- September 22, 2018
This award is presented to an NFB of Montana member whose life exemplifies the fact that we can live the lives we want, and that blindness is not what holds us back. This award will be given by the National Federation of the Blind of Montana at our annual state convention, but only as often as circumstances merit.
The first recipient of this award is an individual who is living his dream. He does not seek the limelight, nor does he seek special recognition for doing what everybody else is doing: getting an education, having a mortgage, having a job and a wife he loves, along with children, and grandchildren, living the American dream. He may not be rich in this world s goods, but he is rich in family, friends, and love.
This person grew up in rural Ohio, where his ancestors had lived for generations. He was the first of his family to graduate from college. A college friend, who knew he was facing gradual vision loss due to retinitis pigmentosa, referred him to Lelia Proctor, secretary of the Montana Association for the Blind, with whom he struck up a correspondence. She encouraged him to attend the summer school in Bozeman, put on by the MAB, which he did as a part time peer counselor and part time student. There he was introduced to alternative blindness techniques, including the use of the white cane. There he also was introduced to a nurse on staff, who became his future wife. As he tells it, he put aside an application to the Peace Corps and came to Bozeman to meet Lelia and just see what would happen. What happened was that his story became one of several legendary romances which blossomed at the summer school over the years.
He and his wife both worked at the summer school for several years, taking time out to visit Morocco as Peace Corps volunteers. He taught at a residential school there, and his wife worked as a specialist at a handcraft cooperative for handicapped women. They both found this profoundly enriching experience one of the highlights of their lives, learning about other people and cultures and how people with disabilities live their daily lives.
He and his wife continued to work at the annual summer school, and also edited the organization s newsletter. He eventually became the director. As computers came into daily use, the summer school added a computer class, which many of us have taken.
This person is also involved in music, and is a concert producer and a promoter of local and regional artists on his weekly radio show, Americana Backroads, on KGLT in Bozeman.
He attended his first NFB National convention in 1992, and came back all excited about NFB Newsline, which was just starting to go nationwide. In 1997, he earned a Master s degree in Orientation and Mobility from Louisiana Tech in Rustin. During that time, he would come back to Montana for board meetings and to further his commitment to the issues of the blind in the state. He became an itinerant teacher, traveling around Montana teaching orientation and mobility and other blindness skills.
Today, he spends much of his time pursuing one of his life s passions, promoting roots music. Americana Backroads continues weekly on KGLT-FM, as does the concert series in Bozeman s historic Story Mansion and other venues. He is the president of the at large chapter of the NFB of Montana. On their monthly conference calls, he helps keep members alerted to issues that are important to further the NFB mission to improve life for the blind.
And so, for his perseverance and dedication to making life better for the blind, and for living the life he wants without fanfare, apology or pretention, I am pleased and proud to present our first NFB of Montana Live The Life You Want Award to our longtime member and friend, Rik James.