story by Jean Giesige
(5-11-18) All Ruth Kremer of Chickasaw wants for her son, Kyle, today is all she has ever wanted for him since the day he was born.
“I wanted him to have every opportunity to have as much of a normal life as possible.”
Because of her advocacy for Kyle, her fierce defense of his right to the pursuit of happiness, and her work for other children with developmental disabilities throughout the county, Ruth was awarded the Albert Heckler Award in March. The award is presented each year by Cheryl Ann Programs to an outstanding parent volunteer/advocate.
Kyle, the youngest of Ruth and Virgil Kremer’s six children, was born in 1984 with Trisomy 8p, a chromosomal disorder that would severely slow his development.
“They told us it could be mild or severe, that he could live to be an adult or die in infancy. We would have to take it one day at a time.”
While Ruth had no experience in caring for an infant with developmental disabilities, she couldn’t just wait and see what would happen to Kyle. She isn’t natured that way. At first she tried psychomotor patterning with Kyle. The family and a team of volunteers worked with the infant 12 hours a day, seven days a week, for over a year.
It didn’t bring the results that she hoped. After a visit from Cheryl Ann’s then-superintendent, Mike Overman, and staffer Chris Schulte, Ruth and Virgil decided to try Cheryl Ann.
“The Cheryl Ann experience was always wonderful.”
Kyle was enrolled in Cheryl Ann’s infant stimulation program. And Ruth met other parents who would become friends and allies in her efforts to improve and expand Kyle’s life and that of other children like him.
Kyle entered public school at the age of six. Once he was outside of the loving cocoon of family life, Ruth had to step up her efforts to make sure he was being treated like the other children in his classroom, as much as possible.
Cheryl Ann Superintendent Shawn Thieman
“She did everything she could to help Kyle over the years. As Kyle grew up, she became very involved in the schools. She pushed for the rights of students with disabilities. She was not afraid to stand up for them.”
She was also vital to ARC of Mercer County, organizing fundraisers and events for children, and bringing in speakers who could give families the information and encouragement they needed.
Helping Kyle became a focus of the Kremer household.
“Our other kids had to grow up fast. But I think it made us stronger as a family. Our kids grew up with responsibilities as we all took care of Kyle and that in turn made them good parents, good people.”
Kyle is now 34 years old and lives with two housemates in a home in Maria Stein that was custom built for people with disabilities. Her son, whom she might have lost in infancy, now has a happy and fulfilling life. Kyle loves family events where he can watch his nieces and nephews run and play. Virgil and Ruth are planning to build their retirement home to be near Kyle.
Ruth’s efforts over the years extended beyond Kyle. She served for 12 years (2004–16) on the Mercer County Board of DD, where she was an insightful advocate for the people Cheryl Ann serves.
“Ruth asked the questions that nobody else wanted to ask. She was never satisfied until she understood the whole story. She wanted to put the pieces together. It was an honor for me to work with Ruth; if anybody wanted to know what it is to be an advocate for children with developmental disabilities, I would tell them about Ruth.”
While her path was difficult at times, she said, her motivation was simple: to help Kyle and other children like him have the life that they deserve.
“If people would get to know our kids, they would love them. I was always fighting for acceptance for them, fighting for people to see them as valuable. I want everything for these kids.”