Kyle and Mae Workman
You know how hearing people say
they know deafness and how
everything should go for deaf people.
If you live as a deaf person,
you know about the deaf.
If you've never been deaf,
you really can't say you know what's going on
in the deaf community.
Kyle and Mae Workman are California-style retirees. Long-time California residents, when it came time to retire in 1979 they simply sold their home in Torrance, a suburb of Los Angeles, and moved to a double-wide trailer in Perris, a "one-horse town in the country, close to the desert." A dozen other retired deaf couples live in Perris, which is about 70 miles from Los Angeles and 20 miles from Riverside.
Kyle was Peck's Bad Boy while at the Utah School for the Deaf but after sowing his wild oats, settled down and became a pillar of the deaf community. He still likes to have fun. Mae graduated from the Arkansas School for the Deaf and was attracted to southern California by the booming aircraft industry during World War II. They have two grown children.
Their house in Torrance had appreciated greatly in value and the Workmans invested the extra money to supplement their retirement income. They enjoy their retirement lifestyle and have few worries. They own a camper and boat and enjoy fishing. "Our favorite fishing hole is in the Salton Sea in Imperial County. Most people think it's too salty for fish, but it's only brackish and you can catch some lunkers." They belong to a pot luck dinner group and think nothing of driving 75 miles for a meeting or just to visit old friends.
Kyle: I was born in Park City, Utah, a mining town in the mountains 30 miles east of Salt Lake City. The mines played out many years ago but the area has since become a booming ski resort. I became deaf at age 12 years and transferred to the Utah School for the Deaf at Ogden in 1930 and stayed there until 1935. Then I spent two years at Gallaudet, went back to Utah for a few years, moved to California in 1944 and have lived here ever since. I met and married Mae in 1945 and we raised our family here.
I enjoyed my time in the residential school for the deaf in Utah. Not always the classroom part, no; but I sure enjoyed the association with other deaf students. I would go home once in awhile on weekends but more often than not, I would stay at the school. On weekends we would play, we would go to town and do all sorts of things. It was much more enjoyable than staying at home. Sure, I loved my parents, I loved my brothers and sisters, but I couldn't communicate with them. But with deaf people like me, it was a lot of fun.
I moved to California because work opportunities were much better than in Utah. I might be rich now if I had stayed in Park City and bought property when it was cheap, but there weren't any jobs in that mining town at that time.
Anyway, I moved to California and found work as a dry cleaner and later transferred to machine shop work, where I made parts for the aircraft and missile industries. It was precision machine work. I liked that kind of work and stayed in that field for 27 years until I had to retire because of an injured shoulder. I took early retirement in 1979 and have loved every minute of it.
I had always wanted to work as a machinist and soon after I moved to California a deaf friend suggested, "Why don't you go to work for the Morrison Machine Company?" He said the supervisor there had a deaf daughter and would hire deaf persons. So, on that Monday morning I drove to the place and told the owner I was looking for a job. He asked, "Who sent you?" When I said Allen Whiteside, he said, "Come along. We've been waiting for you." Waiting for me! I couldn't believe it. But they hired me on the spot and I stayed there 13 years.
I started at the very bottom with burring and later transferred to working on the drill presses and after that with the metal lathes and mills. I discovered my favorite kind of work was with the lathes and with the tracers, a lathe attachment. That's where my real skill lies. I never liked working for big companies. There are too many bosses and you do one thing all the time. I preferred working for smaller companies where I did many kinds of work.
I have always been interested in deaf community affairs, but I really didni't become involved until after our children had grown up. I didn't want outside activities to bother my family life. Then around 1963, the Leadership Training Program (LTP) started at San Fernando Valley College. Later they changed the name to California State University Northridge and set up an undergraduate program for deaf students. I started to take evening classes on Friday nights. It was something new for me and quite exciting. Then in 1964, they started looking for a teacher in my area who could teach sign language. Dr. Ray L. Jones, who was in charge of the LTP, gave me a call and asked if I knew any one who would be able to take the position. Well, I thought of one person, then I thought of a couple of other people; but then I thought, "Well, why not me?" So I asked Dr. Jones, "Hey, what's the matter with me?" Well, he said that was exactly what he wanted to hear, so I became a teacher in the public schools, teaching sign language for evening classes.
I stayed with that from 1964 to 1977. I was with different school systems in Carson and El Camino College in Gardena. On opening class nights, almost never less than 50 students would show up for registration, which was too many. Twenty to 25 is about the limit. So they started to have other classes during the day to take care of the overflow.
