Guide

Kevin Hartigan oral history

Kevin Hartigan came to Perkins in 1985 as an assistant house parent, now referred to as an assistant coordinator of residential living before becoming the Director of Volunteers and Tours in 2013.

Class of 2019 ELPs tour the Howe Building with Kevin Hartigan

Biographical information

Kevin Hartigan came to Perkins in 1985 as an assistant house parent. Hartigan eventually lived on campus with his wife and sons at one point. He would go on to serve as a house parent and then residential supervisor of all the residences in the lower school. Hartigan was in that role until 2013 when he moved to the Marketing Department and public relations. There he served as Director of Volunteers and Tours until 2020. Hartigan gave tours of the Perkins Museum and School to a variety of people, but school groups were his favorite. Photographed giving a tour to the participants of Perkins’ Educational Leadership Program class of 2019, Hartigan is looking at the Ruggles Globe in the Perkins Museum. Hartigan has short grey hair and a white beard. He is wearing glasses and a dark blue short sleeve button-down shirt with a Perkins ID lanyard around his neck. The tactile globe which reaches above his shoulders is in front of a group of 7 people from all over the world.

Notice and permissions

This interview is a digitized copy of a tape-recorded interview conducted for the Perkins School for the Blind. The interview was conducted on July 10, 2019, by Jen Hale.

This oral history transcript may be quoted if cited. A preferred citation is provided. The interview may not be published in full except with the permission of the Perkins School for the Blind. For permission please contact [email protected].

Preferred citation

Hartigan, Kevin. “Kevin Hartigan oral history interview conducted by Jen Hale,” 2019-07-10, Perkins Archives Oral History Project, AG176-2019-16, Perkins School for the Blind Archives.

Audio recording

Recording of the oral history of Kevin Hartigan.

Transcript

Jennifer Hale: Today is July 10, 2019. This is Jen Hale. And I’m here with Kevin Hartigan, the Director of Volunteers and Tours at Perkins School for the Blind. We are conducting this interview in the Archives of Perkins. Kevin, are you OK with me recording this conversation?

Kevin Hartigan: Yes, I am.

Hale: Great. So let’s start with what year did you come to Perkins and what brought you here?

Hartigan: I came here in August of 1985. I had worked for 10 years at a school for emotionally disturbed children, kids who had been taken away from their families because of abuse and other things, who had emotional problems. That school closed. And my boss there was close friends with Kevin Lessard, the director of Perkins.

He told me they were hiring. I applied. Didn’t know I would like this population, because it was not the population I was used to. And the first day on the job, I realized kids are kids. And that was 34 years ago. So I think I’ll probably stay.

Hale: What was your job title when you first started? And can you describe your responsibilities?

Hartigan: Yep. I was an assistant house parent. Today, that is called an assistant coordinator of residential living. And the house parents were in charge of a residential cottage usually with about 20, 25 students. And there would be a house parent or assistant house parent on every shift, including asleep/overnight coverage for emergency coverage.

We were responsible for teaching the children independent living skills, planning their recreational schedules, dispensing all medications under the license of the nurse. The nurse would train us to be the medical first responders. And that’s what we would do.

Overnights, we would have to sleep in. Our only responsibility sleeping in was to respond to either a medical or other emergency. But that was part of our job was to sleep in two nights a week.

Hale: OK. What was the most memorable event or experience or impression you had from that very beginning at Perkins?

Hartigan: Again, I think the biggest thing was I had not worked with blind children or children with real disabilities. And we had students who were in wheelchairs, who had all sorts of other disabilities. And I was kind of surprised at how much our students here at Perkins with multiple disabilities are just like every other student I had ever worked with, that there are more similarities between kids than there are differences, and that– I mean, I wasn’t sure I would stay. I wasn’t sure I would like this population. And again, there’s more in common with other kids I’ve worked with than differences.

Hale: OK. What are some of the other positions you’ve held at Perkins since then?

