Paul Nadeau oral history

Paul Nadeau was a student at Perkins from 1952 to 1968. He was a member of the Radio Club at Perkins and enjoyed auto mechanics. After Perkins, he worked as a shipper in a machine shop for over 30 years.

Class of 1968 graduation photo

Biographical information

Paul Nadeau attended Perkins School for the Blind from 1952 until 1968. He is photographed here, second from the left in the back row, wearing a cap and gown with his classmates on their graduation day in 1968. Nadeau enjoyed industrial arts, home economics, math, and auto mechanics as a student at Perkins. He was also a member of the Radio Club and sang in the chorus. As a member of the chorus, he sang at Helen Keller’s funeral at the National Cathedral in Washington, DC. After Perkins, he was going to go to school for a vending program, but switched his focus to factory work. He was employed as a shipper in a machine shop for 36 years. 

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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 June 11, 2004, by Kevin Hartigan. This transcript is edited to protect the privacy of the interviewee.

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 The interview may not be published in full except with the permission of the Perkins School for the Blind.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

Nadeau, Paul. “Paul Nadeau oral history interview conducted by Kevin Hartigan,” 2004-06-11, Perkins Oral History Project, AG195-2004-10, Perkins School for the Blind Archives.

Audio recording

Recording of the oral history of Paul Nadeau.


Kevin Hartigan: This is an oral history for Perkins School for the Blind. The date is June 11, 2004. The interviewer is Kevin Hartigan. The interviewee is Paul Nadeau. OK, Paul, could you state your name and spell your last name for me?

Paul Nadeau: N-A-D-E-A-U.  

Hartigan: Great. When did you first come to Perkins?

Nadeau: 1952.

Hartigan: 1952, so you were just six, a little guy.

Nadeau: Seven.

Hartigan: Seven, OK. Did you have any expectations? What did you think– before you came here, what were you thinking Perkins was going to be like? What was your first impression when you got here?

Nadeau: I was a little scared, to be honest with you, because I was only 7. I had never been away from home before in my life. So, the first couple of days, I was a little scared to be here. But then after, I loved it. I mean, the house mothers were good, the teachers were great, and I just love being here.

Hartigan: You weren’t homesick for long?

Nadeau: Nope.

Hartigan: You got settled in pretty quickly.

Nadeau: Yeah. Made a lot of friends right away.

Hartigan: Did you have favorite classes? What did you enjoy studying?

Nadeau: I liked home economics. I liked history. I liked math. I liked auto mechanics. We had an auto mechanics course, all about cars. I’m a bit of a car buff. And let me try to think quick.

Hartigan: Take your time.

Nadeau: I’m trying to think. I liked wrestling. I was a wrestler.

Hartigan: OK.

Nadeau: I was manager of the wrestling team, too, for a while. I liked the trampoline. All kind of sport things.

Hartigan: So you liked the gym?

Nadeau: Yeah, I loved the gym. And we used to have a bowling alley. I loved to bowl.

Hartigan: Right. It was still here when I started, but it’s gone now.

Nadeau: I know. I was heartbroken.

Hartigan: What about cottage life? What did you like to do in the cottage after school, for free time and activities?

Nadeau: I was– I was a go-getter, so I used to polish shoes and wash the staff’s cars. I was always a go-getter, liked to make money. But I like, you know, doing things with the guys, and then when I got into higher grades, I ran the store there in the rec room, which I absolutely loved. You got to talk to everybody, and some of the staff and teachers would come in and buy stuff off us all the time. I really enjoyed that tremendously.

Hartigan: So you’ve always been pretty social? You liked talking to other people–

Nadeau: Oh, I love people

Hartigan: –getting to know– making friends?

Nadeau: Yes.

Hartigan: Any specific teachers or staff you have fond memories of, a favorite, someone who influenced you?

Nadeau: Yeah, I had a couple of teachers that made– big changes in my life, you know, trying to help me. And I had Mr. Calvin Canard, who was my history teacher. Which I wasn’t really into history, but he made it so interesting that I went from C’s all the way to straight A’s at the end of the year. I loved his course. He was a fantastic teacher, because he was a sea captain and he traveled all around the world before he came to Perkins to become a teacher. And he was a man who could tell you many, many stories, and he was so fascinating. I would stay after class and just talk to him, because I loved listening to the different things that he would talk about, traveling all over the world. I thought it was very educational.

Hartigan: So he made a class you didn’t like into a class you did like.

Nadeau: Exactly.

Hartigan: That’s great. Any– you mentioned wrestling. How about other clubs or hobbies that you had while you were here?

Nadeau: I was in the radio club. We used to have an amateur ham radio club. I was in that.

Hartigan: Mm-hmm.

Nadeau: Mr. Vargas, Paul Vargas, ran that. I liked that. That was good.

