Appleby urges audience to understand others

Cal ApplebyCal Appleby’s longstanding commitment to access to education and people with disabilities was recognized November 1 with the 2013 Charlie Smith Award. The award was presented at the annual Access Press banquet, at the Minneapolis Airport Marriott Hotel in Bloomington.

The award is named in honor of the newspaper’s founding editor, the late Charlie Smith Jr.

The event included a banquet, silent auction, raffle, music and the showing of The Real Story, the Access Press documentary about media coverage of people with disabilities.

Appleby used the occasion to honor his longtime friends and collaborators, the late Vern Bloom and Wayne “Mo” Moldenhauer. The three men did much to serve people with disabilities. Appleby, who said he felt “honored and blessed” to receive this year’s award, was accompanied by his life partner, Laurie Savran, and son Kevin.

A key message of Appleby’s talk was the ability for people, no matter what their circumstances, to “radically” turn their lives around. He urged audience members to work to understand others and help bring out their gifts. Appleby and his colleagues saw that in their decades of teaching, community service and educational projects to help those less fortunate. “One’s history is not one’s destiny,” Appleby said.

“It is said that a redeemed and reformed criminal leads a more exalted life than even a saint. I have seen that often.”

“Also, I have come to see the great gifts, the basic goodness, and estimable qualities and potential all human beings possess. When we understand a person deeply enough, especially people who are difficult in our lives, when we really listen, we learn to love and revere them. And if we just start with great love for everyone, we will understand them to their very core. Also, whatever happens to us in our lives can be a great teaching when we step away from dualistic ways of seeing reality. Difficult people and situations may become our greatest spiritual teachers.”

Bloom and Appleby began working together in 1961, at Wells Memorial Settlement House on the north side of Minneapolis. Appleby was working with students after school and said of his longtime mentor and friend, “Vern helped me to get out of my head and into my heart.”

The three colleagues and friends had many accomplishments, including the founding of the University of Minnesota HELP CENTER (Higher Education for Low Income People) and the Conservation of Human Resources program at Augsburg. Appleby has also been instrumental in setting up mediation programs for state correctional facilities, and in providing training and education for people with disabilities.

Appleby taught at the University of Minnesota and then at Augsburg College for many years. In winter 1969, he took over Bloom’s social work classes and had students interning at a number of centers including prisons and psychiatric hospitals where the people were constantly challenged, and highly stressed. Appleby soon began teaching classes on crime and corrections, psychology of mental health and disorder, aging, and physical disability, using a highly experiential co-learning model where all participants including adults with disabilities, people with mental illness, college students, inmates and community members could receive college credit for their experiences.

Textbook work was supplemented with real-life experiences. Students learned from people in state hospitals, nursing homes and other facilities for people with disabilities. They also learned from prison inmates. Insights were shared to promote understanding.

“To get a taste of what it was like to be in prison, we had our students locked up,” Appleby said. “Students would spend a weekend on a ward at the state mental hospital. The universal observation from the students was how boring the weekend was, and that they would end up pacing the halls.” Students would also have their mobility restricted, to get a sense of the challenge of disabilities. The work involved students from Augsburg and other colleges. The program, a first of its kind, became a national model.

Appleby met Moldenhauer in 1969, when Moldenhauer who was completing a sentence at the state penitentiary in Stillwater. After his release Moldenhauer came to Augsburg and helped found the Center for the Education of Non-Traditional Students. This program helped provide transportation for students with disabilities, to get to the Augsburg campus. Appleby also credits Moldenhauer with raising money and awareness to make the Augsburg campus more accessible. “It is said that someone no matter how negative their previous life and actions, when they deeply repent and transform achieves a spiritual status even exceeding that of saints,” said Appleby.  “Mo had a big heart, and contributed greatly to Augsburg College, and to many people with disabilities in our community.”