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Board of Directors Gives Himmelsbach Fond Farewell at Luncheon

Farewell DJ CR LH

Assistant Executive Director Denise Jess and Board President Chris Richmond Join Outgoing Executive Director Loretta Himmelsbach (right) at Farewell Luncheon

The Wisconsin Council of the Blind & Visually Impaired Board of Directors gave retiring Executive Director Loretta Himmelsbach a fitting farewell at a celebration on July 30.

Following the quarterly board meeting, friends, family and co-workers gathered at Union South in Madison to wish Loretta well as she prepares to retire on September 29. Board President Chris Richmond thanked Loretta for her six years of leading the day-to-day operations of the Council and presented a gift to her – a large wind chime – on behalf of the board.

While she has spent 40 years working for non-profit organizations, Loretta said the past six years have been exceptionally gratifying and have changed her in ways she never would have imagined. She discussed her time with the Council during an emotional speech at the luncheon.

“People have come into my life where normally our paths would not have crossed. I have become acquainted with grassroots organizations – with like causes as the Council – with social justice and advocacy at the forefront of their mission,” Himmelsbach reflected. “These experiences sustain my soul.”

She said it takes everyone working together for an organization to be successful.

“I have worked with outstanding board chairs, officers, task force and committee members,” Loretta said. “Your unique and fun personalities have been a joy. We have an excellent staff team who accomplish so much to impact lives. You have been dedicated and steadfast, which I greatly appreciate. And all of you at lunch today have helped me become a better person.”

Not only have the working relationships been rewarding, but Loretta has been through personal milestones and life celebrations with those involved with the Council. In the past six years, she has become better acquainted with vision researchers at the University of Wisconsin, has helped pass important legislation such as the Instructional Materials Accessibility Act 124, and has enjoyed fulfilling events like Gallery Night, the Council’s 60th anniversary celebration at the Madison Children’s Museum and recreational events such as snowshoeing on Lake Mendota.

Through the Council’s scholarship program, Loretta has met the leaders of tomorrow and she has been inspired by the students’ drive to pursue their dreams. Through the awards program, she has also met wonderful people  who “have gone the extra mile in supporting individuals who are blind or visually impaired.”

“We have made incredible progress organizationally, building a very strong infrastructure and groundwork for what is yet to come,” Loretta said.

As she prepares for retirement, Loretta believes the Council will continue to succeed under new CEO/Executive Director Denise Jess, who begins her role on October 1.

“You have influenced me, you have broadened my horizons,” Loretta said. “Thank you for the honor of being your Executive Director, your staff leader. Thank you for giving me the chance to get to know you better, to laugh with you, to cry with you and to accomplish some pretty awesome things together. I will carry you in my heart!”

September 12 is Last Day to Apply for a Board of Directors Position

If you’re looking for an opportunity to make a difference with the Council and the broader blind and visually impaired community, don’t wait! Today is the deadline to apply for a position on our Board of Directors.

Application materials are available on our website,, under the “Who We Are” tab. The Council will have four seats available on the board starting in January 2017. Terms on the board are for three years, running through 2019.

As a member of our Board of Directors, you will play an important role in developing the direction and policies for a premier organization serving Wisconsin residents who are blind and visually impaired.

Persons eligible to apply must be legal residents of Wisconsin: (1) whose central visual acuity does not exceed 20/70 in the better eye, with best correction; or (2) whose visual acuity if better than 20/70, has a limit to the field of vision to such a degree that its widest diameter subtends an angle no greater than 20 degrees; or (3) who have direct and real life connection with people who are blind or visually impaired and don’t meet the stated visual limitations listed above (1 and 2) and are eligible to serve as members of the Council.  At no time should the number of individuals from the third category exceed three persons.

Applicants must have reliable access to a computer and an email address, be able to open and read MS Word and Excel attachments, and be able to reply to electronic communications.

A position on the board is a volunteer service, but it also requires a strong commitment.  It is essential that applicants understand that they must respond to or follow through with requests from fellow board members, the Executive Director, or Council staff, since this is how the Council conducts business.

