The story about Wisconsin Association of the Deaf (WAD) and the deaf community began a long time ago, way before any of us were born. This story is important and need to continue for generations. 

People born deaf existed for eons, who knows how or when it starts. Records of deaf people  has been documented in many available writings. However, it is not about why there are deaf people. It is about WAD and how it began. WAD story begins in 1876, merely 28 years later after Wisconsin became a statehood.

On April 15, 1852, Governor Leonard J. Farwell signed a bill incorporating "The Wisconsin Institute for the Education of the Deaf and Dumb at or near the village of Delavan." Shortly afterwards, in July, Franklin K. Phoenix gave almost 12 acres for the school, and the campus is still affectionately called Phoenix Green in honor of the donor.

It was not until 1876 that the idea of forming an alumni association began to materialize. In May of that year Lars M. Larson, a senior at the Delavan school, decided to help organize those who were educated at the school.  The proceedings of the first convention held at the school on June 7, 8, 9 and 10 in connection with the commencement exercises of the class of 1876, show that a committee was formed, consisting of J. A. Dudley, Lars M. Larson and L. H. Bushnel, to invite "all who had been formerly educated at the institute and were living in different parts of the state."

At this first convention the society started with 49 regular and 9 honorary members.  A constitution and by-laws were drawn up and adopted. The new organization was given the rather awkward name of The Wisconsin Deaf Mute Alumni Association.  It was not strictly an alumni group, however.  The original constitution had the following: "Any deaf mute, who was educated at the Wisconsin Deaf and Dumb Institution and the non-graduate husband or wife, may become members of the Society."

According to F. J. Neesam, who some years ago did research work for the W.A.D., it is unfortunate that old minutes books, if there were any, were not preserved.  Most of the information gathered came from the files of the Wisconsin Times, which were found to be not wholly complete.

It appears that from the start there was a group who wanted to restrict membership to the alumni (graduates of the school), but they never succeeded in passing such a restriction.  Later the name was changed to The Association of Graduates and Former Pupils of Wisconsin Schools for the Deaf.  This lengthy title took in the deaf educated in the day schools and the St. Francis school near Milwaukee. Many from these schools became members to the mutual advantage of themselves and the society.  Later the name was shortened to The Wisconsin Association of the Deaf, our present W.A.D.

In the early conventions much discussion took place on the idea of establishing a home for the aged deaf of the state. In 1899 articles of incorporation were drawn up, but nothing more seems to have been done about the matter until 1935, when Pres. A. G. Leisman had the society incorporated. Today, for obvious reasons, the desirability of a home for the aged deaf is no longer apparent.

Because the functions of the W.A.D. were more or less limited to members and within a very restricted membership-fee budget, action was undertaken in 1939 to get legislative appropriation with which the W.A.D. could expand its work and be more effective in the whole state. It did not take long for Governor Heil to support the idea. An appropriation of $2,500 for two years enabled the W.A.D. to form the State Service Bureau and appoint a director on a part-time basis. Now for 27 years the bureau has operated successfully, and under only two directors, A. G. Leisman for 10 years, and R.W. Horgen now in his 17th year.

Another consistency is that W.A.D. Pilot, paid for out of state appropriations. Since its first issue in October, 1941, then in mimeo form, the Pilot, still a bi-monthly, has been the mouthpiece of the W.A.D. in publicity, counseling, and cooperation between the hearing world and the deaf people. It is sent free to all hearing people who are interested in one way or another.

The functions of the Service Bureau are too well known to need elaboration. Of course we could do much more if we had enough appropriations to meet the need of a full-time director. Still the fact that we have done so much with so little financial baking is evidence beyond doubt that the budgeted money has been very well spent.

The W.A.D. has also engaged in various activities such as Educational Benefit Fund for deaf children, state fair exhibits, bus for the Delavan school, etc.

It is of interest to note that this summer convention will be the 13th held in Delavan. Chickens like to come home to roost?

Written by 

Rev. Arthur Leisman in 1967