Braille Monitor                                                                    August/September 2006


A Celebration of the Life of Hazel tenBroek

Hazel tenBroek

From the Editor: As the last few banquet guests settled into their chairs on Thursday evening, July 6, President Maurer came to the microphone to conduct a brief memorial to the National Federation of the Blind's first First Lady, Hazel tenBroek, who died last October, two months shy of her ninety-fourth birthday. The public address system proved insufficient to the size of the crowd and the confusion attendant on serving dinner to well over two thousand people. This is what was said:

Marc Maurer: Mrs. Hazel tenBroek, the beloved wife of Dr. Jacobus tenBroek, the founder of the National Federation of the Blind and its first president, died on October 7, 2005. We are dedicating this banquet to her. To my right, displayed on a stand, we have a portrait of Mrs. tenBroek, who I am sure is attending this convention in spirit. I now ask that this portrait be unveiled. Before it are candles which will burn during the banquet, lighting the image and signifying the spirit of Mrs. Hazel tenBroek.

Because Mrs. tenBroek was Jewish, we have asked the Cantor Dr. Mindy Fliegelman Jacobsen, only the third woman in history to earn a doctorate in her area of religious music, to offer the invocation.

Following the invocation Don Capps, the senior member of the board of directors, who met Hazel tenBroek at the NFB convention in 1956, recollected her as a woman of great compassion and grace, but one who would defend and understand the rights of blind people when roused. He said that she was always ready to fulfill any assignment that she received from Dr. Jernigan or President Maurer.

Then President Maurer introduced Sharon Gold as a close friend of Mrs. tenBroek, who assisted and supported her in many ways during the closing years of her life.

Sharon Gold: Nine months ago tomorrow Hazel tenBroek died, but our purpose tonight is to celebrate her life. She loved everyone in the Federation. The NFB was the primary purpose of her life. Toward the close of her life she was apt to reflect on the early years, when she and Dr. tenBroek founded this movement, but she was also interested in the way in which the movement had flourished. As we could tell from President Maurer's report on Tuesday afternoon, this movement has indeed flourished, and I am equally sure that she recognizes and appreciates that fact.

I first met Mrs. tenBroek very briefly thirty-one years ago at the Chicago convention. The following spring I had reason to be in Northern California and was invited to visit at her home for a couple of hours. That two-hour visit turned into a week's stay. During that week she taught me much about our movement and shared page after page of Dr. tenBroek's Braille materials with me.
Years later, when she lived in Sacramento, I particularly remember one time when we organized a spur-of-the-moment NAC-tracking in San Francisco. This was when Mrs. tenBroek was more than eighty years old. I suggested that she might come with us to support us during the march. She resisted and argued with me a little, but I repeated that we would like to have her come. I assured Mrs. tenBroek that she would not have to march if she didn't want to. So she went with us. I remember how astonished Diane McGeorge was that evening to see Mrs. tenBroek in the line, marching along the Bayshore Highway in the cold, windy, foggy San Francisco weather.
Mrs. tenBroek always said, "When you think about me after I am gone, go out and celebrate," so that is what we are going to do this evening. I would like to give you Sheryl Pickering, who is going to read some remarks prepared by Dutch and Nic tenBroek, her two sons.

Sheryl Pickering: Any memory of our mother, Hazel tenBroek, must begin with reading aloud--very fast. This was a woman who spent the majority of her married life reading aloud from law books, the New York Times, the Wall Street Journal, the Braille Monitor (which was composed in print and then transcribed into Braille), and many other types of written material. We could all understand it and reacted with disbelief when a visitor would arrive with some document and was not able to comprehend a word of it when Mom would read the document aloud with incredible speed. Memories of taking the old Rambler station wagon to Boalt Hall Law School on the campus at the University of California at Berkeley and filling it with law books that Mom would then read to Dad seemed perfectly normal to us.

It is not without irony that Jacobus and Hazel met on a blind date. She used to love to tell the story that shortly after their marriage Dad took her to meet his family on the farm in Hanford, California. Our Aunt Lil, Dad's sister, herself approaching six feet in height, looked Hazel up and down and remarked, "Couldn't you find something with more size to it?" Little did Aunt Lil know the true stature of the diminutive person before her.

Mom's dedication, spirit (Lord knows there was plenty of that), work ethic, and belief in her husband's life work as activist, university professor, author, and thinker was remarkable. All this, in addition to raising three children and managing a household--I'm not at all sure that as a young woman she could have predicted such Herculean qualities in herself.

