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An Historical Perspective of
 Holiday House of Manitowoc County, Inc.


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         It All Began With a Wreath . . .

   At a time when society was isolating infants and young adults who had Down Syndrome, or other noticeable uniqueness, by institutionalizing these individuals in "state colonies,"  several people in Manitowoc County felt it was time for a change. These concerned people firmly believed "the handicapped" had a persona and potential as yet undiscovered by the general citizenry...and these people were determined to prove it.  But how?

   It seemed, in those days as well as now, that a sense of dignity and personal  achievement was often procured by people through meaningful work. But what kind of work would help "the handicapped" become a part of the world as opposed to being apart from it?  Perhaps by the production of some item most people in the community would enjoy having … would want to purchase for no reason other than for its quality.
 
  The season was Autumn.  The year was 1957.  The holidays were approaching. Quickly the wreath came to mind.  It was a symbol of peace and ongoing hope. It was circular and, therein, had no end. It was something a young man, who happened to be mildly affected by cerebral palsy, was an expert at producing since he had been making holiday wreaths for his family, their neighbors and friends ever since he was twelve years old.  It was an item that Arleine Kohout, President of the Manitowoc County Association for Retarded Children, also felt might "do the trick."  Others in the ARC organization endorsed the idea of these two people and, therefore, authorized a $25.00 donation to the wreath-maker for the purchase of red ribbon to be used for decorating the wreaths.

   And so it was that an experienced wreath-maker gathered six retarded teenagers around himself one Saturday morning in October of 1957 . . . and off they went into the woods to gather pine cones they would "snow-tip" with white paint on following weekends...cones that would decorate wreaths soon to be made.  In November, other Special Ed students responded to an invitation from Wilbert  Taylor, Principal of Adams School, to engage in this moneymaking enterprise.  Soon the group was off to the woods once again...this time to gather evergreen boughs. By the end of the holiday season, numerous households in Manitowoc County were decorated with "the best wreaths in town" and producers proudly went Christmas shopping with $12.50 earned cash in their pockets. Their "boss" as they liked to call him, i.e., Bjorn (Bj) Halvorsen, was indeed very proud of their accomplishments.  An inroad to earned respect and "full citizenship" had been made.
 
   To this day, the wreath serves to symbolize the on-going philosophy and mission of  Holiday House of Manitowoc County, Incorporated.  As stated in 1957 vernacular, the purpose of Holiday House was to provide an opportunity for "the handicapped" to experience "self-realization, human-relationship and civic-responsibility." Holiday House finds itself continuously striving to provide an array of opportunities for individuals with disabilities of all ages...as well as for other persons who are disadvantaged by circumstance or prejudice.  When given the opportunity, Holiday House believes firmly that these individuals will become as self-reliant as potential allows and, therein, experience a full and dignified life as contributing members of society.  There is indeed a difference between having a disability and being handicapped!  With the help of the community-at-large Holiday House has been able to make that difference for sixty years.

dgenske@holidayhouse.org


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