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New leader brings passion to disabilities board

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WAUSEON - Brenda Oyer's path to becoming superintendent of Fulton County's Board of Mental Retardation and Developmental Disabilities on Monday started with a job she took almost by accident straight out of college.

It was 1985. She had just received a bachelor's degree in religion and psychology from Anderson University in central Indiana and was hit with the fact there wasn't a huge job market for such majors.

But Quadco Rehabilitation Center in Stryker, Ohio - not far from the farm in Fulton County's Franklin Township where she grew up - hired her to develop vocational plans for people with mental retardation and mental illness at the sheltered workshop.

She also did some teaching, concentrating on helping her students learn how to count money and read easy words.

"I fell in love with the people and never wanted to leave the field," Ms. Oyer said.

That desire was apparent, disabilities board members said, in her interview with the seven board members. The board unanimously hired her by a voice vote Monday night after spending about 3 1/2 hours behind closed doors.

"She's a very professional person, and she has integrity and honesty. And she's a hard-working person - and has a heart," Dr. John Both, a board member, said.

Ms. Oyer, now adult services director and assistant superintendent of the Williams County disabilities board, was one of six applicants for the position and one of two who were interviewed. Her salary and contract were not determined Monday.

The job is a big one.

The disabilities agency has been unsettled for years. The board asked its last two superintendents to leave. The business manager announced this month he is leaving after one year.

One of the agency's school buses has been repeatedly vandalized. Last week, a stick- figure hangman and noose were drawn in lipstick on the driver's seat along with "quit" and vul-

garities.

Several Equal Employment Opportunity claims and similar complaints were filed against the board in recent months.

State leaders are thought to be in the midst of changing how some of the board's programs are funded. Cuts are expected.

And the board is preparing a levy request for the November ballot. Ms. Oyer, 42, said she anticipates her most crucial challenges will be building better relationships among staff and restoring the public's trust in the agency, which she said will be key to passing a levy.

"People do have a reason to say, 'What's going on there?' she said of recent developments.

She expects to start June 1, about the time she receives her superintendent's certificate, she said. It won't be the first time she has been employed by the Fulton County board.

After her first job at Quadco, Ms. Oyer, who lives in southwestern Fulton County's Archbold, became a case manager with the county board. She was an advocate, she said, for parents who wanted their disabled children to participate in more mainline classes and activities.

She also was employed at Filling Memorial Home of Mercy in Henry County to work with more severely disabled people.

She received a master's degree in educational psychology from the University of Toledo in 1995.

"I think she's an awesome young woman," Rose Slagle, another board member, said.

Contact Jane Schmucker at:

jschmucker@theblade.com

or 419-337-7780.

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