AN ORGANIZATION IS BORN by Frank Kells
Most of you have heard the name of John Vanlandingham, a prominent Phoenix attorney, who also served in the State Legislature and as a Superior Court judge. He also happened to be totally blind. But did you know that he was the founder of the Arizona Council of the Blind? John has since passed away, but the birth of AzCB is a fascinating story. Let me summarize it for you as I remember it.
I first met John when I came to Arizona in 1964 as Director of the Phoenix Center for the Blind. He had been appointed to the Superior Court bench by then Governor Sam Goddard and needed his judge's manual transcribed into Braille. Fortunately, I was able to get this done, thanks to a friend of mine back in New York where I had worked for several years. Then in 1970, two blind participants at the Center for the Blind, the late Bert and Halene Stone, attended the annual convention of the American Council of the Blind, where they met Reese Robrahn, a blind attorney from Kansas. He asked if they knew an old buddy of his from the Kansas School for the Blind named John Vanlandingham. Of course they knew John, and Robrahn made them promise to deliver a message: "Tell John that his old schoolmate Reese wants him to start a state Chapter of the ACB in Arizona!"
They delivered the message, and John, characteristically, wasted no time in getting started. Until then, John had had little contact with the so-called "organized blind movement", but Bert and Harlene helped him utilize the long established Maricopa Club of the Blind as a starting point for expansion statewide. His contacts from earlier days proved very helpful in this regard, and in 1971 they were able to organize a state affiliate of the ACB, to be known as the Arizona Council of the Blind. We celebrated our 36th anniversary at our State Convention in May, 2007.
Not being satisfied with this major accomplishment, however, the following year John used his knowledge as an attorney to establish the AzCB Federal Credit Union to meet an urgent need among many blind Arizonans to obtain small loans they could not get anywhere else. Then a couple of years later, John was made aware of another unmet need - many employable, homebound blind persons, who wanted to work, but had no way of getting to a job. With the help of the State agency for the blind, to bring together several necessary components, he was able to establish the AzCB Home Industries program taking raw materials to blind persons in their homes and picking up the finished products. This enterprise has since been taken over by Cactus Industries, who were better able to handle the increasingly complex challenges in this type of community service.
Now, as you probably know, the AzCB Credit Union has found it necessary to merge with First Credit Union, due to the impossibility of meeting new federal requirements occasioned by the so-called "war on terrorism". So the truly remaining organization of the three founded by John Vanlandingham is the AzCB itself, but his legacy to the blind of Arizona speaks for itself as a testimony to him. On behalf of all blind Arizonans, past. present, and future, may I say simply, "Thank you, John!"