Hartigan: After about a year as assistant coordinator– assistant house parent– I’m going to use the old term– I was promoted to head house parent, co-head house parent with my original supervisor, a woman named Elaine Tulis. She was more familiar with old ways of doing things and teaching students daily living skills and how to make a bed that would have a quarter bounce off it and things like that and wasn’t as up on some behavioral issues and other issues for the kids. So she decided she wanted a co-house parent with her to kind of do that part of the job.

So I was promoted to the head house parent alongside her instead of under her. And I did that for about six years. And then I was promoted to be the residential supervisor who is in charge of all the residences in the lower school. And I did that job until about six years ago when I switched over to marketing and public relations and took over for tours and volunteers.

Hale: Did you live on campus while you were working as the house parent and the residential supervisor at all?

Hartigan: I did not live on campus at first. Again, I had to stay here two nights a week. However, in 19– I’ll get in big trouble if I get this date wrong. I got married in 1988. And for a while, my wife and I lived in an apartment on the third floor of Anagnos Cottage, which was my cottage.

And my son– oldest son was born when we lived here. He came home from the hospital to a suite in Anagnos Cottage. I moved to Glover Cottage a year later. And my second son was born when I lived in Glover Cottage. So both of my sons were born while I worked at Perkins and were babies here.

But two kids and a wife and me in a three-bedroom suite in a building filled with a bunch of kids and being woken up in the middle of the night for fire alarms and called for emergency help and things like that– I decided to move out when my second son was born. My daughter was not born here. But she is getting married here.

Hale: With your background in house parenting and residential living, how did you become the director of volunteers and tours?

Hartigan: Well, part of my unofficial duties or just what I like doing while I worked with kids, I was the storyteller. I read to the kids. I had book clubs for many years with different classrooms. I’d go into the classroom and read aloud.

Ken Stuckey, who was our storyteller and librarian and Boy Scout leader and everything else for many years– when he left Perkins, I took over some of his unofficial duties in that I tell the Perkins history story at the directors memorial ceremony every November. And I tell the holiday story at the holiday assembly. So I was always the storyteller.

And having been interested in history and listening to Ken Stuckey’s stories and Larry Melander, who was my boss– his stories– I kind of knew a lot about Perkins history. I like telling stories. So when Mike Cataruzolo, who was the previous tour guide and director of volunteer services, decided to go part-time, it was a good time to make the switch to a new position.

Part of my idea at that time was also to cut the budget in the residential program in the lower school. We had fewer and fewer residential students. So we were not very profitable. Whereas in the past, the residential program had made money, had been a strong economic source for Perkins, as our numbers started going down, we wanted to cut the budget. And I looked at my budget and decided rather than cut direct care staff or work directly with kids, I recommended that we eliminate me, which is when I moved over.

Hale: OK. Something that I’ve noticed since I’ve worked here is that you have close relationships with many of the students, relationships that seem more in line with a house parent, say, then director of volunteers. So how have you managed to keep student relationships part of your Perkins routine?

Hartigan: Again, I came here to work with kids. As I rose– went up the ladder and got higher and higher, I was spending more time hiring staff and training staff and disciplining staff and occasionally firing staff. And I was getting less time with kids, which is why I was here. So that’s when I kind of really pushed the envelope as far as doing book clubs and coming in on my day off sometimes to get kids to throw water balloons at me at the field day and other things just so that I can keep in touch with kids and know kids.

Larry Melander, who is my boss, also valued that. And he would call me when a new kid started and said, you’re going to like this kid, Kevin. Come down and meet him. So that was why I was here. So it took some effort to maintain contact with the kids.

Now that I am giving tours, I’m back with kids. They’re just not Perkins kids. They’re kids from the outside coming from public schools to go on tours. But I also give tours to Perkins students many times. If there’s a chance to give a tour to a group– a classroom or a group of kids at Perkins, I grab it and will do it. I like adults. But kids are who I want to talk to mostly.

Hale: What do you enjoy most about your current role?

