65 Fruitful Years
by Raymond T. Frey, BVA’s First National President
Editor’s Note: As expressed in the Bulletin’s Winter 2010 issue, the intent was to reprint the following article, originally written for BVA’s 50th anniversary issue, in two parts. Because of space restrictions in our recent Spring issue, the text is provided here in its entirety.
The Blinded Veterans Association was established and organized on March 28, 1945 in Avon, Connecticut, by a group of blinded patients at the Old Farms Convalescent Hospital. Baynard Kendrick, author of a novel entitled “Lights Out” about a veteran blinded in World War II, was the motivating force behind this idea. It was Baynard who asked me to attend a meeting scheduled for the early morning that day.
The following officers were elected during that meeting: President-Ray Frey, Vice President-Pinky Hoffman, Secretary-Henry Masse, and Treasurer-Wilbur Washburn. The other five members elected to the original Board of Directors were Lloyd Greenwood, Joseph Smietanowski, Bill Aziz, John Millon, and Al Schmidt.
Attorney Arthur Brothers drew up our constitution and bylaws in accordance with our wishes. Baynard Kendrick was appointed as Honorary Chairman and also as our official Sighted Advisor.
BVA’s first national office was a desk in the corner of the Gundy Tea Room in Farmington, Connecticut. As proud leaders of a new organization, we agreed to accept no help, financial or otherwise, from any outside source.
Of course it is now difficult to comprehend how naïve we were to believe that we could manage the Association on a $20 initiation fee plus $5 of yearly membership dues. When we discovered that we could not run BVA on that type of revenue, we called a special meeting for January 1946 at which three changes were made. First, the $20 initiation fee was abolished and a $1 membership fee established. Secondly, we decided to accept gifts and donations from nonprofit organizations. And, third, we set up a trust fund within the American Foundation for the Blind (AFB).
Since BVA was a national organization, as it is now, we determined to move our headquarters from Farmington to New York City. As part of the move, Baynard agreed to donate one year from his writing career to “man” the office as our administrator. He also agreed to raise funds, travel extensively to aid any blinded veteran in need, and to train two blinded veterans who would eventually take over as BVA’s administrators.
As a result of Baynard’s efforts, Lloyd Greenwood would shortly become BVA’s first Executive Director. H. Pat Adams would take over as Executive Secretary and editor of the BVA Bulletin.
BVA was originally incorporated by the State of New York in 1947. A year later, the national office was moved to Washington, DC so that the Association could work more closely with VA and the U.S. Congress.
I would be remiss not to mention in greater detail the tremendous assistance offered by AFB. In addition to holding the trust fund, the organization ended up paying Baynard a salary and offered secretarial help. AFB also paid for the printing of the first issues of the Bulletin in 1946. If that were not enough, AFB provided equipment to foreign blinded veterans on behalf of BVA. Its officers even allowed us to use the Foundation’s “Helen Keller Room” for our weekend Board meetings that were scheduled to suit our training and work schedules.
Two faithful advisors and morale boosters during our formative years were Kathern “Kay” Gruber, AFB’s Director of Services for the War Blind, and Father Thomas Carroll, Director of Catholic Guild for the Blind in Boston. Their suggestions and guidance, given only when sought, were invaluable.
Funds did not materialize as expected in early 1946. It was not until July of that year that the Women’s International Bowling Congress provided BVA with its first real sense of security, a contribution of $25,000 a year for the next three years. Later, the men of the Bowlers Victory League added their support with the same yearly amount as the women had given. These contributions ultimately totaled more than $750,000.
At BVA’s first national convention, held in September 1946 at New York City’s Hotel Lincoln, our new membership elected the following individuals to serve on the Board of Directors: John Brady (National President), Russell Williams, and Ed Hoyczyk. In addition, Frank Kelly was chosen to replace Al Schmidt.