When I started to teach, the biggest problem I had was with certification. The Los Angeles City and County were against having deaf people teaching. Anyone with more than 80% loss of hearing couldn't teach in the public schools. But with the help of CSUN, we were able to break through. I remember Barbara Babbini, Bob Sanderson's little sister, who attended the Utah School for the Deaf while I was there. Babs became the first deaf teacher and I the second to receive certification. If I am not mistaken, we were the first deaf people in the United States to teach in public schools. After that, it spread everywhere. It was a wonderful experience and I taught sign language to people who are still my friends today. We send cards at Christmas time. It is good to know that I have friends like that.
About 1963, I think it was, I became interested in the California Association of the Deaf (CAD) and became increasingly active. In 1968, our vice president, Hal Ramger, died. I was chosen to replace him as vice president of the CAD. Next, Richard Babb, our president in 1969, decided to go East to study more and it left a vacancy. I was chosen as president of the CAD and remained president for three terms. I finished Dick's term and then was elected for two more full terms, so it was almost six years.
At the time I was president, we started working with the California Vocational Rehabilitation Department. We were not happy with the way things were going in VR; it seemed like deaf people weren't getting the services they needed. An example was "TTS" tape, which was replacing manual operation of Linotypes before computerized cold type composition replaced both. Many deaf people wanted training or retraining as TTS tape perforators but VR turned a deaf ear.
We contacted the state VR director and he set up a meeting in Sacramento to discuss our problems. In the end, we got our own advisory committee. They had their Rehabilitation Advisory Committee (RAC) and then they had the Deaf Advisory Committee (DAC). The DAC has one representative on the RAC, so that we get much better cooperation and deaf people have a voice in choosing top people in VR. We were able to get a full-time person in rehabilitation to focus on deaf affairs. Judy Tingley held this position until she went East for more training. Ed Rogers is now the primary person in that department.
During one meeting, the operations of the Appeals Board was discussed. Later I talked with the VR director, Al Nelson, to find out the function of this board. He explained and then asked if I could suggest someone from our association who could work with them. After contacting and receiving his approval, I gave Bertt Lependorf's name to the director. Bertt has been with the Appeals Board for 12 years and has been re-appointed under three governors.
Deaf people now have equal access to VR services like everyone else. I think we did a good job.
I am still active in the CAD but not as an officer. After I left the office of president in 1975, I stayed on as past president for two more years. I also accepted the office of administrator of the California Home for the Aged Deaf. During my term as president of the CAD, we came up with the idea of a Century Club. The purpose of the Century Club was to raise money to pay off the mortgage on the CHAD, which was owned and operated by the CAD. We had a problem in that our mortgage payments were $771 a month and our savings were almost depleted. We were afraid we might have to close the home because of the financial problems and not having enough people living in it. We had a board meeting and decided to ask deaf people to chip in $100 each and get their names on a plaque, which would be placed in the home. And they did.
It took three years because we were limited by our contract with the bank to paying $19,400 in any one year. For three straight years we were able to meet our goal and by paying off the mortgage ahead of time, we saved almost $30,000 in interest.
I stayed as an administrator for the home for seven years, from 1975 to 1982, while holding down my regular bread and butter job. I would work days and at night I would serve as a kind of ministry in the home.
During the financial crisis, there was a hearing man whose aunt lived in the home and he became interested and concerned about the money problem. He met with us and suggested we have a television advertisement. Well, we knew nothing about television, except what we saw in our homes. So we got on the phone and a crew from American Broadcasting Company came out to make a film. I dropped everything at work and ran out there to show how the deaf residents needed their own place, how if they had been put with hearing groups they would be so lonely and lost. I explained to the TV people how they got along at the home and how it was financed and operated. They filmed all afternoon and it was shown on TV for two or three days and within one month, we got more than $17,000 in contributions. The home is now doing well.
What's the future for deaf people in southern California? It's hard to say. I am wondering how many will come up with good jobs; but if they don't get work, it won't be because they don't have help. We have all those, what do you call them, service centers. They provide counseling and help deaf people find jobs. How many deaf people ask for help, I'm not sure; but if they don't get work it's because they are too lazy to do anything.
Then we have mainstreaming. I have noticed that the young people keep more separate from the older people. Sometimes I wonder if the mainstream thing has something to do with that. The residential school at Riverside is empty from Friday afternoon until Sunday evening. The kids are all sent home so school ties are getting weaker. After they finish school and are out on their own, they set up their own things.
It isn't all bad. Some mainstream schools are now hiring qualified deaf teachers, which is a good thing. You know how hearing people say they know deafness and how everything should go for deaf people. Baloney. If you live as a deaf person, you know about the deaf. If you've never been deaf, you really can't say you know what's going on in the deaf community. Oh, yes, there are a few hearing people who can understand, but . . .
