Friday, March 4, 2011

History Makers: Mary L. Van Manen

Mary Van Manen is best known as a trailblazer and advocate in the field education for African-American hearing impaired children. Mary was the first hearing impaired African-American to graduate from college in the state of Mississippi.

Mary Van Manen on a discussion panel at University of Houston regarding the experiences of hearing impaired African-American women in the south

Mary L. Van Manen was born the eldest daughter of Margaret (Thompson) Lynch and the late James Lynch in Adams County, Mississippi. Mary was born deaf as were two of her six sisters. Because of her hearing impairment, when Mary was five she was sent to attend the Mississippi School for the Deaf in Jackson, Mississippi. The prevailing attitude of discrimination of African-Americans and the disabled in the 1940's and1950's manifested itself in the educational mistreatment of the children at the school. The school had neither books or a library. Furthermore, the school only provided the children with an education up to the 9th grade.

Due to Mary's strong family upbringing and self-determination, she was able to get into and attend the private Campbell College High school in Jackson, Mississippi. There were no interpretive services or support given to students with special needs at this school. Yet, Mary pressed forward in her educational pursuits and took the college entrance exam and passed. Instead of completing the 12th grade, she decided to directly enter Gallaudet College in Washington, D.C. which specializes in higher education of the hearing impaired.

While at Gallaudet, Mary participated in athletics. In 1961, she was selected to participate in the International Games for the Deaf in Helsinki, Finland. She finished sixth place in the running broad jump with a record 16ft 2 inch jump and in third place in 100 meter relay. Mary and fellow American Deaf Olympians who participated in the games were invited to the White House for a reception and to meet President Kennedy.

Mary graduated from Gallaudet College in 1964 with a Bachelor of Science degree in Home Economics and Education. She began her teaching career in St. Augustine, FL where she taught for eight years. Mary was then offered a position with the Texas School of the Deaf in Austin, TX where she became the first African-American teacher at the school. In later years Mary relocated to Houston, TX where she became the first hearing impaired African-American teacher in Houston Independent School District. She broke barriers by creating opportunities for the school to hire hearing impaired teachers to work with hearing impaired students. Mary was also a faculty member at Houston Community College for 20 years training interpreters for the hearing impaired.

Mary is currently affiliated with the Texas Association of the Deaf, state and national Gallaudet University Alumni Association, and the Congress of Houston Teachers Association. She has served on the Governing Board of Texas School for the Deaf. She was also been the recipient of a "Teacher of the Year" award for the Greater Houston Area and in 1992 was inducted into the Mississippi Hall of Fame for the Deaf in Jackson, MS.

After 45 years of selfless service to the educational needs of the hearing impaired and raising two children Rodney and Rona, Mary Van Manen retired from the Houston Independent School District in 2010. Mary was described as a role model, an inspiration and a scholar. Mary Van Manen is truly a "History Maker".

*information courtesy of The Lynch Family, Adams County Mississippi