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November 15, 2003

Family planning new town for sign language

From: Rapid City Journal, SD - Nov 15, 2003

SALEM (AP) -- The McCook County Commission has been told by letter that two Sioux Falls people would like to start a new town that would be renowned for its use of American Sign Language.

M.E. Barwacz and Marvin Miller of Sioux Falls made the request, saying they would like to be the founders of the new town, which would be called Laurent and would be seven miles southeast of Salem near Interstate 90.

The goal is to break ground in the spring of 2005, Barwacz said Friday. She said her family would buy land from several family farmers for the town and that it could cost $500,000 to $1 million for about 640 acres of land.

Barwacz and Miller said the residents would not have to be deaf to live in Laurent but would have to be able to use sign language to communicate.

It would be important for the town to be close to Sioux Falls and Mitchell, Barwacz said.

"Location was a key factor in choosing McCook County as an option for the new town," she said. "The proximity to Sioux Falls and Mitchell and to major medical facilities, colleges and universities were all factors, but we do not want to be a bedroom community."

The letter said they expected to build a four-block area with housing and stores. About 40 families have expressed interest in moving to Laurent, and reservations are being taken from a group of families willing and able to move, according to the letter.

McCook County commissioners will put the matter on their agenda as soon as a sign language interpreter can be found, officials in the county auditor's office said.

The town would be named after Laurent Clerc, a French native who pioneered sign language in the United States in the early 19th century.

Miller was living in Michigan in the early 1990s when he told his new mother-in-law, Barwacz, of his dream to start a sign-language community. Both were raised in families with genetic deafness. The Miller family started the quest four years ago, and several months ago, a planning firm from Florida visited South Dakota to talk about the plans.

Miller, his wife and their four children are deaf and use sign language in their home.

Copyright © The Rapid City Journal.