Founding Fathers Showed Determination, Foresight

by Stuart Nelson

For those who were not yet members of BVA in 1995 or perhaps do not remember, the organization published a special 50th anniversary issue of the Bulletin during the summer of that year just prior to the national convention in Washington. The edition was dedicated solely to BVA’s early history and the key figures responsible for its accomplishments throughout the half-century of its service to America’s blinded veterans.

The Oklahoma Regional Group, which now uses the name Sooner, was a model group in BVA’s early days. The group is pictured here at its state convention in Shawnee, Oklahoma, in 1946. Most recognizable are Lloyd Greenwood, BVA’s first Executive Director (seated third from left) and Kathern Gruber directly behind (large hat).
The Oklahoma Regional Group, which now uses the name Sooner, was a model group in BVA’s early days. The group is pictured here at its state convention in Shawnee, Oklahoma, in 1946. Most recognizable are Lloyd Greenwood, BVA’s first Executive Director (seated third from left) and Kathern Gruber directly behind (large hat).

A highlight of that issue was an article by Raymond T. Frey, BVA’s first National President who, incidentally, passed away just two years ago. Ray’s piece was entitled “BVA—The Formative Years” and outlined major historical events.

Ray referred in his lead paragraph to the legendary meeting held March 28, 1945 in which about 100 blinded patients at Avon, Connecticut’s Old Farms Army Convalescent Hospital gathered at 8:45 a.m. to formally organize a fraternal union designed to assist one another. The idea for the meeting, he said, was that of Baynard Kendrick, the author of the novel Lights Out about a veteran blinded in World War I. Lights Out was also later made into a motion picture. At the time, Kendrick was an instructor at Old Farms.

Ray does not mention in his article how long the meeting lasted nor does he refer to any minutes that were recorded. What he does report, however, is the election of a President, Vice President, Secretary, Treasurer and then five additional individuals elected to the Board of Directors (see cover). He also states that Attorney Arthur Brothers, acting as the legal advisor, drew up there and then the organization’s Constitution and Bylaws. Kendrick was appointed Honorary Chairman and the official sighted advisor to the group.

Space permitting, we will reprint Ray’s article in our next two issues.

The BVA Bulletin, Volume 1, Number 1, was dated April 15, 1946, just a little over a year after its founding. Its first editor, Lloyd Greenwood was also the organization’s first Executive Director. The Bulletin was a monthly newsletter during that first year.

For many reasons, perusing the Bulletins of 1946-50 for an hour or two can be a fascinating retreat. Astonishing is the personal determination and compassion demonstrated in the news items reported and the quotations that often accompany them. Equally striking is the foresight BVA’s founders had with respect to the services and assistance that would be required for blinded veterans to “take their rightful place in society.” Indeed, it seems, the blinded veterans of the time period were, in a sense, ahead of their time.

Some of us have recently had the privilege of meeting and associating with our recently blinded service members from Iraq and Afghanistan at BVA conventions or in other settings. It is also amazing to compare the character traits that today produce Masters Degrees, Doctorates, Juris Doctorates, marathon runners, bikers, swimmers, skiers, and mountain climbers with similar traits exhibited in the 1940s. Here are just a few from that same, first-ever BVA Bulletin.
  • Vinnie Trypuc is attending Columbia studying short story writing.
  • Vernon Parenton is teaching at Louisiana State University studying for his Ph.D.
  • Colonel Dodson is finishing his course in chemical engineering and plans to enter law school in the fall in Oklahoma.
  • Jimmy Cowan and Ernest Spaulding are running service stations.
  • Weldon Cooper, John Millon, and Hisatomi Miyasaki are working in the blindness field.
  • Ralph Graves and Johnnie Welles are working in insurance.
  • Henry Masse is with the Veterans Administration in Boston.
  • Monroe Fox owns a dude ranch in New Mexico.
  • Lloyd Engstrand is managing an oil company.
  • Herb Rosen is in the scrap metal business.
  • Lieutenant Kirby has his old job back as sales engineer in Asheville, North Carolina.
  • And last for now, but not at all least: Richard LaFrance, permanently blinded by a shell burst in Germany, is returning to his beloved football as assistant trainer at Cornell University.

“There isn’t a thing he can’t do in this business,” said Trainer Frank Kavenaugh who, understanding LaFrance’s love of sports, recommended the appointment. It becomes effective April 10 (1946).

 aFrance was an athlete at Ithaca High School, captained the William and Mary college football team, and was playing varsity football for Tennessee Wesleyan when he entered the Army.

On his return to the United States, LaFrance obtained an extended leave during which trainer Kavenaugh devoted several weeks to teaching him the tricks of the trade.  Ithacans recently collected $13,000 to build a home for LaFrance and his wife. Says LaFrance: “I’m lucky.”

Also from the April 15, 1946 Bulletin:

Jes’ Sittin’

Apparently, from the answers to our questionnaires (have you sent yours in?), a nice fat pension is one of the easiest things to sit on. The bigger it is, the softer it is, and the softer the sitter gets. Also, the bigger he gets in certain portions of his anatomy.

If your answer to the question, “What are you doing now?” is “Nothing”, you’re in danger of becoming a permanent member of the sitters’ club.

BVA was organized by veterans who are just as blind as you. They are taking time off from their work and their studies to help in their organization. The directors come from distant points to New York City every three months to help BVA be of help to you.

Hundreds of fellows are offering constructive suggestions—some are kicking, for which we are thankful. BVA would rather have all the kicks in the world than nothing.

Maybe the directors are the wrong ones. Elections are coming. Nominate some new directors on your own. Get in touch with fellows you know and propose the best officers you can get, but please don’t do nothing! Get up! Get out of the house! Make yourself known to the business concerns in your hometown. Meet the Chamber of Commerce and the local businessmen’s organizations. Think up new jobs that you might do with proper training.

We have members who want to be accountants, stockbrokers, and bank employees. Is that tough? Yeah, it’s tough. But the combined brains of the fellows blinded in World War II can find some way to beat it. Not by sittin’—but by thinking. That’s why BVA was organized. It has one main goal—to place every one of 1,500 blinded veterans out of this war and into what they want to do. That should be worth five bucks a year to you!