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February 12, 2006

Sound in Silence

From: Mason City Globe Gazette, IA - Feb 12, 2006

By JAN HORGEN: Of The Globe Gazette

Silence fills the the chapel. Faces uplifted, a handful of worshippers pray, sing and recite liturgy — without speaking.

Words and phrases come in flourishes of hand, body and facial expression, animated and mesmerizing.

This silent service takes place the first Thursday of each month at Bethlehem Lutheran Church in Mason City.

For Luella Graupmann of Mason City, that’s not enough.

“Oh, I wish there was a service for the deaf every week,” Graupmann signs to her daughter, Jean Graupmann. “I want a pastor who can sign and speak at the same time.”

Luella Graupmann and her husband, Roland, are deaf.

He was born deaf. She lost her hearing as a 2-year-old after recovering from scarlet fever.

The Rev. Mark Lavrenz of Bethlehem Lutheran Church in Mason City is working to bring weekly worship services to the Graupmanns and other non-hearing North Iowans.

“I would love to have a Sunday morning service where the deaf could worship, with someone signing,” Lavrenz says.

Congregational leaders promised Lavrenz a sabbatical to attend sign language and interpreter training specific to church instruction.

“I want to make sign a second language for myself,” Lavrenz says. “There is such potential for outreach to the deaf community, to share the love of Jesus and offer help.”

Hearing the news, Luella Graupmann clasped her well-used hands over her heart in joy.

Theirs is a world devoid of the many sounds others may take for granted. But the Graupmann house is not quiet.

“Mom and Dad might not be able to speak, but when they have something to say, they are certainly not quiet,” Jean Graupmann says. laughing. “Believe me, you can hear it when when they are trying to get your attention or when they fight.”

Her hands flow freely in sign, keeping her parents in the conversation.

Sharing language visually has become second nature for Jean Graupmann. “My hands just naturally move when I talk.”

It was different for 66-year-old Luella (Johnson) Graupmann, growing up as the only one in her family who could not hear.

She treasured her days at a school for the deaf and hearing impaired in Faribault, Minn.

There she met Roland.

There she made made lifelong friends.

“I didn’t want to come home on the holidays,” Luella signs. “We were all the same, understood each other, could talk about anything.”

That acceptance was an immeasurable gift.

“The deaf have a culture all their own,” Sheila Stoeckel, disability program navigator for Workforce Development Partnership, says. “Theirs is a very solid community where being deaf is a defining part of each person.”

So there are misunderstandings, not just in communication but often in finding employment and necessary services, according to Stoeckel.

“Business people too often think there are greater expenses or risks in employing the deaf, when actually, with a few accommodations, they could find an employee with wonderful skills and talents,” she says. “Overcoming those barriers is not easy.”

Technology may be a deciding factor.

Text telephones, computer e-mail, closed captioning, video relay communication across high speed Internet, even cochlear implants have done much to break through communication barriers.

“I call my friends and we can talk, as if they were sitting right here,” Luella Graupmann signs, pointing to the video relay machine connected to the television.

Conversations are fluid, no longer bogged down by the need to type.

Cochlear implants in 1999 were the answer for 66-year-old Kathryn Kruse of Mason City, enabling her to return to teaching for a time.

“Today’s technology is truly amazing,” Kruse says, touching one of the magnetic devices just above her ear that augments voices so she can converse.

“Most people may not realize that only a small percentage of the English language can be understood through reading lips,” Kruse says. “So it can be extremely frustrating for the deaf to get even a simple point across.”

So going to the dentist, doctor or emergency room can be intimidating.

“I used to take my sister along because I did not trust myself to hear what I needed,” Kruse says.

Luella Graupmann nods vigorously. In rapid sign, punctuated by facial expressions and an occasional clap of her hands, she says:

“I feel comfortable with hearing people. Have fun with them — laugh and joke and smile. When people don’t understand, I write on pads. But sometimes people see me speaking, signing, and I get strange looks.”

Something she has learned to ignore.

Eyes flashing, Graupmann’s fluid fingers take up the conversation once more.

“I’m deaf, not dumb. Everyone should learn to speak as I do, with their hands, even a little. What could it hurt?”

Iowa's oldest social club for the deaf will mark aniversary

This is a celebration year for a special bunch of North Iowans. The Masica Club Inc., formed in 1931 as a support group for the deaf and hearing impaired, is celebrating its 75th anniversary on Saturday, May 6, at the Holiday Inn.

The Masica Club is affiliated with the Iowa Association of the Deaf and is the oldest deaf social club in the state.

Holding its first meeting at on the Palmer Lee farm near Hanlontown, Masica members formed strong ties that included generations of family members, according to Luella Graupmann, co-chairman for the anniversary event.

Doors open at 9 a.m., with events including technological and historical displays starting at 10 a.m. and ending with a 5:30 p.m. banquet.

Registration deadline is March 30. To register, contact Nelle Halverson, 110 N. McCoy St., Algona, IA 50511-2213, or go to “Affiliates” at the Iowa Association of the Deaf Web site.

To find the Iowa Association of the Deaf Web site follow this link:

You may register for the Masica Club anniversary by clicking on on affiliates, then Masica Club.

Information about American Sign Language can be found on the Internet at:

ASL letter signs are displayed at:

Copyright 2006, Globe Gazette