Minnesota Deaf Heritage Oral-Visual Interview with Robert “Bob” Cook and Dale Finke
This interview with Robert “Bob” Cook (BC) and Dale Finke (DF) was incorporated into the Commission of Deaf, DeafBlind, and Hard of Hearing Minnesotans’ (MNCDHH) Oral-Visual History Project. This interview was originally produced by the Deaf and Hard of Hearing Services Metro Division (DHHSD) of the Minnesota Department of Human Services. This interview took place in 1997. The interviewer was Robert “Bob” Cook (BC).
A note about translation of this interview: The interview was recorded in American Sign Language (ASL). The interviewer and interviewee used ASL as a first language, and the signed information was translated into vernacular or spoken English by interpreters.
This transcript and the open captions in the video are based on the spoken English information.
Actions are in brackets. Translation notes are in parentheses and italics (using the emphasis font), and they represent additional information and corrections about what was said.
Transcript of Interview with Robert “Bob” Cook and Dale Finke
Key to names:
DF = Dale Finke (signs in American Sign Language, voiced in English by interpreters)
BC = Robert “Bob” Cook (signs in American Sign Language, voiced in English by interpreters)
[Visual of title graphic “Minnesota Deaf Heritage: An Interview with Bob Cook and Dale Finke”]
[Robert “Bob” Cook is sitting with Dale Finke for the interview.]
BC: Hello, I’m Bob Cook. I want to introduce to you my friend Dale Finke. We also work together. So, how are you doing today, Dale?
DF: Good, good, real good, about the same, about the same. It seems that I’m getting busier and busier. Always busier than I thought.
BC: How many years have you been working, now?
DF: Well, really I’ve been working for twenty-two years. Ha, I almost thought I lost count, all the years of work that I’ve been doing, but as I think about it, twenty-two years, and I get so involved in the work and the job, it takes one – to stop and look back and think about how many years have gone by, and how much work. You almost want to think, “I don’t even remember,” but when I count it up, its twenty-two years, and it’s just hard for me to even imagine. Twenty-two years and thinking, “It’s not going to be that far off, and I’m going to be retiring pretty soon.” When I look back I think it’s been a good time, might think twenty-two years is enough for me, but I’m ready to continue on.
BC: Oh, it’s been the same for me. Through the work, it just seems the years have flown by, and all of the sudden it’s thirty-four years that I’ve been working. I’m getting close to retirement, and I’ve been thinking about that and have really mixed feelings. We’ve worked over twenty years together, isn’t that right?
DF: Yeah, yeah, yeah it’s about twenty years, maybe a little bit more. I think back and I remember the two of us and where we met. Remember we were working in the C O B, the Centennial Office Building, the building close to the capitol over there. I remember I started working there about 1973, and I met you at the Centennial Office Building, but we were on different floors. I was on first floor, and you were up on fifth. Or was it sixth? Sixth, fifth, fifth floor. Fifth or sixth. Fifth floor. And we, remember, we would meet down in the cafeteria. We had another co-worker that had introduced us. You remember Steve, Steven? Steven introduced the two of us, and told me that you worked on the fifth floor, and then from then on, we were break buddies. Every break period, remember at nine (in the morning), we’d come down and meet and talk and then we’d go back to our respective work, jobs. Then at lunch we’d come down again and do our talk spiel a little bit. We did that for quite some time.
BC: Oh, I remember that, right, coffee breaks. They’re supposed to take about fifteen minutes, and then lunch break was supposed to be an hour, but we always seemed to go over because we would just sit there and talk, the three of us. I also seem to remember that both of us were in better shape back then and you had nice blond hair and I had a nice black beard. Now I’m gray and out of shape.
DF: Yeah, yeah, this is true. I have to agree with you there. It seems I’ve spread out a little bit more than I’d like, but my heart is still there, my spirit is still good. And I think I can really be happy about that, or we can be happy about that, that we’ve retained our spirit, and not let things die. And we have a lot of change that has gone on, and I think that aided keeping us busy and helping us learn new things, and enjoy new experiences. I think maybe it would be a good idea for me to explain a little bit about my work and how that came about. I remember, I was working for Deaf Services Division, and at that time we were under DPW, which stood for the Department of Public Welfare. That was the old name. Worked there, well, there were two of us at that time who were responsible for counseling individuals, Deaf Minnesotans, wherever they might be throughout the entire state of Minnesota. If you can imagine, all eighty-seven counties, and the two of us were responsible for the whole thing.
