Arnold Auch died on Sunday, Aug. 19, in Sioux Falls, S.D., at the age of 83, and his funeral was held on Aug. 24. I felt an obligation to fly almost 2,300 miles round-trip from my home in northern Virginia to Sioux Falls to pay my last respects to this truly extraordinary blind man.
Why do I feel so strongly about the passing of Arnold Auch? While I was flying to and from his funeral, a particular quotation kept passing through my mind. During the 1988 vice presidential televised debate, Sen. Lloyd Bentsen (D-Tex.) told his opponent, Sen. Dan Quayle (R-Ind.), "Jack Kennedy was a friend of mine, and Senator, you're no Jack Kennedy." In a similar vein, I can tell you that I have known very few men during my lifetime who could come close to measuring up to the high standard of character, integrity and professional success and achievement set by Arnold Auch.
I first met Mr. Auch, as I called him then, in the fall of 1955 as I was entering my third grade year and transferred into Potter Cottage at the Perkins School for the Blind. Mr. Auch and his wife, Betty, were serving as house parents to a brood of rowdy third-, fourth- and fifth-grade boys. (They had met when they were both students in Perkins School's teacher trainee program, which at that time was conducted in conjunction with Harvard University's Graduate School of Education.) Auch and I soon discovered that we had a mutual interest, politics and national affairs issues. Auch was a confirmed plains-state conservative Republican straight out of the mold of South Dakota's then long-serving Republican U.S. Senators, Carl Mundt and Francis Case. Yet he had lived through the Great Depression, and had witnessed firsthand the suffering and torment of hard- working farm families in his state who, through the bank failures of that era and the resulting foreclosures, were stripped of the land that had been in their families since territorial times. Thus, his conservative Republican values were tempered with several strands of social conscience.
I, on the other hand, was an impressionable, but budding, liberal Massachusetts Democrat. After supper, Auch would quite often come to my dorm room in the early evening, and we would listen together to Lowell Thomas' CBS radio news, commentary and editorial program. We would then talk about the pros and cons of the points made by Thomas on both sides of a particular issue. The hottest issue in Washington that year, which Thomas often discussed, was the censure resolution introduced in the Senate by Sen. Ralph Flanders (R-Vt.) against Sen. Joseph McCarthy (R-Wis.), one of the most senior, powerful and influential Republican Senate committee chairmen. This resolution set forth in copious detail Sen. McCarthy's bullying, browbeating, harassing and threatening tactics in questioning witness after witness called before McCarthy's committee. Even despite the fact that McCarthy's anti-Communist witch-hunt campaign had been going on unabated for five years, McCarthy did not lack for fierce supporters and defenders, particularly among very conservative senators such as Sen. Pat McCarran (R- Nev.). Finally, after nine months of debate, the Senate adopted the Flanders resolution in May of 1956. The senators as a body said that they could no longer tolerate McCarthy's overbearing, uncivil and haranguing tactics, and the censure resolution stripped McCarthy of his committee chairmanship, thereby ending for all intents and purposes McCarthy's Senate career.
After all the dust had settled concerning the McCarthy censure matter, Auch delighted in gently chiding me about the fact that my hero, Sen. Jack Kennedy (D-Mass.), absented himself from the vote on the censure resolution, thereby giving Kennedy plausible political cover with two adamantly opposed important constituent blocks, his Irish-Catholic and Italian-Catholic constituents who were fiercely anti-Communist and supported Sen. Joe McCarthy on the one hand, and his liberal, academically based constituents on the other hand who supported the resolution. By refusing to take a stand for the record on one of the most important national issues of that time, Auch believed that while taking a pragmatic political course, Kennedy had at best engaged in political hypocrisy, and at the worst had engaged in political cowardice.
Auch was not one for mincing his words, and he always called a spade a spade. Even with his criticism of my hero, Jack Kennedy, Arnold Auch taught me that a totally blind man could be a success as a professional, and I told myself, "If Mr. Auch can do it, I can do it too." So, Arnold Auch had become my role model and mentor.
The Auchs soon left Perkins to go back to South Dakota. Arnold gave up teaching as he successfully pursued a graduate degree in rehabilitation counseling, and then became a successful rehabilitation counselor for the agency serving the blind in South Dakota. Auch was a member of, leader in and pillar of strength for the South Dakota Association of the Blind (SDAB), the eventual South Dakota affiliate of the American Council of the Blind, for nearly 60 years. Arnold also became a prodigious fund-raiser for programs benefitting blind people through his activities as a Lion in his local club and at the state level.
Arnold and Betty Auch were also strong people of faith, but they did not wear their religion on their sleeves. They just quietly rolled up those sleeves and worked behind the scenes to help those who they found less fortunate in the Lord's flock. Although he eschewed any recognition for himself, for all that he had done for decades for individuals who are blind, Auch received ACB's George Card Award in 1996 at the Tulsa, Okla. national convention. Arnold Auch was the kind of man that you would be proud to have as your uncle, grandfather, role model, mentor, or friend. He was, indeed, my role model, mentor and friend, and I will eternally thank him for that.
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