Hartigan: Any specific memories of that? Were you able to contact anyone pretty far away?

Nadeau: Well, I never actually got my license, because I had trouble with the Morse code. I could send it and everything, but to receive it, I had problems listening. But now you don’t have to do that anymore. I used to listen and talk to other people. Some of my friends that had their license used to let me talk to other people all over the country and everything, which I loved. I don’t think they have the radio club here anymore.

Hartigan: I don’t think so, no. I think it’s–

Nadeau:  That’s too bad.

Hartigan: –it’s been gone.

Nadeau:  That was a wonderful thing.

Hartigan: OK. Let’s see. How about any big, historical event that happened while you’re here? You remember anything big in the world that affected Perkins?

Nadeau: Well, we had the special thing in Washington for Helen Keller. We sang. And I was in the Glee Club, Mr. Vargas’s chorus.

Hartigan: When was that?

Nadeau: I think it was around 1966 or somewhere around there. It was for the Helen Keller anniversary. It was very nice. It’s something I never forgot. And that’s the same church that the President was just–

Hartigan: So it was for her funeral or–

Nadeau: No, I think it was– I think it was her 100th birthday or something. I don’t know. Just some special–

Hartigan: OK. I know she died in ’68, so was it around then? I mean, was– it was after she died?

Nadeau: That was the year I graduated, ’68.

Hartigan: OK. So this was before she died, or after? Do you know?

Nadeau: I’m not sure. It might have been– maybe it was– yeah, maybe it was when she died, then. It must have been that. That had to be what it was then.

Hartigan: OK, so you probably went down– because she’s buried in the National Cathedral, so it might have been that you went and sang at the funeral.

Nadeau: Yeah that had– it had to be that year, then. OK. Because I remember going. I’m just not sure about the year.

Hartigan: Mm-hmm. If you were a teacher and Perkins was the student, what marks do you give Perkins? What grade would you give us, as far as how they did teaching you, preparing for life? Does Perkins get me an A, a B, D, C? What do you think?

Nadeau: I give them a B.

Hartigan: A “B”?

Nadeau: Yeah.

Hartigan: Some of the things you learned at Perkins ended up helping you in your later life? I mean–

Nadeau: Oh, yeah, definitely. The only problem I had that was holding me back when I was at Perkins is I had problems reading to myself, like doing your homework and reading. And my grades weren’t that good in the early– like, in the sixth, seventh, eighth grade years. And then all of a sudden, Perkins had a volunteer reading service, where people would come and volunteer, and you could get something like one night a week, two or three or four nights a week, whatever you wanted. Well I tried it out, and my grades all went from, like, C’s and D’s to A’s. Because if somebody reads to me, I can memorize it, and then take a test and get an A on it. And I still have readers even now. I mean, I can read myself, Braille and everything, but I can’t– I have to read it two or three times to comprehend it. But if someone else reads it to me, I remember it real well.

So the readers really helped me, and I made the honor roll the last couple of years being at Perkins. So that was the best thing they ever did was have the volunteer readers. It helped me tremendously.

Hartigan: And they didn’t have those before?

Nadeau: No, when I was here, they had just started it. And I don’t know if they still have it now or not, but when I was in like the seventh or eighth grade, they would– that was the first year Mr. Goss had started it. And it went over really well. I mean, people were taking advantage of it. I mean, I started with just once a week, and then the classes that I was having problems with, my grades went up so well. Then I started two nights a week, three nights a week and then I had a reader four nights a week. So that was the best thing that Perkins really helped me with. They really helped me with a big problem.

Hartigan: Good. A lot of people I’ve talked to have talked about musical events, concerts, and the chorus, and things like that. Do you have any memories–

Nadeau: I have a lot of memories, yeah. I loved the chorus. I have a lot of the tapes from years back, I recorded a lot of the stuff that we did. And I was in– we did many Christmas concerts, and I still think of it all the time, especially when it comes to the holidays. Christmas is the best time to be at Perkins. It was really a wonderful, wonderful time, and I really, really enjoyed it.

Hartigan: You mentioned the Helen Keller thing. Any other big concerts you remember, special events that you participated in? Aside from the Christmas concert.

Nadeau: The Christmas concert, we did that. The Helen Keller thing. That’s about the only ones I remember for that part, for the music part of it. I took piano lessons for a while, too, from Mr. Santos and Miss Trytko

Hartigan: Miss Trytko is still here.

Nadeau: Yeah, she’s still here. I saw her last year. Wonderful person.

Hartigan: She is. Do you stay in touch with your classmates or teachers, or?

