NFSD Grand Opening


Meredith Peruzzi: If I could have everyone’s attention, please. If everyone could please take their seats. Hello, everyone out there. If you could just take a moment to find your seats, please. Good morning, everyone. Welcome to one of the early events on the Friday of homecoming. I’m not entirely sure I can become taller. I see some requests from the back of the room. Unfortunately, we do not have any podiums for me to stand on. If you would like for me to stand on the stage, but I’m not sure that that’s going to work so that everyone can see me. Let me start again.

Welcome! This is our fall exhibit for 2017. We have been working on this for over a year now. Originally, the Frank B. Sullivan Memorial Foundation met as a board and decided they wanted to sponsor an exhibit here in the museum. And they did that in conjunction with the National Fraternal Society of the Deaf; which became a national effort for deaf entrepreneurship. And so over the last year, or maybe even longer, we have worked tirelessly to get these exhibits produced so they could be put on display.

We are adding two new functions. We will have an iPad for a digital interactive display. And we have the original cases from 1875 that were used in the President’s office. They will now become a part of the museum and because our museum is currently full, we have them sitting off in the hallway in order to be able to find a place for them. They will be brought in for tomorrow for the eventually for people to be able to view. I am very thrilled to announce and introduce Daphne Cox who is the current President of the Frank B. Sullivan memorial foundation.

Daphne Cox: Meredith, where did you go? Thank you. I want to thank you so much. Thank you for that lovely and warm welcome. So the Frank B. Sullivan Memorial foundation and myself, we are thrilled to be here today in this very historic moment for this unveiling of this exhibit. It is hard for me to stand with you here today because it’s actually become reality today.

I want to tell you a little bit about Frank B. Sullivan, he was a proud member of the class of 1941. He was alumni representative of Gallaudet’s Board of Trustees from 1965 to 1989. He worked in the National Fraternal Society of the Deaf in Chicago, Illinois. First as a clerk for three years, then became an assistant grant writer and treasurer for nine years, then he moved up to the grant secretary for a number of years and eventually became the President of that society in 1967 to 1984, for 17 years.

His leadership and entrepreneurship and his vision for business was recognized as outstanding at that time. This foundation is incredibly important for deaf history. It was founded in 1901, with the goal to fraternal life insurance to deaf people at affordable prices. In the past, hearing insurance companies would sell insurance to deaf people, but would consider them at higher risk. NFSD focused on members through fraternalism in different divisions across the United States and Canada.

NFSD also fought for their members’ civil rights through activism. They also got involved as part of charitable causes in many cities. Their famous motto was “we are equal” and “carry on.” And they have for many years. And you will see why that was their theme today.

Again, that has carried on for many, many years. They faced discrimination, economic struggles, through war years, even through national unrest in the country, and the challenge of increasing competition in the insurance market due to equality under the law. The laws have changed in order to stop discrimination.

Now insurance companies are selling policies to deaf individuals as equal participants of the insurance market. The last NFSD board ultimately decided to close their doors in 2010, after 190 years of phenomenal success. The quote says “NFSD was successful, therefore we folded.”

The Frank Sullivan foundation was set up in 2007, five years after he passed away in 2002. NFSD donated $50,000 to the foundation. Added to that were the contributions from people in the community, in Frank’s memory. All this money was put into an investment portfolio that has accrued a lot of interest over the years in order to support different programs, in order to firm the legacy of NFSD. For several years, the Frank Sullivan board foundation has given charitable contributions to different programs, also provided funds for scholarships for Gallaudet and RIT and NTID deaf students, specifically those who are majoring in business. In October of 2016, the foundation gave $25,000 to Gallaudet University to the Department of Business for student entrepreneurship, and specifically the entrepreneurship program and apologies, that’s a hard word to spell.

The idea of a museum exhibit came up in 2013, at one of the board meetings, we started discussing the historical importance of NFSD’s history and Frank’s legacy and we decided to come up with a museum exhibit. They asked me to talk with Dr. Jane Norman, class of ’68, who was the first curator, just before she retired. She’s the one who introduced me to Meredith Peruzzi who is our current curator here at the museum. For the next three years, shared ideas about what we will include in this exhibit and what was going to be the content.

