By Dave Sorrick, Director of Development & Special Projects
As we interrupt our regular routines to pause and honor those who have gone before us, I wanted to take a moment to remember three SKIL Board Members Emeritus we lost this spring.
Each made unique and pioneering efforts in the history and development of SKIL and deserve their induction into the SKIL Hall of Fame. Earlier this year, in a brief six week span of time, we lost Marty Wooten, Carolyn Freeman, and Darlene Lomax.
Marty is well known as the “founder” of SKIL. Marty, along with her sister Jeanette Pruitt, did the heavy lifting in 1992 following the reauthorization of the Rehab Act, which brought much needed federal dollars to Kansas to establish a statewide network of Independent Living Centers.
Seeing the need for a Center for Independent Living in Southeast Kansas, Marty set about forming a small group of dedicated citizens, each of whom had a unique disability. This diverse group of Kansans became the nucleus of what would become “Southeast Kansas independent Living, Inc.” also known as SEKIL.
SEKIL later became SKIL as the legal name changed to “Southeast Kansas Independent Living Resource Center, Inc.” a few years later. Marty was the first chair of the board of directors and served briefly as Interim Executive Director following the departure of our first Executive Director prior to the hiring of Shari Coatney.
Carolyn Freeman was one of the first SKIL customers to assume a leadership position on the SKIL Board of Directors. Being a customer first and a member of the board of directors later, gave Carolyn a unique perspective as she made governing decisions in those early years of SKIL.
Carolyn was active in advocacy efforts on the local level in Pittsburg, KS and attend the National Council on Independent Living (NCIL) annual conference in Washington, D.C. She retired to Arizona for health reasons a few years ago.
Darlene Lomax was the first African-American board member and brought a fresh perspective to our board. Though she was not a SKIL customer, she was an elder caring for another elder, an aunt who attended a SKIL Annual Meeting when well into her nineties.
Darlene, too, was active locally and attended the NCIL conference in support of national advocacy efforts. One of my favorite NCIL memories is of taking cab rides with Darlene to see the only two memorials in Washington, DC that she cared to see.
Our first stop was the most important place she had to see… the eternal flame on JFK’s tomb in Arlington National Cemetery. While there, we also paid a visit and gave our respects at the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier and watched the changing of the guards ceremony.
We stopped on the way back into town at the Vietnam Memorial, Darlene’s other “must see.” She walked quietly and with great reverence at that site though she never told me the meaning of that experience.
“Ms. Lomax” took a no nonsense approach to the important issues and imparted wisdom sprinkled with stories from her younger years to explain her positions.
All three pioneers of independent living are sorely missed. Their contributions to our ILC and our beloved movement are worthy of recollection on a somber day like today.
Memorials in each of their honor have been established at the SKIL Resource Center, with proceeds now into several hundred dollars which will support out on-going mission of support for Kansans with disabilities.