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May 19, 2003

Interpreter makes the world sing for the deaf

From: St. Louis Post Dispatch, MO - May 19, 2003

By Joe Holleman Post-Dispatch

It may have been at Powell Hall. Or possibly Washington University's Edison Theatre or Graham Chapel. Or maybe the Loretto-Hilton Center.

Glenace Humphrey has performed at each of these venues, but always in silence.

Humphrey is an interpreter for the deaf, working not only at public events but also helping deaf people talk to their doctors, lawyers and dentists. And she wouldn't want it any other way.

"I have seen tears in the eyes of deaf people because they get that wonderful feeling knowing that a hearing person is understanding them," said Humphrey, 53, of west St. Louis County. "It's awesome to be there when that kind of communicating is taking place."

Born in Wichita, Humphrey is the oldest of four children whose family moved a lot - not to her liking - during her youth. The family lived in Kansas, Oregon, Washington, California, Arizona and "New Mexico, for about a week."

"My father was a jack of all trades; you know, the kind of guy who always thought the grass was greener on the other side. He was a construction worker, a logger, an iceman, a subway driver, you name it."

By the way, Humphrey is not deaf and none of her family or friends is deaf. No dramatic event pushed her into her career. If she had not been bored and wanted out of Hutchinson, Kan., she might still be cutting hair.

She graduated from high school in Hutchinson and quickly moved in with an aunt in Wichita. There, she met her husband, Lloyd Humphrey, who was in the Air Force. They married in May 1968 and moved to Kansas City in 1969. (They have one daughter, Heather, who lives in Colorado with her husband and the Humphreys' two granddaughters.)

In Kansas City, she said, "I had been doing hair and nails since I was real young, so I went to cosmetology school. I got my license and was doing that on and off."

Her life changed one day in 1975 when she spied a list of community education classes offered by the University of Missouri at Kansas City. "I think it was something ridiculous, like a dollar a class. One was a signing class and it sounded interesting, and it would get me out of the house."

From her first class, Humphrey knew this was her profession.

"I seemed to have a knack for it. I picked it up very quickly. Even the teacher commented on it," she said. She then went to Minnesota for six weeks of intensive training.

"That was day and night, seven days a week," she said. "And the best part was that during your off time, you hung out with deaf people. Signing is like any language. You can't pick it up just in a classroom. You have to get out and talk to deaf people outside - go to their parties."

The family moved to Colorado in 1979, where Humphrey worked full time as an interpreter and picked up an associate's degree in deaf interpretation.

Humphrey moved to St. Louis in 1991, taking a position with Deaf Inter-Link, which finds interpreters for deaf people. She is one of approximately 500 state-certified interpreters in Missouri, and about one of 30 in Missouri who is nationally certified.

Her job has taken her around the United States and to Japan and Europe. She has interpreted for presidents Bill Clinton (twice), and George W. Bush (once); the late Gov. Mel Carnahan; and mayors Freeman Bosley Jr., Clarence Harmon and Francis Slay. She has even played Carnegie Hall, with the New York City Gay Men's Chorus.

But her fondest "celebrity" moment was working a Red Skelton concert at the Fox Theatre in 1992. "Red Skelton has always been a favorite of deaf people because he was one of the first, if not the first, entertainer to make sure he had interpreters at live performances," she said.

Charlie Robin, executive director of the Edison Theatre, said he considers Humphrey to be part of the act.

"First, she is a professional, through and through, but she also is one of the easiest, nicest people you'd ever want to work with," Robin said. "And she always adds a special spark to each performance."

Humphrey has no plans to quit.

"You never know what's going to happen, whether it's a public performance or you're helping a deaf person communicate with his doctor over a serious matter. In my other jobs, I had days where I dreaded going in and couldn't wait until it was over.

"But since I started interpreting, I haven't had a single one of those days."

© St. Louis Post Dispatch