One part of the exhibit includes information about deaf owned businesses and not only those from NFSD, there is a part of the exhibit that has the NFSD history and also deaf owned businesses. It’s incredibly important for museum visitors, deaf children, parents, and Gallaudet students to see and get inspiration from those deaf individuals who have been able to establish their own business. There is a wealth of information in this room.

Some key people I would like to mention from NFSD who have helped provide valuable content and information and feedback throughout this process. I want to thank the Gallaudet archives department for all the historical information they have provided. You will see our beautiful end product today. A special thanks goes to several individuals who have helped with this project. Thank you for your continuing support, your involvement in this important venture for us. I also thank the board members from the Sullivan Foundation, Jane Norman, Meredith Peruzzi, and her museum staff. Thank you, all. Also, I want to thank President Bobbi Cordano, David Reekers from the development office and also the core group of the loyal NFSD members. Thank you, all. And please enjoy this unveiling of the exhibit.

Meredith Peruzzi:Thank you, Daphne. I would like to introduce Virginia Borggaard. She is a former NFSD board member and she has a wealth of information she has to share with us today. Please take it away.

Virginia Borggaard: Good morning, everyone! Before I begin, Daphne’s remarks may overlap with some of my remarks, because there is a very rich history there and you really can’t separate the two out. NFSD with the Sullivan Foundation, the loyalty members of the fraternal society.

Greetings, President Cordano, Meredith, the Sullivan board members, and everyone who is present. My name is Virginia Borggaard. I go by Jini as most of you know. I’m the immediate past President for the Frank B. Sullivan Memorial Foundation (FBSMF). I served for 10 years before we turned it over to Daphne. I am so excited to be here! It has been quite a long time and it has been quite the work to make this goal possible.

I have a little bit of background information for you on my NFSD membership. In 1970, I bought insurance from NFSD and joined as a member of Gallaudet’s division number one 55, after I moved to Frederick, Maryland, I became one of 32 charter members of the new division number one 63. My service to this division was varied, in committees and as an officer. And in 1983, at the convention in Denver, Colorado, I was elected to the NFSD board of directors and at that time, it was under a new reorganization, with a new structure. I was the only woman on the board, among men. You can imagine how that was. It was a wonderful group of people that I worked with for many years.

Additionally, I had the distinction of serving on the NFSD board alongside three Cordanos. President Bobbi’s father, Waldo, who passed away. Her mother, Jean served the rest of his term. Then she was elected as a board member, and then her sister, Mary, who’s here today. Three consecutive Cordanos; it was great! And they all served very successfully from 1983 to 2010.

I gave a lot of thought about what talking points I would cover today; President Cordano said a lot. I decided to focus on the “we are equal” concept. You’ll see that on our displays. It says: We are equal. We abbreviate that WAE on a lot of our logos. So you may ask what makes NFSD so special? What is it, exactly? How did it help with the active members who were involved with their divisions? Why did members contribute so much of their volunteer time? What was it about that spirit? Now the theme is what makes NFSD so special?

Some of you with us today are members of the NFSD and will agree that it is a very special organization for many, many reasons. The NFSD was a fraternal beneficiary society. It was not a fraternity. It was a fraternal beneficial society. And it was recognized by the IRS to be under the section 501C8. It was permitted to sell life insurance and to have divisions or lodges and there are still some divisions out there that call their division lodges. Through its 168 local divisions in the United States and Canada, its members had their own governance, elected their own officers who led the required monthly meetings during their one‑year terms. And if they were elected again, they would proceed on.

Special secret rituals were carried out. For those who were becoming members, there were secret rituals and ceremonies related to the emblem. And they were encouraged to have togetherness. The members had committed to a work attitude and high expectations of looking out for one another. Events were planned for and carried out and we had sessions every four years.

Now, perhaps we can take a brief look at the history of several long time fraternal beneficiary societies will show how the NFSD began in comparison. NFSD is one of the earliest starting fraternal beneficiary societies. In the 1880s was the start of several. Are you guys familiar with the Knights of Columbus, a Catholic order founded in 1882? The Catholic order of Foresters, which is who bought our remaining insurance in 1983, the Modern Woodmen of America in 1883.

