Deaf Awareness: Week 4

Tributes to Deaf Leaders that have passed away in the past year


Douglas Bahl

The Miss Deaf America Program (MDAP) became a reality thanks to two individuals: Douglas Burke and Douglas Bahl.  In 1966, the National Cultural Program was established, with the purpose of finding the hidden talents among deaf people in the visual arts.  Originally intended only as a talent pageant, the program evolved under Bahl's leadership to become the Miss Deaf America Program under the auspices of the National Cultural Program.

Through the Miss Deaf America Program, Bahl was instrumental in its evolution towards leadership and ambassadorship. The Miss Deaf America Pageant was held during the biennial NAD Conference. Young deaf and hard of hearing women from all over the nation came together to represent their home states and demonstrate their talents, leadership, and character in their quest for the NAD Miss Deaf America title. Bahl believed in the importance of recognizing excellence in the deaf and hard of hearing community, especially young women in this community.

During all those years, Bahl shared his unwavering support for the NAD Miss Deaf America program and devoted much of his attention to ensuring recognition of talented young deaf and hard of hearing women. He also greatly valued improving and expanding collaboration within the Deaf community.

Not only did Bahl volunteer countless hours for the MDAP but he was also known as a great community leader in Minnesota.  Over the past four decades, Bahl served on numerous boards, including a 10-year stint as president of the Minnesota Association of Deaf Citizens, and he encouraged hundreds to both learn American Sign Language and teach it.

He graduated from the Minnesota State Academy for the Deaf. He later taught there for 15 years starting in 1976, after receiving a bachelor's degree in government from Gallaudet University in Washington, D.C., and a master's degree in deaf education from the University of Minnesota. He also headed the drama program in Faribault and was known for copying his favorite actor, Charlie Chaplin, on stage. Since 1990, Bahl worked as an ASL interpreter training instructor at St. Paul College.

Bahl also was the community's go-to historian -- particularly on the topic of famous or influential deaf people. At one point, he interviewed several deaf Jewish survivors of the Holocaust. He always felt it was important for deaf people to know about their own heritage. Bahl dedicated his life to researching various topics and various deaf individuals throughout history in order to inspire those to aspire to higher standards. Doug Bahl, a lifelong teacher and advocate for the deaf who forced the St. Paul Police Department and Ramsey County Jail to make significant changes to better accommodate hard-of-hearing inmates.

In 2006, Bahl was pulled over in a traffic stop in St. Paul; the incident resulted in a pair of federal lawsuits brought by Bahl against the city and Ramsey County. Bahl said police pepper-sprayed and beat him after refusing communication with him in writing during the traffic stop. He was held in the Ramsey County Jail for three days and said the county didn't provide him with an interpreter, a TTY, or any other way to tell friends and family where he was. In both cases, the defendants agreed to settle and change their policies when dealing with the deaf.

As part of the settlement with the city, St. Paul agreed to make changes to its police procedures. All officers now receive additional training in how to communicate with deaf people in street encounters and ensure that ASL interpreters are provided for deaf detainees more quickly. As the result of Mr. Bahl's lawsuit, there have been improvements at both the jail and in the St. Paul Police Department.  In addition to added training for jail staff, that settlement required the jail to have a videophone, text-only cellphone and teletypewriter for inmates, and to contract with or hire qualified sign-language interpreters and guarantee their availability, without charge.

Over the past four decades, Bahl became one of the most renowned and ubiquitous advocates for the deaf in Minnesota, serving on numerous boards and encouraging hundreds to both learn American Sign Language and teach it. He influenced a lot of leaders of the deaf community and many are leaders because of him.



Phyllis -frelich

Phyllis Frelich

Phyllis Annetta Frelich was a leap year baby, born on Feb. 29, 1944, in Devils Lake, North Dakota. Her father, Phillip, a typesetter for the local newspaper, and her mother, Esther, a seamstress, were both deaf. Phyllis was the oldest of nine deaf children. She attended North Dakota School for the Deaf, graduating in 1962, and then went on to study at Gallaudet.

It was at Gallaudet that she was seen performing by David Hays, one of the founders of the National Theater of the Deaf, who asked her to join the theater company.

Frelich originated the leading female role in the groundbreaking and Tony-winning Broadway production of “Children of a Lesser God”. Children won the Tony for Best Play; Frelich won the 1980 Best Actress Tony Award and her co-star, John Rubinstein, won Best Actor Tony Award. Children of a Lesser God written by Mark Medoff is a about courtship of a deaf woman and a man who can hear.

