In Memoriam - March 2020

In Memoriam - March 2020

DeBoer helped revolutionize special education in Minnesota

Robert “Bob” DeBoer spent his career as a pioneer in education, with a focus on special education and children with disabilities. He is best known for his role in helping to start A Chance to Grow. DeBoer died in February at the age of 74. He lived in Maple Lake with his family. 

A memorial service is planned for May 30 at A Chance to Grow, 1800 NE 2nd St., Minneapolis, with gathering time at 1 p.m. and a program at 2-3 p.m. 

Joe Nathan, leader of the Center for School Change, said of DeBoer, “He was creative, committed and courageous.” 

DeBoer contracted polio as a young child. In an interview, he recalled, “In those days, polio kids spent six to 12 months at the state hospital. Visitors were only allowed two hours a day on Saturdays and Sundays, and my folks lived 200 miles away. I grew up in the medical world. I was telling my doctors what they were supposed to be doing for my care.” 

DeBoer grew to adulthood, married his wife Kathy and started a family. Their daughter Jesse was born in 1979. At her birth, Jesse sustained a traumatic brain injury. The family was told she would never walk, talk or lead a normal life. Focusing on education and brain development became their calling. While educating their daughter the couple started a program to help children with learning disabilities. 

Kathy DeBoer studied everything she could find about brain injuries. The family learned about Art Sandler, an East Coast physical therapist who worked with brain-injured children. His neuro-psychological approach linked movement to their brain development. 

Sandler recommended a rigorous program of exercise for Jesse. More than 40 volunteers helped the family, as Bob DeBoer was then working at Pillsbury United Communities and Kathy DeBoer was working in childcare. 

After four years Jesse was walking, standing up straight and soon speaking. She is now in her 40s and works, enjoys hobbies and has shown the family Saint Bernard in dog shows. 

The DeBoers were eager to share their success and reached out to other parents. Sandler said that if they could find eight families, he would come to Minnesota every six months and work with them. DeBoer went on a radio show to explain the project, and 40 families called in. 

The DeBoers launched their first program, Boost Up. with seed money from the General Mills Foundation. Boost Up targeted children with learning disabilities and reading problems. Students learned to crawl across the floor like an alligator, move opposing arms and legs, spin in a circle, march down the hall, and roll like a log. Those movements and others gradually evolved into the SMART program, the brain development/body movement curriculum that A Chance to Grow now markets world-wide. 

In 1994, the couple founded New Visions Charter School in North Minneapolis. The charter school was a program of A Chance to Grow. By 1997, the school had 200 students. In 1998, a property owner donated a building to them to house the program and school. 

As the charter school community grew, DeBoer took a leadership role in working to ensure that all charter schools understood and provided the special education services that were needed by students with development or other needs. He co-founded and served as the chairperson of the Minnesota Charter School Special Education Project, which evolved into Indigo Educational Services. The project, which provided services to the majority of Minnesota’s charter schools for many years, was recognized as a national model on how to provide special education administration and services for charters schools. 

When charter school regulations changed, the DeBoers shifted their interested to creating an environmental project-based school that would be located in Wright County. In 2015, that effort culminated in the opening of the Jane Goodall Environmental Academy. 

DeBoer is survived by his wife, children and other family members and friends. 


Estate planning, camping programs were among Heckt’s many interests

Melvin D. Heckt provided a wide range of services to Minnesotans with disabilities, with his involvement in estate planning, camping and housing. Heckt died in February. He was 95 and lived in Golden Valley. 

An Iowa native, Heckt held degrees from the University of Iowa, where he played football. His college nickname was “the judge” because he spent so much time on the bench. 

He practiced law in the Twin Cities into his 80s. 

Heckt enlisted in the U.S. Marine Corps 1st Marine Raider BN, 1st BN 4th Marines, 6th Marine Division and served his country from 1943-1945 during WWII. He fought in the battles of Guam and Okinawa. He received the Bronze Star for bravery on Sugar Loaf Hill during the Battle of Okinawa. He was a life member and past president of the U.S. Marine Raiders Association and a former board member of the Marine Corps Heritage Foundation. He was a life member of the American Legion and VFW. 

He and his wife Dorothy raised six children, one of whom has developmental disabilities. Hecht did pioneering work in estate planning to serve families with members with disabilities. He was a founder of Camp Friendship in Annandale, which is now part of the True Friends camping program. 

Heckt also served on the board of directors for Mt. Olivet Rolling Acres and Friendship Ventures Foundation for many years. He worked tirelessly on the behalf of children and adults with disabilities. 

He served as the president of both the Minnesota and National Association for Retarded Children, now known as The ARC. He also was a key member of President Richard Nixon and Gerald Ford Presidential Committee on Mental Retardation from 1973-75. Heckt testified before the Legislature many times to secure funding for vocational training programs and increase staffing at state institutions, such as the Faribault State Hospital where his daughter lived. 

Heckt was preceded in death by his wife and one son. He is survived by five other children and their families. Services have been held. In lieu of flowers, donations are preferred to Fraser School (fraser.org/donate) or Wooddale Church. 


Jones was deaf community leader

Eldora Minnie Lux Jones took on many leadership roles in Minnesota’s deaf community. Jones, 94, died in January. She lived in West St. Paul. 

Jones wrote about deafness during the Great Depression, when accommodations in public schools were lacking. She attended the Faribault School for the Deaf, now Minnesota Academy for the Deaf, and went on to Gallaudet University where she met her husband Jim. They married in 1950. 

The couple took on many leadership roles in the deaf community. They were active in a wide range of committees and at Charles Thompson Memorial Hall in St. Paul. She enjoyed her family, friends and gardening. 

Jones is survived by her five children and their families. She was preceded in death by her husband. A memorial service is at 11 a.m. Saturday, April 18, with visitation one hour prior, at Woodbury Lutheran Church, 7380 Afton Road, Woodbury. Memorials are preferred to the family. 


Josewich remembered for a first

Betty Josewich is remembered as the first deaf person to graduate from the University of Minnesota. Josewich died in February, in the home her family built near Lake Harriet in Minneapolis in 1936. She had moved into the house with her family when she was an infant. 

She was 83 years old. 

Josewich grew up in Minneapolis and attended Minneapolis Washburn High School. She is described as a very kind person with a sweet soul, who was loyal to her family and to her boyfriend of 55 years, Jim Audette. 

Josewich worked at ThermoKing for more than 35 years. She was active in Hadassah and BOND. 

She was preceded in death by her parents, a brother and sister, and survived by another sister and other family members and friends. Services have been held. Memorials preferred in her honor to Minnesota Deaf Senior Citizens