'Look the world straight in the eye'

| 25 Aug 2016 | 02:00

By Christine Urio
— A Monroe man has been conducting extensive research on Helen Keller’s involvement at the facility known as Rest-Haven Inc., located at 236 High St.
Keller, as generations of people know, overcame the adversity of being blind and deaf to become one of the 20th century's leading humanitarians.
“From 1923 to 1968, history shows this house did serve as an adult home residence for healthy blind women, and has since served as an adult home residence for the developmentally disabled too,” said Timothy Mitts. “Helen’s involvement is one in which she visited the home and overlooked the very operation.”
Her duties at the facility were that of a trustee with the American Foundation for the Blind (AFB).
“She was intimately involved in its operation as a board of trustee," he said. "However, the pictures in 1950 show that she even visited the facility from time to time.”
This discovery has proved that Keller was more involved with Rest Haven than previously known.
“Some people talk of her just visiting the area to see her good friends, the Migel family,” said Mitts. “While this is true that they were good friends and she did visit them, records show that Helen was involved in Rest Haven’s existence.”

Landmark designation sought

Once the property is designated as a historic landmark, it will be restored to its original condition.
“The house will return to its original red and white colors," he said. "Historical pictures will dangle from these walls. The mantel stating 'without the stormy winds may blow, within this haven all is peace,' will once again sit in its rightful place. The shades will dangle from their hinges. All 11 fireplaces will heat up the night as we move forward into the next 100 years. A plaque will be placed on significant spots of the property so that time does not lose them again.”
He is looking to continue the house’s pre-existing operation as an adult home residence to meet the needs of the community, like it has done since 1923.
Funding for this project has been achieved through a combination of personal funds, bank financing, and private money.
“Our desire is to preserve the property history both architecturally and as it relates to Helen, and to allow the community to rejoice in the history of the property knowing that it will stand as it has for the last 110 years,” Mitts said. “In just a few years, Rest Haven will come to enjoy its 100 years as an adult home residence that services this community.”

Structure frozen in time

Mitts will not allow the property to be subdivided and intends to preserve the history that has been “lost far too long.”
“Time has changed around the house, but the house has not changed over time,” he added.
Thorough research has been conducted and significant progress made, resulting in recognition from Kirk Adams, American Foundation for the Blind president.
“He (Adams) has expressed his gratitude in our discovery of Rest Haven Inc., and sees it as an important chapter in the history books for both Helen Keller and the American Foundation for the Blind,” Mitts said.
Inspiration for Mitts’ research stemmed from his three daughters.
“I know my daughters all heard of and studied the history of Helen Keller, " he said. "I want them to now experience it firsthand. I want them to walk the same steps as Helen did on the property, stand on the very same steps she did with some 20 other adult blind women in 1950, walk the very same hallways Helen did over many years. I want them not to read of Helen’s greatness, but to see Helen’s greatness.”

Preserve the history that has 'made this community great'

Keller is remembered for many things, such as her thoughts on life: "Never bend your head. Always hold it high. Look the world straight in the eye."
And while his associates were inspired by Helen’s history, Mitts was also personally inspired by her accomplishments.
“I am inspired by the triumphs Ms. Keller overcame in a dark world when looking into a seeing world,” he said. “A woman who showed that with effort and endurance, anyone can see the greatness of this world, even in the dark.”
With the findings he has made, Mitts hopes to preserve the history that has “made this community great.”
“The old folks talk of the days when they helped the blind adult women as they came to Monroe to visit from 1923 to 1968,” he said. “They talk of a community that chipped in to help them enjoy their summer retreat by offering them assistance to shopping, going to church and even just enjoy the environment that Monroe has to offer with its lakes and cherished hills.”