Frelich later starred in other plays written by Medoff, including The Hands of Its Enemy and Prymate. She was nominated for an Emmy Award for her performance in the 1985 television movie Love Is Never Silent. Frelich also appeared in the recurring role of Sister Sarah on Santa Barbara. In 1998, she performed the ASL interpretation of Jewel's rendition of the national anthem at Super Bowl XXXII. She also appeared on Broadway in 2003 in a revival of the 1985 musical “Big River,” produced by Deaf West Theatre, in which all the actors used sign language. She made guest appearances on numerous television series, including “Barney Miller,” “L.A. Law” and “ER.” Her last acting role was in an episode of CSI: Crime Scene Investigation in 2011.

Frelich died on April 2014 at the age of 70 from progressive supranuclear palsy, a rare degenerative neurological disease for which there are no treatments. Frelich is honored for paving so many roads for the Deaf Community in the acting profession.



Gertrude Galloway2

Gertrude Galloway

Gertrude Galloway was foremost a women's rights advocate, and her accomplishments confirm her determination and resolution to prove to the deaf community women's equality to men.

Born to deaf parents, Galloway grew up near Kendall Green, attended the Kendall School, and enrolled at Gallaudet at age 15. After graduating from Gallaudet, Galloway went on to become a trailblazing leader in the deaf community. She was the first female president of the NAD (1980-1982), the first deaf superintendent of MKSD in New Jersey, known as the Marie H. Katzenbach School for the Deaf (1990-1999), the first female president of CEASD, known as the Conference of Educational Administrators of Schools and Programs for the Deaf (1994-1996), and the first female president of Deaf Seniors of America (1999-2005).

Before becoming superintendent of MKSD in 1991, Galloway taught mathematics at the Maryland School for the Deaf (MSD), earned a master degree in Deaf education from Western Maryland College (now McDaniel College), was assistant principal at MSD’s Columbia campus, and taught at Hood College and Western Maryland. She also earned a doctorate in educational administration from Gallaudet in 1993 and an honorary degree from the University in 2002.

When the NAD turned 100 years old in 1980, Galloway became the 23rd president of the NAD at its conference in Cincinnati, Ohio, and its first female president. During her presidency, she led the effort to ensure every television broadcaster provided substantial closed captioning of television programming including a national rally against the last holdout, CBS. 

In addition, her entire career was devoted to deaf education – as a teacher, an administrator, and an advocate. In 1986, President Ronald Reagan appointed Galloway to serve on the National Commission of Education for the Deaf (COED), which issued a detailed report in 1988 on improving education for deaf children, entitled “Towards Equality – Education of the Deaf.”  Galloway was a significant advocate for deaf education, telecommunications access, including closed captioning and services for deaf senior citizens.

As somebody that has accomplished many things in her life, she truly valued her part in the community as a pioneer. In many of her interviews, she portrays a sense of humor and was very humble. Her ability to remove her ego and listen to others is what made her an excellent role model for women out there.

Gertrude was a motivational speaker that talked about obstacles she fought through in life and what she did to overcome barriers. As a woman who focused on raising children until she was divorced, she faced a lot of the struggles that women face when they stay home for years. When women find themselves alone and powerless, they often find themselves not knowing what to do with themselves. Not Gertie, she picked herself up and went out there and did something spectacular with her life.

Being a role model for women out there wasn’t her primary focus. She did many things to show the world that women are just as capable as men because she wanted to do those things. Attitude towards women has changed over the years but that’s only because of people like Gertie. Knocking down the standard image of women that stay home and cook/clean for their husbands is one of the biggest things that Gertrude was able to do for our community. While that general attitude towards women wasn’t exclusive to the community, she had the biggest impact there.

Gertie was a trailblazer in every sense of the word. She was a living legend and role model for everyone. Her ability to pinpoint and reframe the issues was amazing, such as ‘The Deaf child has the right to be Deaf.’  She also was an awesome storyteller with a wicked sense of humor. Her spirit will live on and continue to inspire us.




Nathie Marbury

Nathie Marbury was born in Grenada, Mississippi in 1944 but grew up in Pennsylvania. She graduated from the Western Pennsylvania School for the Deaf in 1962. In 1975, she earned her Bachelor of Science degree in Home Economics from Gallaudet University.  She then received her two Master of Arts degrees in 1976 from California State University at Northridge (CSUN), one in Administration and Supervision and the other in Special Education. Nathie pursued doctoral coursework in applied linguistics at the University of California, Los Angeles (UCLA) and earned her doctoral degree in 2007 specializing Deaf studies/Deaf education at Lamar University.

She exemplified the best of Black Deafness, paving the way as the first of many: The first Black Deaf woman to earn a Ph.D. from Lamar University, the first Black Deaf woman to be admitted to the National Leadership Training Program for the Deaf at California State University-Northridge, and in 1978 she was the first Black Deaf woman to become an instructor at the Kendall Demonstration Elementary School for the Deaf in Washington, D.C.  That wasn’t enough for Nathie, she was also the first Black deaf woman to serve on the NAD board as an appointed Member-at-Large with Dr. Rosen as President.