BC: How many staff members did you have?
DF: Well, there was the two of us – well really, there were three. There were three, but that third person quit right away, and then there were just the two of us. Then the other person quit and moved to Oregon, and that left me, all by myself. And I would go out in Greater Minnesota, traveling around. Several times, there would be Deaf people who would contact me for some assistance and at that time, we have to remember, that TTYs (Teletypewriters or Text Telephones) weren’t very prevalent. There were TTYs out there, but they weren’t out and about around the state the way they are today. There were just a few here or there - very selected places. So, most of our contact was done through correspondence, written correspondence. People would write a letter saying I need help with this. And I would have to write back, setting up a time.
BC: This was done through the mail? Oh, that’s so slow. It must have taken two, three days, even up to a week before you would get a response back.
DF: Yeah, yeah that’s true. That was the only way that we could communicate. You know, Deaf people, it was hard to communicate with each other. It was kind of frustrating, but we’d have to send mail out and wait for the response, agree on a time, send back another correspondence, set up the time and the place, where we’d meet. The whole time that was involved from the first contact to when I actually met with the person was usually about three weeks. And I might have to drive up to Carlton, or I’d go over to Fergus Falls, or up to Grand Rapids, Minnesota, one of those spots. And drive up there, oftentimes it took me three hours to drive to the site where we had planned to meet. We’d sit down, discuss what the individual’s difficulty or problem was, try to set up a plan for solution, and then, and the meeting would take three hours, and then it would take another three hours to go back home. There was your whole day, shot.
BC: You must have been exhausted, spending all your time driving, and waking up early in the morning, and driving again. Oh, I can’t imagine.
DF: Yeah, it was very tiring, very tiring, but that was part of the duty of my work. That’s what I needed to do. People needed help and I needed to provide that assistance. I remember sometimes a Deaf person might have a difficulty they were having with food stamps or they might need welfare. I remember this is the sign for ‘welfare,’ that old sign for welfare. And under welfare, we referred to General Assistance, Food Stamps, AFDC (Aid to Families with Dependent Children), any one of those programs. So, I would set up a time to meet with the Deaf person, and then the two of us, I remember, oh I remember this really well. The place was called the county welfare division or department, something like that, but it was often referred to as CWD. The Deaf client and I would make a time to set up with the social worker from the county, and of course the county person knew nothing about working with Deaf people. They were a person who could hear and they just didn’t have any idea of how to provide services to a Deaf person. The three of us would meet and discuss the problems that the individual was having. It might be with their food stamps or with their rent, or whatever it might be. But all of our conversation had to be done through written notes. I would work with the county social worker who would open a case and so that social worker could then could work with the Deaf person after that point. Oftentimes I provided helpful hints on communication or how to counsel and work with the Deaf person. I usually worked with the two of them until I was comfortable with how they were communicating with each other. I also tried to advise the individual that the social worker should work with this client through the end of their, of whatever situation they had, so they weren’t changing social workers a lot. Because it was very important for the Deaf person to have that trust developed, the trust was very important.
BC: Now, that was before I joined. Things seem to have changed so much. I remember back when I joined, and there was just three of us. There was Amy McQuaid. She was just a brand new interpreter starting. And then we would go and travel around and do presentations, and go out and meet with people and counsel people. And then we’d also do work with the legislature. We would write and propose bills, including the HISA (Hearing Impaired Services Act) act. Do you remember that?
DF: Oh, now wait a minute. Now, who was involved in preparing that legislation, in writing that bill, who was involved in that, in that process?
BC: Dwight Maxa. At that time he worked in the State Planning office. And you have to remember that before, I was the president of MADC (Minnesota Association of Deaf Citizens), so we were in contact because he had asked for some help and input from me. And that’s how I ended up started working with Deaf Services too, I worked on the fourth floor. And Dwight approached me and asked me if I would be willing to take a leave of absence to transfer down and work with him, and I’ve been there ever since. We ended up working together to get HISA passed.
