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June 7, 2003

Deaf teacher signing off

From: Salem Statesman Journal, OR - Jun 7, 2003

A man who helped mainstream sign language locally is retiring.

Statesman Journal

For years, Fred Farrior never left the house without a notepad and pencil tucked in his shirt pocket.

Born deaf, he needed the tools to survive in the hearing world.

Not anymore.

Today all he needs to communicate are his hands. He can go just about anywhere — a store, a bank or a restaurant — and find at least one person who knows sign language.

Farrior has done his part to encourage the evolution.

He has taught American Sign Language to countless high school and college students in the Mid-Willamette Valley, as well as adults.

"He believes so strongly in putting the deaf and hearing world together," said his wife, Neiki. "He's had a lot of bad experiences — communication blocks, doors closed on him — because of his deafness. But he's also been very successful."

Farrior is retiring after 28 years at Oregon School for the Deaf, which offers comprehensive and specialized services for children who are deaf or hard of hearing.

The 56-year-old has spent most of his life at the northeast Salem school, first as a student and then as a teacher.

He reluctantly decided to retire because of changes to PERS that could have cost him money if he had kept working.

"I'm not ready," Farrior said through interpreter Cherie Ulmer, guidance councilor at OSD. "My heart is a little bit broken. I'm going to miss it."

Perhaps not as much as the school will miss Farrior, who has been instrumental in developing the ASL and graphic arts programs.

"It will be a loss for our school, but we know that he will still be involved in the deaf community," said Robert Scheffel, a longtime friend and co-worker.

Farrior and Scheffel have been pals since their preschool days at OSD. As teenagers they roomed together at the boarding school.

Farrior went on to become valedictorian of the Class of 1968, and then graduated from Gallaudet University in Washington, D.C. Gallaudet is the only liberal arts college for deaf and hard-of-hearing students in the world.

After a brief career as a lithographer in New York City, Farrior was lured back to Salem in 1975.

Officials at OSD were wooing him about the same time the printing company he worked for announced it was relocating to Indiana.

"It was like magic," he said.

Farrior has taught everything from graphics arts classes to yearbook design to photography to sign language at OSD.

"Watching him sign the simplest conversation is a clinic," said Judith Lorenzen, the high school principal. "Our kids and staff get to see that every day."

Some of his students have gone on to become attorneys, business owners, computer specialists and printers.

Farrior coached sports at OSD for several years, including football, basketball and track and field. He remembers some of his teams winning league championships and appearing in the playoffs.

"I would call him the jack-of-all-trades," said Scheffel, the school's computer specialist.

Farrior resigned from coaching in 1990, for family reasons.

"My sons really needed a dad," he said.

Farrior and his wife, whom he met on staff at OSD, have a mixed family.

He has two sons from a previous marriage, including Joseph, a member of an Oregon Army National Guard unit that is currently in Kuwait, and she has a son and a daughter.

The children were in elementary school when they married 10 years ago, which was a culture shock for both families. Neiki, who teaches ASL at Amity High School, and all of the children hear.

"My kids had to learn how to sign, and his kids thought they didn't have to sign anymore," Neiki said.

Farrior will have plenty to keep him busy.

He has eight grandchildren, including a 2½-year-old granddaughter who already knows how to sign several words.

He is an avid runner, and he enjoys raising animals on the family farm in Amity. They have cows, horses, goats, ducks, a burro, a chicken and a baby pot belly pig.

Farrior won't be leaving the classroom completely. He will continue to teach ASL classes at Linfield College in McMinnville.

The daily commute from Amity will be easier, but he figures he will have to make a few

U-turns because his car has been programmed for so long for the drive to Salem.

Farrior has inspired students and been a role model at OSD for nearly three decades, but perhaps the most important legacy he left was for the deaf community statewide.

He spearheaded the campaign to make ASL an accepted alternative for second language college admission requirements in Oregon.

"Just like Spanish and French," he said.

It became law in 1995, and today many schools have ASL programs.

"Like Johnny Appleseed planting seeds, they're popping up all over," Farrior said.

School is out for the summer now, but the OSD staff will work two days next week. As Farrior packs up his things and leaves for the the last time Tuesday afternoon, he has this hope for the future:

"That deaf children will have every access to anywhere."

Copyright 2003 Statesman Journal, Salem, Oregon