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Archive for Sunday, February 8, 2004

Raising Gary: A mother’s love and a lot of faith

Defiant mom helps son overcome odds

February 8, 2004

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— Through the years, Dorothy Rumbaugh hasn't asked for a whole heck of a lot. She's been more giver than taker.

She's devoted much of her life to caring for her son Gary, born 57 years ago with Down syndrome. After living in Oskaloosa a number of years, the two now share an old farmhouse in McLouth.

For parts of Gary's life, Dorothy had help and support from husband Gordon and son Marty. Marty was 19 when he died of leukemia in 1961. Dorothy's husband died in 1995.

"Gary's all I have," Dorothy said, leaning on the spotless oil cloth covering her kitchen table. Her son sat close to her side.

Two months after Gary was born at Lawrence Memorial Hospital, a doctor suggested he be placed in an institution that would provide for his special needs, not an uncommon recommendation in 1946 for babies like Gary.

"She told me that he'd never be able to dress himself or feed himself or even talk," Dorothy said defiantly. She recalls crying "all the way home and for a couple of weeks afterwards."

She prayed.

"I said, 'Lord, you take this child and you decide what he'll be,'" she recalled, patting Gary's arm.

Dorothy is 85 and healthy. But she worries about the future.

Gary, 57, and Dorothy Rumbaugh, 85, share a hug in their McLouth
living room. Dorothy has cared for her son all of his life.

Gary, 57, and Dorothy Rumbaugh, 85, share a hug in their McLouth living room. Dorothy has cared for her son all of his life.

"My prayer is for a sound mind for as long as Gary needs me ... I know God is in control ... we're not in control of anything," she said.

Country living

Dorothy was raised on a Jefferson County farm immersed in hard work disguised as country living. As a youngster, twice a day, she helped her dad, Steve Steinmetz, milk 14 Guernsey cows. She also cranked the separator that produced cream shipped by train from Williamstown to the Blue Valley Creamery in Kansas City.

"My older brothers were grown and gone so I was daddy's boy," Dorothy said, looking pleased. She and her dad hunted squirrels and opossums together.

"We'd walk for miles."





The squirrels wound up on the dinner table. Dorothy skinned the opossums, along with an occasional raccoon, and sold the hides in Lawrence.

Each hide that she'd scrape clean, stretch over a board and nail to the side of the barn to dry brought from 10 to 15 cents.

"I think old Mr. Ogle, there in Lawrence, gave us a little extra because we was kids," she said.

In the 1920s and early 1930s, her family followed the ruts to Lawrence in a wagon pulled by a team of horses. They'd leave the wagon in a North Lawrence livery barn and ride the street car to Montgomery Ward, the A&P supermarket and J.C. Penney Co. on Massachusetts Street.

Shotgun and Bible

Wal-Mart pharmacist Larry Michels returns Gary Rumbaugh's thumbs-up
as Gary's mother, Dorothy Rumbaugh, rear center, leaves one of
Gary's prescriptions to be filled. Michels and his wife, Diane,
have a 17-month-old daughter, Faith, who, like Gary, has Down
syndrome.

Wal-Mart pharmacist Larry Michels returns Gary Rumbaugh's thumbs-up as Gary's mother, Dorothy Rumbaugh, rear center, leaves one of Gary's prescriptions to be filled. Michels and his wife, Diane, have a 17-month-old daughter, Faith, who, like Gary, has Down syndrome.

In 1940, at age 21, Dorothy married and began raising her family on a farm north of Williamstown.

In 1964, when husband Gordon Rumbaugh was elected sheriff, she and young Gary moved into the Jefferson County Jail in Oskaloosa.

"My part of the deal was cooking three meals a day for the prisoners at $1.50 a head," Dorothy said.

Sometimes there were two inmates and sometimes a dozen.

"They were mostly just drunks and alcoholics and an occasional felon, but they were pretty decent people," she recalled.

Young Gary's mother would send him to the grocery store with his wagon and a German Shepherd, Tawny.

Gary sits at the kitchen table while his mother, Dorothy, talks
about their move from their two-story house in Oskaloosa to
McLouth. Their current one-story house makes life easier for the
two. Gary is a living example of medical literature that says those
with Down syndrome live much longer when included in a family's
everyday life.

Gary sits at the kitchen table while his mother, Dorothy, talks about their move from their two-story house in Oskaloosa to McLouth. Their current one-story house makes life easier for the two. Gary is a living example of medical literature that says those with Down syndrome live much longer when included in a family's everyday life.

Gary piped in, "Nobody bothered me."

At age 41, the sheriff's wife and jailhouse cook "came to know the Lord."

Dorothy said she was saved in her Oskaloosa living room by Pastor Bailey from the Ozawkie Baptist Church.