NFSD started the core concepts of a fraternal society in 1898, then in 1901, it was established. It became real, as a fraternal beneficiary society. So, you can see the movement throughout history and the motivations that people had to help one another. And we were able to get it to come to fruition. We started in 1901 as the Fraternal Society of the Deaf and continued on. In 1907, we became National Fraternal Society of the Deaf. That’s where we really took off.

NFSD strived for excellence in growth and we were able to push forward and offer a lifeline for many deaf individuals who didn’t have access to insurance in their lives. We valued the lives of their families and their financial protection when they die. Often when the bread winners passed away, the money was there to cover funeral expenses and the families were able to move on. We said we were a lifeline because many insurance companies declined to insure deaf and hard of hearing individuals because they said that deaf people were a risk due to the fact that they couldn’t speak or hear. Deaf people were also forbidden from driving. NFSD took the initiative to be able to fight and advocate for those rights, making it possible for deaf and hard of hearing people to be able to drive today.

As the years passed, NFSD was able to grow and thrive because of the increase in our male membership, through recruitment by the men. And at that time, women were not encouraged to join societies, so this this was a male dominated society. So each member would bring in one or two members, and by 1943, during the war, 10,000 men were members of NFSD. In 100 years, the total number policies sole was 36,000. That says a lot!

Women were finally able to join the society in 1951. We fought tirelessly for that right, because we know it was a male dominated society. And there was some resistance, but we fought tirelessly. And in 1951, we were able to get through the doors and join as members. So if you look at all the divisions, they were considered to be the heart of NFSD. All the policyholders were assigned to their local divisions near where they lived. They supported local efforts, like scholarships for schools for the deaf, blood drive fundraisers for disaster relief efforts and things like earthquakes, floods, or whatever. We were able to raise funds and donate to those causes. We also raised money to send to the home office to buy war bonds and the like. The stories go on and on, so many people gave themselves and their money to these efforts.

Some of the leaders who really rose through the ranks starting at the committee level were able to move through committees to a secretary or treasurer position, to eventually becoming leaders at NFSD and serving on the board. For those members who worked very hard, the highest honor within NFSD was attaining many service points to receive, and I believe that some of you are here today and are very proud of their own 34th degree. The strength of those dedicated members who chose to be active in their own divisions were what made them so special. Divisions believed in giving back to the community.

Indeed, the spirit of volunteerism was very strong from about 1900 through the two World Wars, through the early part of the 1990s and that’s when times started to change. If you were around in the year 90s, you remember that change happening. We began to see a visible decline in the buying of the NFSD insurance policies as coverage became more widely available. They were starting to offer more equitable policies through employment opportunities, more jobs were becoming available so deaf people were moving in different areas, where before we were very localized, we started to spread out more. Technology kept improving at a very fast pace. And that precious face‑to‑face social time began to dwindle. Members became old. Members passed away. And our numbers dwindled. New laws protecting school aged children meant less contact with the parents in order to tell them about NFSD insurance potential. So there we start to see the beginning of the decline.

There were three separate home office buildings: Oak Park, Illinois, the northwest part of Chicago and finally, Springfield, Illinois. Those were owned by deaf society members and run by deaf employees. We had a president, vice president, treasurer, and the secretary. Frank B. Sullivan, whose foundation has actually made these museum exhibits possible was one of the ones who rose through the ranks, eventually becoming the grand President for almost 20 years before retiring. His daughter, Bobbi, who is here today and his granddaughter is here as well.

I’m almost finished. In 2004 in the fall, Al Van Nevel was the last Grand President set in motion a step by step plan for the Catholic order of Foresters in Illinois to buy the remaining NFSD insurance policies. He developed a list of instructions on how to begin the process of dissolving the society. And unfortunately, in early 2007, he passed away before the dissolution was able to take place. But by board action, the society was formally dissolved in March 2010 during a ceremony here in Ole Jim. It was a nice, historic event.

So we have got a little bit of some interesting historical facts here that I found online There are two interesting tidbits I have for you. In 2002, there were 78 recognized fraternal beneficiary societies. And in a 2011 report done on fraternal beneficiary societies, prior to that year, it mentions all fraternal members had performed community service hours totaling 84 million hours! Such was the spirit of fraternalism and volunteerism.