On the application, candidates will be asked why they wish to serve the Council and to list their skill sets as they relate to our mission and strategic priorities. Candidates should be able to discuss what the Council’s mission means to them and share perceptions regarding the service needs and concerns of people who are blind or visually impaired. Candidates should list their education, work experience, skills and other abilities relative to the Council’s programs and services.  Community outreach is an important function of being a Council Board member, so, if you enjoy meeting new people, presenting to groups and promoting the Council by telling our story, we look forward to receiving your application.

The Council encourages anyone to complete the board application process if he or she has the skills and desire to advocate, as well as help direct policy and activities for the Council.

 “Dining in the Dark” Comes to Madison this Weekend

 Din The D

Dining in the Dark will open your eyes to some of the challenges people with vision loss experience.

“Dining in the Dark” is coming this weekend! Vignette Dining Club is very excited to join the Council for this two-day dining experience on Saturday and Sunday.

During “Dining in the Dark,” you will have the rare opportunity to rethink the significance of vision while dining, since guests are blindfolded through the entire meal.

Saturday, September 17: 7-10 p.m.
Sunday, September 18: 1-4 p.m.

$70 per person (includes gratuity)

Through its generosity, Vignette Dining Club will donate all proceeds from “Dining in the Dark” to the Council.

Seating is limited, so sign up today! To get your tickets and find out more about this special weekend, visit (scroll down a few pages). Please let Vignette Dining Club know about any food allergies or special dietary restrictions upon making your reservation. Food served at the event is seasonal and fresh and goes through a growing process until the day it’s served. Watch for an email from Vignette Dining Club on the day of the event.  It will include the full menu and details regarding the secret location. Please help us by telling others about this unique and educational event.

Council to Feature Artwork of Visually Impaired on October 7

Bird by McCall

Here’s one of the beautiful wood carvings designed by Gallery Night artist Don McCall

Mark your calendars and join us for Fall Gallery Night on Friday evening, October 7, as we proudly showcase work from artists who have vision loss. This event is in partnership with the Madison Museum of Contemporary Art (MMoCA).Participating artists will display and discuss  their work during the opening reception at the Council office, 754 Williamson Street in Madison. This year, we welcome wood carver Don McCall, photographer Elena Santin, and wood worker George Wurtzel. 

Attendees are welcome to browse the artwork and talk to the artists. This year’s Gallery Night at the Council office is from 5 – 8 p.m.

Council Has New Kit to Help You Prepare for White Cane Safety Day  

White Cane Safety Day is coming on Saturday, October 15, and the Council has prepared a resource toolkit to help your organization recognize this important day.

Through a step-by-step guide, you can create an event, plan a celebration, or let the communities you serve know the importance of white cane usage in their neighborhood.

The resource toolkit is ideal for schools, Lions Clubs, low vision support groups and other service organizations who work with or support people with low vision or blindness. 

Through a grant from the Shopko Foundation, the kits will be mailed and distributed throughout the state.

To learn more about our resource kits, contact Lori Werbeckes, Fund Development Director, at 608-237-8114 or This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it..

Learn About Advances in Macular Degeneration Treatment

at the Saving Sight Symposium on October 27


Register soon to attend this year’s symposium on Macular Degeneration.

Are you wondering what the latest medical treatments and advances are in Macular Degeneration? Mark your calendars for the Saving Sight Symposium at the Alliant Energy Center in Madison on Thursday, October 27. 

An expert panel of speakers from the UW School of Medicine and Public Health – Department of Ophthalmology and Visual Sciences and UW Health Ophthalmologists will talk about the latest research, key issues, resources and solutions for persons facing vision loss from Macular Degeneration.

Exhibitors will also feature the latest in video magnifier technology, computer aids and other valuable tools. In addition, the UW School of Nursing will provide free age-related health screenings.

Don’t wait to reserve your spot.  While attendance is free, advance registration is required to help with planning. To register, go to call the Council office at 1-800-783-5213. Deadline to sign-up is Friday, October 21, or when seating capacity of 1,000 is reached.

Get Your Cards Ready for the Annual Euchre Tournament on October 29

Play cards and have fun with the Council and friends during the 11th Annual Euchre Tournament on Saturday, October 29.