Hartigan: I love giving tours to school groups. I especially love 7-year-old girls who fall in love with Helen Keller and want to come here and learn about Helen Keller and are very, very excited to touch things that Helen touched. You see the goosebumps.

I like classroom groups. One of the things I think is the most important part of my tour– I have a group of fourth graders who come on a tour with their class. And I imagine that a fourth grader who goes to school one day and the teacher says, we’re going to a field trip at a school for the blind, I picture that fourth grader saying to himself or herself, man, if I were blind, my life is over. I can’t do any of the things I love.

I can’t play sports. I can’t play video games. I can’t watch TV. I can’t go to the movies. When those kids come here and I tell them that our students play video games and play sports and go to the movies and watch TV, they don’t 100% believe me.

So I think the most important part of my tours is I bring them down to the gym. I give them a three-minute training on how to run a lap on our track blind. I blindfold them. And they run a lap successfully, safely. And they’re shocked that they were able to do it blind.

And those kids leave here thinking, I was wrong about blind people. Blind people can do everything we do. They believe me when I tell them what our kids and what blind adults do. And to me, that’s the most important part of my job is to convince people that our students and blind adults are exactly like everybody else in the world and can do anything with a little bit of training.

Hale: What event or aspect of Perkins history do you think visitors find the most surprising? And that might tie into that a little bit, but the history.

Hartigan: The history– I mean, the– again, I can’t pick one of my three favorite people on earth– Laura Bridgman, Annie Sullivan, and Helen Keller– because it’s all one story. I think most people who come in here have never heard of Laura Bridgman. And when I tell the amazing story of Laura Bridgman, they are totally shocked. They want to know why I don’t know this story, why she isn’t more famous.

When I talk about her role in advancing Annie Sullivan’s experiences and then via Annie, Helen Keller’s, I think a lot of people are shocked at what Helen accomplished as an adult. The Miracle Worker is a great movie. But a lot of people who see The Miracle Worker think the end of the movie is the end of Helen.

And the reason Helen is more famous than Laura Bridgman is because what Helen did as an adult. And that starts at the water pump. It doesn’t end at the water pump. And I think a lot of people think Helen’s story stops at the end of the movie. And I like telling people what happened after the miracle of The Miracle Worker.

Hale: So kind of on that note, what is your favorite Perkins historical event? Or is there an that you are personally attracted to more than others or–

Hartigan: Again, I love telling the story of the three students and how they connect. I mean, Annie– Laura to Annie to Helen. And to me, it’s just a great lesson on how one person changes the life of the next person. The next person changes the life of the next person. And that last one changes the world. I mean, that’s the thing.

There was a fundraising event last month for Helen Keller’s birthday. And one of the slogans was “Helen Keller, the girl who proved any child can– every child can learn.” And I kind of said to myself, no, that was Laura Bridgman.

Laura Bridgman proved that every child could learn. Helen Keller proved that once that child learned, she can change the world. That’s the story I like to tell, not just that you’re able to teach every child. But once they learn, those kids can go on and do everything.

Hale: You and I have talked before about Perkins history connections that pop up in your regular life all the time. Do you have a favorite one that you can share?

Hartigan: I have two. When my wife was five months pregnant, we made the stupid decision to go camping in Nova Scotia. We drove all the way up the coast of Maine, through Bar Harbor, through New Brunswick, into Nova Scotia. Our goal was the Cabot Trail.

But we drove through Baddeck, Nova Scotia. And I saw a sign for the Alexander Graham Bell museum. And I had just driven about 25 hours away from Perkins. And we stopped at the museum.

I walked in the front door. And I’m greeted by the same picture of Annie Sullivan and Helen Keller that hangs in the Perkins museum. And it was like, I can’t escape. That amazes me, that just they’re everywhere.