In closing, I would like to say that our motto “We are equal” (WAE) surely made the world of difference for many, many members who came from all walks of life, professions and trades. Members had equal opportunities to serve, to lead and to give back. We were equal, of and for and by the deaf. We are hoping that with these exhibits, we will carry on the spirit of NFSD and to encourage more deaf to work together in their own communities for the common cause now and in the future. You know the pendulum of a grandfather clock swings back and forth to the spirit of fraternalism. So who knows? Thank you so much! And I hope you enjoy the exhibit

(Audience applause)

Meredith Peruzzi: Thank you so much for that. So we have ‑‑ excuse me. Thank you. There is a lot of history. And at this moment I would like to introduce Keith Doane who is looking towards the future of deaf owned businesses, also in the field of risk management and he will tell us a little bit more about that.

Keith Doane: Hello, everyone. Again, my name is Keith Doane. Maybe a little bit about how I became a part of the business community. When I was the President of the graduate student association, I was asked to work with some consultants here at the university who wanted to perhaps look into setting up an entrepreneurship program here at Gallaudet University. So I did answer my call to duty. Know that I love biking and thinking about different business ideas. I thought about owning one day a bike repair shop. And listening to those consultants, that’s the moment that I was hooked into this business world.

A few months later, I went to a college entrepreneurship organization conference in Kansas City, Missouri, even though I was very busy. Once I went, I got involved with the entrepreneurship community and I think I’m here for the long run. At the time, I had majored in government and got a master’s in public administration. Understanding government policies and understanding the business world, we can see that the spirit in both worlds is fairly similar. So, I became the operations assistant to the new entrepreneurship program here at the university, called the Gallaudet Innovative and Entrepreneurship Institute. And there are very many exciting things to come for the program.

Soon we will have the third business pitch competition here at Gallaudet, to see their business ideas. This began, I believe, almost two years ago when we launched our very first one. The top three competitors, no four — there was a tie for third place – have actually already began their own businesses. I don’t know if you’re familiar with Streetcar 82, one of the local brewers here was one of our third place winners in Hyattsville, Maryland, it’s currently in the process of renovating their space in order to open their brewery. Hopefully by December they will be able to do so and they began with the little money they won from the entrepreneurship competition they won here at the university.

In that spirit of business is still there, since NFSD, with more to come in the future. Hopefully the business pitch competition will become an annual tradition here at Gallaudet. We are going to welcome any business idea. NFSD was founded because of the discrimination that existed at the time. Regardless of the changes of the laws that have passed that are protecting people with disabilities like the ADA, there is still discrimination, there is still many that said no to deaf individuals. For example, I’m currently teaching a course this semester and one student wants to establish a truck driving business. The truck industry refuses oftentimes to hire deaf drivers. So currently I’m in the process of supporting this student’s idea to set up that type of business where they would be hiring deaf drivers.

So the spirit of NFSD and what we’re doing today is very much aligned. Having equal opportunities in the deaf community is always going to be an issue. But we have to think of strategies in order to support one another. One of those is maybe being a part of a nonprofit organization. For example, Puerto Rico, there’s a nonprofit organization called the grid that is currently ‑‑ off the grid, which is currently supporting disaster relief efforts in Puerto Rico. These are ways that we can support one another in order to be able to obtain equal opportunities for all. And with that, I thank you all.

Meredith Peruzzi: Thank you so much, Keith. And of course, Jini mentioned that the President’s family has a very strong history with NFSD and we know that there are some great stories that Bobbi has to share. If you wouldn’t mind, President Cordano, please take it away.

(President Roberta Cordano): Welcome, everyone. Welcome. It’s great to be here on this special occasion of the unveiling of this exhibit. This tells the story that truly is the heart of our community, our deaf community, and the reason this story has been so very important in my upbringing, we’ve seen a lot shared this morning about Frank B. Sullivan, his wife and daughter’s name is Bobbie with an IE at the end. My name is spelled a little bit differently. I was showing my name and my maturity without spelling my name with an IE. Then, I became a big girl and dropped the E.

