We honor here members, friends and supporters of the American Council of the Blind who have impacted our lives in many wonderful ways. If you would like to submit a notice for this column, please include as much of the following information as possible.
Name (first, last, maiden if appropriate)
City of residence (upon passing)
State/province of residence (upon passing)
Other cities/states/countries of residence (places where other blind people may have known this person)
Date of death (day if known, month, year)
ACB affiliation (local/state/special-interest affiliates or national committees)
Deaths that occurred more than six months ago cannot be reported in this column.
Chester Pike “Chet” Avery
by Joel Snyder
Chester Pike (Spike) Avery, Jr. passed away on Sept. 8, 2022, at his home in Alexandria, Va. He was 85 years old.
Chet was a dear friend and an important contributor to the development of audio description. His quick wit and easy-going manner are qualities that I admired.
Some of you may not know that in the 1960s, Chet conceived of audio description as a formal process that could convey the visual images of theater performances to people who are blind or have low vision. I interviewed Chet for my book, “The Visual Made Verbal,” published by ACB. By the age of 17, he lost all vision due to a detached retina. He told me that he had some vision as a teenager but once he had lost all vision, he felt a sense of relief — he no longer had to “spend my life concerned about my eyes.” Still, he was “really into” movies: it was 1954 and “everyone had great voices and there was a lot more storyline than today’s films … but they’re a visual experience principally.”
In 1964, he began a grants management position at what was then the United States Office of Education. The area that managed statistical information and grants for “special education” (programs for children with disabilities) was close to his office and he proposed “audio captions” on film for blind people. Here in the Washington, D.C. area, he helped Arena Stage create an access committee to advise Arena on ways to make theater accessible. Much of the focus was then on an assistive listening system designed to boost sound for people who are hard-of-hearing. Once again Chet wondered aloud if the “audio caption” idea could be employed using the same equipment — except with an individual voicing descriptions during the pauses between lines of dialogue and critical sound elements. A fellow committee member was Margaret Rockwell, a blind woman with a PhD in Education. Margaret (later Margaret Pfanstiehl) founded The Metropolitan Washington Ear, a closed-circuit radio reading service for people who are blind or for those who don’t otherwise have access to print; Chet served on its original board of directors. The Ear went on to build the world’s first audio description service.
Chet’s “audio caption” idea became a reality, first in the performing arts. Now audio description accompanies almost all feature films produced in the United States, a wide range of television broadcasts, and increasingly in museums. Worldwide, audio description has taken root in over 70 countries.
Chet’s granddaughter, Kate, is a graduate of ACB’s ADP Audio Description Institute. She remembers loving grandpa’s copy of “The Wizard of Oz” because it had audio description!
Chet is very much missed – but his inspiration and his wise counsel remains with me. For that, I will always be grateful.
More information is available at https://www.everlywheatley.com/tributes/Chester-AveryJr.
William J. Benjamin
May 29, 1948-October 25, 2022
William Jess Benjamin, 74, died Oct. 25, 2022 at home in Tallahassee, Fla., after a lengthy battle with Parkinson’s disease and dementia.
Born May 29, 1948 in Kansas City, Kan. to George Stillman Benjamin and Marjorie Stockman Benjamin, he was the 5th of their 7 beloved children.
After losing his sight to hereditary retinitis pigmentosa at a young age, his family moved to California in order for him to receive a better education relative to his vision. He went on to study at the Emil Fries Piano Hospital and Training Center in Vancouver, Wash., where he became a piano tuner as well as a teacher of piano tuning at the school.
He attended many conventions for the blind all over the country. It was at the ACB convention in Orlando, Fla. that he met Sally Ann McEwan, whom he wed July 12, 2002 and relocated to Tallahassee later that year. He owned and operated several piano sales, repair and tuning stores through the years, his most recent being Piano Boutique in Tallahassee. A few of the professional groups William tuned for were Journey, The Eagles, Tammy Wynette, Crystal Gayle, The Pointer Sisters and Merle Haggard.
William would call people with vision “sightlings.” He performed many “sightling” jobs including digging up, leveling and re-laying the brick patio; assisted in taking care of the pool; raked and burned leaves and limbs, and building a tree house complete with stairs, railing and dumbwaiter.
William was a member of Tallahassee Heights United Methodist Church, the Piano Technicians Guild and past president of the Lions Club of Tallahassee and American Council of Blind Lions. He and Sally became residents at Cherry Laurel Retirement Community in February 2019. He always had a joke and a story; a favorite was why God invented perfume, so even a blind man could enjoy a pretty lady.
Travel was a big part of William’s life – the conventions for the blind, cruises, camping and then RV trips with family. Many thanks go to the many friends and family that have supported him and Sally during his illness.
William is survived by his wife, Sally Ann McEwan Benjamin; two brothers - Leo George Benjamin (Betty Jo), Harrodsburg, Ky.; Kenneth “Ken” Jay Benjamin (Rose), Stockton, Calif.; a sister, Violet Bernice Prendergast (John), Pueblo, Colo.; sisters-in-law Sylvia Gregory Kelley, Shirley McEwan Moore (DeVoe), all of Tallahassee, and many extended family members. He was preceded in death by his parents; his daughter, Angela “Angel” Benjamin; two brothers, Joseph “Joe” S. Benjamin, Walter Benjamin; a sister, Shirley Benjamin; his parents-in-law, Wilbur J. and Louie Dell Copeland McEwan; and sister-in-law Sharon McEwan Palmer.
In lieu of flowers, contributions may be made to Florida Council of the Blind, Lions Club of Tallahassee, THUMC or a charity of your choice.
Reprinted from “The Saratogian,” Aug. 2, 2022.
Saratoga Springs, N.Y. – On Wednesday, July 20, 2022, Fred W. Scheigert, loving husband, stepfather, friend and grandpa, passed away after a short illness at the age of 71. Fred was born April 25, 1951 to William and Charlotte (Abramson) Scheigert. He spent his early childhood in New Jersey, later moving to Florida, where he attended Florida State University. It was there he graduated with a degree in political science.
Fred had many interests outside of his family and friends, including watching Indy racing, bowling, being an active member of the Lions Club, and had a love of geography and travel, especially cruises of all lengths and destinations. It was a stop in New Zealand that brought him to one of his biggest passions: harness racing. Fred went on to own over 150 horses, and raced at nine different racetracks in five different states in just over a 20-year span. He dabbled in breeding a few mares over the years, and was known for his giant heart as an owner, even buying previous horses back to give them the retirement they deserved. He was an active donor to New Vocations Rescue and the Standardbred Retirement Foundation. He was a well-known and prominent owner at his home track in Saratoga Springs, N.Y., where he could be seen most race cards wearing his red stable jacket, cheering on his team and putting his $20 bet to win on all of his horses no matter their post.
Another of Fred’s greatest prides was his scholarship programs, where for years he has proudly awarded scholarships to visually impaired students. Kind, pure and selfless were just a few words used to describe Fred. He will be missed by many, but most of all by his loving wife Alexa Poli-Scheigert, stepdaughter Aviva Carroll, close friends Perry Pelonero and Amanda Kelley, and “granddaughters” Maci DeCarlo and Ada Pelonero.