MOUNT VERNON — The Great Room in the Administration Building of the Mount Vernon Developmental Center filled up Wednesday afternoon with well-wishers who gathered to launch the facility into its second century. Ranging from local and state officials to a special guest who was a patient at the facility during its tuberculosis sanitarium days in the 1930s, guests applauded a program of reminiscences and proclamations followed by a reception.
After welcoming remarks by current MVDC superintendent Ernie Fischer, Chaplain Col. Bill Bridges, USAF (retired), offered an invocation, setting the tone for the program by illustrating its theme: “A Century of Service.”
“Today we look at the footprints of those walking alongside those who were so often forgotten,” Bridges said.
Marlene Jones, secretary of the Parents, Friends and Volunteers Association, reflected on the changes the facility has seen in recent decades. In the 1970s, Jones was one of the founders of the support organization, which was designed to do things the state couldn’t do, such as make the facility more homey by providing bedspreads, birthday parties, televisions and games. She said these touches have helped make the center a warmer place for patients and families.
Ginnie Whisman, deputy director of the Ohio Department of Mental Retardation and Developmental Disabilities, which will be dropping the term “mental retardation” from its official name in October, said the modernization of the state system has seen the mission change from one of exclusively custodial work to one of integration and abilification. She saluted all the former and current employees who were there for the program, telling them that although rarely acknowledged as such, they were a part of the civil rights movement by serving as advocates for the rights of patients.
Steve Oster, Knox County MRDD Board director and Citizens’ Advisory Council chairman, pointed out the importance of MVDC both as a home for long-term residents and as a forum helping stabilize short-term patients. He cited in particular the adult services program Willow Works, which gives residents constructive and creative outlets.
State ODMRDD director John Martin spoke from personal experience about developing a special bond with his own developmentally disabled child and the anxiety of turning a family member over to a state facility for full-time care, a difficult scene which he said has been replayed thousands of times over the center’s 100-year history.
Proclamations were presented by Mount Vernon Mayor Richard Mavis, county commissioners Teresa Bemiller and Robert Wise, and State Rep. Mary Ann Ruhl. Martin also read a proclamation sent by State Sen. Bill Harris.
Answering questions later, Martin acknowledged that state budget difficulties remain a challenge. He said it is impressive how employees handled taking a pay reduction so they could continue in their care-giving activities.
“We continue to follow a trend,” Martin said, “but we do not want to close any developmental facilities in the state of Ohio.”
He said the department will continue to support those who wish to stay in the facilities, but it will also provide slow, planned and supported ways for those who wish to live independently to reach those goals.
Previous MVDC superintendent Dennis Luna said the operation is a tremendous asset to the community, remaining one of the largest employers in the county, with a large percentage of in-county employees. He also praised the people who have staffed the center over the years.
“I’d stack them up against anyone in the private care industry,” Luna said.
Aubrey Levings and Linda Walters, two retired MVDC staffers, said that although much has changed in the last 30 to 40 years, it is important to recognize the continuing need for the center.
“There are some people who will always need this care,” Levings said, adding that Knox County also desperately needs all of the jobs and income provided by MVDC.