Second, I went to a play a couple of years ago about Edwin Booth and his relationship with his brother, John Wilkes Booth. And at one point, the two actors playing the two Booth brothers are screaming at each other about slavery and abolition. And John Wilkes Booth says to Edwin, oh, go home to your friends in Boston, the Howes and those other idiots. And it’s like, yep, we touch everybody.

Hale: I’d like to talk a little bit about the work you do with the volunteers. Can you tell me what you enjoy most about the volunteers that work here?

Hartigan: I first volunteered myself when I was about 14. I went to the VA hospital and fed quadriplegics, people who had been injured during World War II and were in wheelchairs for the rest of their lives. And I would go in and feed them supper and help them in the hospital.

But I would also– I made the very good decision to start doing that in 1967. And I got to go to Red Sox games during the Red Sox– one of their best seasons ever, pushing wheelchairs into Fenway Park and sitting right behind home plate and watching the impossible dream season happen. That was volunteering. That was fun. And I loved it.

Here, I love supervising volunteers, because volunteers will do anything. They will work all day doing anything we ask them to do and at the end of slaving and working real hard will come over to me afterwards and say thank you for letting me do this. You can’t beat that.

I had a volunteer once. When the new Lower School was built about 10 years ago, we were having a grand opening ceremony. The governor was invited. Everybody was coming to cut the ribbon on the new Lower School.

Shortly beforehand, we realized that no one had been anywhere near this new building for a year and a half except for construction workers. And there were about 10,000 cigarette butts circling the new building. And we had volunteers in all day preparing. And I handed a trash bag to a volunteer and a pair of gloves. And I said, would you mind just picking up cigarette butts? And he did it for five hours and then thanked me for letting him do it.

Volunteers are amazing people. They will do anything. I mean, they want to work with students. When we tell them we don’t have anything to work with students, they’ll do anything we ask because they know that somehow they’re helping the students at Perkins. And I love that. I mean, they’re amazing people.

Hale: You yourself volunteer here at Perkins as well as work here.

Hartigan: I do, less and less. I do– I used to do book clubs. After I left the Lower School, I would volunteer a couple hours a week doing the book club back, because I wanted to keep the kid contact.

I take a personal day every June from the job in marketing to volunteer for a day in Lower School because the kids have been hitting me with water balloons on field day for about 25 years. And they love it. And I love it. And I’m getting old, so I’m looking for a replacement.

Hale: How has your association with Perkins influenced or affected your life?

Hartigan: You know, it is my life. I mean, you know, I’ve been here for 34 years. It’s– I had a second job for 24 years where I taught English to immigrants from around the world. And some people would say, those two jobs are nothing alike. Why are you doing the– what’s the connection? And I never saw a difference.

I mean, people who are blind are intelligent, capable, wonderful people who for a reason that they have no control over are not 100% accepted into the culture around them. They’re excluded in a lot of ways because the world sees them as different. And immigrants who don’t speak English very well are the exact same thing. They are intelligent. They’re good people who want to be part of their society. And sometimes society isn’t ready to accept them because they only see the differences.

And my job at both of my jobs for the last 34 and then 24 years is to help those people adjust and become active, contributing members of the society they’re living in. So I saw that as a very big connection. And I like doing that. I like helping people become contributing members of society.

Again, that’s what appeals to Helen Keller. I mean, a woman who is deafblind who becomes a leader in almost every social movement in the 20th century– that’s big. And all that had to happen was someone was able to give her the chance and give her the education to make that contribution. So in my tiny little bit, I’m trying to continue that story.

Hale: What do you feel have been the most important changes at Perkins since you’ve been here? So that could be philosophy, a program, a building.

Hartigan: When I started here, it was not long after the transition from School for the Blind to School for the Blind and Multi-Impaired. When I started, I had one residential student in a wheelchair. And I had one day student in a wheelchair.

All the other students were walking and talking blind students. Some of them were going to go to college. Some of them were going to go to work. But they were much higher functioning than the kids today.