"I went to the Catholic Church before I was saved," she said.

And for the past 28 years she and Gary have attended the Carol Baptist Church in Atchison.

While she lived in the county jail she'd sit on the concrete steps outside the cells and read the Bible and pray with the prisoners. She'd find notes on empty food trays asking for Bible study.

"And there were times when I had a loaded shotgun behind the kitchen door when there were some safety concerns," she said. "God also teaches us to use our heads."

Gary, with his mother, Dorothy, is fond of using the universal sign
of affection: a hug.

Gary, with his mother, Dorothy, is fond of using the universal sign of affection: a hug.

Two terms dealing with the sheriff's office was enough for Dorothy.

"I told Gordon if he ran again I'd be running the other way," she said.

Angels Unaware

She and some friends in Oskaloosa organized "Angels Unaware," a facility for Jefferson County's "severely retarded."

"I went to a class at KU on tending to the handicapped, got some money from the welfare department and spent a lot of my own to get the thing started," Dorothy recalled.

It became a state-inspected daycare facility with learning tools for 35 or 40 children and adults with developmental disabilities. The food, which sometimes included breakfast, the rooms they occupied and most of their supplies were donated.

"I had a little Ford pickup and drove that thing all over Jefferson County picking up and delivering donations and people," Dorothy remembered.

Gary often made the rounds in the pickup.

Far from being a shrinking violet, Gary usually greets friends with
a hug. While shopping at Wal-Mart recently, he ran into Muriel
Agbegg, a McLouth neighbor, who chatted with him for a few minutes.

Far from being a shrinking violet, Gary usually greets friends with a hug. While shopping at Wal-Mart recently, he ran into Muriel Agbegg, a McLouth neighbor, who chatted with him for a few minutes.

Had he been institutionalized as a child, Gary's odds of reaching age 25 would not have been good, according to experts.

Down syndrome is caused by an extra chromosome in the body's cells. It occurs in one of 660-1,000 births. Down syndrome typically causes delayed development and is a leading cause of genetically based mental handicaps.

Doctors now say people with Down syndrome live much longer when raised with their families.

"We've taken Gary every place we ever went ... vacations, shopping, all of our trips," Dorothy said. "And if people shun me because of my child, well that's their problem."

Out on the town

On a recent trip to Wal-Mart the Rumbaughs were anything but shunned. The store's greeter, Marlene Roby, waved as they came through the door with their neighbor Gail Gray. In seconds Gary was hugging and being hugged by Roby.

As they approached the pharmacy to drop off his prescriptions, Gary was hanging tight to the shopping cart next to his mother. Pharmacist Larry Michels waved from behind the counter.

"Hi, Mrs. Rumbaugh. Hi, Gary," Michels said, returning Gary's thumbs- up.

Michels chatted with Gary and showed him a new photo of his 17-month-old daughter, Faith. Like Gary, she has Down syndrome.

They talked about Faith coming to McLouth for a visit.

"Oh, I'd love to hold her when you come," Gary said.

The Rumbaughs, Gary, left, and Dorothy, right, pick up a few things
in Wal-Mart while Gary's prescriptions are being filled. Their
neighbor, Gail Gray, rode along on the trip from McLouth to
Lawrence. Gray and Dorothy take turns driving their cars on errands
and to church in Atchison to conserve their finances. "Gail eats
dinner and supper with us and helps out with the groceries,"
Dorothy said.

The Rumbaughs, Gary, left, and Dorothy, right, pick up a few things in Wal-Mart while Gary's prescriptions are being filled. Their neighbor, Gail Gray, rode along on the trip from McLouth to Lawrence. Gray and Dorothy take turns driving their cars on errands and to church in Atchison to conserve their finances. "Gail eats dinner and supper with us and helps out with the groceries," Dorothy said.

At home, Faith is on Dorothy's prayer list.

"First thing I get up in the morning I read the Bible, have prayer and pray for people on my prayer list," she said.

About a year ago, Gary had an operation to remove his thyroid gland, which was impaired by a growth. When they returned from the hospital his mother said he was depressed and "just wasn't himself."

So, between them they wrote a short song they've named "I Can Do All Things Through Christ."

Both wore big smiles after singing and clapping to the music in their kitchen.

"You was so sick," Dorothy said, "I had to do something to get you hepped up."

Sometimes when Gary is lethargic and naps too much she plays a "Hee-Haw" or "Statler Brothers" gospel tape.

"We act silly and we'll dance around the kitchen to keep him busy and entertained," Dorothy said, smiling.

Sitting in her living room wearing bibbed overalls, Dorothy said, "People like Gary used to live to be in their 30s and it's special if they lived to be 40. Him being 57 is exceptional."

"This just don't happen," she said, " but nothing is impossible with God."

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