This year’s tournament takes place at Culver’s restaurant, 571 E. Springs Road in Edgerton. Registration starts at 10 a.m. and the tournament begins at 10:30 a.m. A lunch break will be held from noon to 1 p.m. and winners announced at 2:30 p.m. Cash prizes will go to the top three finishers.

Registration costs $10, which includes lunch. Half the proceeds benefit the Council and the other half goes toward prizes for the top finishers. Space is limited to 76 players.

If you’re interested in joining the fun, contact Sally Zenchenko at 608-334-1818.

Be Prepared to Cast Your Ballot on November 8

 Visually impaired voting image

Have your voice heard on Election Day!

The general election is fast approaching and it’s important to make sure your polling place is properly equipped to take your ballot on November 8.

In 2002, the Help America Vote Act (HAVA) was passed to allow for equal access while voting. The goal of HAVA was to improve access and participation in the voting process by people with disabilities, ensuring they do not face discrimination at the polls.

Since September 2006, every polling place in Wisconsin has been equipped with accessible voting machines that must meet the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) accessibility standards. Poll workers should be ready to assist persons with disabilities. Accessible voting machines should be readily available to give voters with disabilities privacy and independence without having to rely on others to mark and cast a ballot for them.

To become familiar with an accessible voting system, ask your municipal clerk for a demonstration before Election Day or ask a poll worker for assistance on how to use it when you vote.

If you cannot make it to the polls, you can vote absentee. To apply for an absentee ballot by mail, contact your municipal clerk or apply online at If mailing the request, the clerk must receive it no later than Thursday, November 3, at 5 p.m.

If you’re using a paper ballot, help can be requested to read, mark, and place the ballot in the scanner. You may also bring someone with you for assistance and the person must provide their name and address to poll workers and sign the back of the ballot. Make sure to bring a portable magnifier that you use at home for reading.   

Take part in the democratic process and have your voice heard on Election Day.

Your Gifts Can Benefit Many Services Provided by the Council

Fall seems to be the time for starting fresh. Schools re-open, clubs encourage new members to join, and regular season football begins!

At the Council, we held our first Low Vision Fair in Wausau, welcomed Denise Jess as Assistant Executive Director, and we’re in the planning stages for co-hosting two Dining in the Dark experiences in Madison.

Would you consider starting something new this fall? Monthly giving is a convenient and valuable way to start making gifts that will benefit people in Wisconsin who are living with low vision.

Daniel Zacharias of New Richmond grew up with limited vision and learned to treasure the eyesight he had.

“As a child, I knew several people with blindness and I was always humbled at having my own sight,” Zacharias said.

Daniel discovered the Council more than 20 years ago and began making regular gifts.

“Ironically, two years ago my sight got to a point where corrective lenses would not allow me to focus,” Zacharias said. “I ended up with cataract surgery in both eyes and a subsequent retinal tear. At the end of the ordeal, I now have 20/15 vision without corrective lenses! Somehow, I’d like to think I paid it forward, but in any case, my heart and donations will always go out to the blind.”

Daniel sends his gifts to the Council every month and every gift is appreciated! As a donor, you can choose the amount of the donation and whether you would like to make it through a bank account, credit card, or by writing a check.

A monthly gift of $25 adds up to $300 by year’s end – a significant amount when it is supporting:

- a rehabilitation visit to keep someone living safely in their home

- a vision evaluation to provide tips and techniques for individuals who are adapting to vision loss

- a webinar to teach people with an eye disease how to care for their vision.

To begin making a monthly gift, or to make a one-time donation, log onto our website, or contact Lori Werbeckes at 608-237-8114;  This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it..

Central Wisconsin Low Vision Fair Has Great Turnout and Generates Positive Feedback

 LV Fair

Our recent low vision fair offered resources, information and encouragement to people with vision loss.

On August 12, the Council hosted a very successful Central Wisconsin Low Vision Fair at the Wausau Labor Temple.

Assistant Executive Director Denise Jess praised Education and Vision Services Director Jean Kalscheur for meticulous planning and organization, allowing the event to run smoothly.

Additional Council staff members greeted exhibitors and participants, making sure everyone felt welcome at the fair. A local volunteer from the Rib Mountain Lions also generously donated her time.

