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March 22, 2003

Living lesson in deaf history

From: Rochester Democrat Chronicle, NY - Mar 22, 2003

100-year-old local man tells nonhearing kids of coping with his silent world

By Greg Livadas
Democrat and Chronicle

(March 22, 2003) — Since March is Deaf History Month, students at Rochester School for the Deaf had a unique opportunity to learn history from someone who has experienced 100 years of it firsthand.

Clifford Leach, who turned 100 on Jan. 24, and his wife, Ruth, 87, visited the school Friday to answer questions from students. Deaf since he was 18 months old, Leach, of Greece, used sign language to speak with the children.

“I can’t believe both of them still remember sign language,” said Faiz Aliuddin, 16.

“And he looks good for 100. He’s still strong.”

The younger students had questions written out on paper and sat in a semicircle in front of the Leaches, who were seated in the school’s library.

Older children had clip boards on their laps as they conducted their interviews.

“When did you learn to sign?” one child asked. (Leach said when he was 9.)

“When did you get married?” (When he was 28.)

“What is your favorite color?” (They’re all the same.)

“Do you want to live to be more than 100 years old?” (Yes.)

“At age 100, are you enjoying yourself or is it boring?” (I always enjoy myself.)

“Did you ever meet William ‘Dummy’ Hoy,” a deaf baseball player many believe should be inducted into to the Hall of Fame. (Never met him, but I know of him.)

The students also learned what life was like for deaf persons before the advent of text telephones and captioning for movies and television.

“Many friends lived near me. We just conversed or drove to see each other,” Leach said.

Ruth Leach, who graduated from RSD in about 1936, said that prior to captioned movies, deaf persons would rely on the action in the picture and imagine what was being said.

Ruth Leach recalled meeting Helen Keller, who visited her school. “She was a very nice person.”

Clifford Leach, a native of West Virginia, told the children what an easy life they have compared with when he was a child and had to walk three or four miles to school because there weren’t other forms of transportation.

When asked what his favorite memory was, Leach paused, then answered, “I love it all. My whole life is a memory, from the day I was born to my whole 100 years.”

Copyright 2003 Rochester Democrat and Chronicle.