Past President Rosen shared her sentiments, “Nathie brought to the NAD her 1,000 wattage smile and personality as well as her terrific networks nation-wide.  She helped to connect Deaf people of all ages and ethnicities to the NAD and to ensure that the NAD reached out to everyone in authentic and meaningful ways.”

Nathie focused on embracing Deaf Culture in education and the teaching of ASL and ASL Linguistics. She was a masterful storyteller, artistic performer, and teacher. She made a variety videotapes for several companies over the last 25 years, in addition to teaching Deaf and hearing students throughout the United States at schools for the deaf, universities/colleges, and community colleges.

Nathie Marbury was a true pioneer at heart.  Because of her strong values and beliefs, Nathie has built her own legacy in our Deaf community that she so richly deserves.

If you do a Google search about Nathie Marbury, you will see countless hits about her passion for American Sign Language teaching.  Her incredible personality and contributions to the field inspired many to appreciate the language.  She has been known for her big heart for the deaf, hard of hearing, and hearing students who took her classes and spent countless hours mentoring many.  Besides sharing valuable knowledge through many classes, workshops, and presentations – many enjoyed her humor. She was loving, inspirational, and always with a smile.  She always knew how to brighten everyone’s day.

Nathie made the world a better place with her advocacy and passion towards American Sign Language.   Her presence with us will not be forgotten.




Robert Panara

Robert Frederick Panara, the son of Italian immigrants, was born July 8, 1920, in the Bronx. LIFE really began for Robert Panara on January 19th 1931, his mother’s birthday. He was ten, and awoke in hospital. His vision was blurred. He had no feeling in his right arm. When a nurse approached his bed and spoke to him he heard nothing. An attack of spinal meningitis had permanently damaged his auditory nerves; he was completely deaf.

Robert Panara could not hear the noise in Yankee Stadium the day in 1931 when Babe Ruth emerged from the dugout, strode toward him and extended his hand to Panara, at 10 years old. His father had organized the ballpark encounter hoping that the thrill might bring his hearing back. “Shaking hands with the Bambino was a dream come true,” Panara told an interviewer years later. “But I still remained as deaf as a post.”

Growing up in Depression-era New York, Panara had no interpreters or note takers available to him. Because he had post-lingual deafness, the loss of hearing after the acquisition of language, he was able to communicate through lip-reading and spoken English and continued his education in mainstream public classrooms. He didn't learn American Sign Language until after he had graduated high school and attended Gallaudet. He graduated from Gallaudet in 1945 and received a master’s degree in English from New York University in 1948. Before joining the Gallaudet faculty, he taught at the New York School for the Deaf in White Plains.

Panara grew up to become a preeminent scholar in the field of deaf studies, a writer and poet and a noted professor at institutions including Gallaudet. He taught for nearly two decades at Gallaudet before becoming the first deaf professor at NTID, which was established by an act of Congress in 1965 and is part of the Rochester Institute of Technology. A Shakespearean scholar, Mr. Panara started the institute’s drama program and taught classes on literature and creative interpretation through sign language, often weaving his passion for baseball into his teaching.

During the 1960s, Mr. Panara was a founder of the National Theatre of the Deaf, based in Connecticut. He taught workshops there during the summer. The group's performances popularized American Sign Language.

Beginning in the 1970s, Mr. Panara wrote articles and books that helped establish deaf studies as a formal line of academic inquiry. The field helped to open doors and open minds. People realized that deaf persons had been contributing in meaningful ways for centuries, and young deaf people should be given the chance.

Mr. Panara articulated through poetry his experience of deafness. He published his poetry in the volume “On His Deafness and Other Melodies Unheard” (1997) and helped compile books including “The Silent Muse: An Anthology of Prose and Poetry by the Deaf” (1960) and a nonfiction guide, “Great Deaf Americans.” He was the subject of Lang’s 2007 biography, “Teaching From the Heart and Soul.”

Excerpt from Panera’s poem “On His Deafness,” written in 1946 and won first prize in the World of Poetry contest in 1988.

Sweet nature’s music and the songs of man

For I have learned from Fancy’s artisan

How written words can thrill the inner ear 

Just as they move the heart, and so for me

They also seem to ring out loud and free. 

In 1987, Panara retired from NTID and after his retirement, the college named its theater after him and created a scholarship fund in his honor. When NTID opened in 1967, no more than 150 deaf students attended mainstream American universities, most of them without anyone to help them with interpreting, note taking or tutoring. Today there are 120,000 deaf students in college in America and deaf studies has become mainstream.