Nadeau: Some of them, three or four of them, I do. But a lot of them, they’ve disappeared. We don’t know where most of them all ended up. Nobody knows, which is very sad. There’s only, like, three or four of us that have actually kept in touch. You know, you lose track of people or they move. I’ve moved myself a couple of times since I got married.

Hartigan: Today’s graduation day at Perkins. So, if you got to address the class of 2004, do you have any advice you’d give them? What would you say to the kids who are graduating today, and leaving Perkins?

Nadeau: Just try to set a goal and try to do it. That’s what I did. You set goals in life and try to accomplish that. One of my big goals was to buy a house, and one of the guidance counselors at Perkins was telling me that I had my hopes too high, because most blind people can’t afford to buy a house and it’s a dream that will never happen. But I’m a doer not a sayer, so I told him he was dead wrong. And he said no, I don’t think so, Paul. Statistics prove it. Well, I own a house, which is–

Hartigan: I hope the day you bought it, you invited him to dinner.

Nadeau: No, I didn’t, but I should have. He’s dead. He passed away now. But I paid off my mortgage last year, and my house is free and clear.

Hartigan: Well, congratulations.

Nadeau: Thank you very much.

Hartigan: Talk a little bit more about what you did after Perkins.

Nadeau: Well, I was going to go to school for a vending program, but then at the last minute I changed my mind, and I decided to just get into factory work, because I was always very good with my hands and everything. I should have been a salesman, and I shouldn’t went to school and took my business management, because I love working with the public, selling and stuff. But I ended up getting a job in the machine shop. Which I wanted to run a machine because they taught me in industrial arts– which I loved– how to work with all kinds of machinery. And that’s really what I wanted to do, like the lathe and things like that, which I loved. But they said because of the insurance, they couldn’t let me do it, even though I had the certificate to prove it and all the training behind me.

Hartigan: Because of your vision?

Nadeau: Because of my vision. They said in case of an accident, the insurance would give the company a hard time. So they hired me as a shipper, and I love my job. I’ve been there 36 years. And I did leave once for a while. I went to Florida, but then I couldn’t find a job out there. I work for two weeks at one company, a potato chip company, but then let me go, because they were afraid I was going to get hurt. I was loading tractor trailers. And so I called my old boss back and I asked him if I could get my job back, and he hired me back. When I first started, there was eight of us in the shipping room. I’m the only one left now. So, I guess I like the job.

Hartigan: All right. That’s it on my list. So the last question is, what did I not ask you? What would you like to tell everybody about your years at Perkins, and, you know, what you remember, the good, the bad, or anything I didn’t ask you about you’d like to talk about?

Nadeau: Sure. I loved Perkins and I always will. This was my first home. And, I mean, I was here since I was seven till I was 22. And when I come back to visit, it just brings back all my happy memories and all the fun years I had here. If it wasn’t for Perkins, I don’t know what I would do or where I would be, because it really helped me tremendously. And it gave me the drive to push to get what I wanted.

When people say you can’t do it, that makes you want to do it even more. A few people told me I had too high of hopes. Like, I told one of my teachers that three years after I left Perkins, my dream was to own a Cadillac, and I did. I brought it back and showed everybody and they couldn’t believe it. I brought a two-year-old Cadillac. I worked darn hard. I used to work 65-70 hours a week. But I got it, I paid for it in two years, and it was mine, and I kept it for 8 and 1/2 years. Then I bought another one.

It’s great. You know, the school really gave me the drive, because they told us, you can do anything you want to do if you set your mind to it. And the teachers and my mother told me that. My mother said, even if– you never say no until you try. If you can’t do it, then you can’t do it, but try first. And some of my teachers told me that, some of my industrial arts teachers, and math teacher, and Mr. Canard told me that.

Hartigan: So even though there were a couple who said your dreams were too big, most people here at Perkins encouraged you to–

Nadeau: To do it.

Hartigan: –to do it.

Nadeau: It was just the social workers. I didn’t care for the social workers much at Perkins here, but other that that, the school with great. People– you know, the teachers made the school, and they gave us the drive to go on. They have wonderful teachers here. Most everybody that teaches here is dedicated to the school and they want to help students. I think it’s great.

Hartigan: Good. Anything else you want to say?

Nadeau: Well, I’ve been married 19 years, and I have two beautiful children, which I was an only child and I always wanted to have kids. I have a 7-year-old daughter, her name is Sarah Renee, and my son is Joseph Paul, he’s five years old. God’s been good to me. I have a wonderful wife. She’s a sighted person. I met her at work, and we’ve been married 19 years, and we went together almost six years before we get married. We have a great relationship.

And God’s been good to me all my life. I’ve been very, very lucky compared to a lot of my friends. And I’m just happy that I was able to work, because if I couldn’t work, I would’ve been really depressed, I think. But the education at Perkins really helped me.

Hartigan: Well, thank you.

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