Henry Malmquist, 73, was recently named Student of the Year at the Hadley School for the Blind. The Lansford native has been attending classes at Hadley for five years.
Each year, Hadley instructors choose seven students to honor for outstanding achievements in their studies at the school. Malmquist will receive his award this fall in Chicago during the school's annual board of trustees meeting.
Malmquist began taking classes at Hadley after losing the majority of his vision in 2004 after a stroke. He was referred to the Department of Veterans Affairs' Visual Impairment Services Team (VIST) by an optometrist, which provided the tools and recommendations needed to enroll at Hadley. After learning to touch type (typing without looking at the keyboard), he began taking courses regularly. Hadley offers courses in several formats; Malmquist prefers to review his lessons on cassette tape or in large-print format. The school also offers classes online and in Braille.
"Some of the courses I've taken were simply for the challenge," he said, noting that he enjoyed taking an Abacus class. But perhaps more rewarding is the chance for him to complete basic education courses and work toward a high school diploma.
"I did not have the opportunity to go to high school," said Malmquist, who earned his GED through the military. "I started working at the age of 16. Now that I'm taking courses again, I wanted the experience of learning the things that they teach in high school, like history and algebra. Currently I'm working in prealgebra."
Malmquist has nearly completed the required courses for his diploma, and will fly to Chicago to receive a diploma in the near future.
"I still get a little emotional when I think about the opportunity," he added, noting that it was always a disappointment that he did not earn a diploma.
The chance to become involved at the school and work toward a diploma wasn't always possible; just a few years ago, Malmquist wasn't able to type or use a computer.
"When I was sighted, I took a night course and tried to learn how to type. I couldn't learn to type to save my soul," he said, laughing.
It would take the extra motivation of using a computer to overcome his visual impairments to finally master typing. He now uses his computer to communicate with Hadley instructors and classmates, including spending time in live chat rooms discussing the week's lessons.
"I've gotten to meet people from Tennessee and Virginia, Colorado, even Pakistan. We sit around and discuss various subjects," he said.
While Malmquist was pleasantly surprised to be named Hadley's Student of the Year, it certainly wasn't an expectation when he began taking courses.
"It was a total shock at first," he said. "It is an international school. There are students from all over the country and the world. In essence, I was competing against all of the blind students in the U.S."
While Malmquist notes that his wife and three daughters remain his main reason to live, "The school has given me a purpose," he said. "Within one month, I went blind and lost my kidneys. I was devastated. I thought that my life was over."
Before losing his sight, Malmquist led an active life and enjoyed working in various fields. He served in the military for 23 years before retiring as a staff sergeant. As a civilian he enjoyed being a woodworker, and also had a career in electronics assembling computers and other devices. He was also a photographer and journalist.
"All of these jobs need sight. All of that was lost to me," he said. Today he happily spends his time completing various classes and working toward his high school diploma, and spending time with his family and loved ones. "I have a new reason to live."
Seeing her blind and visually-impaired clients thrive and adapt to being newly blind is one of the more rewarding parts working with VIST, said Maria Grimes, the Wilkes-Barre VIST service coordinator.
"It can be devastating to lose your vision, especially at an older age," said Grimes. "I've known Henry since 2006. I've seen the journey and I'm pretty proud of his accomplishments. It's really rewarding to see the positive impact that the VA's training and equipment has had on Henry's life. He's an inspiration to any person who has lost their vision, to see that life still goes on and you can continue to accomplish things."
The Hadley School for the Blind is a nonprofit corporation that offers free courses to blind and visually impaired students and their families. Hadley also offers courses for blindness professionals. In addition to traditional courses such as history and math that can count toward a high school diploma, Hadley also offers general enrichment classes in business, finance, health and wellness, as well as courses on typing, Braille, working with a blind child or family member, and more.
Serving more than 10,000 students annually in all 50 states and 100 countries, Hadley is considered the largest educator of people who are blind or visually impaired.
For more information about the Hadley School for the Blind, go to www.Hadley.edu.