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January 20, 2005

Del. teacher part of inaugural ball team

From: The News Journal - Wilmington,DE,USA - Jan 20, 2005

By MICHELE BESSO / The News Journal


Mary Beth Tkach is not a politician, a wealthy campaign donor, a journalist, a celebrity or a musician, but she'll be attending one of tonight's nine gala balls for President Bush's inauguration.

Tkach, 44, is a sign language teacher at the Stanton/Wilmington campus of Delaware Technical & Community College. She will be part of the interpreting team for deaf members of the community who take part in today's events for the 55th presidential inauguration in Washington.

"As you know, this is a big honor," Tkach said, who is assigned to the Constitution Ball at the Washington Hilton and Towers. "I'm really excited. My students think it's wonderful."

Tkach, who lives in Stanton, plans to wear a formal black velvet and satin empire-waist ball gown and will get her hair and makeup done especially for the night.

President Bush is expected to make an appearance at the ball and possibly give a speech. If he does, Tkach will interpret his words and those of others who speak from the stage.

Tkach also was an interpreter for Bush's first inauguration in 2001. That time she interpreted for the president, actress Bo Derek and singer Wayne Newton.

"The president has been known to attend each of the gala balls at some time in the evening," Tkach said. "Last time, I interpreted at

several events and Bush came up in the end and shook my hand and said thanks for a wonderful job."

Tkach said she can't discuss her political views. She has to stay neutral while interpreting anything that is said at the event.

More than 50 interpreters will volunteer their services for most of the inaugural events.

Tkach also operates a private practice as a freelance sign language interpreter and works for Gallaudet University in Washington, D.C., a school for deaf students. She's the only interpreter from Delaware to work at the event.

"She's a very skilled interpreter," said Sue Casteel, manager of the Gallaudet Interpreting Service.

An interpreter for 22 years, Tkach said she was inspired by her late great aunt and uncle, both of whom were deaf. Originally from Ohio, she earned her associate's degree in interpretation from Gallaudet, as one of a handful of non-deaf students at the school.

In addition to sign language, Tkach teaches English as a Second Language and linguistics. Delaware Tech is one of the only schools in the state with a comprehensive sign language program, she said.

While the college does not offer a degree program, students can earn 21 credits and sign language certification through classes such as linguistics and deaf culture.

Danny Seal, 24, a December graduate of Delaware Tech, took several signing classes with Tkach.

"She's extremely talented, open-minded and has years of experience and knowledge behind her," Seal said of Tkach. "It's difficult to wrap your brain around sign language, but if you're a visual learner, it's easier. She helped a lot. I'm proud of her for going to Washington."

Tkach said the number of students taking sign language classes continues to grow because the Americans with Disabilities Act brought more attention to the needs of the deaf. She currently has 65 students in her sign language class.

"More people every day want to go into the field because the demand is there," she said.

Contact Michele Besso at 324-2386 or

© 2005 News Journal