Alumni NewsThe Power of a Positive Vision
By Virginia Stuart '75, '80G
In 1988, Jeffrey Williamson was so unhappy that it sometimes took two aides to prevent him from hurting himself. At 17, he was confined to an elementary school classroom along with other special education students who, like him, could neither walk nor talk. Fortunately, that was the year when Janet Williamson, his mother, met a UNH education professor who would, in her words, "turn our world upside down, for the good."
In fact that professor, Jan Nisbet, has been instrumental in improving the lives of many people, both those with disabilities and their families. New Hampshire ranks in the top five nationally for its services and support for people with disabilities, thanks in no small part to her efforts, which have earned her the UNH Alumni Association's Award for Excellence in Public Service. Since she founded the Institute on Disability at UNH in 1987, Nisbet has supervised $80 million worth of grants, produced scores of nationally recognized research reports, chaired several national committees, developed networks of concerned citizens and instituted numerous programs.
One of those programs is the New Hampshire Leadership Series. Janet Williamson still doesn't know why she was invited to attend. She hardly felt like a leader. But she was desperate to help her son. At the first meeting, Nisbet challenged participants to focus on a positive vision for the future. When it came to envisioning inclusion in a regular classroom, however, Williamson knew Nisbet couldn't possibly be talking about her Jeff.
Still, Williamson got an important message from Nisbet: "You are the most powerful advocate for your child." Gradually she became able to picture her son in a regular high school class by thinking in a "So what" kind of way. So what if he drools? So what if he doesn't speak? When presented with the school district's plan for his education, she was dismayed by its miniscule goals and refused to sign it. The district took her to court.
Despite a 1975 federal law supporting "mainstreaming" special education students, implementation had been slow. Two years and two appeals later, with Nisbet serving as an expert witness, Jeffrey Williamson won his case. He became the first student with significant disabilities to attend regular classes at Manchester West High School, and he began to thrive.
Today Jeff Williamson is a productive and happy 34-year-old. He works three hours a day at a packaging plant. Thanks to another of Nisbet's projects, the Center for Housing and New Community Economics, he not only owns his own condo but has chosen his housemates. He uses a computer to communicate, and he recently audited a college course on criminal justice.
It is a life Williamson never could have imagined for her son before she met Jan Nisbet. Now a staff member at the institute, Williamson is able to reach out to other people with disabilities and their family members. The first step, she tells them, is creating a positive vision for the future.
The Law Won
New Hampshire residents who can't afford legal assistance can thank Jack. B. Middleton, the 2005-2006 Pettee Medal award winner, who was instrumental in establishing an Interest on Lawyer's Trust Account program in 1982. The account has provided more than $19 million in grants to nonprofit civil legal-assistance organizations. Middleton, president of McLane, Graf, Raulerson & Middleton in Manchester, received the medal in a ceremony in March for his commitment to, and leadership in, civic organizations. Above, Middleton's granddaughter, Abby, admires his medal after the ceremony in Huddleston Hall.
In the Spotlight
Baby Come Back
Organizing a Notables reunion by e-mail and the Internet
By Rachel M. Collins '81
They may be hundreds of miles apart, but some former UNH a cappella singers still are determined to find a way to sing a new song—mixed with a few golden oldies—come Homecoming Weekend, Oct. 13-15.
In fact, thanks to the Internet and some old-fashioned networking, every one of the 120 women who have sung with the Notables and could be contacted has received a personal invitation to the reunion.
"It's really been like a stone that gathers no moss. It just keeps rolling," says Colleen Sprague Bretthauer '88 (above), a key reunion organizer. It's expected as many as half of the women who have been a part of the Notables since it was founded in 1980 may turn out for the first official reunion of all of the Notables alumni, or Alumnotes, as they call themselves. If all goes as planned, each group or "era" will join together to sing the alma mater before taking turns singing songs from their past, possibly mixed with new melodies.
"My group, we're a group of Type A girls, so we're learning three new songs," says Bretthauer, who has been sending out CDs with various singing parts to peers as far away as Minnesota and North Carolina. "We're very geeky like that."
This past summer, Rosemary Flynn Lounsbury '86 attended a reunion of Alumnotes from 1986 to 1991. "When we got together we were amazed at how easy it was to get back to singing together," Lounsbury says. "The only difference was that our voices have matured and have a more mellow quality."
"There's something very connecting about having sung in an a cappella group," says Bretthauer , who is an early childhood music specialist in Hebron, Conn., and also sings in a quartet called The Music Makin' Mamas. "It's like you're sisters. You feel an immediate connection."
Since she first sent out invitations nearly a year before the reunion, Bretthauer has been contacted by more than 50 alumnae through the UNH Alumni Association web site at www.alumni.unh.edu/keep/groups/notables/ or the web site she set up on Yahoo. More than half still are involved in music either full or part time. "Once you've sung a cappella," Bretthauer says, "you never quite leave it."
For help in organizing a reunion or get-together at Homecoming 2006, visit www.alumni.unh.edu/homecoming, e-mail email@example.com or call (800) 891-1195 or (603) 862-2040.
Make the Rounds at Homecoming
At Homecoming 2005, Wildcat fans and UNH alumni were pleasantly surprised to find a veritable avenue of free refreshments and hospitality adjacent to Boulder Field.
It's a new UNH initiative to cluster official UNH alumni tents in a central location to make it easy for alumni and Wildcat fans to visit. In addition to free refreshments, last year the Alumni Association's tent had family-friendly attractions like face painting and cotton candy, the CEPS tent offered rides on student-built vehicles, and the WSBE tent had a live jazz band. "We want it to feel like a Renaissance Fair, where people can wander from tent to tent," says Kelly Schwindt '99, director of alumni programming.
Homecoming 2006 on Oct. 14 will feature a Tailgaiting Cookoff for a gas grill and other prizes. The new wildcat sculpture will be dedicated at Memorial Field before the UNH vs. James Madison football game. Details? See www.alumni.unh.edu/homecoming