In Memoriam - July 2015

Leppick helped start group

Maryellen Halstead Leppink is remembered for her work with people with traumatic brain injury. She died in May at age 89. A memorial service was held in June. The New Jersey native and her husband Dr. Harold Leppink moved to Minnesota in 1957, after volunteering at a hospital in Puerto Rico. She moved to Minneapolis in 1974 and worked at Courage Center providing counseling and support services to adults who had experienced strokes or traumatic brain injuries. During this time she helped organize the Minnesota Brain Injury Alliance and served on its board of directors. After retirement she enjoyed time with family, gardening and outings with her daughters to local arts events. She had a lifelong involvement with social justice issues and the rights of the elderly.

Leppink is survived by a sister, four children and their spouses, grandchildren and great grandchildren. Memorials are preferred to Washburn Center for Children or Minnesota Brain Injury Alliance.

 

Robert R. Peters is remembered

Bloomington disability rights activist and author Robert R. Peters is remembered as someone who devoted countless hours to human rights and disability rights activities. Peters died June 25 from complications of cellulitis. He was 75 years old.

Peters’ book, A Dive Too Deep, described the July 1964 accident that broke his neck and crushed his spinal cord, as well as his life with quadriplegia. In the book Peters said his first response was to think, “Why me?” He realized that opportunity often comes after a “Why Me” life-altering experience.

He not only survived, but thrived, retiring in 2004 from a 43-year career in the electronics field at Control Data/Seagate. He authored Easy Wheelin’ in Minnesota, which was published in 1976. He also served as a guest columnist on disability-related issued for the Bloomington Sun-Current newspaper.

He was a City of Bloomington Human Rights Commission member, and a member of Bloomington’s Advisory Committee on Architectural Barriers. He served as committee chairperson from 1976 to 1980. In 1981 and 1982, he chaired Bloomington’s 1981 International and National Year of Disabled Persons committees. Peters is survived by his wife, Penny; one brother, two sisters and many nieces, nephews and friends. Services have been held. Memorials are preferred to the St. Mary’s Cathedral Renovation Project.

 
Jordan provided a sense of family

Tony Jordan is remembered as someone who provided a sense of family for people with autism and developmental disabilities. Jordan, 62, died of a heart attack June 1.

For more than 20 years the Shoreview resident and his wife, Jeannie, operated residential group homes in the northern Twin Cities metro area. They gave 24 adults with disabilities a place to grow, develop friendships and feel safe.

Jordan studied anthropology and sociology at the University of Minnesota, and then earned a degree in special education. His mother was a longtime special education teacher. His wife was a teaching assistant to his mother, which is how the Jordans met. He worked with students with emotional behavioral disabilities for about five years in District 916 before the family started Enrich and opened its first group home in 1990.

Friends and family said he had a gift for working with people with disabilities and that he looked at abilities rather than disability. He was also a supporter of Access Press.

Jordan is also survived by his wife, mother, sister, daughter and son. Services have been held.

 

Gavenda championed children

James Gavenda is remembered as someone who made a career in special education. He died June 17 at his Minnetonka home. He was 81 years old.

Gavenda earned undergraduate and graduate degrees in education, specializing in special education at the University of Minnesota. He retired from St. Louis Park School district after 25 years of service in a variety of different capacities including coordinator of special education, elementary principal and district administrator. Gavenda was especially proud of his role in mainstreaming students with disabilities into the classrooms, once saying “I was at least a part of bringing kids identified as handicapped out of isolation and into closer contact with society and educational opportunities.”

He is survived by his wife, Kathy; children, grandchildren and great-grandchildren. Services have been held. Memorials are preferred to Feline Rescue or Animal Humane Society.

 

Childhood polio didn’t stop Kissel

Childhood polio didn’t prevent Joseph James “Joe” Kissel from pursuing a longtime career as an accountant. Kissel died June 13 at age 86, at the Masonic Home of Bloomington. Kissel was the son of Slovak immigrants and part of a family with eight children. He contracted polio as a toddler, while living on the family farm near Cedar. He spent years at the Shriners Hospital and Sister Kenny Institute. He attended Michael Dowling School and was a graduate of the Minnesota School of Business.

Although he encountered many prejudices regarding his polio disability, he was remembered by family members as simply going to repeat job interviews to work in accounting. He worked for the City of Minneapols for 30 years and also held positions at Siweck Lumber, Paramount Pictures and Canton Lumber.

He is survived by one sister and two sisters-in-law. Services have been held. Memorials are preferred to the National Parkinson Foundation of Minnesota.