“Both exhibitors and participants shared with me that they had a great day, learned a great deal, and enjoyed the opportunity to connect with each other,” Denise said. “I really appreciated the opportunity to talk with all the exhibitors, vendors and many of the participants.” 

Keep Your Eye on the Ball – By Janell Groskreutz

A blog post currently featured on “The Outlook From Here”

The year was 1979 and a young girl with blond hair and green eyes was playfully shooting hoops with her dad at their home in Chippewa Falls, Wisconsin.  As they were tossing the ball back and forth, the young girl’s dad kept telling her to “keep your eye on the ball.”  The young girl responded, “Dad, I am.”  As this bantering went on for a few minutes, the dad had enough foresight to realize something might be wrong with his daughter’s vision. That’s how my life’s journey began.

As this terrifying observation began to unravel, my parents realized life as we all knew it was about to change.  My initial visit to the local eye doctor resulted with him telling me I may have to get glasses.  I can distinctly remember locking myself in my bedroom, with ridiculous visions of a four-eyed girl everyone would make fun of.  The eye doctor visits took me from Chippewa Falls to Eau Claire, then to the University of Wisconsin, and finally to the University of Minnesota.  After a myriad of tests, and visiting doctors with practically every combination of acronyms behind their name, I was diagnosed with a juvenile form of macular degeneration.  Honestly, I don’t remember much about the specialist’s diagnosis or recommendations, however, the result was still the same ‑ I was slowly going to lose my vision. 

At the tender age of 9, I was not privy to most of my parent’s conversations, or to their questions, fear, anger or concerns regarding this curveball that life had just thrown at me, and also to the future for our family.  As the realization of my disability set in, we were faced with many options.  One was moving to Janesville, so I could attend the school for the blind.  My mom, in her very emotional state, was ready to uproot our family that day and relocate to Janesville!  She was forgetting about things such as: where we were going to live, quitting her teaching job, my dad quitting his counseling job, acquiring new employment, and acclimating my younger sister and me to a new environment. She also wasn’t considering how we were going to pay for the essential things like food, water, shelter, heat, health insurance-- none of which were remotely as important as her little girl receiving the best services possible. 

My dad, more level-headed, but wanting the same outcome for me, weighed all our options and decided to stay in Chippewa Falls and face these new challenges in our hometown. 

I am, and forever will be, eternally grateful to my parents for pressing on and continuously encouraging every harebrained idea I had.  One day, in fourth grade, I had the opportunity to learn how to play the violin.  My parents, who have no music ability at all, were quite perplexed as to how I was going to do this.  My mom decided she would take the music notes and enlarge them onto bigger paper.  Then she hung the papers around the entire kitchen for me to try and see. She was most likely plugging her ears trying to drown out the hideous screeching sound reverberating from the kitchen! 

While my mom’s heart was in the right place, the whole endeavor was quite cumbersome, so I decided it was going to be easier for me, and especially my mom, if I learned to play by ear.  My first concert was on Christmas that year at my little neighborhood school.  I was the only student who played the violin, so “Jingle Bells” turned into a solo.  I had to memorize this timeless Christmas classic and I practiced for weeks.  I can remember standing alone on that old wooden stage and being nervous, but I am positive I was nowhere near as nervous as my parents.  Thankfully, I played my way through the song and hopefully did jolly old Saint Nicklaus proud.  I still enjoy playing the violin and piano.

As I reflect on that fateful day in 1979, I can still see, smell, hear and even tell you what my dad and I were wearing.  As I accept the fact that my vision is slowly turning into darkness, it is these vivid memories that will stay in my thoughts forever.  I can still hear my dad saying, “Janell, keep your eye on the ball!” and that is exactly what I plan on doing.

National Service Dog Month Highlights Value of Guide Dogs and Organizations That Provide Training 

 F Lopez with Nolan

Former board member Frank Lopez with his service dog Nolan

For millions of Americans who are blind or visually impaired, having a guide dog gives them greater independence to perform everyday tasks.

As we honor National Service Dog Month in September, it’s important to emphasize the value of service dogs and the organizations that work to bring them to individuals in need. 