Today, I mean, I went from one student in a wheelchair and two ramps going in either side of the building to every door being accessible, to new buildings being made totally to be totally accessible. That’s the big change is our population changes and Perkins changes with it and sometimes changes ahead of it. They see what’s coming down the road. And they change.

I mean, when the philosophy of education became inclusion and kids who were visually impaired were mainstreamed and went to public school, Perkins adapted so that we could accept kids that the public school wouldn’t accept, kids with more intensive disabilities and challenges and medical problems. I was the first non-nurse to give a shot on campus because we had a student who was diabetic, who needed to get shots around the clock, who didn’t have 24-hour nursing. We were going to not accept this student.

And the nurses asked me if I would be willing to give shots. And I said yeah. And we were able to accept that student. And then further down, we trained other staff to do it.

So I think the fact that every– the kids have changed. And we change with it. When cortical vision impairment became the leading cause of blindness, Perkins became a leader in CVI. We have always done that.

And I like to connect the Perkins history with the current– trying to stay ahead of the curve and see what’s coming next, because that’s what we’ve done from the very beginning– the first school for the blind in the United States, the first deafblind child, the first library, the first printing press, the first kindergarten. We have always been a leader in the field, always one step ahead of everybody else. And we continue that. And when I talk about new programs, like college success and like career launch, I connect them right back to our history.

Hale: Can you think of any important or interesting events that have occurred since you’ve been here?

Hartigan: The Hilton building foundation was exciting. President George HW Bush came to dedicate it. We all had the big ceremony. We renamed the building. The president was there.

Secret Service was here looking strangely at some of my staff. Who’s this guy? I mean, it was exciting. Anytime a president visits– he was ex-president at that time. He wasn’t in the White House. But those events are always big.

I like student events. The highlight of my year every year for about 20 years was every June, Larry Melander would lead a group of Lower School students to the Cape for a week. We would live in the Coast Guard station on Coast Guard Beach. The kids would do all the cooking and cleaning. And I saw kids who were totally dependent on staff back at home and back in the cottage suddenly flourish and come alive and be able to do things they could never do except in that strange, crazy environment.

We would go to Provincetown. And the kids would shop. They would walk the braille trail at the National Seashore that they put in because we were coming. We would swim in subzero temperatures some days, because the kids were going in the water no matter what.

One week, it rained every day for the entire week. And we were house happy and had to get out of the building. So we took about 20 blind children to the movies. And it was an Indiana Jones movie. And we had to narrate an Indiana Jones movie in the theater at the Cape, which was an amazing experience because Indiana Jones movies are very hard to describe because it’s all action.

But we survived. And the kids had a ball. And I see kids from 20 years ago who’ll ask– the first thing they ask is, do you still go to the Cape? Do you remember the day we did that? So those events are important, too.

Hale: Who have been some of the most memorable staff members that you’ve worked with?

Hartigan: Well, I’ll start with Elaine Tulis, Miss T, which all the kids– she was the first house parent I worked with. I was her assistant. Previously to working at Perkins– she had been at Perkins since 1959. Before that, she was a nanny for Robert F. Kennedy.

She would tell stories about getting a ride to the airport from the President of the United States. She talked about and we would meet Congressman Joe Kennedy. And she would whisper in my ear, “I changed his diapers.”

But she is one of the most memorable people at Perkins. Every kid talks about Miss T. She would teach the kids how to make a bed with hospital corners that you could bounce a quarter off of.

Her boss and the woman who hired me was another legend, Mary McDonough, who was this Irish woman, who before becoming the residential supervisor, the childcare supervisor, because she was both in charge of the Lower School cottages and the deafblind cottages– when she retired, it took two people to replace her. But again, they are both very memorable. The kids all idolize them both. They were tough. But they were caring.

And Larry Melander, who was the supervisor of the Lower School for 40 years, led those trips down to the Cape, who loved Perkins history and gave me my love of Perkins history, hearing his stories, hearing his stories about his travels and things like that– I love that. And then I would also say Ken Stuckey, who was the storyteller, who was the Boy Scout leader, who did all sorts of things. And again, I loved taking his tours and listening to his stories.