DF: Before you go on, I’m - I’m looking at what you were talking about and all that you were involved with in the HISA, but I’m curious, about what started HISA off? Why was there even a need for that, for HISA to be enacted? Do you remember?
BC: Oh, yeah, I remember that. Remember recently you were talking about having to drive all around the state and you’re just one person covering the whole state. And Deaf and hard of hearing people had to wait, weeks sometimes, to get services, so that’s the reason why we decided that we need to set up something, and so HISA was enacted. We started with eight Regional Service Centers, so that way, one person would not have to drive all over. Each area would have the resources right in their region. And what they did is educated the public about deafness and what services that they would need to provide, and talking about interpreters and different issues. And we’ve grown since then. Now, the two of us are just sitting here thinking back on how we started with three people, and now there are fifty staff members. And all the staff can communicate in sign. Some are slower than others, but all can communicate. I can remember before working alone, and you working alone and communication was just so sparse. Remember?
DF: Yeah, I do remember. It was tough, it was a tough experience, and we had such limited access in our work situations. I think that’s a valid memory to have, it’s really important because it makes us realize how important the staff and the growth of our staff has been. And I think it also has been a strong impact on the administration and that they’ve realized how important it is for us to have full access and to have the staff that we do, so we’ve been able to provide the services that we have. It’s unfortunate that it took so long to have that happen, but I think the importance of our division is very clear now. Now, what about HISA, we talked about HISA. What were the politics and who was involved in the struggle to establish HISA? Was it a struggle or was it easy to get it passed? What are your memories of that, especially since you were MADC president?
BC: Ok, well, it’s a long story, but I’ll summarize it. Governor (Rudy) Perpich gave $200,000 for a two-year study. And what we needed to do was analyze the services needs in the area, in the state. And Dwight Maxa had the responsibility to contact different organizations and service providers. They had forty members that were set up on this task force. Fifty percent of the people were service providers, and fifty percent were consumers. We wanted to listen to Deaf people, and find out what the problems were, what the complaints were. And also, service providers. “What kind of problems have you seen?” and document all of those. Then we would compile that information and prepare a draft report for the legislature, who would then introduce it in the senate and the house. And provide testimony and other supporting information. But we didn’t want to catch the legislators off guard. We set up different town meetings with Deaf people and asked them who their legislators were. And if they didn’t know, we would provide an address for them so that they knew who they needed to go talk to, or where to send letters to. And we encouraged them to do that. But the Deaf people were nervous about that, because they’d never had experience in the political arena. So, we encouraged them and teach them how to set up the letters and how to schedule appointments and go in. And the legislature, at first it was awkward, because they didn’t understand what the interpreters – who was actually talking. “Do I watch the interpreter, or do I watch the Deaf person?” So, we would have to explain to them that they need to watch the Deaf person when they’re talking and not the interpreter. Things have improved so much better from that time, and the attitude is a lot better now. And that’s been since HISA has been passed. And that was in the 1980s.
DF: OK, now, wait a minute. HISA... We keep talking about HISA, but HISA, what does that even mean?
BC: HISA, the H is for Hearing, the I is for Impaired, S is for Services, and A is for Act. And the goal of that was to set up Regional Service Centers throughout the state. We can have up to eight Regional Service Centers with the north, east, west and south. We also can set up satellite offices in various parts of the state. That’s a lot easier because now people don’t have to drive all the way down to St. Paul to receive services. They have a Regional Service Center much closer to their home. And all this has had a big impact on the Deaf community, there have been more jobs created for Deaf and hard of hearing people. And since the enactment of HISA, the legislature has seen more Deaf people coming in and talking about issues regarding deafness, related to deafness. Like when MSAD, the school for the Deaf was going to close. Deaf people came and marched on the capitol, and that had an impact. And another issue has been quality assurance (QA) for interpreters in the schools. Deaf people have wanted to see that quality go up and want to require licensing for interpreters. And that’s going to be starting in the year 2000. The legislature has seen the Deaf community coming in and making their voice heard. Before, the legislature didn’t know anything about Deaf people. They didn’t realize that Deaf people were around. And now, we find out that Deaf people do all kinds of things, and they are paying their taxes, and they’re citizens in this country, in this state of Minnesota, and they are equal to hearing people. Now, we’ve also seen a change whereas in the past we have concentrated more on Deaf, and now we’ve expanded to include hard of hearing people, and I believe soon we will be expanding into servicing of DeafBlind people also. And it’s nice to see that progress. You know, looking back, Dale, this thinking about the two of us, we’ve seen Deaf and hearing people come through, coming and going, and we just, you know, watch, and we’ve been here so long I feel like I’m the grandfather, do you feel the same?
