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Memorial planned to honor early Iowa Braille School students

Ceremony takes place Oct. 16 in Vinton

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VINTON — The names of 11 former students of the Iowa Braille School in Vinton are now engraved on markers in Evergreen Cemetery and those who helped put them there invite the public to an upcoming ceremony to honor their memory.

The memorial dedication takes place at 2 p.m. Sunday, Oct. 16, at lot 31 in the cemetery, 1002 E. 10th St., Vinton. Rich Farmer, of Vinton, a member of the Benton County Historical Society and a teacher at the school from 1969 to 1976, will lead a tour of the cemetery following the ceremony.

Farmer has spent hundreds of hours over the last two years identifying the final resting place of the 11 students, who died between 1864 and 1918.

“I’ve been trying to find information about these people that in some cases is nonexistent,” Farmer said, adding this is the first recent effort to identify their location.

Farmer said at one time the students may have had wooden grave markers that rotted over time.

At least now, they’re in a marked grave,” he said. “No one should be buried in an unmarked grave.”

The markers themselves are three monuments paid for with $6,000 in donations raised by members of the Mary Ingalls Society. One marker is engraved with seven names and the other four names are on the two other markers.

Molly Noren, a member of the Mary Ingalls Society, theorized they may not have had markers to begin with, because families either couldn’t afford to send the deceased home, or they had abandoned the student at the school.

“Back then, people weren’t as kind about disabilities as we are now,” she said.

Noren said the funds for the project were raised last fall and the stones were placed in the cemetery this past summer.

“We thought it would be a nice way to honor them,” she said.

The Iowa Braille School, which today is called the The Iowa Braille and Sight Saving School, works with blind and visually impaired individuals to enable them to lead independent lives. The school was established in 1852, making it Iowa’s second oldest education institution.

No students have lived on the 48-acre school property at 1002 G Ave. in Vinton since 2011. Instead, the 550 students receiving specialized services for vision loss are taught by specialists at local schools. The Vinton campus is used for administrative services and short-term campus and weekend activities.

The Iowa Board of Regents, which oversees the school, is considering selling the campus to the city of Vinton for $1. Those talks are ongoing, according to officials.

Farmer said he felt his work was necessary and gave credit to Pat Barr, secretary for the Iowa Braille and Sight Saving School, for helping with the research.

“Once you’ve taught (at the school), you form a bond and connection,” Farmer said. “I formed some lifelong friendships while there. They just become a part of who you are. It’s just something you need to go ahead and do.”

Farmer said he is continuing his research and hopes to locate more unmarked graves in the future.

If you go

— What: Memorial dedication honoring former students of the Iowa Braille School

— When: 2 p.m. Sunday, Oct. 16

— Where: Evergreen Cemetery, Lot 31, 1002 E. 10th St., Vinton

— Info: Pat Barr (319) 472-5221, Ext 1110, or email pbarr@iowa-braille.k12.ia.us.

Here are a list of the 11 students being honored and the year they died:

— Sarah A. Cook — 1864

— Louisa F. Lunberg — 1869

— Jesse Palmer Hampton — 1875

— James L. Mitchell — 1876

— Elizabeth “Lizzie” Adair — 1879

— Mary Retta Rath — 1880

— George Washington Hopkins — 1892

— Buena Vista Culp — 1892

— Leo Vogt — 1905

— Mabel Lilie Carter — 1915

— Meta Christine White — 1918

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