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A Compelling Story

March 31, 2011

The LHS team Jeannette, Stacy and I and Jeanne Scheets, IHS vice president of marketing, met this week with board members from Indiana Deaf Heritage Inc. at the Indiana School for the Deaf. The campus is in Indy on 42nd Street near my favorite soft pretzel place A Taste of Philly.

One of the photos tells a story that really tugged at my heart. It?s a poignant image of a girl being dropped off at the school for the first time. Most of the students lived in the dorms. The first day of school and being away from family is something we can all relate to deaf or not. The board members shared stories about Indiana School for the Deaf students growing up and being unable to communicate well with their own families and how they longed to stay in the dorms where they could converse easily.

IDH is in the process of moving the museum and refocusing exhibits in preparation for the 100th anniversary of the opening of the current Indiana School for the Deaf Alumni Hall building. (The school actually began in 1843, but the celebration will be about the centennial of the Alumni Hall building.) We talked about how exhibits can tell stories that connect to people, touching something in each of us like the photo of the girl being dropped off by her family.

Jeanne came along to interpret, but she also shared her expertise in marketing. She has a personal connection to the school. Her parents attended the school, and she remembers the reunions and playing on the grass.

Jerry Cooper, president, shared a quote that he uses to describe the school: It is the cradle of the deaf community.? Jeanne and the board members of Indiana Deaf Heritage all nodded in acknowledgment of that fact. The words struck a chord with all of us, and I wouldn?t be surprised to see that quote prominently displayed somewhere in the new exhibits.

I think history organizations can all benefit from thinking about who their audience is and how the organization can connect to their community however those are defined. I look forward to the reopening of the Indiana Deaf Heritage Museum and the compelling stories of belonging, achievement and the sense of home that they will share.

Jeff Harris is director of Local History Services. He constantly travels the state for his job, giving him the opportunity to pursue his dream of finding the perfect mashed potatoes.

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