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Oyler: Dedicated champions of the blind reunite in Bridgeville

| Wednesday, Oct. 8, 2014, 9:00 p.m.

Last week, the Greater Pittsburgh Guild for the Blind of Bridgeville held an unofficial reunion. Jack and Peg Lydic hosted the event, which turned out to be a memorable nostalgic experience for a wonderful group of people.

I became aware of the Guild 50 years ago when my new bride served an internship there as part of her graduate studies in rehabilitation counseling at the University of Pittsburgh, a program supervised by Dr. Leon Reid. The organization was established by 1959 to serve the blind in the Pittsburgh area.

Located in Shadyside, the Guild was managed by Director Bill Gallagher, a disciple of Father Thomas Carroll, a pioneer in the rehabilitation field for the blind. His book, “Blindness: What it is, What it Does, and How to Live with it,” established a philosophy that worked effectively in rehabilitation facilities across the country. Father Carroll's philosophy was based on supplementing personal adjustment training with psychological counseling, provided in a total immersion, residential environment.

Gallagher left the center in 1965 and was succeeded by Dr. Reid.

My wife joined the Guild following her graduation that year and worked there until the birth of our first child in 1968. That year, the Guild acquired the old Universal Cyclops office building on Station Street and moved to Bridgeville. The move provided them with enough space to accommodate 24 clients at a time as residents. The organization recruited staff to support that level, including most of the people who attended this party.

At one point the entire nursing staff consisted of women with Bridgeville connections – two of my 1949 BHS classmates, Eleanor Miller and Pat Donelli, and Judy Sams. Pat's daughter, Debbie Bates, also served the Guild as a nurse; it was a pleasure to see her at the party.

When our youngest child was preparing to leave for college in 1986, my wife resumed her career with the Guild.

In 1997, the Guild's Board of Directors elected to pursue a change in philosophy. Dr. Reid was replaced as director and the agency was merged with the Pittsburgh Blind Association to form a new organization, Pittsburgh Vision Services. The change in approach eliminated my wife's job, triggering her premature retirement in 2002. The combined organization moved to new quarters in 2005, ending its presence in Bridgeville.

My wife has retained close contact with three of her Guild co-workers – Martha Burgoon, Nancy Schepis, and Linda Carlino; we enjoyed seeing them at the party. Linda still lives in Bridgeville, on Harding Street. Mrs. Schepis, a volunteer herself, has had an impressive career coordinating the use of volunteers to supplement the paid staff. She was well known to a large group of Bridgeville residents who pitched in to help, including Jane Patton, Betty and Curtis Copeland, Florene Joyce, Helen Buzzatto, and Ted Miscovey.

Some of the Bridgeville residents who worked at the Guild were at the party, notably Ginny Miscovey, Fran Perry, and Ken Wojtczak. Ken managed the Low Vision Department, with help from another of our Bridgeville friends, Nancy LaSota. The Access Technology Department, which provided computer training to visually impaired clients, was represented at the party by Spero Pipakis.

Everyone at the party lamented the recent passing of Norm Wood. He was easily the most effective counselor, probably because he himself was legally blind.

The Guild alumni at the party included four current employees of the state agency — Mary Ann Lyons, Glenn Toney, Koji Matsuda and Bernie Zelik. We also enjoyed visiting with Eileen Bender, Roberta O'Rourke, Nadia Pastor and Karen Allison.

When we were leaving, Linda Carlino asked me, “John, we were unique, weren't we?” My reply was “You were indeed, but I would prefer to classify you as extraordinary or, at least, super-special.” Father Carroll would have been proud of the way this group of dedicated individuals implemented his rehabilitation philosophy during the years the Guild operated as an independent agency in Bridgeville.

Our thanks to the Lydics for hosting the party and our congratulations to all the Guild alumni, who served 2,000 grateful clients.

John Oyler is a columnist for Trib Total Media. He can be reached at 412-343-1652 or joylerpa@icloud.com.

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