Robert Bredimus Builds Typewriter for Warped Hands

Des Moines Tribune-Capital DES MOINES, IOWA, WEDNESDAY, DECEMBER 11, 1929

The Story of Ralph Manassa, Cripple, is Story of a Modern Miracle

SPEECHLESS, HE IS TAUGHT WORDS

Robert Bredimus Builds Typewriter for Warped Hands.

By PRISCILLA WAYNE.

The other day a school official of Des Moines asked a certain Des Moines mother where her boy –a grievously crippled lad—went to school. The mother said, “He goes to the Open Air school”. And where’s that?” the official asked. The mother smiled. She had to. It seemed to her exactly like hearing a policeman ask to be directed to the police station. “The Open Air school,” she said, “is located at the West High building and when the new Smouse Opportunity School for Handicapped Children is opened it will be a unit of that school.” That hit of conversation set us to thinking. It may be that other Des Moines people are also ignorant of some of the educational miracles being accomplished in this city. For the enlightenment of the people, we have decided to tell the story of Ralph Manassa. They say that miracles are of the dim and misty past and live, perhaps, only on the mouldy pages of old books. Read then, Ralph’s true story and learn a modern Miracle.

Tragic Truth.

Ralph was born some fifteen years ago, a squirming, crying, laughing baby that seemed quite normal to his young and inexperienced mother. But Ralph was still a tiny baby when mother died and the little lad came to live with his grandfather and grandmother, Mr. and Mrs. George Manassa, 620 Thirty-fourth street. Almost immediately, older, more experienced eyes could know that something was wrong with a baby who no longer wriggled in healthy joy and whose little eyes held a look that tugged at the heart. Consultation of doctors. Anxious months of waiting and then, in the end, the pitiful verdict. “The child will never walk and never talk. There is nothing we can do for him.” Years slipped by. There is the story of an anxious, loving pair of grandparents trying to make up to a hopelessly crippled- little boy all the joyous things he could never know. Out of love the first gleam of hope for Ralph’s future was born.

“I was afraid that he might want something and couldn’t make me understand,” the grandmother explained. “And so I taught him to form letters with blocks. “D-r-i-n-k. F-o-o-d.” “That seemed enough. Ralph was forever tugging at me and pointing at some object. “Teach me another word. Teach me another,” his eyes would beg. So we taught words to him, one by one. and almost before we knew it Ralph was reading a little, spending hours in his pitiful, anxious search for new words.”

Goes to School.

That, then, is Ralph’s story up to last April of this year. At that time, a new hope came into Ralph’s life. Dr. D. W. Smouse and his wife translated their love for little children into a gift that will bless humanity for years to come—the Smouse school for handicapped children became a thing of the future. To go to school—that had been Ralph’s one great hope. Teachers at the Open Air school, hearing of Ralph, decided that somehow, some way, they would get strength and time to take Ralph into school right away. Take him in a wheelchair, feed him, wait on him like a baby but give him his chance at the things other children take for granted and sometimes even grumble about accepting. From his very first minute in school Ralph learned. But get the picture. A boy in a wheelchair. A boy who could not feed himself. A boy who could not talk. A boy who could not wait on himself, who has only the partially controlled motion of one hand.

Rut the boy had eager eyes and anxious ears. At first it was pretty much of a heart break just to look at Ralph if you ask the teachers. Then inspiration came.

Help Is Found.

“There’s some way.” Jewell Cutler, head of the school said, “there MUST be some way that Ralph can express his thoughts.” Aided by other interested teachers, she wrote to various schools for handicapped children over the country. Was there such a thing as a typewriter which a grievously crippled, speechless little boy could use? There was not. The determined search led to the office of the Underwood Typewriter company here. But they had never heard of such a machine. Miss Cutler explained the necessity. “Maybe we can find a way,” the manager at the office said. “We’ll send someone up to see the hoy.” The “some one” came -Robert

Ralph Manassa at his specially built typewriter.

L. Bredimus, son of the manager of the Underwood company here. Mr. Bredimus was only a few years older than Ralph—just a grownup boy himself and I have the notion that he looked at poor little Ralph in his wheelchair and then went away to thank God in his heart for his own blessings. But he went away with a determination in his heart—to find a way for Ralph to express himself. And Robert Bredimus found the way. It took days of anxious planning. It took typewriters torn apart and put together again. It took tension on keys so loosened that a feeble, aimless touch could print the letter. And then it took a kind of shelf or bench for a crippled arm to rest upon while a probing finger struck the magic keys, one at a time.

