BOWLING GREEN - The first day of school for students like Bob Jones and David Schult was a life-changing event for them and their families.
The 11 members of Wood County's first "retarded children's class" never had the opportunity to go to school until Sept. 12, 1955, when a room was made available in the basement of Ridge Elementary School and Troas Dunn was let out of her contract in Rossford so she could become the children's first teacher.
"On Sept. 12, 1955, Wood Lane was born," Superintendent William Clifford told a small crowd gathered at Ridge yesterday to mark the 50th anniversary. "Families felt a sense of relief, and they felt a sense of hope."
Beulah Jones of Bowling Green said her son, Bob, was disabled from birth and had little hope of going to school. "I always said they should have something for these kids to go to," Mrs. Jones said.
Soon after her 10-year-old son began attending classes at Ridge, she asked how she could help. She became one of Wood Lane's first bus drivers, putting about 100 miles a day on a donated Chevy station wagon. She picked up children all over the county for 15 years and was reimbursed only for gas and oil, she said.
"He loved music," she said of her son, Bob, who died three years ago. "He was supposed to be blind, but he could tell cars and he could always find the cookie jar. He lived in my house until 1983, and then he went to live in a group home on Main Street."
Family members attending the anniversary party reiterated their gratitude for Wood Lane school, sheltered workshop, and residential services, which all evolved from the creation of the Wood County Association for Retarded Children in April 1955.
Volunteers - mostly parents - worked hard to get the first class started. By 1956, there were two classes with 20 students and by 1958 a third class was meeting at South Main Elementary.
Over the years, classes moved to different schools and even to St. Mark's Lutheran Church in Bowling Green before Wood County voters approved a construction levy for Wood Lane in the late 1960s. The school on East Gypsy Lane Road opened in 1972, followed by Wood Lane Industries on the same campus in 1974.
Mr. Clifford said many things have changed since 1955, including public perception.
"Interestingly, it wasn't announced until a few days before school started that this class would even be at Ridge because at that time people were pretty leery of people with disabilities," Mr. Clifford said. "The superintendent of Bowling Green City Schools was very sensitive to public opinion. I know it's hard to imagine that kind of perception today. We've come so far."
Phyllis Franklin, who helped her mother, Troas Dunn, in the classroom that first year and then became a teacher herself, remembered that "when it came to money, there wasn't any. We bought our own supplies and sometimes you sat around and waited for your paycheck, but they did get it together. They were hard days, but they were good days."
Ms. Franklin, who now works as a production specialist at Wood Lane Industries, said there was little interaction between the public school children at Ridge and the retarded children she taught in the early years, but she believes their presence made an impact.
"The kids changed and the teachers changed," she said. "Everyone was skeptical those first years. We had to prove ourselves."
After yesterday's ceremony, Wood County Commissioner Alvie Perkins went to Perrysburg Commons to deliver a proclamation to Gladys Schult, 96, who was a teacher's assistant the first year classes were held, then taught her own class for 25 years. Her son, David, was in that first class, and her husband, Henry, was on the original board of the association for retarded children.
Tom Schult said his brother had received some tutoring at Perrysburg Elementary before 1955 but was never part of a classroom until the class for retarded children began in Bowling Green. David Schult ultimately graduated and went to work for Wood Lane Industries, where he still works today.
"He's been at the workshop for 40 years," John Schult, another brother, said. "He does his own banking. He signs his own checks, and he leads quite a social life."
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