Born in 1944, Ramona Willoughby Walhof was the second in a family of three blind children, but the word blind was never used when they were small, especially by the ophthalmologists. Nevertheless, even the large print books ordered for the children by the schools did not make reading possible. In the competitive world of the classroom the truth could not be avoided--they were blind. So they were packed up and taken more than two hundred miles away from home to enroll in the Iowa Braille and Sight Saving School.
Walhof remembers that her parents found facing this alternative easier than struggling with a public school system that could not find a way to teach three bright youngsters who could not see print. A school for the blind was better than a school that didn't educate.
Walhof remembers learning to lie about what she could see. She didn't think of it as telling falsehoods, but she says,
"It made adults happy when they thought I could see things, and at school (even though it was supposedly a school for the blind) one had privileges and responsibilities to the same degree one had usable eyesight."
During the summer following second grade Walhof commandeered her brother's Braille slate and stylus and taught herself to write Braille because the school considered her too young to learn it. She was taught to read using Braille, but she understood from the beginning that reading print (if only she could have managed to decipher it) was better.
In 1962 Ramona Willoughby graduated from high school, valedictorian of her class, but she says
"with an extremely limited education and very little experience."
Between high school and college, she took a short course of training at the Iowa Commission for the Blind Orientation and Adjustment Center. It was then that she met Kenneth Jernigan, the Commission's Director. She refused to learn much about the N.F.B. although she now says,
"The Federation had already begun to have a profound influence on my life."
She found college difficult, she says, because her academic background was so weak. Nevertheless, Walhof graduated from Georgetown University in Washington, D.C. in 1967 with a degree in Russian language.
In 1968 Ramona Willoughby married Chuck Walhof of Boise, Idaho. During the next several years she was busy. She and her husband had two children, and she taught two sessions of Headstart and one course in college Russian. She also managed two vending facilities. After the death of her husband in 1972 she returned to Des Moines, Iowa, first as a teacher and then as an assistant director at the Orientation and Adjustment Center of the Iowa Commission for the Blind.
In 1979 Walhof moved to Baltimore, Maryland, to take a position at the National Center for the Blind as the Assistant Director of the Job Opportunities for the Blind Program, operated jointly by the N.F.B. and the U.S. Department of Labor.
In 1982 she returned to Idaho to assume the position of Director of the state Commission for the Blind. Her reputation for innovative approaches and dynamic forthrightness soon reached far beyond the borders of Idaho. In 1984 the blind of the state recognized her achievements by giving her an award in public ceremonies.
Later that year she left government employment to go into private business. Today she operates extensive multi-state public relations and community outreach programs for the blind and other groups. Ramona Walhof has written widely on topics relating to blindness, including the following books: Beginning Braille for Adults, (a teaching manual); Questions Kids Ask about Blindness; A Handbook for Senior Citizens: Rights, Resources, and Responsibilities; and Technical Assistance Guide for Employers.
In 1988 Walhof became president of the National Federation of the Blind of Idaho and was also elected to membership on the Board of Directors of the National Federation of the Blind.
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