And those are the four most memorable characters, I think, I worked with who aren’t here anymore. If Mike Cataruzolo is listening to this, I love you, Mike. But I’m not talking about you.

Hale: It seems like a lot of Perkins community still stays in touch even after they leave. Would you say that’s–

Hartigan: Yeah, the Alumni Association –does. I’m an honorary member of the Alumni Association. I always worked the alumni weekend to give tours, to tell stories. And they asked me to join them as an honorary member. You see the same people.

Again, it’s changed a little bit. A large percentage of the Alumni Association are kids from 20, 30 years ago before the major shift to kids who are multi-impaired. It is harder for our younger alumni to get here. Some show up, but not as many as the people who graduated in the ’60s and the ’70s.

But they still keep in touch. I get phone calls from students I had 30 years ago, checking in, seeing how everybody is doing, who’s retiring, who’s still there. Perkins has always been a family. The staff felt about each other the way families feel about each other. They felt about the kids.

I still have the habit sometimes of talking about my kids. And nobody knows whether I’m talking about a Perkins student or my own children. It’s one of the habits and one of the penalties of working at a place like Perkins. You get captured. You become a member of the big family.

When people leave, they cry. And we cry. And some of them come back. So it’s a good place to work.

Money has never been wonderful. But most people don’t care. They’re not here for the money. It would nice if we got paid more and they got paid– especially the direct care staff, who do the most important work, taking care of the students. But it’s the– nobody goes into the field of education to become rich.

Hale: What would you say have been the most difficult or challenging aspects of your work?

Hartigan: I’ve had students die. One of them died in the cottage in bed. He was one of my favorite students. He was one of those kids that Larry called me the day he arrived and said, you’ve got to come down and meet this kid. And as soon as I met him, we were best friends.

And we talked about the Red Sox. He was the biggest Red Sox fan in the world. He was a kid who was a– had a challenging medical life. And he had a great year.

He was only here for a year. But everybody on campus knew him and loved him. And he went to bed one night having seen the Red Sox win. And he died in his sleep. And that’s probably one of the worst days of my life, except for when members of my own family have died. And again, it’s also one of the times when Perkins family closed in on each other and got us through a horrible day.

I’ve had other of my kids who have died over the years, none who died in the cottage while we were there. But there’s nothing worse than the death of a child. And our kids are fragile. And some of them are not expected to last as long as they do last. And hopefully Perkins has helped keep them happy until the end. But there’s nothing worse than that.

Hale: What has been the most rewarding aspects of your work?

Hartigan: OK, I’m going right back to that kid. The house parent who worked for me had to call this boy’s mother in the morning and tell her her son had died. She drove down from New Hampshire, went into her son’s bedroom, talked to the EMTs that were still there. And she came out of his bedroom a half hour later, saw me, came over to me, gave me a hug, and told me her son loved me. That’s the best thing that’s happened to me here.

Hale: OK. Can you just briefly describe a typical day?

Hartigan: Oh, there’s never a typical day at Perkins. You know, the house parents worked in the classrooms during the day. And again, because we were medically responsible for meds, you would switch shifts. So you’d do a morning one day and the night the next day.

So the mornings were pretty basic. The kids went to school. You might help in the classroom for a period, take them to the pool, take them to horseback riding or something.

After school, the cottage was responsible for setting up activities. We would have kind of a rough schedule. Monday, we would go to the gym. Tuesday was field trip. Wednesday was Boy Scouts with Mr. Stuckey. Thursday was– I forget what Thursday was, but it was something.

So we would have a basic activity. And then there was the downtime where the staff would come up with activities for the kids to do– arts and crafts, which I always hated intensely; going outside on the playground; doing other things. As I became the supervisor and the trainer, I would advise the staff to always have a choice of activities, one that might be educational and rewarding to the kids’ IEP and meet a goal or do something and one that was pure absolute nonsense and fun and mix them up and always give the kids the choice of doing one or the other so that they weren’t just going to hang out on the couch and do nothing. We always had activity plans. And we tried to balance it between the educational ones and the silliness.