In 1968, after our father's untimely death from cancer (at age fifty-six), Mom carried on with all of Dad's interests--which seemed only natural, since his work became as much hers after so many years. Mom spent countless hours consolidating Dad's numerous papers (now the tenBroek Library), as well as giving her time freely to those in the National Federation of the Blind who came to her for advice, guidance, and general empathy. She also continued the annual pilgrimage to the NFB conventions with salami and San Francisco sourdough French bread for as long as she could.

Along with these impressive contributions, Mom had a great sense of fun. Dinners at our house--often with a colleague who had walked with Dad home from the Berkeley campus or a friend from the blind movement--seemed to involve a certain amount of drink (for the adults), foot-long cigars (also for the adults), animated conversation, and laughter.

Each year New Year's Eve was spent with the same group of friends, and Mom's famous beer stew was always on the menu. Late July always meant White Astrican apples and enough apple pies to put in the freezer for an entire year.

There was no food Mom didn't like. Sure, there was our father's hearty breakfast of steak, potatoes, salad, and apple pie; but pickled herring, liver and onions, the most unthinkable food choices for most people, were all just fine with her. From Chinese stir fry to ice cream sundaes--she loved it all.

For years Mom's hot-rod car, with racing stripes and mag wheels, was a fixture on the winding streets of the Berkeley hills. Her dogs barely fit in the car. Many times, given the right angle, you would think one of the dogs was driving. Soon after Dad died, Nic's high school friend Bernie, who was experiencing some family problems, said he could no longer stay at home. No problem, Mom simply invited Bernie to stay with us--which he did--for two years. She treated him like another member of the family, something Bernie never forgot.

When we were kids, we would all gather at the foot of Mom and Dad's bed to watch the fights on TV--I can't recall any mom but ours who wanted to do that. She loved the fights, and she always loved a beer during a football game, or a beer not during a football game.

In the early sixties, shortly after Dutch was transferred to Germany, Mom and Dad found themselves in Europe to help get the IFB (International Federation of the Blind) started. Mom packed two of her famous apple pies and, for two weeks, got every stewardess to place them in airplane freezers so the pies would still be fresh when they visited with Dutch in Nuremberg.

Mom's last years were spent in Kansas with the grandkids and great-grandkids close by. A year ago we were able to turn the tables on Mom, when she received an autographed copy of Floyd Matson's new book, Blind Justice. By that time she was unable to hold a book, so we read it to her.

These are some simple recollections of our mother--a remarkable woman who was ahead of her time; a woman with an indomitable spirit, endless energy, and a generous heart. We all knew what she thought about a given subject, and knew from an early age that she was a force with which to be reckoned. I'm sure she's in Heaven giving God a good piece of her mind, as well as anyone else who will listen to her.

We love her and miss her terribly.

The next person to speak was Gary Mackenstadt of Washington State.

Tonight we are celebrating the life of a wonderful woman, not only for her contributions to the organized blind and to the career of Dr. tenBroek, but for the contributions she made to the university, to the community, and to her family, including the Federation family. I count myself fortunate to have had a long friendship with Mrs. tenBroek.

I first met her in October of 1971 at a convention in California that was extremely significant to me. I had an opportunity, not only to meet Mrs. tenBroek, but to listen to a wonderful banquet address by Dr. Jernigan. I also met the person who became my wife two years later. And the name of the California affiliate was changed to the National Federation of the Blind of California. I did not appreciate the significance of that change, but Hazel tenBroek helped me to understand it. She spent a lot of time talking to me about the Federation. (She told me I ought to grow a beard; I never really asked her why. I am certain she would have told me.)
We moved from California in 1976 and spent several years on the East Coast, but we kept in contact with Mrs. tenBroek through conventions and telephone calls on birthdays and holidays. We moved to Seattle in 1980. Mrs. tenBroek had moved to Bainbridge Island, which is in Puget Sound, after her retirement as associate editor of the Braille Monitor. The Washington affiliate had been decimated because of political and personal strife. But she was there, and she helped us to rebuild that affiliate. She was elected to serve on the board--the only elected position she ever held in the Federation. I was president, but more important were her personal support, her ideas, her suggestions, her advice, her criticism. She was invaluable. She helped us with the newsletter. We discussed so many things during our time together at Thanksgiving, New Year's, and other events. She helped us develop chapters. She worked hard, and she always had enthusiasm. I remember her enjoyment in discussing literature and history and politics and sports and dogs and California wine. She was a very dear friend. As much as I mourn her loss, I celebrate her life (as I know we all do) and her contributions to this organization and to me personally.

