Next Wednesday, the statue of Helen Keller made by Alabama sculptor Edward Hlavka will be unveiled in Statuary Hall, the result of a collective effort reaching from Talladega to Washington, D.C.
Statuary Hall holds statues selected by all 50 states to represent them in Washington, many states have two statues in the hall.
Dr. Joe Busta, former president of the Alabama Institute for Deaf and Blind, recalls how the tribute to one of Alabama’s and the United State’s most inspiring people came to fruition.
“When he was running for Congress for the first term, Gov. Bob Riley and Mrs. Riley, along with their daughter, visited the institute,” Busta said.
Now vice president for development and alumni relations for the University of South Alabama, Busta said the Rileys were especially impressed by the Helen Keller School, where children who are deaf and or blind and have other concerns such as developmental delays and or physical concerns are taught.
“They were especially touched by the children there and what was taking place at the school,” Busta said.
Busta said the impressions of the school visit apparently stayed with the Rileys.
When Congress made changes in law allowing states to change out statues in the hall, Riley called to ask Busta if there was a way to have a sculpture of Keller placed in the hall.
“This goes back to their experience at the Helen Keller School,” Busta said.
A series of events then took place, bringing the idea to a reality when the statue is unveiled during ceremonies next week.
The statue was designed depicting Keller as a child, at the moment when she understood the meaning of language as her teacher, Anne Sullivan, pumped water over one of her hands and spelled out the word “water” in the other. The statue is fixed to a base of Sylacauga marble.
AIDB will be well represented in the ceremonies Wednesday, with a number of administration and staff attending.
A special delegation of students is traveling to the ceremonies as well, and will entertain for a pre-unveiling dinner hosted by the Rileys Tuesday night and for the unveiling ceremony Wednesday morning as well.
Four-year-old Malia Thibado, a pre-schooler at Alabama School for the Blind, along with Timmareo Woods, a student at the Helen Keller School, will sing a medley of patriotic songs with student interpreters Nichole Gordy and Tasha Ostrowski, who are both deaf, signing during the performances.
The students have been rehearsing for weeks, fine tuning the performance for a national audience.
During an afternoon of rehearsal this week, Woods said the trip will be his first to the nation’s Capitol.
“I feel very good about it,” he said.
Woods has performed with the school’s student vocal group, The Blind Boys.
Malia’s mother, Karen Thibado of Pell City, will accompany her daughter for the occasion and watched a rehearsal Wednesday afternoon.
“We are very honored to be a part of this,” she said. “It’s exciting to be part of honoring the legacy of Helen Keller.”
The statue will do much to honor the legacy of Helen Keller and her teacher, Anne Sullivan, said AIDB President Dr. Terry Graham.
“The statue will be a perpetual reminder of what people can do,” Graham said. “What I especially like about the statue is how it will remind people of what Helen Keller achieved, and also of what a teacher can do. Anne Sullivan knew the potential that was in that child and she unlocked the potential in Helen Keller.”
Graham said the partnering between Gov. Riley and Busta has produced an inspirational effect in the statue.
“When people walk by the statue, it will create a teachable moment,” Graham said.