During the following six years I served on the Board, we were fortunate to enjoy the services of dedicated men who worked conscientiously for BVA. They represented all parts of the country and all branches of the military. Included were Lennie Shellhammer, Tom Hasbrook (third National President), Tom Broderick, Buck Gillespie (fourth and eleventh National President), Bill Miller, Claude Garland, Charles DeLong, Peter McKenna (fifth National President), Bill Thompson (sixth National President), Tom Richards, Philip Harrison (World War I blinded vet), and Vasco Hale (first African American elected to the Board).
BVA took another major step forward in 1946 when General Omar Bradley, then the VA Administrator, appointed BVA as the official representative for blinded veterans filing claims and appeals to VA. BVA became only the eighth VSO to receive such authorization.
Strong regional groups across the country added impetus to our early years. The first regional group was formed in Baltimore with Irv Schloss acting as Chairman.
Years later, Irv, along with Major General Melvin J. Maas, greatly enhanced BVA’s prestige when they successfully secured BVA’s Congressional charter in 1958. Because the 85th Congress chartered BVA as its official representative of blinded veterans, we are now honored to present oral testimony and submit a larger written version each year regarding the special needs and status of blinded veterans.
When our Old Farms birthplace closed as a hospital, BVA urged VA to open a rehabilitation center for the adjustment and training of blinded veterans. The Hines BRC, now known as the Central Blind Rehabilitation Center, opened in 1948 with blinded veteran Russell Williams as the first Director. Russ would serve 27 years as VA Chief of Blind Rehabilitation. I do not think it is bragging to note that if not for BVA’s influence, VA blind rehabilitation as we know it today would simply not exist.
In 1953, BVA established the Field Service Program thanks to financial support from local Community Chests. The purpose of the program was, and remains today, assistance to blinded veterans and their families in adjusting to blindness and in obtaining the benefits they had rightly earned. A year later, Irv Schloss became BVA’s second Executive Director following the resignation of Lloyd Greenwood. Also in 1954, the BVA bylaws were amended to provide membership for nonservice-connected blinded veterans.
As of mid-1995, BVA’s membership had grown to more than 8,000. We proudly boast of members in every state and territory and in many foreign countries. As the Association has grown, it has made many needed changes. It is interesting to note nonetheless that the BVA emblem, the motto, and our basic goals and objectives have remained essentially the same. Many of our challenges remain unchanged as well. May this wonderful organization continue to grow, prosper, and serve America’s worthy blinded veterans!
Movie and TV star Barbara Stanwyck became a member of BVA’s Honorary Advisory Board in 1950. Pictured here with Stanwyck are, left to right, Executive Director Lloyd Greenwood, Hollis Harloff, and James Malloy with his guide dog, Whiff.
About the Author
Ray Frey served as BVA’s first National President. A native of Lebanon, Pennsylvania, he was blinded by a booby trap in February 1943 and became the first service member to enter Valley Forge General Hospital as a blind patient. After his discharge, he was employed at the Valley Forge Hospital as a consultant to the blind.
At the close of the war, Ray enrolled at the University of Pennsylvania Graduate Hospital to acquire certification for physical therapy. He went on to work for 28 years as a physical therapist at VA Medical Centers in Wilmington, Delaware, and his hometown of Lebanon.
Ray’s list of professional and personal accomplishments is an extremely long one. It includes work on behalf of the handicapped. Most noteworthy perhaps is a meritorious citation from the President’s Committee on Employment of the Handicapped. He was a basketball and football star, having been inducted into the Pennsylvania Sports Hall of Fame in 1972. He was also selected as a member of Sports Illustrated’s Silver Anniversary All-American Football Team in 1968.
Following more than 50 years of blindness, Ray received a corneal transplant soon after the BVA 50th National Convention and the writing of this article. The surgery enabled him to regain considerable vision in one eye and to become known perhaps as much in BVA circles for this occurrence as for his pioneering efforts in getting the organization started.
At the time of his passing on March 8, 2008, Ray and his wife, Dorothy, had two children, four grandchildren, and three great-grandchildren.