President Maurer: Now here is the person who joined the Federation perhaps before all of us, Dr. Floyd Matson. He met Dr. and Mrs. tenBroek in 1948.

I am making these remarks brief upon request. As the story goes, Jacobus and Hazel first met on a blind date. Whether or not it happened, the story has almost achieved the status of an urban legend. The question is whether or not it is true. Some people maintain that if it isn't true, it ought to be. Not necessarily. I think the legend seems very unlikely. Professor tenBroek was a serious man about such things. Most probably he would not at all have approved of his own participation in such a prank--as in boy's bad joke, as indeed it would have been if it had come off. In this light the story seems less cute, less dramatic and begins to look like nothing more or less than a rude joke.

What we do know was that this marriage between the two, Chick and Hazel, was no joke. It was in truth the most uncomplicated, the most harmonious, the most continuously winning and successful and undefeated union between two people. As I have known, over a considerable lifetime, people of all sorts of merit, I consider this marriage in a class by itself. Their union was singular in its persistence and its purity. It was purely a game of hearts and a game in which both were winners--Chick and his devoted bride and wife, Hazel.

President Maurer: One of Hazel tenBroek's students and friends was the man who has come to serve in many capacities throughout the United States, and partly he has been able to do so because of what Hazel tenBroek taught him. Here is Fred Schroeder:

I met Hazel tenBroek when I was seventeen years old. I have so many memories of time spent with her, learning from her, being encouraged by her. The thing I would like to remember this evening is that Mrs. tenBroek took time for the students, for the young people. We so often hear the term "mentor" these days that perhaps it is overused. But she was truly a mentor. She helped me write the first resolution that I ever wrote. She invited me many times to her home and to meetings where she thought I might be able to learn. As students we were traveling on a budget. At my first national convention I had $5 a day for food. Many times I found my way to Mrs. tenBroek's room for the sourdough bread and salami and cheese that she always had for anyone who came by.

Finally I want to recall one thing that I will always remember. I was asked to give congressional testimony on Social Security. At the time I was perhaps eighteen or nineteen years old. Mrs. tenBroek told me that she would help me with that testimony, which I sorely needed. After we had finished all of the technical arguments, she added a sentence that in my mind sums up the National Federation of the Blind more clearly than just about anything else I have ever heard. The sentence was this: "We want no safe place in the shadow of nonparticipation." I have carried these words in my mind and in my heart for all these years. When I think of Mrs. tenBroek, I will always remember her profound ability to encapsulate in a few words the essence of the National Federation of the Blind: "We want no safe place in the shadow of nonparticipation."

President Maurer then returned to the microphone to conclude the tribute. This is what he said:

Mrs. Hazel tenBroek, the beloved wife of Dr. Jacobus tenBroek, the founder of and its first president, died on October 7, 2005.
She attended the founding meeting of the Federation in 1940 and served as acting secretary for its second gathering in Milwaukee, Wisconsin, in 1941. She was exceedingly active in the organization throughout Dr. tenBroek's life, but she was no less active after his death. Her last convention was 1998 in Dallas, and she would have attended those that followed if her physical condition had made it possible.

Throughout Dr. tenBroek's life Hazel served as his alter ego. She was his helper, his supporter, a primary research assistant, and a drafter of documents; but she was more than this implies. She helped him make the path, but she also imagined the path with him. He made speeches and wrote articles about our movement, but she helped him imagine the speeches and think of the content of the articles. The spirit of our movement is in substantial part her spirit; the future we have come to enjoy is in no small measure the future she helped us imagine.

The minutes of our 1941 convention contain, among other things, this information: The following telegrams were read to the convention by Mrs. tenBroek:

"Congratulations. Success to your convention. Hope to have your national convention convene in Des Moines in 1942."

Ike Smaller, Des Moines Association for the Blind.

"The division for the blind for the California State Department of Social Welfare extends cordial greetings to the delegates at the National Federation Convention and hopes that every success may attend your deliberations."

Perry Conduits, chief, Division for the Blind, California State Department of Social Welfare.

Contained in the minutes recorded in 1941 is the estimate that expenditures for the organization during the next year would amount to $5,500. Adjusted for inflation, the budget for the Federation from 1941 to 1942 would have been $72,464.

Speaking in 1965, Dr. tenBroek commented about the period of the 1940's, saying, "The Federation was not born with a silver spoon in its mouth´┐Ż. We had the philosophy and the programs, but we lacked the membership and the means. The workers were few and the cupboard was bare. Each month, if I may be personal for a moment, as we received our none too bountiful salary as a young instructor at the University of Chicago Law School, Hazel and I would distribute it among the necessaries of life: food, clothing, rent, Federation stamps, mimeograph ink, and other supplies.

