Terry (Melanson) Dufault (1927-2011), was a student at Perkins from 1939 to 1945. She was involved in the National Federation of the Blind (NFB) for 40 years, serving as treasurer of the New Hampshire chapter and president of the Tri-County Chapter.
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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 11, 2004, by Kevin Hartigan. The audio and transcript provided have 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 The interview may not be published in full except with the permission of the Perkins School for the Blind.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].
Dufault, Terry Melanson. “Terry Melanson Dufault oral history interview conducted by Kevin Hartigan,” 2004-06-11, Perkins Archives Oral History Project, AG195-2004-07, Perkins School for the Blind Archives.
Kevin Hartigan: This is an oral history for Perkins School for the Blind. It’s June 11th, 2004. The interviewer is Kevin Hartigan. The interviewee is Terry Dufault. OK, could you state your name and spell it for me?
Terry Dufault: T E R R Y, D U F A U L T.
Hartigan: And where were you born?
Dufault: Leominster, Mass.
Hartigan: What were your expectations of Perkins before you came here? And what were you thinking when you first walked in the door at Perkins?
Dufault: I don’t believe I had that many expectations. I just was interested in meeting new people that had the same problems that I had.
Hartigan: How old were you when you came?
Hartigan: 12, OK. Had you been–l were you in public school before you came here?
Dufault: I was in Catholic school for a time, but it was very difficult. Because they didn’t have the time to help us to take us individually, and let us know that things could have been understood better. So, I didn’t go back to school after about two years at the Catholic school, and then I moved back to Worcester. And I left in 1939 for Perkins.
Hartigan: OK, what classes did you enjoy at Perkins? What were your favorite classes?
Dufault: Well, I enjoyed math. I was a bad speller. And I liked science, and English, and history.
Hartigan: Great. This can be a class, or it can be something else. What was the thing at Perkins that made you happiest? What was your greatest joy here?
Dufault: Well, I felt socializing. I was a very shy person. So I really needed to come out of my shell, and meet somebody that I felt I could relate to.
Hartigan: What was cottage life like in the cottages?
Dufault: I thought it was very nice. It was different because I was one of the younger children in my family. And we were quite a large family, and they had their own lives. But I felt Perkins had special interests for us. I was very content with being at Perkins.
Hartigan: Did you have any favorite hobbies or any clubs you belonged to while you were here?
Dufault: I was a Girl Scout, yes.
Hartigan: Tell me a little bit about Girl Scouts. What were some of the things you did?
Dufault: Oh, I remember, one time, we went overnight. And I can’t remember where it was, but we had brought our stuff to stay away for the night. And we met probably a few of the older girls that were in the area that were scouts. I don’t remember too fully how clear to me. That isn’t coming quite sometime now.
Hartigan: Yeah, sure. Any favorite teachers or staff that you remember fondly, who had an influence on you?
Dufault: Yes, I did. I had a teacher that was visually impaired. Her name– do you want names?
Dufault: Ruth Erikson, at the time. She’s married been now, and I saw her a few years ago at a convention in New Orleans. And I was very surprised that we met unexpectedly.
Hartigan: Small world.
Hartigan: What did you like about her? I mean–
Dufault: She was very– well, she was approximately the age of one of my sisters. And she was a very, very youn– well, she was wasn’t that old. She had a very, very young ideas, and I felt that she couldn’t handle the younger people. Because she was quite young herself, and she seemed to be always looking for something special for us to find interest in.
Hartigan: Can you think of any of the things that clicked? I mean, specific things that she did that were interesting to you that you enjoyed.
Dufault: Oh, well, this was during the war, and she got us together with our class. And we made a spot for the guidance.
Hartigan: Mhmm, victory gardens.
Dufault: Yes, the victory gardens. And I thought that was very nice, because we’re doing something to keep our country going.
Hartigan: Well, actually, that’s going to fit into my next question, which is, was there any big historical event that happened during your time at Perkins? Would that be the war?
Dufault: That was, but I was staying at Perkins when President Roosevelt died.
