Signs of Progress Special Education Principal Retires after 34 Years

Article excerpt

Byline: C. L. Waller Daily Herald Staff Writer

Randy Gunderson asks a summer school student if he is feeling better.

Still a little "puking," the young boy says. Then he pulls up the front of his shirt to show the principal his side.

It could be just another brief encounter between a principal and an elementary student. This time, however, the conversation is about moving fingers more than lips. The student is hard of hearing and both he and his principal talk through sign language.

Gunderson has spent his career of 34 years opening doors for the deaf and hard of hearing. And with his retirement this month from the John Powers Center, he hopes to continue doing some consulting work.

Part of the Special Education District of Lake County in Vernon Hills, the center has elementary students who advance to a program at Vernon Hills High School. The center and high school have 72 students and the program also works with another 350 in classrooms throughout Lake County.

A Chicago native, Gunderson said he came to know deaf people early in life on his visits to the doctor's office. As a child, he had recurring medical problems after having his tonsils removed, so for a while he regularly visited an ear, nose and throat specialist. Gunderson also had a deaf friend in the Scouts.

Gunderson arrived at SEDOL in 1970 as a social worker intern, and in 1971 he became the first social worker for the deaf and hard of hearing program. He was named principal in 1982.

The John Powers Center at the start was four mobile trailers in the middle of a lot of farm land, he recalled. The permanent building on the Hawthorn Elementary District 73 campus was built in 1980 and named after Powers, a Harvard, Ill., native who was committed to helping special needs students at SEDOL for seven years before dying of leukemia at the age of 37.

Many who worked with the 56-year-old Gunderson talk about his commitment and sense of humor. "He has put his whole heart and soul into his program," said Carol DuClos, assistant superintendent at SEDOL. …