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December 20, 2003

Club for the Deaf marks 10th year

From: Freeport Journal Standard, IL - Dec 20, 2003

Christmas party is an annual event for Stephenson County group.

By Pam Eggemeier

The Journal-Standard

FREEPORT -- They came to Freeport from Chicago, Wisconsin and Iowa but not many people knew they were here.

Groups of merry travelers were in town Saturday at First United Methodist Church for the annual Christmas party, organized by the Stephenson County Club for the Deaf.

The club also is celebrating its 10th anniversary this year and its organizers continue to plan special events including this party, a Valentine's Day bash and a picnic held each year in September.

Russell Keyes of Freeport, and John Huneke and Shane Redding, both of Lena, are on a three-person committee entrusted with keeping the informal group together and bringing in new faces.

"The people here know each other well," Keyes said. "We get the word out to a fairly large area but most of it is by word of mouth."

Keyes' niece, Lilli Leseberg, made the trip from Palatine to hang out with the group for the day. Leseberg is one of several people at the party who is not deaf but is adept at sign language, bridging barriers that are soon forgotten when all become immersed in group conversation.

"Most people here are deaf but these events are family-oriented and are really for everyone," Leseberg said.

Kathy Roe of Lena also hears but realized the importance of knowing sign language many years ago.

"I had seen a little ad in the Shoppers Guide for a sign language class," Roe said. "I had some schedule changes at work and wasn't able to get there then."

Remaining true to the promise she made to herself to learn to sign, Roe saw the same ad five years later and took the class from Ron Farrington, who taught it from his home.

Keyes says there are currently no formal training sessions for sign language offered in this area and he is hoping that will soon change.

"They used to have it at Highland College and I want to establish it again somewhere," Keyes said. "We hope to get the word out so people can get interested in signing again. People should be able to understand and support the deaf community."

Roe finds it sad that sometimes children must grow up in families where no one can sign.

"A deaf woman wrote the book 'Train Go Sorry' and it's a good book that conveys a lot of the experiences that deaf people must go through," Roe said.

The book's complete title is "Train Go Sorry: Inside A Deaf World," and is written by Leah Hager Cohen.

Roe had no deaf family members but just felt compelled to tune herself in more fully to the world experience of the deaf. She now regularly signs for a friend at church and puts her skills to use at functions such as this Christmas party.

The next club event will be the Valentine's party in Rockford at a time to be announced later. More details will be available on the Journal-Standard's' Community page as they develop.

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