An inside account: Chance, Dramin, Forney and Pyers

<strong>An inside account: Chance, Dramin, Forney and Pyers</strong>

Foursome work together to publish book about ISD

By David Blanchette
Photo by David Blanchette

The authors of a new history book on Illinois School for the Deaf gather in the ISD Alumni Association Museum. Left to right: Paula Chance, Janet Pyers, Joan Forney and Robert Dramin.

When former Illinois School for the Deaf Superintendent Joan Forney used to meet with her colleagues from other states, she realized that she was missing something.

“The other schools for the deaf had comprehensive histories for their schools in print and we didn’t,” Forney said. “I had no time to do that while I was superintendent, so after I retired, I started the process.”

That process came to fruition this year with the publication of “Remember the ISD of Our Days and See the ISD of Today: A History of the Illinois School for the Deaf from 1839-2022.” The 326-page softbound book is filled with names, facts, records and images from ISD’s (Illinois School for the Deaf) illustrious 184-year history. Forney and three former ISD educators are the authors.

“I wanted mostly deaf people to write this, deaf people writing about their deaf school,” said Forney, who is not deaf herself. “A lot of our alums feel like they grew up here, it’s their family. We wanted to show that in the book.”

Part one of the book covers the years 1839 to 1959 at ISD and part two covers 1960 to the present. The third part features the school’s superintendents from 1960 to the present, largely because those individuals or people who knew them personally were still alive and could provide firsthand accounts of what it was like to be in charge of the school. Part four deals with sports and extra-curricular activities.

Profiles of several noted ISD alumni are featured, including those who went on to achieve national and international renown for their achievements. Everyone who has taught at or graduated from ISD since 1960 is listed in the book’s index.

The authors made several interesting discoveries during the process of researching and writing the book. Former ISD educator Paula Chance learned about racial segregation at the school.

“We were very surprised to find pictures that showed the segregation of our students in the dormitories and in the cafeteria,” Chance said. “That gave me the opportunity to interview some of our alumni who experienced that.”

Chance was also able to tie a famous historic local industry to ISD.

“When I saw the Jacksonville Area Museum’s Capps exhibit, I was surprised to see an ISD connection — they were both there in 1839 and both have so much history,” Chance said. “Our assistant superintendent at the time married a Capps and one of the Capps family members was a teacher here.”

Robert Dramin attended ISD, as did his father, and is now the curator of the ISD Alumni Association Museum archives. Dramin’s contribution to the book included much of the sports information and images.

“I had already been doing a lot of research on the 125th anniversary of football at ISD, and Mike Moore — who used to work here — documented every sports record from 1964,” Dramin said. “What I enjoyed seeing were stories from the 1950s, my dad was always talking about how great Jack Rampley was as an athlete. Rampley earned 16 varsity letters, how do you top that?”

Dramin had more than enough sports information and images to fill the entire history book, so he had to decide which people and teams would be featured.

“I had to figure out who were the most successful athletes. We started with world-renowned and worked our way from there, the best teams we had, things like that,” Dramin said. “The three flag bearers on the first U.S. Deaf Olympics team were alumni of our school. There were several Major League Baseball scouts who came to see one of our pitchers. The list goes on and on.”

Janet Pyers, an ISD educator who retired in 2004, agreed to help sort the massive amount of material that was found for possible inclusion in the book. Pyers said it was difficult deciding how to narrow down what went into the book.

“We had just a mound of pictures, and it took me two years to sort and file them,” Pyers said. “I feel like there was so much more that we just couldn’t include in the book, we didn’t have the space.”

Once the four authors had the text written and the images selected, ISD employee Dave Cook had to figure out the best balance of words versus images in the book’s layout.

“It took a lot of thought about how to arrange things. I know there was so much more to be put in there, but we had to edit it down,” Cook said. “You read the book and you are inspired to want to read more. It’s definitely not boring at all.”

Forney arrived as a teacher at ISD in 1968 and served as the elementary school principal, assistant superintendent and then superintendent from 1995 to 2006. She invited her former colleagues to help produce the book and the group held their first meeting right as the COVID-19 pandemic began, so much of the early work was done remotely.

Forney is amazed that such an extensive book came together as the result of an all-volunteer effort during challenging times.

“I’m really proud of it,” Forney said. “It was a labor of love.”

“Remember the ISD of Our Days and See the ISD of Today: A History of the Illinois School for the Deaf from 1839-2022” is available at Our Town Books in downtown Jacksonville. Three hundred copies of the book have already been sold and the publication is in its second printing.

Share This