Dufault: And it was very, very touching, because we felt that was a very sad time where he wasn’t well. And he really had done the best that he could, and I felt that he deserved all the recognition that he had.
Hartigan: Well, that’s one of those events in history everybody remembers how they heard, so how did you hear about the death of FDR?
Dufault: Well, we heard on the radio. It did come out that it was, and I can remember like the day of his funeral. Because I don’t believe there was any classes, and we were all walking around down to by the back gate. And we would walk, and we would discuss how our feelings about his passing.
Hartigan: Was there a memorial service on campus or anything that you remember?
Dufault: I don’t remember that. I can’t say.
Hartigan: That’s funny that we’re talking about that, and today, Ronald Reagan was buried.
Hartigan: It ties in. If you were a teacher, and you got to grade Perkins, what grade would you give Perkins? Is it an A, a B, or something lower, D or F? How good a job did they do?
Dufault: Well, I think they did a very good job. They were very strict with us growing up, I thought, which made it very, very good for the people that really needed to have guidance. And I never felt that being too strict was inconvenient. I thought it was good that they could keep track of what was happening, and making sure that people were safe.
Hartigan: Right. What did you do after you left Perkins?
Dufault: I left, because my mother was ill and not feeling well. And my father used to work nights, so my father felt that he would feel more comfortable knowing that I could be around. And I did leave school in ’45.
Hartigan: ’45, and then later?
Dufault: Then I got work with a Jewish family, a very lovely family. They had a young son, and I stayed with them for four years living in and being just around. Because they love the wife would go out during the day, and visit our friends, and do whatever shopping. She always had the feeling that she wanted to have him to be safe.
Hartigan: So you stayed with him?
Dufault: I stayed, yes.
Hartigan: The little boy. OK, today was graduation at Perkins. If you got a chance to talk to the graduating class of 2004? Any advice you’d give them?
Dufault: I’m not too much on the advice. Well, for them to make sure that they do study and get as much education as possible. Because it’s going to take them a long way through life. The more they get to know, the better it’s going to be for them. Other thing that, I can’t think of anything.
Hartigan: A lot of the other people I’ve talked to have talked a little bit about music at Perkins, and concerts, and things like that. Do you have any memories of special events or concerts?
Dufault: Yes. Oh, yes.
Hartigan: Were you musical?
Dufault: Well, I took lessons. I would never call myself a musician, but I do have sort of an ear for music. I’m from a family of– my brothers and one of my sisters played instruments by ear. So we do have music tendencies, and I forgot the rest.
Hartigan: Any special memories at Perkins around concerts or–
Dufault: Yes. Well, I would sing at the concerts. Well, we used to put on plays, which was very good for our self-esteem.
Hartigan: Do you remember any specific plays that you were in?
Dufault: Yes, it was in the lower school, and I was– Oh, dear. The one that’s at Thomas Edison. I was his mother.
Hartigan: You were Thomas Edison’s mother.
Dufault: I was his mother. Oh, yes, and she was the teacher that I spoke about earlier that–
Hartigan: That put on the play.
Dufault: –that put on the play. And we really truly enjoyed it. I thought that was one of my best attempts.
Hartigan: Great. Those are my questions. The last question I promised everybody is, what didn’t I ask that you’d like to tell me about your memories at Perkins? Any the other things, you know, I didn’t specifically ask about that you’d like to tell us about?
Dufault: Oh, well, dancing definitely. I love to dance to this day.
Hartigan: And did they have dancers here pretty regularly?
Dufault: We had dances twice a week.
Hartigan: Twice a week.
Dufault: On Tuesdays and Fridays, I believe.
Hartigan: And they’d be in Dwight Hall?
Dufault: Yes, it was, and we used to mingle with different ones. And she’d teach us new styles of dancing, so that we would get to learn how to socialize and be active in a social environment.
Hartigan: Anything else, or–
Dufault: I really can’t think. I think I hit on pretty much the highlights.
Hartigan: That’s great. Thank you very much.