This Labor Day, Richard Oswald honors workers with developmental disabilities — and sheltered workshops, like the one in Rock Port, Missouri, that keep providing jobs for them.">
Back in the early '60s, the prettiest girl I ever saw moved in just over the hill from Langdon, to Rock Port.
She was about 14 years old when her construction-foreman Dad loaded up his family and came here from Dennison, Iowa, to build a packing plant. It was at the construction site one evening in 1964 that I first saw my wife, Linda, with her Mom and Dad and her brother Wayne.
From that day on I could never get Linda off my mind. People talk about love at first sight. Most mature people would say that it doesn’t apply to young teens. But what do they know? (We were a sort of Romeo and Juliet without the family rivalry)
Though Linda wasn’t quite as impressed with me as I was with her, eventually persistence paid off, and Wayne became my brother-in-law.
man about Rock Port, MO
Photo: Richard Oswald
Wayne lived with his parents until Linda’s Dad, Doyle, passed away. Then Wayne continued to live with his mother, Dot, until a heart attack ended her life a few years later. That’s when Linda started calling Wayne her “inheritance.”
At first, after Dot passed away, Linda didn’t realize how well acquainted around town Wayne was. We talked about moving him down to the farm with us, but so many people expressed an interest in what Wayne would do without his mother, and where he would live, that Linda soon realized Wayne really was a part of the community.
So Wayne moved into his own little apartment in Rock Port at the Fair Oaks low rent housing development, and Linda took charge of his life.
You see, Wayne is developmentally disabled.
Fair Oaks is a tidy assortment of brick bungalows right next to Blue Jay Stadium on Country Club Drive. It’s just down the street from the park. This is the kind of place where people take evening strolls, or sit in the shade and visit on not-too-warm Sunday afternoons. Mothers push their babies in strollers, teenagers cruise past, and lawnmowers drone in every yard on Saturday morning.
Wayne makes a catch on the weekend
Photo: Richard Oswald
Wayne walks down Main Street just about every day on his way home from work. One of his buddies, Ronny, used to own a service station at the four-way stop. Every evening Wayne would stop to see Ronny, and sometimes Ronny would give Wayne a cigar. They’d talk over current events, and then Wayne would move on down the street swinging his lunchbox, walking an easy stride. Ronny works in the hardware store now. He and Wayne still compare notes, and cigars.
Cigars are one of Wayne’s two vices. The other is that he drinks an occasional beer. The UPS man brought back a cigar for Wayne from his Caribbean cruise, and every so often Rick the plumber sneaks him a stogie. (Cigars are strictly for outdoors, and beers are limited to weekend barbecues at the farm. Those are orders from Linda.)
Not long ago Linda was talking to the phone company manager, Raymond. That’s when she found out Wayne was visiting with him too. “Wait a minute, you’re Wayne’s sister?” he asked.
One of Wayne’s favorite pictures is a snapshot taken of him and former Lieutenant Governor Joe Maxwell when Joe passed through Rock Port a few years back.
Wayne knows just about everyone.
He does odd jobs for some of his neighbors, like heavy lifting and taking out the trash. He’s pretty modest about helping out. Usually his only comment is “Me help old lady.” (Sometimes Wayne isn’t too good with names.)
Wayne just turned 62. His health is OK partly because he hasn’t got a worry in the world”¦except for global warming. He thinks we need more nuclear power, and he’s rooting for Obama in “˜08. It’s tough to get a handle on Wayne’s politics. He’s a sort of red-neck liberal. And he likes Nebraska Big Red football: The Huskers.
Every day, Wayne goes to work at Northwest Missouri Industries, a sheltered workshop in Rock Port. Part of his job is serving as a custodian at the tourist information center out on the interstate west of town. NWMI has a contract with the state to maintain the grounds.
Northwest Missouri Industries' sheltered workshop in Rock Port, MO
Photo: Richard Oswald
Missouri has more than 80 sheltered workshops relying on a mix of local and state funding. Employees such as Wayne, who are developmentally disabled, earn an average of about $2.52/hour. It may not seem like much, but that job makes a big difference in Wayne’s life.
Most of us don’t think about how lucky we are. We moan about our jobs and groan about our co-workers, or our bills, but we never really consider the satisfaction a human being gains from being self sufficient, or the pleasure of having someplace to go each day.
Wayne thinks about it each and every day.
Linda sometimes talks about growing up with a brother who was different. The picture of that brown-eyed girl along with her brother, being followed home from school by kids throwing snowballs and taunts isn’t so pretty. At least the place where Wayne lives now is a prettier place than that.
For Wayne, having something to do every day is important, but working a regular job just isn’t possible. A conventional workplace can be dangerous, and difficult for Wayne to understand. That’s why Wayne can’t work just any place.
About 20 years ago, the Missouri General Assembly approved Senate Bill 40, which gave independent boards in individual counties the right to tax in order to establish and pay for facilities like Northwest Missouri Industries in Rock Port. The revenue collected in each county under SB 40 is controlled by locally elected directors who allocate funds each year. In Atchison County, half those funds are devoted to the sheltered workshop and the other half helps maintain housing and care for the developmentally disabled a few miles east in Tarkio.
Altogether, the money from SB 40 and accompanying state aid generates over $4 for every dollar expended. They call that the multiplier effect.
As far as we’re concerned, the pride and personal fulfillment of sheltered employment for folks like my brother-in-law are almost priceless.
But not everyone feels that way.
In Missouri, state support hasn’t kept up with costs. Cutbacks in the Department of Mental Health have meant fewer jobs and poorer pay. Total state funding for workshops statewide is near $19 million. Over all, the Missouri Department of Mental Health’s division of MRDD (Mental Retardation and Developmental Disabilities) receives about $550 million, or about 2% of the total state budget.
After all the cutbacks in Missouri for health care, it was noteworthy this year when Missouri’s General Assembly passed a single tax-credit bill for one St. Louis developer amounting to nearly $100 million.
Missouri has become a prolific provider of tax credits for big business as the state budget continues to grow. A significant part of that growth is handed back to Missouri businesses in the name of economic development even though Missouri ranks in the top 15 states for being business friendly. (That means our taxes are really low.)
I guess that’s why.
Wayne Elliott takes time off with a cold one and a sauna
Photo: Richard Oswald
The GAO recently released a report revealing that many foreign-run domestic corporations aren’t paying the Federal payroll taxes they owe. If some corporations aren’t paying Federal taxes, it seems likely the states are being shortchanged as well.
Sometimes our priorities can be way off target, especially if lobbyists for big business convince governments that tax revenue should be considered joint property.
Of course, I’m somewhat biased. Wayne says, “You, me, we family, right?”
Right on, Wayne.