In 1950, Florence Adair made a plea to the Kiwanis Club of Albert Lea on behalf of her son Dennis and other children with Down Syndrome. Because the public school had no classes that allowed for the inclusion and education of these children, Dennis and his peers had no school to attend. They needed a privately funded program. Florence established the Freeborn County Parents and Friends of the Mentally Retarded, The Kiwanis took up her cause and funded a school, the Albert Lea Tribune published articles to raise public awareness, and in six months, Albert Lea's Alpha Class became a prototype for the education of children with severe mental challenges. As the years went by, the Alpha Class morphed into a preschool for retarded children, and Florence continued to work to create a program in the public school and a vocational center for retarded adults. The Civil Rights Act of 1964 and Title IX eventually established federally mandated education programs for all American children, but fourteen years before those wheels started turning, Florence Adair helped establish the first Minnesota education program outside St.Paul and Duluth for children with Down Syndrome and other conditions that excluded them from existing public school programs. People came from other towns, observed what was being done in Albert Lea, and took ideas back to their communities. The quality of life in Minnesota definitely improved because of Florence Adair's tireless efforts to right an injustice and provide education for Dennis and all other children who had been forgotten or ignored prior to 1950.
~Joan Claire Graham, Albert Lea, MN
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