Darlene E. Morse, a prominent disabled activist, died on Saturday, May 27 after a short hospitalization. She lived for about 15 years at Galtier Plaza in downtown St. Paul until she was hospitalized with a collapsed lung in June, 1998. After she was no longer able to use an iron lung, she moved to Selby House in St. Paul a residence for people who are ventilator dependent.
Darlene was born on July 30, 1943, in Hopkins. “In 1953 she contracted polio and was paralyzed from the neck down,” said Pat Swanson, a sister. She was taught at home by tutors and graduated from Hopkins High School.
“I was in charge of feeding,” said Kyle, a brother. “That suited me fine because it got me out of doing dishes.” Kyle added a book turning device was set up at home to allow her to read. “She would nod her head and touch her chin to a device which turned the page,” he said.
Pat Swanson explained Darlene was able to leave the iron lung for up to 12 hours at a time. “She developed a type of ‘frog breathing’ in which she would swallow air,” she said.
Darlene was named Miss Wheelchair Minnesota in 1985 and won the Judges’ Award at the national competition in Warm Springs, GA that year. She also won a Minnesota Access Achievements Award in 1989, a Kaiser Roll award in 1983, and the Minnesota Karate Third Handicap Form in 1984.
From 1978 to 1990 she was a member of the board of United Handicapped Federation, an advocacy group and served as president from 1980-82. “Darlene chaired a UHF task force responsible for setting up the Metropolitan Center for Independent Living,” said Frances Strong who also served on the UHF board. “It was a UHF project and Darlene sounded wistful after the group was spun off as an independent organization. She said she felt like she lost a child. Darlene was also active in Speak Out, in which disabled people went out into the community and spoke before groups on disability awareness,” Frances added.
Steve Keppel, another UHF colleague, said that “Darlene had an enthusiasm which was addictive. She had a lot more to contend with than most, but she was always positive. I’d feel down and talk to her and be cheered up.” Keppel said Darlene was active in sit-ins at the State Capitol where she urged the Metro Transit Commission to quit stalling and put the Metro Mobility program into operation.
Morse was a proficient computer user in which she used a mouth stick to type letter. Later she used voice recognition. She had almost completed her autobiography at the time of her death. Friends and family intend to publish the book.
A celebration of Darlene’s life will be held in St. Paul in the latter part of July.