Steve Welker’s foray into the performing arts started with a drama of his own. A tragedy really.
Welker and wife Kristina in April 1994 drove to meet the pregnant surrogate mother of their children in Scottsdale when an impaired driver jumped the median and hit their Jeep Cherokee head-on.
Both were severely injured and endured a long, grueling recovery. Their twin boys, Colton and Dylan, were born two weeks after the accident, but Welker would never see the two as he ended up blind from the injuries. Think about that for a moment.
“I would have said you were crazy if you think you can overcome something like this,” Welker says. “The first 37 years of life with sight, but you learn to compensate for the vision loss. It’s amazing how resilient the human mind can be.”
Twenty-plus years on, the boys are now men and Welker continues to find solace talking about his experience, resilience and teaching others to navigate the world without vision. He serves on the local board of Lions Club International, the philanthropic organization that blind and deaf author and activist Helen Keller, in 1925, challenged to become “knights of the blind in the crusade against darkness.”
“You don’t understand how strange it is to talk without reading body language or seeing eyes,” Welker says. “I didn’t know when people walked away and I might still be talking.”
Welker and the Lions Club of Chandler challenge perceptions of the blind and what life is like without sight during “Blinded by De-Light,” an evening of dinner theater and education on April 18 at Hamilton High School.
Welker; fellow Lion Bill Fullerton, a war veteran who is also blind; the Hamilton Leo Club, a public-service student group at the school; and the Hamilton culinary arts and drama departments promise a night of good food, great conversation and live entertainment — all while blindfolded.
“It’s our first shot at this, dinner in the dark,” Welker says. “By the end of the night, guests will see that it’s not scary and that they can still function.”
“Blinded by De-Light” kicks off with masks being passed out to guests by Leo Club members before dinner is served in the Hamilton cafeteria, says former Hamilton teacher and Leo Club adviser Diana Moore, who also serves on the Chandler Lions Club board.
“Scott and Bill will be teaching us how to eat, watch and listen like a blind person,” Moore says. “As the students serve us, they will be talking and working with attendees on how they learned to eat, such as treating a plate like a clock and placing the meat at 12 o’clock.”
The evening’s program
Hamilton culinary arts instructor Orlando Chaney says the meal of Chicken Kiev with roasted red-pepper sauce, whipped potatoes, asparagus and lemon-lime panna cotta with a blueberry crumble will be prepared by the school’s third-year culinary arts students, members of Family, Career and Community Leaders of America Culinary Arts Club.
“(The student-chefs) are honored and excited to prepare the meals for the ‘Blinded by De-light’ event, sure to be a unique dining experience,” Chaney says. “Ironically, my Uncle Leo, a former barber and Baptist preacher in New Orleans, lost his vision in both eyes at 53 and lived totally blind for 20 years before he passed away at 73.”
Everyone is moved by the event, including Hamilton’s Drama Club, which during dinner will perform “The 39 Steps,” a play based on the 1915 adventure novel by John Buchan and made famous by the Alfred Hitchcock movie of the same name starring Robert Donat and Madeleine Carroll.
“It’s a radio play meant to be read allowed,” says Hamilton theater teacher Christina Vail. “It’s a Alfred Hitchcock thriller but humorous, a melodrama.”
For a good cause
The dinner, theater and interactions with Welker and Fullerton emphasize a world without sight and will help raise funds for Chandler Lions Club’s eye-care and eyewear program that provide free exams and eyeglasses to youth in Chandler.
The club donated 187 pairs of eyeglasses to Chandler students last year.
“This is a sensory experience to create a better understanding among the public as to the challenges that men and women with disabilities may face every day and how they’re able to overcome those challenges,” Moore says. “We will teach participants how to eat and watch a show without being able to see.”
Bill Fullerton, the guest speaker at “Blinded by De-Light,” lost his vision in 1969 during an improvised explosive device (IED) explosion at the height of the Vietnam War. “We used to call them ‘booby traps,’ ” Fullerton says and laughs. “I’ve had no sight, no light perception, T-totally blind since the explosion.”
Fullerton pays closer attention to his surroundings without eyesight. “You drop a quarter on the kitchen floor and listen for which direction did it go,” he says. “Your other senses don’t improve, you use what you have left.”
After becoming blind, Fullerton says he took a college-preparation course “put on” by the Lions in Little Rock, Arkansas, and has since earned two college degrees and spent a career working for the Department of Labor in Louisiana. “I just got back from spending time at the (VA) in Tucson, where they gave me a talking computer,” he says. “You adapt.”
Blinded by De-Light
6 p.m. April 18.
Chandler Hamilton High School.
3700 S. Arizona Ave., Chandler.
$20 in advance; no tickets at the door.
Call 480-883-0960 or 480-895-3569 to purchase tickets.
For the Chandler Lions Club, visit www.e-clubhouse.org/sites/chandleraz.
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