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Wheelchair Vets Trek

From: The Galesburg Illini, "Division to Close"
Creator:  Keith Roberts and Ray Crigger (authors)
Date: March 25, 1949
Source: Tim Nugent

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A group of more than thirty students, including fifteen paraplegic and poliomyelitis wheelchair victims, travelled in convoy to Springfield last Wednesday to plead with the governor to consider their future schooling opportunities in light of the fact that the Division is soon to be converted into a Public Welfare Medical Center.


Although the Division representatives were escorted to the governor's mansion and later to the State House by the screaming sirens of the Springfield Police department, all they received in return for their efforts was Governor Stevenson's flat refusal to listen to their views.


The Governor left the mansion while the Divisionites waited on the sidewalk outside and later appeared on the second floor of the State House where the students were waiting nearby in a departmental office. However, in neither instance did Governor Stevenson greet the group which consisted largely of disabled veterans.

Previous Engagements

Because of the press of previous engagements, Governor Stevenson, who spoke Monday at the dedication of a new building of the Pabst brewery in Peoria, assigned the task to one of his executive secretaries, Mr. Lou Conn, who turned the group over to Fred K. Hoehler, director of the Public Welfare Department which will maintain the medical center replacing the Galesburg school in June, and to Dr. Andrew Ivy, vice president of the University.


In answer to question from the student representatives, Mr. Conn revealed that the Governor was not well acquainted with the rehabilitation program here for disabled students. Consequently, he was also completely unaware of the tremendous progress that has been made through the medium of the program since its initiation in October, 1948. Nevertheless, it decision regarding the closing of the Division and the consequent termination of the only complete program in the nation of corrective therapy and rehabilitation that is integrated with a collegiate institution and is available to wheelchair cases.

Results Unsatisfactory

When the results of this meeting proved unsatisfactory to the Division students, a sub-committee was formed to further consult the representatives of the administration on this matter and to again try to bring the case before the Governor rather than one of his executive secretaries.


This committee, consisting of Don Swift, president of the Disabled Students Organization; Harold Scharper, George Steinmann, Rurss Gates, president of the Student Senate; Al Kuhn, representative of the student body; Tim Nugent, director of the Galesburg Division rehabilitation program; and Keith Roberts, news editor of the Galesburg ILLINI, met with Mr. Koehler and Dr. Ivy, vice president of the University.


Dr. Ivy indicated that although there are approximately one thousand cases of paraplegia each year as a result of civilian accidents of various types in addition to the present large number of such cases as a result of the recent conflict, that the need for the college education of these individuals is the responsibility of the federal government rather than that of the state of Illinois.

Plans Discussed

Mr. Hoehler declared that arrangements will be made if possible for those disabled students now in attendance at the Division. Various plans discussed included the completion of two years of college work by correspondence or the establishment of an "isolated ward" for paraplegic students in conjunction with the new medical center for the aged and infirm which is to be established on the present school site.


Such a program is only designed to meet the needs of those disabled students who have already begun their education, not ot -sic} provide facilities for other handicapped students who not -sic- yet entered school.

Ivy Suggests

Dr. Ivy suggested that there might be a possibility that the Navy Pier branch of the university would at some future date be able to handle disabled students on its campus. He further recommended that the Division paraplegic students attempt to make some arrangement for their further schooling through a federal agency.


The representatives of this campus were told that the Governor's refusal to see them was partly as a result of their failure to secure an appointment with him in advance. However, after this group had been denied the opportunity of consulting with the Governor even briefly, Representative Kenneth Peel stated that he had spent three hours Tuesday attempting to secure such an audience for the group. Senator Wallace Thompson, a local resident, also unsuccessfully attempted to obtain an appointment for the disabled students with the Governor.