People and Places – May 2012

The Arc of Mower County is 60 years old Prior to 1950 there were only a few local associations for […]

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The Arc of Mower County is 60 years old

Prior to 1950 there were only a few local associations for developmentally disabled children and no state or national Arc’s existed. Arc at the time stood for “Association of Retarded Citizens,” before the “R” word was used as a negative term.

In 1950, there were nine local Arc groups in Minnesota and a few others scattered throughout the US. Most early parent groups served cities, including Minneapolis, St. Paul, Rochester, Austin, Red Wing and Albert Lea. Their names and purposes were varied, but most of them were known as the “Association of Parents and Friends of the Mentally Retarded.” They were usually organized to operate services for children, such as school and recreation programs.

In September 1950, Mildred Thompson, Minnesota’s first supervisor for the new department known as the Minnesota Department of the Feeble Minded and Epileptic, invited all parent organizations to a meeting in Minneapolis. There the National Association for Retarded Children was organized.

In 1951, the Minnesota chapters of the National Arc formed the Minnesota Association for Retarded Children. The local groups, made up largely of volunteers, saw a need for statewide and nationwide leadership as they worked to provide services for people with intellectual and developmental disabilities. 

What are now Arc groups in Minnesota Arc are the pioneers in planning and providing needed services. The Arc of Mower County is one of these groups. It was founded in 1952 as Austin Friends of Retarded Children. Parents founded the group to enhance the lives of their children in the areas of special education, vocational training and recreation.

In 1956, Oak Grove Achievement Center opened. This was a major project for The Arc of Mower County, as it served needs of the county’s adult population. But for many years there was disagreement over what the real needs were of Mower County children.

From approximately 1975 to 1981, the chapter was nonexistent. There were efforts to improve school preparation and education for Mower County children with disabilities in 1975. Today it is known as the Special Education—Early Childhood or SEEC program.

In 1982, a young leader had visions of broadening Arc’s mission. He increased the membership from eight to 146 during his first term. Soon a strong board of directors was established. They set and achieved their goals of establishing a group home in the Adams area and a support group for parents, Project Faith. The support group still exists as a program of the Parenting Resource Center.

Strong leaders continued to guide the group. In 1986, the group hired an executive director and bookkeeper. In 1987, Arc found its own office space, moving from its longtime home with the Mower Council for the Handicapped.

The next project was to develop a recreation center. In 1987, the Our Place Recreation Center opened in a former jewelry store. Initially managed and supervised by volunteers, it quickly grew to the point that staff was hired in 1988.

Over the years, the addition of other programs and services has meant many moves for The Arc of Mower County. The program moved in fall 1988 and again in spring 1991. Disaster struck in 2000 when the Arc’s building was flooded with 18 inches of water. Another flood in fall 2005 completely destroyed the building and its contents, forcing the agency to move again.

So it was an exciting day on July 27, 2009 when The Arc of Mower County broke ground on a new building. This was made possible by a very generous donation from The Hormel Foundation. After several months of construction, Arc was able to start moving in in late 2009. A grand opening celebration in January 2010 drew more than 100 guests.

The chapter has continued to grow in membership, programs and prominence. At the January 2010 Special Olympics Minnesota Leadership Conference, three Mower County Special Olympics softball athletes were selected to participate in the 2010 USA Special Olympics National Games. Lonnie Wiborg, Shawn Olson and Jeremy Johnson traveled to Lincoln, NE and were part of a team that won a silver medal.

The chapter welcomes everyone to an anniversary celebration 6-8 p.m. Tuesday, May 22 at The Arc of Mower County in Austin. The group’s 60th Annual Meeting and Celebration features awards, a year in review, election of the board, a history slideshow and hors d’oeuvres. The event is free and open to the community but attendees need to RSVP, by calling 507-433-8994.


What is now The Arc of Mower County has gone through many name changes. These are:

1952 – Austin Friends of Retarded Children
1956 – Austin Association for Retarded Children
1960 – Austin Association for Retarded Citizens
1975 – Mower County Association for Retarded Citizens
1981 – Association for Retarded Citizens – Mower County
1991 – Arc Mower County
2011 – The Arc of Mower County


Duluth resident joins board of directors

 Eric Norberg, president of ALLETE Clean Energy in Duluth, Minn., is the newest member of the Courage Center Board of Directors. A native of the Iron Range, Norberg graduated from the University of Minnesota in Electrical Engineering and from the College of St. Scholastica with a Masters Degree in Management. He has worked for Minnesota Power and ALLETE for 33 years in senior strategic planning roles, becoming the President of ALLETE’s new subsidiary, ALLETE Clean Energy, in 2011. 

As a longtime supporter of Courage Center Duluth, Norberg is very interested in understanding how the broader capabilities of Courage Center can benefit Northern Minnesota. “I’ve always been impressed with the commitment and services of the broad Courage Center organization,” said Norberg.

Norberg has served on a number of non-profit boards including United Cerebral Palsy, Marshall School and the Lake Superior Railroad Museum. He and his wife Carol have two grown children.

“Courage Center is a statewide resource for people with disabilities,” said Jan Malcolm, CEO. “Because of that, we are happy to welcome a new board member from this important Minnesota community.”

Courage Center is a nonprofit rehabilitation and resource center that advances the lives of children and adults experiencing barriers to health and independence.

Courage Center Duluth has served residents of the Twin Ports community since 1979 by providing year-round sports and recreation programs for children, families and adults with disabilities. The programs are supported by more than 150 community volunteers and funded in large part by the generosity of individuals, businesses and corporations.

Adaptive equipment is approved 

The Hennepin County Board has approved the spring round of 2012 Youth Sports equipment and small capital asset grants. Since 2009, more than $9 million has been distributed to 54 facility grants and 40 equipment grants. Facility grants are awarded once each year, and equipment and small asset grants are awarded twice per year. A total of $144,400 will be distributed to 24 groups. Some of the equipment is for adaptive sports.

For the Minneapolis Park & Recreation Board and Theodore Wirth Park, City of Lakes Nordic Ski Foundation, the board allocated $10,000 for adaptive cross-country equipment and adaptive mountain bikes.

Equipment grants are based on criteria including number of youth served by the organization; and partnering with a youth sports organization, The Twins ballpark sales tax, approved in 2006, funds the Hennepin Youth Sports Program, as well as Hennepin County Library Ballpark Sundays and Ballpark Mondays initiatives. Approximately $4 million annually is dedicated between the programs. For more information, visit   

Radio Talking Book has long reach

In a time when many complain about customer service, here’s a story to tune into. The Minnesota Radio Talking Book signal is heard by others across the country via local services that rebroadcast its programming. The places programs are heard include Los Angeles.

Recently Radio Talking Book Manager Stuart Holland heard from the Los Angeles station manager that one of her blind volunteers had been hit by a truck and was awaiting surgeries in the hospital. When asked if there was anything the volunteer wanted, that state manager said he’d love to hear from his favorite reader–who just happened to be one of the Minnesota volunteers.

Holland contacted the Minnesota volunteer, gave her the Los Angeles volunteer’s phone number, and she called him and spoke to him a couple of times. He was thrilled. And the Minnesota volunteer was pleased to have been able to offer him a helpful distraction from his discomfort.

Holland said, “It is a reminder to us that the recordings we do in a small booth in St. Paul have an effect on people thousands of miles away.”


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