Jewel Cutler (above), one of the teachers of the open air school, and Robert Bredimus, who built the typewriter for Ralph.

Writes His Thoughts.

But the big boy found the way for the little boy and today, in his wheelchair, Ralph pokes the keys, one by one, painfully struggling to give on paper voice to the thoughts that come flooding out of his pent-up heart.

But let Ralph’s own words tell the rest of the story: Here is a little piece written after the school and the typewriter had become blessed realities:

A Thought.

NEWS HAS JUST COME TO ME THAT I HAVE BEEN ADMITTED TO THE SCHOOL AND ON THE MORROW I SHALL ENTER. GREAT RESPONSIBILITIES LIE BEFORE ME. WHAT IF I FAIL? NOT ONLY ME BUT MY PARENTS, LEADER, AND FRIENDS WOULD BE CALLED UNTRUSTWORTHY. IF I FAIL I WILL RE RUINED FOR LIFE. NO ONE WILL WANT ME AND I WILL BE A PAUPER IN AN INSTITUTION. BUT I MUST MAKE GOOD AND I WILL. AS THE SUNLIGHT WAS SINKING, I PRAYED TO GOD TO HELP ME AS I ENTER SCHOOL AND HE HAS. (THIS IS WHAT I THOUGHT) OF THE NIGHT BEFORE I EN-TERED SCHOOL LAST APRIL.) RALPH.

And here is a Thanksgiving thought. Read it and be ashamed you who, though marvelously blessed, bad not the gratitude to be thankful for it all:

Why We Should Be Thankful.

WE SHOULD BE THANKFUL TO GOD BECAUSE HE HAS BROUGHT TO US GREAT JOY THE PAST YEARS, ESPECIALLY THIS ONE. TO ME THANKSGIVING DAY HAS A GREAT MEANING FOR I HAVE BEEN MADE VERY HAPPY THIS YEAR. I HAVE BEEN ALLOWED TO GO TO SCHOOL. I ALSO THANK HIM FOR MY PARENTS, SISTER, AND GOOD TEACHERS AND MY BUS MAN AND FRIENDS. I THINK EVERY HANDICAPPED CHILD SHOULD THANK GOD FOR THE SCHOOL WHICH DR. SMOUSE HAS PROVIDED FOR THEM. AS WE GIVE THANKS TO OUR MAKER LET US MAKE UP OUR MINDS TO BE BETTER CHILDREN IN THE COMING YEAR. RALPH.

And here’s one of simple happiness. This handicapped child gives thanks merely to be fed and to lie down and rest:

THIS IS MY FIRST DAY IN SCHOOL THAT I STAYED ALL DAY. A BOY FED ME MY DIN-NER AND THEN I LAVED DOWN FOR ABOUT AN HOUR. I LIKED IT VERY MUCH. RALPH.

And this one contains the Ten Commandments, the League of Nations and the covenant of the Peace Pact all in one sentence:

IF EVERY MAN WOULD BE FAIR AND LOVE ONE ANOTHER ER THERE WOULD BE NO MORE WARS. RALPH.

And this sentence ought to made folks willing to pay their taxes:

IF THERE WERE NO TAXES THERE WOULDN’T BE A GOVERNMENT. RALPH.

And this little tribute to George Washington and other great folks:

GEORGE WASHINGTON WAS A GOOD PRESIDENT BECAUSE HE WAS KIND BUT FIRM LIKE THE TEACHERS OF THE OPEN AIR SCHOOL. RALPH.

The miracle of this written work may he imagined when it is understood that sometimes minutes elapse before Ralph’s shaking finger can find and strike the right key for a single letter. Besides his grandfather and grandmother and his sister, who have done everything in their power to help Ralph, he wants Priscilla Wayne to tell the world in general and Supt. J. W. Studebaker specifically that the best schoolteachers in the city of Des Moines–nay, in a whole wide and shining world, made very beautiful for a little handicapped boy their loving labors, are the teachers of the Open Air school: Jewel Cutler, Mahala McCulloch. Edna M. Clarke and Gretchen L. Berkman.

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