Island of Refuge
Northern Wisconsin Center for the Developmentally Disabled
Island of Refuge is a story of heroes from 1897 - 1997. Not the
military or athletic sort, but of the slow, the lame, the stammerers, and those who fell to the floor
epileptic spasms. It tells the story of the feeble-minded, the mentally retarded,
the physically and developmentally disabled, some of who never rose
from their beds.
Like all heroes, they did great deeds. They milked cows,
created needlework art, earned merit badges as Boy Scouts and
Girl Scouts; simple tasks for most people, but difficult
for those with a lesser share of strength and skill.
Most of all, they learned to live with their disabilities and with
the system of care the people of Wisconsin provided for them.
Their heroism consisted of performing the chores of daily life, in
learning to survive inside an institution, and for some in more
recent times, growing able to live beyond its walls. The
fortunate were able to come to terms with their
Island of Refuge is also a story of the caregivers. They are the
cottage attendants and farmers, teachers and doctors, therapists and
social workers who implemented the philosophy of care for the
developmentally disabled as it evolved over a century.
The title, Island of Refuge, is an adaptation of the phrase "cities of
refuge" coined by Dr. Isaac Kerlin, on of the founders of the
institutional care for the developmentally disabled in the United
Sates and the mentor of Dr. Alfred Wilmarth, the first
superintendent of the Wisconsin Home. For Wilmarth and nearly
everyone else in Wisconsin at the time, the Home was to be an
island, easy to get to, but nearly impossible to leave. It was
also to be a refuge where those unable to cope with the world into
which they were born could lead safe, simple, and productive lives.
Island of Refuge owes its life to a corps of staff volunteers who
decided that the history of the institution should be preserved and
who devoted many hours to research and collect source material; to
friends who loaned papers, documents and photos; to former residents
and staff who sat for interviews and whose insights added greatly to
understanding the facts gathered in research; and to an underwriter
who did not hesitate to support the project.
To the best of our knowledge, no book of this sort on this subject
has ever been published. The people whose lives are
illustrated here rarely appear in history books. Perhaps this
effort will amend that omission so that those who lived on the
island of refuge, and their heroism, will not be forgotten.
Michael J Goc - January, 1997
To purchase this book contact: Northern Wisconsin Center's Business Office
at 715-723-5542 ext. 4131 or the
Valley Credit Union at 1680 East Park Avenue, Chippewa Falls, WI 54729.
Email your comments to: DeAnn.Perry@Wisconsin.gov
April 24, 2014