“Messenger to the Sightless,” Ensign, Apr. 1977, 66
When I was twenty-one years old, a patriarch laid his hands on my head and said, “Your name and your fame will go around the world, and people in many nations will hear your voice.” I thought this sounded a bit farfetched. I had been almost totally blind since I was a baby, when an infection which could easily be cured now had left me with one percent vision. I hadn’t planned a career and I didn’t know what the future held for one with my handicap.
Most of my early school years were spent at the State School for the Blind in Gooding, Idaho. I later graduated from Ricks College in Rexburg and attended the University of Idaho. Blessed with natural musical talent, I could play the piano, saxophone, and coronet with only brief training; and as a young man I played in dance orchestras. But times were hard, and often my pay was only a sack of carrots and a chicken.
I had a natural interest in politics, since my father, uncles, and a cousin had all served in the Idaho state legislature, my father for three terms. So in 1938, motivated by the knowledge that if I were in the legislature I might help lay the groundwork for needed programs of services for the adult blind, I campaigned and won a two-year term. Yet after my mother died in 1940, I didn’t know exactly where to turn or what to do. I was thirty years of age, and my seven brothers and sisters were all married and living their own lives.
One day as I lay sleeping, although I seemed nearly awake, my mother came and stood over my bed and put her hand on my forehead. “Jesse, don’t worry,” she said, “everything is going to be all right. No problems.” A short time later my sister’s former missionary companion, Edna Stewart, and I decided to marry. She and our two lovely children have been my eyes ever since.
But times were hard for us. We had a small plot of ground, chickens, and a cow, and we were poor. I prayed for guidance as to how to support my family. One day it occurred to me that Albert Talmage, the blind man who in 1913 had inaugurated a monthly braille periodical, Messenger to the Sightless, and who produced the magazine in his home on a homemade press, would eventually have to retire. I made inquiries about the work, and in 1949 I went to work for President George Albert Smith, who was also president of the “Society for the Aid of the Sightless.” When Brother Talmage retired in 1953, I became editor and enlarged the publication, renaming it the New Messenger. It contained material from all Church publications, as well as editorials, poetry, short stories, hymns, and other information. In 1958 we commenced recording bimonthly the New Messenger Talking Book, a long-playing record, one hour on each side, containing General Authorities’ talks, interviews with prominent people, music by the Tabernacle Choir and organ, and other helpful information. Our mailing list for this is 2,200. Since 1961 we have also supplied without charge recordings of adult Sunday School, priesthood, and Relief Society lessons; and in 1972 the family home evening lessons were added. These materials are free to any visually handicapped person anywhere in the world, whether a member of the Church or not.
With that milestone, I have humbly acknowledged the fulfillment of the blessing given to me that people in many nations would hear my voice. And I firmly believe that most persons, regardless of their handicap, with the proper tools and motivation, can take their full part in the Church, whatever their callings might be.