A Woman of Philosophical Bent: A Profile of Patricia Munson

By Jim Willows, Immediate Past NFBC President

Pat Munson involved in her Braille notes
Pat Munson involved in her Braille notes

If you are interested in the writings of Jacobus tenBroek, Kenneth Jernigan, Marc Maurer or of other Federationists, past or present, you need to talk to Patricia Munson from our NFB of the Bay Area chapter. Patricia knows that the great success over the years of the National Federation of the Blind is based on the philosophical thinking of its founder, succeeding presidents and other NFB leaders.

Pat was fortunate in being introduced to the NFB by Hazel and Dr. tenBroek and Lawrence "Muzzy" Marcelino. She found them by looking in the telephone book for someone who could help her fight discrimination against a blind teacher in her first teaching job. The number she found happened to be the Shasta Road office of the NFB in Berkeley. This was, of course, the National Office of the Federation under the NFB's founding president, Dr. Jacobus tenBroek.

Mrs. tenBroek and Muzzy provided Pat with much NFB literature. Pat devoured this material with a real feeling of having found the organization and people who would change her life as a blind person.

Pat was born as Patricia Zerlang on March 2, 1939 at Peralta Hospital in Oakland. Her family lived in San Francisco, but an aunt was a nurse at Peralta. Pat's mother and father discovered her blindness when she was a few months old. No definite cause was found for her blindness.

Pat's parents sent her to a public elementary school. They gave her the reading and writing help she needed. Their help and that of school friends got her as far as her freshman year at Berkeley High School. She had yet to learn any alternative techniques to cope with her blindness.

The California School for the Blind (CSB) was still in Berkeley at this time. Some of the CSB students attended Berkeley High. These kids were Pat's first blind friends. They gave Pat a slate and stylus and helped her to learn Braille. The use of the long white cane was not required at CSB at that time. In fact, the CSB kids ridiculed the use of a cane.

Pat enrolled at San Francisco State University in 1957. She majored in English and French, with a minor in music. She met other blind students at San Francisco State. Among them were Nancy Cole, now Nancy Burns, Nick Medina and Gil Johnson. The blind students helped each other in those days. Disabled Student Services had not yet clouded their horizon. Each student took responsibility for arrangements with professors, hiring readers and for survival in the university bureaucracy. Blind students graduated with the ability to take charge of their lives.

Pat received her Bachelors Degree in 1961, but stayed on to get a secondary teaching credential. She found a student teaching placement at a junior high school in San Francisco, some three bus rides from her home. It was time to learn cane travel. Her rehab counselor hired an Orientation and Mobility (O&M) instructor, who taught her cane travel skills.

Pat taught English and Music as a student teacher. She also organized a Language Laboratory at her school. Upon receiving her teaching credential she was interviewed by an Assistant Superintendent of the San Francisco School District. He told her, "You did a wonderful job in your student teaching placement. It is too bad we cannot hire you, but you know we have a vision requirement to teach here in San Francisco."

Pat started looking for a teaching position in other parts of the Bay Area. Her friend, Katrina, was attending the California Orientation Center for the Blind (OCB) at its temporary location at Grand and Grove in Oakland. This was after the original site at 36th and Telegraph had been turned over to the Highway Patrol and prior to the opening of the current site in Albany. Katrina invited Pat to visit the Center.

Pat enrolled at OCB primarily to improve her cane travel skills. She says Larry Lewis and Rich Russo were wonderful cane travel teachers. She also speaks highly of Sally Jones, the Home Economics teacher. Sally worked hard with all OCB students to show them that their blindness does not limit them in doing whatever they wanted to do. This writer was taught by both Sally and Larry and I definitely echo Pat's sentiments about them.

In early 1964 Pat was waiting for an interview in the Berkeley School District office. She overheard a secretary saying, "Oh, no" on the telephone. She hung up and told another person in the office that one of the music teachers at Garfield Junior High had just quit. Upon starting her interview, Pat emphasized her music background. She was hired as a music teacher at Garfield.

Pat taught Introductory Music and Glee Club at Garfield until budgetary problems essentially killed the Garfield music program. Pat had some interesting and funny experiences while teaching at Garfield. One day some of her music students hid Pat's white cane under her piano. When the class ended the students had forgotten about the cane and left. Pat had to use a broom for a cane to get home that night. Some of her less charitable students believed she had ridden the broom home.

She then taught eighth grade English at Garfield. In 1971 Pat realized that her principal was becoming overtly discriminatory towards her. She consulted with her Union representative who knew little about blindness. This representative did tell her there was an office of the National Federation of the Blind in Berkeley. He said he knew nothing about them, but he had seen their listing in the telephone book.

Pat called the number and was turned over to a person named Mrs. Hazel tenBroek. The results of this call have already been described at the beginning of my story.

An additional result of that call was that Muzzy Marcelino accompanied Pat to the Berkeley School District office. District officials agreed that Pat was not being treated fairly at Garfield. They asked her if she would like to transfer to the Berkeley Adult School Program to teach English to the many foreign students coming to Berkeley to attend colleges in the area. Pat did so and started a job she held until her retirement in 1999.

Pat told me that the Berkeley school officials were impressed and completely charmed by Muzzy. She thought they would have done anything Muzzy asked. This was the beginning of a lifelong friendship between Pat and Muzzy.

Pat married Jack Munson in 1969. They had met as students at San Francisco State. Jack went on to get his teaching credential and worked for many years in the Oakland School District. He retired in 2002.

Because of Muzzy, Pat joined the NFB Alameda County Club in 1971. She attended the 1971 NFB convention in Houston.

When Muzzy became NFB of California president in 1976, he asked Pat to become editor of the state publication, Blind Californian. She held this position through the Acosta fiasco of 1977 and 1978.

Pat became a charter member of the new NFBC affiliate in 1978. Prior to this she had helped organize the new NFB of the Bay Area chapter. She became the editor of NFBC Spokesman in California in the new affiliate.

She served several terms on the affiliate Board of Directors. She also served a term as State Treasurer.

Pat has held many local, state and national offices over the past 30 years. A prime interest has been the National Organization of Blind Educators. She held the presidency of this organization for several terms. She was chosen Blind Educator of the Year in 1989.

Pat continues to be active in her local chapter, in the Blind Educators, the OCB Alumni Chapter and in both the state and national organizations of the senior blind. She is currently the assistant editor of the NFBC Journal. She also edits the newsletter for the National Senior Blind organization.

If you don't already know them, I wholeheartedly suggest you get to know Pat and Jack Munson. You will never be bored in their company and, as I said earlier, Pat is a wealth of information on the history and philosophy of the National Federation of the Blind.

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