One of the best nights I ever had at Perkins was usually the worst night. The nightmare that we dreaded all the time was when the cook called in sick. And we had to make supper as well as taking care of a bunch of kids.

And there was one night back in the late ’80s when the cook called out sick. And we decided to make cheeseburgers in paradise. And we used the Jimmy Buffett menu. And the kids all– we had Jimmy Buffett music blaring all night long.

The kids absolutely had a ball even though the kids– some of the kids didn’t like cheeseburgers. It was just– we made a negative into a positive and just had a lot of fun. And that’s what you try to do every day is turn the kids around, make a bad day into a good day, and maybe teach them a lot.

Hale: What do you wish more people knew about your work at Perkins?

Hartigan: My work now?

Hale: Now or in the past.

Hartigan: I wish they knew more about our kids. I mean, I think there are some people who come in and they think our kids are blind kids, that they just can’t see. I think a lot of people are surprised when they see the wheelchairs, when they see kids who have a cognitive delay, who have medical conditions.

And then I think the other side of the story is they’re also amazed at what our kids are capable of doing. I mean, those are the two things I want people to know, that we have not just blind kids. We have kids with a lot of different issues that they’re dealing with, but more importantly that they’re dealing with them, that they’re doing things every other kid in the world does, that we play sports, that the kids play video games, that they have an amazing amount of musical talent, that they’re kids, that they like what every other kid in the world likes, that they enj–

I mean, a few years ago, I was on the Diversity Council here. And we decided one year to celebrate Columbus Day by telling the other side of the story. So we contacted a local native Indian, a Native American tribe from the Cape, invited them to come to Perkins on Columbus Day and tell the other side of the story. And when they were talking to us, they said, well, do you have– you have blind kids. But you also have deaf kids, right? And we said, yeah.

And they said, well, we usually do music. We usually have music. Should we not bring the music? And I said, no, definitely bring the music. Well, what about the deaf kids?

I said, do you have drums? And they said, yeah. Bring the drums. And the kids from the deafblind department went absolutely crazy with the drums. They loved it. About the only thing the kids loved more than drumming was all the feathers.

But again, people assume, oh, deaf kids don’t like music. I love telling people how much Helen Keller loved music, that she danced ballet with Martha Graham, that she would put her hands inside a piano to feel the vibrations or on Jascha Heifetz violin or wrote a fan letter to the New York Symphony Orchestra telling them how much she enjoyed their performance of Beethoven’s Ninth Symphony on the radio. I love shattering people’s false beliefs about people with disabilities and telling them what our students are really like.

Hale: This is the last question. But is there anything else that you’d like to talk about or say?

Hartigan: I think I’ve covered it. Oh, I mean, you know, I love Perkins history. I love that we connect with everybody. Some people joke about six degrees of Kevin Hartigan, that I can connect anybody to Perkins. But that’s true.

I mean, Dr. Howe knew everybody. And Helen Keller 50 years later knew everybody. So between the two of them, they knew most of the people in the world that we connect to Henry David Thoreau, Abraham Lincoln, John Brown, Ulysses S. Grant, Charles Dickens, Lord Byron, Florence Nightingale, and Winston Churchill, Nehru, eight presidents of the United States.

I mean, it’s just– every time you turn around, you bump into another historical character who somehow is connected to Perkins or a Perkins student. And since I love history, I love that connection to be– I love name dropping big names and having people say, really? So I think that’s a big thing.

SHARE THIS ARTICLE
William and Ruth Heisler
Guide

William Heisler oral history

Leon Murphy
Guide

Leon Murphy oral history

Seated three-quarter portrait of Charles Frederick Fraser. Fraser has thick mutton-chop sideburns and wears a long coat and patterned cravat.
Article

Charles Frederick Fraser