The man who founded the first school in Iowa for blind students has been inducted into the Hall of Fame for Legends and Leaders of the Blindness Field. In 1849, Samuel Bacon established a state school for the blind in Illinois. Steve Gettel, the superintendent of Iowa Educational Services for the Blind and Visually Impaired, says Bacon had studied math at Kenyon College in Ohio.
“He became blind from Scarlet Fever at the age of 11,” Gettle says. “While he was visiting friends in Keokuk in 1852, he agreed to begin teaching three students who were blind in a rented house. Later that year, with the backing of the legislature, Bacon opened the Asylum for the Blind in Iowa City.”
By 1854, the school had moved four times to accommodate increasing enrollment.
“Forward thinking in its vision and design, the academic, vocational and music curriculum supported Bacon’s belief that students should be educated, productive, well-rounded, have friends and hold their place in society.”
Bacon lobbied the
the legislature to pay for construction of a permanent school for blind students, but he objected to the selection of a site in Vinton. Bacon left the state a year before the Iowa Institution for the Education of the Blind opened in Vinton in 1862. The institution closed in 2011.
“Today, more than 600 students across Iowa receive educational services because of Samuel Bacon’s confidence in a mission,” Gettel says. “…His words are paraphrased in our mission statement today when we say: ‘Our purpose, our mission is to
enable Iowa students who are blind (and) visually impaired to function as independently as possible in all aspects of life.'”
Gettel is also superintendent of the Iowa School for the Deaf in Council Bluffs. He plans to retire at the end of June. “It’s been a blessing to finish up my career here,” Gettel says.
Gettel was superintendent of the Montana School for the Deaf and Blind before taking a similar position in Iowa seven years ago. He started his teaching career at the Idaho School for the Deaf and the Blind in 1981.