Robert Branco came to Perkins School for the Blind in 1969 and graduated in 1977. While at Perkins he was a member of the Radio Club, the Drama Club, and the chorus. He went on to earn an Associate’s degree in Business Administration from Bristol Community College and a Bachelor’s degree in Finance at Southeastern Massachusetts University (now the University of Massachusetts – Dartmouth). He has authored four books: two books of essays (2014 and 2017), As I See It: From a Blind Man’s Perspective (2013), and My Home Away from Home: Life at Perkins School for the Blind (2013).
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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 12, 2004, by Susan Summersby. This transcript has been 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 The interview may not be published in full except with the permission of the Perkins School for the Blind.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].
Branco, Robert. “Robert Branco oral history interview conducted by Susan Summersby,” 2004-06-12, Perkins Archives Oral History Project, AG195-2004-3, Perkins School for the Blind Archives.
Robert Branco: My name is Bob Branco. I graduated from Perkins School in 1977. I was here from 1969 until graduation.
Susan Summersby: And this is Susan Summersby, the interviewer, and this is Alumni Weekend, June 12, 2004. And Bob, If I could ask you to spell your last name, please.
Robert Branco: B-R-A-N-C-0.
Summersby: Terrific. Thank you. When you first came to Perkins, you were how old?
Branco: I was 12.
Summersby: When you heard you were coming to Perkins, what were your expectations before you got here?
Branco: I was a little bit scared and nervous about coming to Perkins. I had never been away from home before and I was always in the local public school system in what they used to call Sight Saving classes. I had learned that there was nothing more that could be done for me academically in New Bedford, given my eyesight problem, so I was recommended to Perkins School. I didn’t know what to expect. I heard a lot of stories about how you lived in a cottage and you had housemothers and housefathers look after you and of course, the school part, you went to school on campus and all that and I was a little apprehensive and a little nervous about coming here. It was a new and challenging experience for me.
Summersby: Looking back, what do you value most about your time here at Perkins?
Branco: I think the two things that I value the most about my stay here at Perkins were the education part, I think I received a very good education here, and I made a lot of good friends. I really value that part of it a great deal.
Summersby: What classes prepared you for your life after you left Perkins?
Branco: Well, that’s a good thing. I would like to think that I applied some knowledge from all of my classes into my life situations.
Summersby: Could you talk about your cottage life, what went on, what happened after school hours and free time activities?
Branco: Through all of the eight years?
Summersby: Sure, or whatever you think stands out.
Branco: Well, basically, I was only in fifth grade and I spent fifth and sixth grades in the lower school and of course, being in the lower school meant you were in a more strict and rigid environment than you were in the upper school. So, after school, we would play a little bit and have supper at 5:30 sharp, then there would be a study hall period from 6:00 to 6:30 in the cottage and everybody would get together and study quietly. Then, you would play for a little bit then it would be bedtime. Bedtime for most of the boys was 8:00 and if you earned the privilege by being good or mature, you were granted an extra half hour and bedtime would be 8:30. A lot of the older boys in the sixth grade got that privilege. In the morning, it was get up, make your bed, dress up, wash up, wait for bed inspection – the housemother would come in and inspect your bed to make sure you made it properly – have breakfast, again study for a little while, then maybe play for a few minutes, and then go to school. That was pretty much the extent of cottage life in the fifth and sixth grades when I was there.
Summersby: When you were in the older grades, were there clubs and hobbies and things for after school?
Branco: I joined several. I joined the Drama club, I joined the Hand Bells ensemble, I joined the Radio Club for a while, and of course, my class always had monthly meetings because we always had class projects to raise money for things, so I was involved with that as well. Of course, the chorus, even though that is part of the everyday schedule, a lot of the rehearsals for concerts were in the evenings.
Summersby: it’s the first I have heard about the Radio Club. I didn’t know about that. Can you talk about that?
Branco: Well, there were about seven or eight people involved. It was basically designed for people who were very interested in ham radio and CB radio and they wanted to learn Morse Code and so, Mr. Paul Bauguss who happened to be the Chorus director at the time, ran the Radio club because he was interested in that and he got a few people together. I learned quite a lot of things then, so much so that although I put it aside for many, many years, I finally revisited it again and last year, I received my very first license as a ham radio operator.
Summersby: That’s nice. About holidays, were there any holidays that stuck out while you were here at Perkins?
Branco: I didn’t spend my holidays at Perkins, obviously. As it was, I commuted every weekend. I left here Fridays, went home to New Bedford, and came back here on Sunday afternoon. It wasn’t that difficult for me to go home on weekends, therefore, when there was a holiday, I was not here. I really couldn’t expound on what holiday life at Perkins was all about.
Summersby: Were there any particular teachers or staff that had the greatest influence on you during your time here?
Branco: Yes, several of them. Particularly in the upper school, if I could mention who they were, Sally Stuckey, I thought was one of the greatest teachers that I ever had. She commanded respect and she didn’t command it forcefully, but you knew that you had to respect her because you couldn’t help but respect her. I was in several of her classes. I had science with her; I had algebra with her; I had trigonometry with her; and she was just very exciting in the way she taught everyone. The method was very good. Then, Mr. Ackerman for English, was pretty much the same way. He made you really enjoy what he was teaching you. Of course, he led the Drama club and I was in that for four years. I really got involved in a lot of the productions and we were involved in a lot of those plays that we had.