DF: Oh, I feel exactly like that. The two of us are the pros in the division. It’s kind of like there are more changes to come, maybe things haven’t settled yet. And the two of us have just kind of gotten comfortable in our positions. Maybe that’s why we both feel that way. You know, Bob, I think you’re right. When we talk about HISA and all the things that got started up as a result of HISA and what that, how that had an impact on the community. I look at the changes that have happened within my own job and I think they are really good. I think they’ve been great for everybody. The changes of responsibilities and duties that we’ve had. And that hasn’t been the same all the time. That’s really made our work, and the work of the Regional Service Centers, expand and reach out to more people, and it has also made the work more exciting. If I look back to when I was working strictly as a counselor, working specifically with Deaf clients and helping them with their specific needs or individual needs bringing in the social workers, and that whole process that I was involved in, I think back to – then it expanded a little bit, and all of the sudden I was going out and making trainings to people, trainings and educational presentations to individuals. And I remember that first time, oh I was so nervous, thinking that all those people who can hear will be sitting in that audience looking at me and judging everything I say. And I began my presentation and explaining about Deaf people and hard of hearing people. And what caught me was how enthralled people were with the information that I was providing. Because they really didn’t know, they didn’t know anything about it and they were hungry for this information. They really wanted to know more about Deaf and hard of hearing people and what their problems were, what their needs are. How can I communicate better with Deaf and hard of hearing people? They had so many questions that I had the answers for. And that really impacted me. That really made an impression that I could provide assistance, I can provide helpful information. And the more information I provided, the hungrier they were for response. And that really helped me become more comfortable and much more at ease on going out and doing presentations, and now I do them all the time and feel very comfortable. It’s second nature to me and I have nothing to fear. Sometimes I kind of tease myself, or tease my colleagues, well, you, Bob. I remember, you know, saying, “Ah well it’s nothing, you can do it. It’s really easy, you know. What’s the difference? They don’t know anything about Deaf people anyway. You could say anything.” But, sometimes there are people, a few people in that audience, not everybody but a couple people who know a little something, so they keep us on guard and they really challenge us, they ask those good questions. But that’s helped to keep our work more exciting, too.
BC: Oh, I agree with you! You remember those presentations. We’d just kind of go out there and present and explain things. I notice that there is more awareness, and there are tougher questions that are coming. There are a lot of political issues, so I have to be careful about how I say things. And I try to remain neutral with different issues that are controversial in deafness.
DF: Yeah, sometimes it’s, it seems like people even test us a little bit. It’s a good challenge; it’s a good experience, and I learn from that process. I think that helps us to make adjustments to our presentations and helps us to make our information more clear and our responses more accurate and precise to what people need to know. You know, there’s another program at the Regional Service Center. The library loan program, I think we should mention, and that allows people to come in and get equipment, adaptive equipment, that may make their lives a little bit easier. People may come in and check out some of the visual alerting alarm clocks that would make their life a little bit easier and make it possible for them to wake up in the morning. And they can borrow these pieces of equipment from the library, take them home, test them for a couple of weeks, see if it works for them, whether it be a flashing light connected to an alarm clock or a vibrator connected to an alarm clock. They can check this out for two weeks, test it out, see if they are comfortable with it and bring it back. Finding out if it’s the appropriate fit for them. And then if they are satisfied with the piece of equipment, we can provide them a vendor’s list letting them know where they can purchase it in the area. We provide flashing lights, decoders, TTYs, baby cry alerts, fire alarms, and then adaptive listening equipment like FM systems or amplified telephones. A whole myriad of things are provided through the library loan program, available for people to test out the equipment before they purchase it, take it home and find out that they’re not satisfied with something and that they’ve wasted their time and their money.
