildings at Iris and Broadway.

We expanded programs and initiated new ones. We started the Infant Stimulation and Early Identification programs, and helped with the Boulder County Health Department in starting a Diagnostic and Evaluation program. Classes were started for school aged children in cooperation with the school districts, and were provided for all enrollees by C.U. so we could qualify for the funds at the beginning. Later, services were provided by psychologists from the school districts, and the Mental Health Center provided two psychologists to meet with the staff and parents.

In addition, the Broomfield Foundation for Retarded Children was started with the cooperation of the parents; recreation programs were started through both the City of Boulder and the YMCA, as well as a hot lunch program, a Mothers Club, and for quite awhile we provided speech therapy through Easter Seals.

Another very special achievement was the cooperation with the University of Colorado in producing the 16m film on our programs called, “These Too Are Our Children.” (Editor’s note – we are trying to track this film down and will share it if we find it.) Many other benefits were continually offered to the people of Boulder County.

The Board of Directors was so very fortunate to receive the support and cooperation so that it could achieve its goals: to serve the handicapped, to help them achieve their potential, to alleviate the concerns of families concerning long-time care and programs, and to help the people we serve have a healthier, happier, and more rewarding life.

I feel privileged to have been part of this program, and am gratified that there is still an outstanding staff and board of directors to continue this service.

Ruth's remebrance was intitially published in the 25th Anniversry edition of the Developmental Disbilities Connection, the newsletter for the Developmental Disabilities Center (later to be known as Imagine!)

Are you interested in sharing your story for 50 Years, 50 Stories? If so, contact Caroline Siegfried at or 303-926-6405. We’d love to hear from you!

Fun "50 Years, 50 Stories" bonus! A couple of newspaper articles from the very early days of Imagine!. Click on the image for a bigger view.

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