"So did we share our one-room apartment. The mimeograph paper took far more space in our closet than did our clothes. We had to move the mimeograph machine before we could let down the wall bed to retire at night. If on a Sunday we walked along Chicago's lake front for an hour, four or five fewer letters were written and our output dropped for that day below twenty-five."

Mrs. tenBroek became associate editor of the Braille Monitor, the primary journal of the National Federation of the Blind, shortly after Dr. tenBroek's death in 1968. She continued managing this publication through 1976. Following her retirement, Mrs. tenBroek continued as an active member of the Federation in each of the state affiliates where she lived.

At the time of Mrs. tenBroek's retirement, she expressed the view that had been a central part of her life and thought. She said: "We must look to the past only for such strength as it gives to go forward with the work we must all do. It would be misleading to say that I won't miss the intellectual stimulation of working with President Jernigan or the relationships that grew with the wonderful people who worked on the Berkeley office staff or the thrill of seeing the Monitor come off the presses each month or the groans that accompanied the discovery of errors. Of course I will miss these things. When all is said and done, I am retiring only as associate editor. It is impossible for me to retire from the Federation, for it runs deep in my blood and being. I am at your service whenever you think I can perform some useful duty."

At the 1990 convention Mrs. tenBroek described the activities of the 1940's--the bringing in of state affiliates, the need for federal legislation, the necessity for creating the magazine for which she eventually served as associate editor. She told us that Dr. tenBroek, who had been known as "Chick," acquired this nickname as a result of misunderstanding. The students at the school for the blind thought his name was "Chicobus."

I don't know when I first met Mrs. tenBroek. It was certainly very early in my participation in the Federation, in 1969 or 1970. From my perspective she was a figure to inspire awe. However, when I came to know her better, the friendship we shared gave me much satisfaction. Hazel tenBroek invited me to her apartment for dinner, urged me to visit her hotel room for a chat, and shared her warmth and determination wherever we met. I appreciated the food she offered (especially when I was a young and mostly hungry student), but I also appreciated her wit--her insatiable enthusiasm, her willingness to poke fun at the fallacies which so often surround the subject of blindness, her faith that working with each other we could achieve the success we so fervently sought. Part of what we are has been created by Hazel tenBroek. We will be placing her portrait on permanent display in the tenBroek Library at the National Center for the Blind. The first of our first ladies, an irrepressible laborer in the vineyard of our success, an inspiration to us all, Hazel tenBroek!

That was the memorial remembrance that took place during the banquet. On August 7 Mrs. tenBroek's ashes were interred at Dr. tenBroek's gravesite in the Rolling Hills Cemetery in Richmond, California, near Oakland. President Maurer was present to represent the National Federation of the Blind. This is what he said:

In 1969 Mrs. Hazel tenBroek made her first formal presentation to the convention of the National Federation of the Blind. By coincidence this was the first time I ever heard her voice. I was new to the organization, I had been aware that it existed for only two weeks, and I did not know of Hazel tenBroek's long history, extensive service, and magnificent contributions. Hazel tenBroek was then associate editor of the Braille Monitor, the monthly publication of the National Federation of the Blind, having joined the staff of the Federation after Dr. Jacobus tenBroek's death in 1968.

In Hazel's speech of 1969, she talked of the daily work of producing materials to spread the word about the Federation spirit, the spirit that she spent decades of her life building. In the first five and a half months of that year she mailed out 45,000 letters, produced 10,000 copies of the Braille Monitor each month, and distributed thousands of legislative releases. Much of her work may have seemed mundane--tracking down proper zip codes, maintaining mailing lists, operating office machinery. However, included in her tasks were creating responses to college students and other blind individuals about the nature of blindness and the characteristics blind people possess. She mentioned distributing research to attorneys and judges throughout the nation. No task was too humble and no task was too daunting for this intrepid warrior.

I met Hazel tenBroek at my second national convention. This began a period of friendship that continued throughout the remainder of her life. I was inspired by her stories, and I loved to share the warmth and gentleness of her personality. But I could also count on something else. In her hotel room at convention food and drink could generally be found along with the warmth of conversation. In the early days I was trying to round up students to be part of our student division, and Hazel tenBroek could always be counted on for support as well as bread and cheese.

Her spirit shaped the lives of the blind for several generations, and it will continue to do so through the decades to come--for as long as the blind walk the earth.