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Senior Profile: We 'hear' you loud and clear

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By Lupita Gonzales

A generalization holds that one learns by interacting with others -- listening, speaking, reading, but what if one cannot hear? We might conclude that being unable to use one of these modalities would result in a disability.

Not necessarily.

Take Las Vegas’ Clarence and Faye Falvey. They stress that deafness or being hard-of-hearing is not a handicap, but rather -- a difference. Both were born into hearing and speaking families.

Clarence’s older siblings are Henry, Gene, Bob and Gloria Price. Of Faye’s siblings, one older sister and two brothers, only her sister, Nida, survives, living in Clovis.

Faye says, “I forget I’m handicapped. I can do everything anyone else can, except hear.” That’s supported by research. One source states, “Although a person may have a hearing loss, this does not mean that they cannot perform many of the same activities” of hearing people.

The Falveys’ involvement may well surpass that of hearing people. For example:

• As graduates of the New Mexico School for the Deaf, both participated in many “typical activities.”

• As parents, they attended public school choir and band concerts in which their daughter performed.

• Between them, Clarence and Faye have provided almost 90 years of service through their employment in Las Vegas: she, 49 years at the Bank of Las Vegas, he, 40 years at the Las Vegas Optic; he enjoys his hobby as an upholsterer.

• They watch “regular” TV, get telephone calls, respond to the doorbell, have a dog and a cat, and participate in as well as provide leadership for a number of service organizations.

• They have been married almost 50 years and have raised their daughter, Ruby.

You may wonder how the couple shared their information with a reporter. Fortunately, the Falveys are adept at communicating with the hearing public, sometimes vocalizing, sometimes signing, sometimes writing it on paper. Ultimately, they communicate effectively.

Born in 1937, Clarence spent his early years in Las Vegas, while Faye, born in Portales, grew up in Clovis on a farm. Schooling proceeded differently for each of them, as Clarence, the youngest of five, was born deaf while Faye’s deafness resulted from a playground accident.

During Clarence and Faye’s childhood and before the development of adequate special education offerings in New Mexico public schools, parents of children with special needs had recourse only to state schools providing services to address these needs. Accordingly, Clarence and Faye were “shipped off” to be educated.

Schooling began differently for Clarence and Faye. His schooling was exclusively at the School for the Deaf in Santa Fe, beginning with primary school and ending with high school graduation. Faye attended public school in Clovis through first grade, at age 6, when she fell off a seesaw, and as a result of the trauma, complications ensued.

Before her accident, Faye’s abilities to hear and speak were fundamentally developed. However, after her accident she even had to learn to walk again and to reintegrate her other abilities in new ways. She credits her chiropractic therapist at Mineral Wells, Texas, with her being able to survive and make progress. Yet, Faye admits, she has no sense of balance when walking in a dark room. After her recovery, at NMSD, her academic skills allowed her to skip second grade and advance to third.

Clarence was deaf from birth, so he never has experienced audible, spoken language. When asked how Clarence’s current communicative abilities compare with Faye’s, she jumped right in, “I don’t think one can compare with someone,” she said, adding, “I know what it’s like to hear and talk.”

Clarence and Faye graduated NMSD, she in 1957, he in 1959. They undertook activities that complemented their studies. She played basketball, volleyball and had her own coterie of friends. She was a Girl Scout and a cheerleader; she recalls making her own uniforms. Clarence was active in Boy Scouts and basketball, and he especially enjoyed being a member of the rifle club at NMSD.

For both youngsters, there had been much to choose from — sports, arts and crafts and vocational courses, in addition to regular academics. They specifically mention printing, woodworking, shoemaking (students repaired each others’ shoes), home economics, cosmetology, bakery and typing.

After graduation, Faye went to Gallaudet University, in Washington, D.C., the flagship institution for programs for the deaf. She didn’t like being so far from home, so she returned to Clovis to attend a business college there.

Meanwhile, Clarence returned to Las Vegas in 1959, where he began his employment with the Optic, initially working with “hot type.” The type eventually turned cold, with the advent of “offset” printing, and at the same time, Clarence’s position rose, to mechanical superintendent. He retired in 1999 and now works part time at Price’s, applying his upholstery skills, which he calls his hobby.

Where and how did these two meet and when did they marry? Back at NMSD when they were 16, despite having been schoolmates for years, they struck up a relationship during a trip to the New Mexico State Fair. They went their own way, but eventually, the romantic bug struck, and they married in 1960.

Clarence says, “I had to work much harder than Faye because she’s smarter.” They smile. But Clarence continues with laudatory words about Faye: “She catches on faster; I have to take in more with my eyes.”

He adds that he has to be more observant and it is harder for him to use a computer. Faye demurs, somewhat, saying that she, too, had to be taught how to use the computer.

“I started working as a bookkeeper on posting on a big machine, then, computers. I had to learn to do things step by step.”

The discussion becomes spirited, with Clarence explaining that he had to make the transition to offset printing. He admits that if the printing machine was operating well, he could run it, but was afraid if the machinery wasn’t working right. Then he learned to use computers, but everything was advanced, and he, too, had to proceed, learning each step.

In 1967, Ruby, the couple’s only child, was born. Naturally, her parents wanted her to be able to function successfully in a hearing society, so they vocalized “mommy” and “daddy” and “immersed her into two worlds,” essentially, through radio, television and interaction with other children and adults.

Faye relates that when Ruby was little, she seemed automatically to know that her parents were deaf and she would tap people to get their attention. Ruby attended Mora Avenue Elementary, Memorial Middle and Robertson High School in 1985, graduating in 1985. She also attended Highlands University for one year.

Throughout Ruby’s schooling, her parents didn’t skip a beat. Ruby participated in band and concert choir, playing piano and the guitar. Mom and Dad attended all of her music recitals and programs, even though they couldn’t hear. Today, Ruby lives in Germany with her husband, Joe Byrd, who works for the federal government. They have a 21-year-old daughter, Hollyanne, a student of veterinary science at Central New Mexico College in Albuquerque.

This active, vibrant couple has been associated with a number of local organizations that support the efforts of the deaf and hard of hearing.

In 1975, they initiated the local chapter of the Association for the Deaf and Hearing Impaired. “And it keeps growing,” they say proudly.

Faye currently is president and has acted as secretary. Clarence was the treasurer for two years and served as president for two two-year terms. When the late Bruce King was governor, he appointed Faye to the New Mexico Commission for the Deaf. Clarence also serves in an advisory capacity on the board for the deaf of the Las Vegas Division for Vocational Rehabilitation.

Faye says she and Clarence “like to live in Las Vegas.” She enjoyed “working at the bank, the challenge, and meeting people in many walks of life. People in Las Vegas are friendly and make us feel welcome. They don’t treat us differently, and we become friends.”

Clarence, who loves fishing with his friends says, “I catch tires and sometimes the fish are in the tires, but I don’t like catfish — those whiskers.”

• • •

With the ease that hearing people pick up their phone to call a friend, Clarence and Faye go high-tech to ring up others. The couple has a TV set upon which sits a camera that allows the Falveys to “dial” a friend and chat in real time. Through the camera, they are able to see one another’s on-screen images and communicate through sign language.

Another device allows Clarence and Faye to read converted speech on a computer screen. Their phone and doorbells activate a flashing light — a slow, pulsing beat to match the rings of the telephone, and a rapid flashing to indicate the doorbell.

Modern technology has certainly helped people like Faye and Clarence to reach out to more of humanity.

But even without the bells and whistles of high-tech, there’s no doubt the couple would still thrive.