BC: I look back to our work in the beginning – we were just developing computer programs, setting up a database listing all Deaf and hard of hearing citizens in Minnesota. But then that’s expanded and we’re now getting involved in meetings with different organizations and traveling around the state presenting about deafness and Deaf culture. So I look back and see that change. It’s been a wonderful experience for both of us. And as we share our experiences with other staff members, we can maybe impart a good positive attitude and understanding about the Deaf community and about Deaf culture. Now, you know, feeling like we’re close to retirement age now and I need to thank Deaf Services for giving us both a lot of wonderful opportunities and to have the confidence in us. It really makes me proud, and I’m sure you that feel the same that I do. That we can do these things for the Deaf community.
DF: And as well, I think the Deaf community, Deaf and hard of hearing community, has really become aware of where they can go to get services and/or to develop ideas. They know about Deaf and Hard of Hearing Services and they know that Deaf and Hard of Hearing Services Division is there and willing to help or assist or provide information as the individual might need it. They’ve become pretty dependent on our program and I think that’s great.
BC: Yeah, the Metro Regional Service Center, there is a large Deaf population here, and a lot of people come for information, and to get help. But then we also have the Duluth Regional Service Center, and St. Cloud, and all over the state, and we share information, and communication is so much better than it was before. I can remember first starting I was all by myself and had nobody to talk to. And I feel even more valuable as a person now because I’m able to provide services and help to other people.
DF: Yeah, and I think that reciprocity has helped the community as well in taking on their own pride and earning value and worth thorough the Regional Service Centers.
BC: What do you see the future – what do you see in the future?
DF: Hmm, that’s a very good question, a real good question. What I see in the future is a lot more growth, a growth of networks. Networking with parents, because I think they are going to become much more involved with their children’s lives. I think more involvement with education, rehabilitation, a whole variety of services. Plus I see more involvement from organizations, because organizations are gaining their strength. They see a need for keeping the programs they’re offering for Deaf and hard of hearing people running. But I see a real focus on children in the future, Deaf children and hard of hearing children. Anyone who is growing up with a hearing loss and needs to have their basic needs met. It’s a real change from the ‘60s and ‘70s and what we saw then. The whole key now is equal access, equality, and I think that’s the goal and what everything seems to be broadening out towards.
BC: I remember before, the two of us did so many different things with writing down and using the filing system and file cabinets. And now, everything is on computer and you have this little disk. Things have changed so much. Do you miss the old days?
DF: Well, no. Sometimes the old days are the good old days and it was kind of fun in its way. It truly is different. I remember all those file that we had to go through, and we’d pull out a file. Every time we had to do case notes, we’d write up the case notes. Well, first we had to meet with the client, write the case notes down, provide those to the secretary, the secretary would type them up, she would put them in the file, and file them in the filing cabinet. And if you think of the time that was involved, the waste. Now, it’s nothing. You look at it, and its difference in time savings is just incredible. And that’s really important, that’s what’s become of importance, saving that time. So, now we do all our case reports on computers and any information we need to provide, we do it ourselves, we type it up, we put it in the file, in the computer file on the disk. And remember all those files are contained on those small little disks now. It’s quite a difference from what we experienced when we used to work in the good old days. You know, you look back and you think it was almost crude. But, time has become of utmost importance.
BC: I agree with you one hundred percent. I can remember before when if you wanted to see someone, another staff member, and they weren’t there, you’d write a note to them and leave it on their desk. But now we have e-mail. We just type something and send it off, we just leave it. We can correspond back and forth through e-mail. It’s so much easier now.
OK, well I want to thank Dale Finke, my co-worker, for coming out and spending some time with us.
DF: I feel satisfied about everything that has happened over time (in the past).