The Hon. Robert Steigmann’s life took a turn for the unexpected when he was assigned to a room on the first floor of Garner Hall.
This was more than a half-century ago but he remembers those days vividly — and fondly.
“Because of the unique, wonderful efforts of Timothy Nugent, the U of I was the nation’s first university to welcome and provide facilities for handicapped students,” says the Fourth District appellate court judge. “These students lived on the first floors of the Six Pack dorms, and about half of the 60 residents of Garner 1 were in wheelchairs. Thus, I was able to see up close the severe handicaps some of my fellow residents had to overcome in their daily living.
“The one student I recall most vividly was Charles, a fellow who lived across the hall from me who suffered from severe cerebral palsy. I could hardly understand his speech, and his only real means of communicating was with a rubber stylus held in his teeth that he would use to hit the keys on his electric typewriter.
“He could get around only by looking over his shoulder as he sat in his wheelchair and pushed himself backwards with the one leg over which he had enough control to provide direction.
“In order to take care of his hygiene needs and to eat breakfast before the bus came to pick him up at 8 a.m., he needed to get up at 5:30 a.m. Yet, despite these hardships, Charles always seemed to be in good humor and grateful for the opportunities he had been given. And, at a time when C truly was the average grade, he managed to attain a B average, which was something I certainly was never able to do.
“Living with these handicapped students was a life-adjusting event for me. It taught me that no matter what future difficulties I may encounter, given my many blessings, I would have no justification to complain.
"The young men with whom I lived on Garner 1 were my heroes, and 56 years later, they still are.”