I don't like SSI (Supplementary Security Income). I just don't like it. It's getting so we're making professional freeloaders out of the kids. It teaches them how to get something for nothing rather than working to get it. I don't think students in school who are given free room and board should be given $230 a month for nothing. How it all startd, I don't know; but SSI was originally for older deaf people who didn't qualify for Social Security and didn't have enough income to live on. That's what it was meant for, not as a handout to students. But they added "blind and disabled" to those who were eligible for SSI and after a few poor families discovered their deaf teenagers qualified as "disabled," the word spread and pretty soon almost all the deaf high school students got on the gravy train regardless of need.
As for SSDI, I think it's good if you have worked to earn it before you draw. SSDI stands for Social Security Disability Insurance and you have to have worked and then become disabled to draw on it. I was on SSDI because of my shoulder; the doctors wouldn't let me work. There will always be people who become disabled before they are old enough to get regular Social Security.
It seems to me that the adult deaf community in southern California is in pretty good shape. It's not as localized as in the past. With all the new freeways, better cars and cheaper airfares, people are more spread out. We have many organizations in California like the social groups, athletic clubs, service organizations, alumni associations and the CAD, which has local chapters. Almost every week there's something going on. We have telephone services and people will call and let you know what's going on in their area. Your friends may be 50 or 60 miles out in the desert and you'll give them a call and they'll come to the activity We have a senior citizen organization that meets in Riverside the third Thursday of the month. People always go there. There will be 30, 40, up to 50 people. We have basketball, softball, tennis, fishing, bowling. I believe that 50% of the deaf people in this area bowl at least once a week. Every October, there's a big one [tournament] in Las Vegas and nobody sleeps. They'll bowl for three hours and talk and gamble for the other 21 hours.
All in all, life in southern California is good for deaf people. I really have no complaints; I really like living here. And there's no snow (grins).
Mae: Kyle told you everything, so I don't have much to add.
I was born deaf. My parents are deaf as are my two brothers and one sister. We lived in Arkansas, first in Hot Springs and then in Little Rock, where I attended the Arkansas School for the Deaf. Since all my family was deaf and we lived in the same town as the school, I didn't have Kyle's problem. I had a happy childhood. I never thought of myself as being different.
In 1942 a friend persuaded me and another girl friend to come to California and I have been here for over 40 years. I worked first at Douglas Aircraft as an assembler and after I got married, I stayed there until I found a more stable job at the Los Angeles Times-Mirror. I worked on telephone directories, not the newspapers, as a teletype-setter for four years.
When Kyle retired, I followed him and we moved to Perris. That was eight years ago. We have been amusing ourselves and really enjoying our retirement. I am still very active in the Southern California Women's Club of the Deaf in Los Angeles and I'll go back and forth once a month for the meetings. Three or four of the girls here go together in one car. It is about 70-75 miles, but it's only once a month and we like to go to socialize. When we lived in Torrance, I was chairman of the Ways and Means Committee. We had a lot of fun and helped many people who were in need. Our main project was the California Home for the Aged Deaf and I'm still involved. The club celebrated its 20th anniversary last year.
We have a son and a daughter. Our son lives in Hermosa Beach and works for an oil company. Our daughter lives in Las Vegas and works in the Las Vegas High School with deaf students and as an interpreter. She is studying for her masters degree and hopes to be a counselor. We go there quite often; we might even move there.
I have always enjoyed camping and going to different places but I never was much on fishing until we moved here and all our children had grown up and left home. Then Kyle wanted me to go fishing with him, so I took it up. That was about two years ago. So far, I think I catch more fish than he does. (Kyle looked surprised.) I didn't say I beat you; I try to be humble. Yes, you do the baiting but I can do the rest.
I really enjoy fishing. Oh, I catch trout and different kinds of fish. There are some funny fish at Salton Sea: corvina, tilapia--they are so ugly but they have those beautiful red fan tails and they taste very good. We bring home so many fish, we give them away to our friends and neighbors.
Like many of my friends, I became hooked on nighttime TV soaps, like Dynasty, after they were captioned. I also like to putter in our garden. I take care of the flowers while Kyle handles the heavy stuff, spading, hoeing, etc.
Living in a mobile home is all right but I also miss our home with a fireplace. We own the land and mobile home but they are just not the same.
But I don't have any real complaints. Life has been good to us.
Department of Research and Teacher Education
National Technical Institute for the Deaf
Rochester Institute of Technology
52 Lomb Memorial Drive
Rochester, NY 14623-5604
Dr. Susan Foster
Copyright 1999 Rochester Institute of Technology