Summersby: If you had to put a grade to your educational experience, if you had to grade your educational experience at Perkins, what grade would you give to Perkins and why?
Branco: An A because probably, you got a lot of hands-on education. The classes weren’t that large, not that they had to be small for me to think that I got an A – grading the education as an A, but it was just the class size was small and you got a lot of individual attention. Things were presented in_a manner that we would understand. I am not just talking about the academic part, too, I am talking about the elective subjects, too.
Summersby: What kind of elective subjects were there?
Branco: Well, there was piano; there was the industrial arts; there was the chorus; crafts classes; gym classes;– I am trying to think as I speak about some of the other ones, but that’s a good example right there.
Summersby: Have you stayed in touch with any of the teachers you had or other classmates over the years?
Branco: As a matter of fact, not only am I now attending the Alumni activities, but I phoned my own group of old friends and we get together twice a year. I run the reunions and I run picnics here. In fact, in August, I am having my third annual picnic with some old friends from Perkins on the pond. Mr. (inaudible) said I could do it. Then, every May, now for about five years, I have had other reunions at restaurants and we would have dinners, annual dinners. This year, we had it at Verona’s, last year, it was at a restaurant in Boston.
Summersby: Are these classmates?
Branco: Not necessarily. though, from the 60’s People are people who overlaps. It’s a lot there with them. Different classes and pretty much my era, right through the 80’s and early 90’s. know people, who know people and it of fun to do and plan and actually be
Summersby: If you had an opportunity to speak to this year’s graduating class from Perkins, what advice or wisdom that you might pass on to them as they step out into the world?
Branco: Give it all you’ve got because sometimes, it’s a tough world out there and as a blind person, you really have to sell yourself almost twice as hard than if you weren’t. It’s just the way society is.
Summersby: What did you do when you left Perkins?
Branco: I took a year off and then, I attended junior college for two years and then, I attended regular college and finished my credits. I received a Bachelor’s Degree. Then, I went on and found a few jobs here and there. I work now, fortunately.
Summersby: What do you do now?
Branco: I work for a car dealership. I order the car parts and answer the phone and things like that.
Summersby: Do you think Perkins had an impact on your future educational career and getting your job?
Branco: I don’t think so because in between, I went to college, so I think college would have been a bigger influence. Had I not gone, then Perkins might have been a little more responsible for my future, but where I did go to college where I took that middle step from high school to the job market, I would say that most of the influence came from college. They taught you how to write resumes and things like that, and it was the first time that I was actually mainstreamed with sighted people, in college. From grade one through twelve, I was never with a fully-sighted classmate because grade one through five, I was in sight-saving class, and then five through twelve, it was Perkins. So, I really was never with anyone fully sighted.
Summersby: What was that adjustment like?
Branco: I was pretty shy at first but I got over it quickly.
Summersby: I guess to wrap it up, if there anything that we haven’t talked about that you would like to share about your experiences here at Perkins, any particular memory or activity that you did that stands out?
Branco: I am trying to think of one highlight.
Summersby: Any special memory that you had, one thing that just comes to mind when you think about Perkins, some special day that you might have had here?
Branco: No, I guess there were so many that to just pick one out of the hat would be very hard to do. I spent eight years here, so naturally, I collected a lot of knowledge about the school.
Summersby: I want to thank you very much for your time in contributing to the Perkins Oral History project and taking time out from your…
Branco: I do have something I want to say. One of the things that I noticed during my stay at Perkins was the development and sort of the liberation, as it may be, toward the opposite sexes being together. When I first came here, it was almost a crime to kiss; you got caught, you were suspended, pretty much. Later on, when there was a new director, he started allowing cottage dating and then of course, he allowed the co-ed, cottages, males and females living in the same cottage. That was totally unheard of when I was in lower school, but by the time I graduated, half of the campus was loaded with-co-ed cottages.
Summersby: So, you experienced a significant change in the way Perkins was run while you were here.
Branco: I was right in the middle of the change.
Summersby: That’s a great thing to add and document because, earlier, we were listening to folks talking about how separate the boys’ and the girls’ closes were complete– the boys’ and girls’ closes were completely separate and even during dances, they would not get together; for the girls’ dances, they would bring boys from other places and vice versa and to hear you being here when it started to really merge, the boys and the girls doing more things together.
Branco: I think it was a good thing. The reason why I say that is because you have to trust the blind as much you would be trusting everybody else. I am sure that in other schools, they weren’t segregated like Perkins was. In public schools, you are not segregated and in other religious schools, even, you were not probably not segregated as much. You got to have to trust everybody to do the right things and it’s also a learning experience. How does a boy learn if he is totally segregated from a girl? How does a girl learn if she is totally segregated from a boy?
Summersby: So, you were here during a very significant change in the way Perkins ran. I am glad that you remembered that, to add that to this. Now, in the classes, were you also segregated?
Summersby: The classes were co-ed.
Branco: At least all the years I was there. We all went to school together. Like I said, the dormitories were strictly all-male, all-female.
Summersby: Thank you very much. It’s been a pleasure to meet you and to hear some of your history and recollections of your time here at Perkins.