Saturday, March 06, 2010

Deaf, Retired Couple Carry On Work At Their New Market Farm

Deaf, Retired Couple Carry On Work At Their New Market Farm

The moment Jack and Rosalyn Gannon turned into the washed-out driveway of an old, defunct dairy farm near New Market in the mid-1980s, they knew it would make the perfect retirement home.

Both worked at Gallaudet University in Washington at the time. Both had grown up deaf in rural areas and graduated from state schools for the deaf -- she in North Carolina, and he in southern Missouri -- and longed for a taste of the country.

On free weekends, they traveled to the farm to begin what became 16 years' worth of repairs and additions to the farmhouse, originally constructed in the 1750s and 1820s, as well as their 34-acre property.

"Since we met in college we have always been a team," Jack wrote in an e-mail.

Jack had an aversion to redheads before he met Rosalyn at Gallaudet College (now Gallaudet University) during an orientation class their first year in 1954.

"What complications life throws at you!" he wrote.

She was a cheerleader and an athlete, and he was a wrestler and played football. She majored in art, he in education.

Their senior year, the Nebraska School for the Deaf had openings for an art teacher and a printing/graphic arts instructor, they wrote. The school offered them the jobs at the same time. A few days after graduating, they married.

Rosalyn taught art and loved it, she wrote.

"Art is wonderful for deaf students (who are so visually oriented)," she wrote.

Teaching deaf students involves the use of a lot of eye contact and communication through American Sign Language, she wrote.

Jack taught graphic arts, or printing, when the trade started introducing "offset" printing.

Teachers at the Nebraska school used both sign language and speech, depending on their abilities, he wrote.

He also coached basketball and their football team, which with an eight-man team went undefeated his last year teaching, the first in the school's history, he wrote.

The Gannons taught at the Nebraska school for nine years, and when they left, the senior class dedicated their yearbook to the couple, Jack wrote.

They then accepted positions at Gallaudet, something Jack told college classmates he would never do, in part because of having to live near and work in traffic-congested Washington.

Jack became the first director of alumni relations and executive secretary of the Gallaudet College Alumni Association, and Rosalyn started out teaching art at the Kendall School for the Deaf on the Gallaudet campus.

She took some time off to raise her two children, both of whom can hear, and returned to Gallaudet to teach American Sign Language.

Over the years, she saw paperwork and other requirements of teachers increase, as well as the difficulty of working with parents to maintain the discipline of students.

"Today's teachers do not receive the same respect they did during my early years," she wrote.

By the time he retired in 1996, Jack was the special assistant to the president at Gallaudet and had written four books on deaf heritage and history. Life on their farm has not brought an end to their labors.

Jack is working on a book about the history of the World Federation of the Deaf.

From a studio in their house, Rosalyn teaches three creative consulting workshops each month. The workshops focus on making family scrapbooks.

Jack wrote he believed that having the Maryland School for the Deaf in Frederick is of great benefit to the local deaf and hard-of-hearing population, and makes the city more receptive to their needs.

The friendly and helpful attitude of many local salespeople Rosalyn encountered when they first started building their house in Frederick remains, she wrote.

"To this day, people are still the same and even better, more and more of them know how to use basic signs to communicate with deaf people," she wrote. "The deaf community appreciates this so much."