Renaissance of the Minnesota Deaf is the theme of the Minnesota Association of Deaf Citizens’ (MADC) 125th anniversary celebration. The organization began in 1885 in Faribault. Members are looking back at their history September 25 through October 2, with events throughout the state.
A full list of events appears on www.minndeaf.org/ 125 years and on MADC 125th
Anniversary on Facebook. Volunteers have planned numerous activities to commemorate the anniversary.
On Friday and Saturday, Sept. 25-26, Faribault is the place to be. A homecoming celebration is planned at the Minnesota State Academy of the Deaf, with deaf heritage bus tours. Visitors will see significant sites and buildings, including the graves of those who lived at the academy. They can also attend an open house and interpretive tours, hosted by MSAD and the Alumni Association Museum.
On Sunday, Sept. 26, the action moves to Minneapolis. A celebration of deaf fellowship is planned at the North Central University Sanctuary. NCU is located at 910 Elliot Ave. That will be followed by a brunch at the university’s gymnasium, hosted by the Junior National Association for the Deaf. In the afternoon the whole family can enjoy old-fashioned fun and games.
Many other activities are planned in the Twin Cities and statewide during the week. The week’s activities Sept. 27-30 include the Gallaudet University traveling exhibit about the life and work of deaf architect Olof Hanson, art exhibits at the Minneapolis Art Institute, deaf heritage bus tours, ASL storytelling at the Merriam Park Branch of the St. Paul Public Library, an open house at Metro Deaf School/Minnesota Northstar Academy, a “red hat” tea party and a Minnesota Twins game Sept. 30 with a tribute to a deaf/hard of hearing audience.
Much attention will be focused on Charles Thompson Memorial Hall, which stands at the corner of Fairview and Marshall avenues in St. Paul. Many people have passed by that building countless times, without knowing its unique heritage in the state and nation.
Thompson Hall is the nation’s first and oldest clubhouse for the deaf. It is a local historic site in the City of St. Paul, winning designation from the City Council and mayor in 1995. MADC History Chairman Douglas Bahl has extensively researched Thompson Hall history and his history appears online. Thompson Hall was dedicated on Nov. 5, 1916, and was named in honor of the late Charles Thompson.
Thompson was a St. Paul civic leader and leader in the growing Minnesota deaf activist community in the late 19th and early 20th century. After his death in 1915, his widow Margaret built the hall in his memory, keeping alive his dream that there be clubhouse for deaf Minnesotans. The three-story brick structure, designed by Thompson family friend Olof Hanson, cost $45,000 to build. It has stone and terra cotta trim, a large front staircase and a large porch.
An additional $45,000 was set aside for building maintenance and a five-member Board of Trustees was set up to manage the trust fund. Four Thompson family members and one deaf person made up the first board. Thompson family members continued on the board until 1951. The board is now made up of deaf community members. Another level of oversight for Thompson Hall is its House Committee. Volunteers work to maintain Thompson Hall and plan to make improvements including an elevator.
The building includes a large assembly hall, a smaller social hall and a kitchen. The assembly hall was designed with a 127-foot ceiling. The build-ing’s other spaces were originally designed for uses including a ladies parlor and a billiards room and a bowling alley. One feature of Thompson Hall’s design is large windows and natural light on all three levels.
The week’s events conclude with two large gatherings. On Friday, Oct. 1, the renaissance will be celebrated at the Historic Depot in downtown Minneapolis. A breakfast will be held as a fundraiser for MADC and Thomson Hall. It will be followed by workshops for MADC members, the public and young people.
The anniversary gala, Renaissance of the Minnesota Deaf, will be held that evening. The theme refers to a revival or rebirth of cultural awareness and learning. Many may have heard of the Italian Renaissance in the 15th century or the Harlem Renaissance in the 1920s and 1930s. MADC notes that “The thinkers, artists, musicians, writers and scientists of a Renaissance do much to shape the social and political agenda for the time while setting the stage for a future generation of change makers.”
“Minnesota’s deaf community witnessed the most powerful examples of cultural grace, courage and activism during the late 1800s and early 1900s by the likes of James Smith, Anson Spear, Olof Hanson and Agatha Hanson, Jay C. Howard, Charles and Margaret Thompson, Petra F. Howard, and many others who understood the value of community pride, civic engagement and cultural heritage.”
Events wrap up Saturday, Oct. 2 at Wayzata Bay Park and Beach on Lake Minne-tonka where the MADC 125 Anniversary Picnic will be held. Exhibits will be on display at the Wayzata Historical Society/Historic Depot Museum. Boat rides will be available, and there will be lots of old-fashioned fun for the whole family. Wayzata is important in Minnesota deaf history because it was founded by Oscar Garrison, a deaf civil engineer. Garrison settled in the area in 1852. He was a leader in platting the community and working for improvements such as roads.
(Information from MASD was used in compiling this article.)