National Service Dog Month, previously known as National Guide Dog Month, was established in 2008 by actor and animal advocate Dick Van Patten, who also initiated a fundraising drive to help service dog training schools in the United States. National Service Dog Month honors guide dogs, seeing-eye dogs, service pets, and other assistance pets.

In Madison, OccuPaws Guide Dog Association has provided guide dogs for people who are visually impaired since 2005 and at no cost to the client. OccuPaws President Barb Schultze explained that the organization trains dogs from the time they are puppies to a point when they believe a dog is ready to be placed. Volunteers help raise puppies prior to their arrival at a client’s home. OccuPaws currently has 24 dogs in training.

“We are accredited by the International Guide Dog Federation who puts a seal of approval on guide dog organizations that produce good guide dogs,” Schultze said. “We are audited by them every five years. What’s really great about getting international accreditation is that veterans who receive dogs can now get them paid for through the Department of Veterans Affairs. It’s so important to obtain accreditation because it allows us to help others.”

OccuPaws takes about two weeks to place a dog with a client, making sure their home is adapted and the dog fits well with its new owner. After a dog is placed, OccuPaws checks in with clients frequently to make sure the transition is going smoothly.

“We don’t just place them with the client and say goodbye,” Schultze remarked.

When thinking about life with a guide dog, there are several important factors to consider. A person who is visually impaired who doesn’t leave home regularly may be better suited with a white cane for assistance instead of a dog, according to Schultze. The cost of taking care of a dog for several years also has to be considered.

Schultze said a client’s familiarity with their neighborhood helps when they are training the dog to guide them throughout the community.

“You also have to consider if you like dogs and are comfortable around them,” Schultze said.

In addition to servicing Wisconsin, OccuPaws also provides trained dogs to residents in communities within 75 miles of the state’s borders.

The organization welcomes volunteers and donations. OccuPaws also hosts fundraisers throughout the year to support its services.

“We’re always looking for people to raise puppies, so if you’re interested, please let us know,” Schultze said.

For more information about OccuPaws, go to or call 608-772-3787.

Take Necessary Steps to Safeguard Your Home During Falls Prevention Awareness Month

September is Falls Prevention Awareness Month and, through a few simple changes, you can safely prepare your home to reduce falls.

Take these steps to make your home safer indoors and outdoors:

- Remove or avoid safety hazards.

- Improve lighting.

- Install handrails and grab bars.

- Move items to make them easier to reach.

To protect against falls at home, remove any items that could cause tripping or slipping. It’s also important to arrange furniture to allow plenty of room to move freely. Be sure to secure carpets to the floor and stairs. Place non-slip strips along floors and steps.

When at home, try to clean up spills immediately to avoid wet, slippery floors. Take extra caution when walking outdoors, and don’t go out alone on ice and snow. On ice-covered surfaces, ask someone to spread sand or salt to limit slipperiness.

While indoors, improve lighting, especially on stairways, to reduce the risk of falls. Set up night lights in the bathroom, hallways, bedroom and kitchen. Install handrails on both sides of walkways and stairs. In the bathroom, grab bars in the tub, shower and next to the toilet can help prevent falls.

Rearrange items you use often for better accessibility.

If you have experienced a fall, we encourage you to ask  an occupational therapist, physical therapist or nurse to visit your home,  assess safety, and discuss changes that can help prevent  falls.

Sharper Vision Store Product Feature: Monocular Telescopes

 Monocular Telescope

Monocular telescopes make distance viewing so much easier.

Monocular telescopes can be used for both distance and intermediate viewing. They are great for taking to a ball game and other recreational events, for looking at the menu board at a restaurant, or for seeing bus stop signs clearly. Small enough to fit in your pocket, the telescopes come in 4x, 6x, 8x, and 10x powers to fit your needs.

Features include:

  • Compact and lightweight.
  • Distance and close-focusing. All distance viewing is to infinity.
  • Anti-reflection coated optics.
  • Easy spiral twist focusing.
  • Metal housings.
  • Supplied with soft zippered pouch, neck strap and lens cloth.

Cost $60.00. For more information about this or other product in the Sharper Vision Store, contact Manager Brent Perzentka at 608-255-1166.