NFSD really was a place in every community that had a division where deaf people, no matter what their educational background, can do things. The community was committed to teaching the skills and knowledge and give the experience, so that every deaf person could grow. Many of the leaders in this organization were Gallaudet graduates and would come with that same heartfelt notion that all must have equal opportunity; we are an equal frat at NFSD. No matter who you were, respect was required. I learned this as a child as I was involved through my family in this society. NFSD was so very important because we believe we could create economic opportunities for deaf people.

This was important because fraternal societies at that time, in fact, many of them were formed by immigrant communities who came here to the United States. Some of them were formed by minority groups like Catholic affiliated groups who came together with the goal of producing wealth among their communities. We agree to provide support to one another, making the money shared by others so that we as a collective whole could become more rich and support one another.

Now young people, actually call that an ecosystem. Young people here at Gallaudet call that a deaf ecosystem and it reflects those same values. There is a deaf ecosystem, and there are deaf business owners, Solidad and many others that are out there, MasRea, they have come together using deaf CPA and deaf principles. And I know Bob was on the board of the Sullivan foundation as well. It all speaks to deaf business owners wanting to go on and becoming different people, “I want deaf lawyers and deaf CPAs” and creating a support for one another, which together creates a sense of wealth for everyone.

And that was the story that comes from NFSD. That idea, that we were seen as equals, working together for the benefit of the whole, for everyone involved. Individual wealth was not seen as a sign of success, it was communities coming together that were safer, supported and United that really displayed that kind of success. As we supported one another and pitched in to help when there was issues with perhaps a funeral that was not able to be afforded with the family, everyone would come together to provide financial support. People would come together at funerals and other events like graduations to provide support to everyone within that community.

All of the children in my hometown, in fact, had some kind of affiliation with NFSD. Whenever a child would graduate from one of these families, their family would take on a graduation party and typically in other communities the family would organize that party. But in this community where I grew up, the women would come together, each person seeing that child as graduating as their own child and they would then organize the party for that child. So each of these families came together in these divisions to form one big family, supporting one another, and that is a value that I learned through that experience.

Last I want to share, we know that women did not join the society until 1951; same year my mother graduated from Gallaudet, interesting. A few years later, 6 or 7 years later, the first black person was invited as a member of NFSD. If we look to Gallaudet in the history of deaf education, we see a number of parallels in terms of the milestones along the way through our history. Deaf females did not have the opportunities. Here at Gallaudet it started as a male run institution and eventually women were offered the opportunity to apply and then African Americans.

It’s a system that reflects in our society, government and societal influences that these powers have on our communities and how we have changed over time. Through all of this, we can forgive the understanding that we didn’t have historically and was passed on through us through this story. Being the first deaf woman [President] of Gallaudet University, I could never be in this position had it not been for NFSD. Frank Sullivan told me a number of times throughout my childhood, you can be anything you want, you can do anything you want to do. Go for it. He shared that idea with me time and time again.

When we celebrated 100 years anniversary of the Frat, in 2001, Frank Sullivan asked me to deliver the keynote remarks. Four generations of my family have bought insurance through that society. My oldest son still has insurance. Not my youngest. He was born too late to be able to buy into the insurance with NFSD. But at that 100 year celebration, it was an opportunity for me to sit back and reflect. Recognizing that NFSD began in 1901 and all the way through 2009, 100 years and then 109 years until it was dissolved.

The number of individuals and other fraternal societies that were established way back in the early 1900s, those societies plus the for‑profit businesses that were established at that time as well, back in 1901 or thereabouts, if we fast forward 100 years later, we find that only 10% of those original societies, for profit businesses established in 1901 continued to be in existence 100 years later in 2009. We as a community, we have survived throughout that long period of time.

There’s nothing to be sad about time changes and yet we must recognize the lasting legacy we were able to maintain through that history. It’s quite phenomenal. So part of my excitement in being a part of this activity today is to recognize that young people here at Gallaudet talk about entrepreneurship and deaf ecosystems and people are now leaving Gallaudet wanting to become attorneys and want to represent deaf businesses and deaf people. Back in the day, if you were a deaf attorney, who would ever be your client? That’s not the case anymore. We have businesses and CPAs and a lot of people who need the services of a deaf attorney, who are themselves deaf.

