By Celine Klosterman
CLINTON – Craig Vidal can trace all he’s accomplished to one childhood experience.
From about ages 3-6, he visited the Mount Saint Clare Speech and Hearing Center to overcome problems with pronunciation and speaking. Though scared at first, he later enjoyed sessions with Director Sister Marcella Marie Narlock, OSF, and other staffers. “They actually understood what I was trying to say,” he said. “They treated me like anyone else.”
Slowly but surely, he began talking more often and gained self-confidence. “They showed hard work pays off.”
Thanks in part to the center he expects to graduate this May from the University of Iowa with a degree in biomedical engineering. “Everything I’ve done is thanks to those moments as a kid,” said Vidal, whose home parish is Prince of Peace in Clinton. Center staffers “helped me more than I could ever thank them for.”
That’s why he said he’s heartbroken the center will close April 5, after more than 65 years of service. Ashford University is growing and needs the space the center occupies on campus, said Sister Janice Cebula, OSF, chair of the center’s board of directors. Also, “These economic times have been challenging, especially in light of low reimbursement rates by some providers.”
“We explored various options, including affiliating with others, in an attempt to ensure the longevity of the center. However, those options were not viable.”
Sr. Cebula said that while she’s sad the center is closing, she’s grateful it has served thousands of clients. Sr. Narlock, director since 1969, hopes she’ll find a way to continue serving people in need after April 5. “Many of our clients are very poor and can’t afford to go anyplace else,” she said, noting the center treats people regardless of their ability to pay. “Speech skills are an absolute necessity. If you can help people when they’re young, it changes their whole life.”
About 60 percent of the center’s clients are children, Sr. Narlock said. She often works with parents to teach toddlers “total communication,” which includes sign language with speech. With four speech pathologists and an occupational therapist, the center also offers services such as articulation, voice, fluency, language and oral motor therapy; motor coordination, written communication skills, adaptive daily living skills training and general play skills; and assistive technology.
Lisa Sikkema of Fulton, Ill., is among clients who said she benefited from such services. After suffering a stroke in December 2006, she spent more than three years in speech therapy with Sr. Narlock.
“A fly on the wall would think nothing special was happening two half-hours a week: just two friends having a conversation, maybe playing some word games,” Sikkema wrote in a letter to the center. “But don’t be fooled — a life was being re-created. With Sister’s patient guidance I was able to tap back into my vocabulary, increase my speaking and writing skills, and accept and cope with limitations I could never have imagined before my stroke…. The professionalism, love and caring I experienced at this center was extraordinary.”
According to Donna Holtkamp, the center made a difference for her daughter Kendra 20 years ago. At 3 years old, Kendra was stuttering and struggling with pronunciation, so Donna and her husband took the child in for therapy. Through games and lessons, Sister Jeanne d’Arc Untz, OSF, and other therapists helped Kendra slow her speech patterns and pronounce difficult letters. “She improved so much in the two years she was there, you’d never know she’d had a problem at all,” said Holtkamp, a Prince of Peace parishioner.
It’s rewarding to help people learn to communicate their wants and needs, Sr. Narlock said. She’s holding onto faith that God will provide a way for her and others to continue doing so after the center closes. “We’re so happy to have been able to help as many people as we have.”
History of the Mount Saint Clare Speech and Hearing Center
The Mount Saint Clare Speech and Hearing Center was begun in 1943 by Clinton Franciscan Sister Edward Smith. She was a speech and drama teacher at Mount Saint Clare College in Clinton when several people in the area asked her to help their family members who had communication problems. Sr. Smith later earned a master’s degree in speech pathology. The center was one of the first facilities in Iowa to offer speech therapy services.
Her practice grew from using one small room behind the stage at the college to occupying an entire wing of the new gymnasium.
After Sr. Smith died, the center temporarily closed in 1966. In 1969, it reopened as Sister Marcella Marie Narlock became director.
Staff positions were added over the years. In 1994, the Kehl Communication Loan Closet was opened to offer assistive communication devices for use by people with severe communication deficits. It was the first facility in the state to do so.
In 1997, the center moved to an expanded space on the college campus. A sound-proof suite was donated to the center facilities. In 2007, a “multi-sensory environment room” was added, becoming the first within at least 100 miles.
The United Way and numerous other benefactors and donors have supported the center as it collaborated with more than 20 agencies.
— Sisters of St. Francis