Final month noticed the demise of one in all Rifton’s founding fathers. Jerry Voll grew up in Louisville, Kentucky, and studied for the ministry at Lancaster Theological Seminary in Pennsylvania. His first task was in Lancaster the place he and his new spouse Nancy moved to start his pastorate. It was whereas residing there that they found the Bruderhof which, on the time, had three communities in the USA. Collectively they felt a name to affix this group motion, and uprooted and moved with their two-year-old daughter, in 1971, to the Deer Spring group in rural Norfolk, Connecticut.
Norfolk was – and nonetheless is – a tiny city which peaked within the Seventies at simply over 2,000 residents however it was residence to a number of small establishments that offered residential care for kids with disabilities. Ann Storck’s Nursery, the Laurel College, and Ann’s Nursery for Infants had been all in Norfolk, and the younger individuals of Deer Spring visited them commonly to sing, chaperone kids on outings or just play on the premises.
For Jerry, work at Deer Spring was a far cry from a pastorate, however his dedication to this new way of life was full and unreserved. He labored within the Neighborhood Playthings manufacturing unit, assembling wood storage lockers, bookshelves, chairs, and different faculty furnishings. That’s the place he discovered himself in 1975, the 12 months that noticed passage of the landmark laws referred to as the Training for All Handicapped Kids Act, the precursor of the People with Disabilities Training Act (IDEA).
So it was maybe inevitable that shortly after, therapists and lecturers on the close by residential properties began calling for modified chairs to accommodate the wants of their kids. Concurrently, and in response to the brand new laws, Kevin Purcell, an worker of Connecticut’s Division of Developmental Companies, got here to Norfolk’s single elementary faculty to determine a program to just accept newly mainstreamed kids with disabilities who had been arriving at their doorways.
Purcell will need to have found early that the manufacturing unit at Deer Spring made faculty furnishings, and he got here knocking. In a partnership that has since outlined Rifton’s strategy to design, Purcell and Voll had been paired in a joint effort to create higher seating and positioning tools for kids with all method of disabilities and deformities. Their first collaborative creation was the “absolutely adjustable” Rifton E50 Chair. After I final spoke with Jerry, he reminisced about these early prototypes, grinning wryly over the ungainly fabrications of slotted plywood and plastic knobs that characterised these gadgets. “Nancy and I had been youth group leaders by then,” he instructed me, “and the younger individuals at Deer Spring by no means uninterested in teasing me about these ‘absolutely adjustable’ chairs.”
However they labored, and Jerry labored on, now aided as properly by the remedy employees of Ann’s Nursery. His subsequent efforts centered on a shower chair, and standing frames adopted. He began touring additional afield, and shortly discovered that therapists all through the Northeast had been keen to provide design enter. Voll was joined in his efforts by others in Neighborhood Playthings, not solely on the Deer Spring manufacturing unit however at Woodcrest in Rifton, New York, the place on the time, we specialised in aluminum fabrication, and at New Meadow Run, in Farmington, Pennsylvania, the place they did industrial stitching. So whereas Jerry Voll was not at all the one one designing this new kind of kit, his title at all times comes up first within the collective reminiscence of Rifton when reminiscing about these early, childhood.
That’s how Rifton was born. On November 1, 1977, the Neighborhood Playthings catalog featured a four-page unfold showcasing the handiwork of Voll and his colleagues. For the following three years the Rifton line was carried by the bigger Neighborhood Playthings, however by 1980 the product providing had expanded sufficient to justify its personal catalog.
I visited Jerry and his spouse Nancy in early July to probe his reminiscence of these early Rifton beginnings for an extended article I used to be engaged on on the time. Deer Spring closed in 1997, and Kevin Purcell died in 2018, so some particulars are misplaced to historical past, however Jerry’s recollections remained vivid. Identified in March 2016 with colon most cancers, I discovered him bodily drained however mentally alert and able to reminisce. He was seated in a big recliner in the lounge, his palms in thick gloves regardless of the summer time warmth, affected by poor circulation ever for the reason that most cancers therapies. He was capable of verify most of the particulars I sought, and most of our dialog coated recollections of the Norfolk neighborhood and the 4 years our paths crossed at Deer Spring whereas I used to be in center and highschool.
Jerry grew most animated when telling concerning the kids for whom he had designed tools, and I used to be reminded of probably the most rewarding component of Rifton’s mission. He described the second when he positioned the primary youngster in Rifton’s newly designed Adjustable Walker (listed in that first catalog for $69.50). “It was in a college gymnasium,” he recounted. “The mother and father had been there. I feel the woman was round ten years previous. We positioned her within the walker, her first time upright and capable of propel herself independently, and he or she took off throughout the fitness center ground. There was not a dry eye within the room,” he marveled, his personal voice catching, eyes welling on the reminiscence, now forty-five years previous.
Jerry Voll was eighty years previous when he handed on November 17. He leaves behind Nancy, his spouse of fifty-five years, two sons and two daughters. He additionally leaves behind an prolonged household all over the place he referred to as residence at one time or one other throughout fifty years of group residing in the USA, England, and Australia.