That’s the value of what we as a community have created, being together and supporting one another that continues to exist to this day. We may have a different way to talk about it, it may have a different look, a different way of expressing itself given the current times, but it’s still here. It’s still in our Gallaudet community and it still continues to thrive.

As President of Gallaudet, for me this is a very important day. It is because we’re able to come together and tell the story about people who dreamed that our lives could be better. The people from the Michigan school for the deaf, my father was a student there much later. My grandfather lived at Saint Joe, Michigan, not too far from the school for the deaf and my grandfather was involved with the early frat people.

I always grew up hearing stories and my father worked for the CEO of a company and he got gas rations through the wars and was actually to get many benefits through NFSD. Was able to drive. Many of them had to take the trains because they didn’t have the gas rations to buy gas. So several deaf people join in his car and ride to the meetings. It’s a system of people to provide support so everyone could come together to attend these meetings. Those traditions and values have been passed on through the years and it’s remarkable the way we see them emerging here at Gallaudet.

The Maguire risk management and insurance program that’s in existence here at Gallaudet was formed by a gentlemen who came and gave money to Gallaudet to establish this program in order to really renovate the welcome center as well here at Gallaudet. And he got an honorary degree here at Gallaudet last spring. You know how he got into insurance? The deaf couple who lived next door to him. He came across this wife of this deaf couple in this apartment building and noticed that she wasn’t responding and wasn’t speaking. It made him curious and then later he went up to his apartment on the third floor.

The next day, he went to the door and the two of them were there with a plate of cookies that they had for him. This young deaf couple met him and then he came to realize the reason they didn’t speak yesterday was because they were deaf.

That began a very strong relationship, a good friendship. This gentlemen who is hearing has a learning disability so he began inquiring of this deaf couple about their ability to get life insurance and auto insurance. And when he understood that they were unable to, he realized the injustice. He went back to his company and brought with him this notion of having deaf people, you know, being that they would be a good risk to take and they should be given life insurance, he began his first concept of his company in setting up niche markets through this interaction with this deaf couple. So from the deaf community, this company has blossomed into the the Philadelphia Insurance Company.

The Philadelphia Insurance Company is one of the largest insurance companies in the United States right now. But it was founded on the idea that niche communities that do not have and are not afforded opportunities create a market. They create an economic value to the business world.

We, of course, now and remember this lesson and learn from it and it’s time for me to connect the story of NFSD that we first came into being in 1901, but back then it was significant and let us not forget recognizing our economic value that we provide to one another. That’s why it is so important here at Gallaudet.

Entrepreneurship should happen in every way possible and NFSD was just an example of how we can be creative and work together and grow together as a community teaching one another to address it is very important political and legal issues related to back then the rights to drive. We can thank NFSD for what we have today as a result of that.

So the question is not so much about being sad that NFSD is no longer here, but rather looking back and asking ourselves what did this organization teach us about what’s possible both today and tomorrow? These are the stories that will tell us what’s possible today and into our future. I am so thrilled that this exhibit is here. I thank the foundation for your commitment to really honor the important memory of this community, to hold the passion and the leaders such as Frank and Al and other board members as they held those passions throughout those years that carry them on today that will create and has created change in our lives. I know it’s created change in my life and I thank you very much for this opportunity

(Audience applause)

Meredith Peruzzi: We have the unveiling. So for all of our work, we want to thank the foundation, thank the Gallaudet archives, the museum staff, the Center for Deaf Documentary Studies, all of these people have worked tirelessly together to produce this. So Jini and Daphne would you please join us for the unveiling? Ready? 1, 2, 3.

(Exhibit panels being unveiled)
(Audience applause)

Meredith Peruzzi: There’s also another side to these exhibits. Thank you so much for coming. There are quite a few events happening in this room so we have a limited time to get you together to check out the new exhibit and then like I said, we have got more of the exhibit in the hallway and we are open tomorrow from 9:00 a.m. to 5:00 p.m., so I highly encourage you guys to come back. Take a quick look today and then you can come back and read further tomorrow. Thank you so much.

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