2001: “Let Freedom Ring”
Fifty Years Of Improving Lives Through Community Living
On February 7, 2001, Citizens League Executive Director Lyle Wray and Colleen Wieck of the Council on Developmental Disabilities presided over a special event celebrating the start of the first year in which no Minnesotans are in institutions because of developmental disabilities. Public policy change often comes painfully slow, and that's especially true with this issue.
In 1948 reporter Geri Joseph, with the approval of Governor Luther Youngdahl, did a ten part series on the deplorable conditions of Minnesota's mental institutions. Parent activists, led by Reuben Lindl (who passed away this month at the age of 96), began a campaign for better treatment of people with developmental disabilities.
While conditions improved, overcrowding continued to be a problem. In 1961 there were more than 6,000 people with developmental disabilities in state hospitals and a waiting list of 900.
In 1972 Richard Welsch, the father of a young girl at a state hospital, filed a suit alleging that conditions didn't meet the constitutional standards of due process. Judge Earl Larson agreed, which gave needed impetus to community placements.
In 1980, the Welsch Consent Decree was signed with the goal of reducing the total population of state hospitals to 1,850 by 1987. A youthful Lyle Wray was appointed court monitor. The Citizens League added its voice to deinstitutionalization in 1982. A committee, chaired by Emily Anne Staples, met for nearly a year and a half and found that Minnesota had over-built and overrelied on state hospitals and had not developed an adequate system of community support.
One of the resource speakers for the committee was Lyle Wray, who was then for the Welsch Consent Decree. It was Wray's first contact with the Citizens League. In July 2000 the last resident with developmental disabilities left the Fergus Falls Regional Treatment Center.
At the celebration the League was awarded a plaque that reads:
Let Freedom Ring In recognition of your efforts in creating community living for all Minnesotans with developmental disabilities February 7, 2001 Citizens League
See the article in the Minnesota Journal, The Citizens League, Vol. 18, Number 2, February 20, 2001.