A vision of hearing: New Hearing and Speech Foundation building opens
By Robert Norris | (email@example.com)
From the site where a small strip shopping center once stood on East Broadway Avenue in Maryville, a shot was fired Wednesday for hearing-impaired people around the world.
Not a literal shot. The event to celebrate a new state-of-the-art home for the Hearing and Speech Foundation was a ribbon-cutting — and the scissors were effective but silent.
The ribbon-cutting signaled a new front line has been established in the battle to allow hearing-impaired people to function normally in a world of sound. It started as a dream more than 30 years ago.
“Today that vision becomes a reality,” Amanda Womac, executive director, said during the ceremonies.
The opening of the 7,200-square-foot training and rehabilitation center positions the Maryville-based foundation as the leading auditory training and therapy center for the Verbotonal Method in North America.
Womac noted that the Verbotonal Method is a highly effective multisensory approach used to train listening skills and auditory perception in hearing-impaired children and adults. The new Maryville facility joins a global network of Verbotonal centers in more than 22 countries.
It started with John Berry, co-founder and CEO of the foundation and founder and owner of Blount Hearing and Speech Services, which is located across the street from the foundation’s new center.
As Berry expressed his appreciation to the people who have worked and volunteered and donated to make the new facility a reality, he paid homage to the Hearing and Speech Foundation’s other co-founder, the late Tutt Bradford, former owner and publisher of The Daily Times.
Bradford knew Berry had been giving hearing aids to economically disadvantaged, hearing-impaired people at reduced prices — sometimes free of charge. In the process, Berry was in danger of watching his dream slip away — no company can survive by giving away services and products. That’s when Bradford approached Berry with the idea to start a foundation.
“If Tutt Bradford hadn’t come to me one day and said, ‘We don’t want you to go out of business.’ And he helped start the foundation,” Berry said, struggling to keep his composure as he credited the people who helped make his vision come true.
“Over the years all you people kept us in business with just little donations that kept adding up,” he said.
“Blount Hearing and Speech grew to be highly professional and recognized ... because of Verbotonal and because we listen. God has put in my path all of you with special people who helped make this come to fruition.”
Blount County Mayor Ed Mitchell expressed his admiration and respect for Berry’s efforts.
“I really love it when good things happen to good people,” Mitchell said, speaking of Berry. “What he’s done with this foundation has just been amazing — and the difference he has made in people’s lives.”
Chairman on board
Also at the ribbon-cutting was a key member of the team that made the new building a reality.
Alan Boeckmann, chairman of the board and retired CEO of the Fluor Corp., a Fortune 500 company, brought a renewed business approach to the foundation’s management when he came on board as foundation chairman last year.
He had a personal interest in the success of the foundation. A high fever had robbed his son, Lee, of most of his hearing as an infant. The boy was equipped with standard hearing aids, but every year he was tested, his hearing had worsened.
Through word-of-mouth, Boeckmann learned of Berry and the Verbotonal Method. In 1988, when Lee was 7 years old and profoundly deaf, his dad drove him to Maryville from their home in Greenville, S.C.
“Today that 31-year-old young man is a professional in Boston doing computer programing and leading a design team, and you wouldn’t know that he was deaf if you were standing next to him working with him,” Boeckmann said.
He reminded those at the ribbon-cutting — many of whom had given generous donations of money and time — that the opening of the new training and rehabilitation center does not signal an end to the effort.
“We’re going to count on you even more as we go forward, because this is just a beginning,” Boeckmann said.
“I can’t begin to tell you how excited I am about it and what I think it’s going to be for the hearing-impaired world — but also for putting Maryville on the map as the place where this resides.”
The new facility is located at 1652 E. Broadway Ave. Maryville. For more information about the Hearing and Speech Foundation, visit http://www.hsfweb.org