Verne Sanford used to lead support groups for people who had low vision. He’d advise participants to focus on what they could do, not what they couldn’t. He encouraged them by saying they could do all kinds of things if they chose the right things. Verne knew a lot about that. He has had low vision all his life.
In second grade, Verne wasn’t able to see the blackboard, so they moved him to the front row. But he couldn’t see the board from the front row either. He was diagnosed with multiple eye conditions that cause low vision.
Determined to learn, Verne and his family both say he had the gift of an outgoing personality which made him unafraid to talk to anyone and to ask for help if he needed it. His mother read for him through high school. In college, the State of North Dakota hired readers, and friends would take notes using carbon paper to make copies for Verne.
Verne went on to receive a PhB (Bachelor of Philosophy) and an MS in Mathematics from the University of North Dakota, an MPH (Master of Public Health) and PhD in Statistics from the University of Michigan. He settled on Mathematics and Statistics as his vocation because he said he could walk around campus thinking about one theorem, one sentence, or one equation all day. In his graduate studies, he worked together with classmates in a study group. They helped each other.
Verne says that he had many allies along the way, and God was one of them. As he walked around campus, he prayed to God, talking to him like a father. It happened so naturally, that it surprised and pleased him when he became aware of it. Verne’s faith was also helping him navigate.
He had a career as a professor, teaching mathematics and statistics at the University of Michigan, Boston University Business School, and Valparaiso University where he currently is Professor Emeritus. He met and married Marie. They raised three daughters and two sons together, and now have twenty-two grandchildren and five great-grandchildren. Marie says she learned to drive in order to get married. Verne was active in his spare time, serving as a Stephen’s Minister and doing hospital visits, singing in a choir and a barbershop chorus. He listened to the men singing around him and memorized his part. Early on one man asked him, “Do you mind if I sing in your ear?” “Please do!” Verne replied.
One of Verne’s hobbies was woodworking, and Marie says she used to worry a bit as he got his face close to his projects and felt the edge of the sharp table saw with his fingers. But Verne is strong-willed and always said to himself, “It will happen if I make it happen,” meaning he always tried to do what he was able to do on his own.
At 86, Verne has experienced some setbacks. He retired from teaching when he couldn’t see well enough anymore, especially with the advent of inaccessible technology. For several years he enjoyed writing poems, articles, and short stories. But in recent years, Verne became completely blind which has been a difficult adjustment – more difficult than he imagined. A broken hip and other impairments have made it hard to do what he used to do and he hasn’t yet figured out what he can do. Verne feels like he is at a crossroads and says it’s hard to be patient. But he also says that God and the church have been present through all of his troubles and that he continues to pray for God to help lead him forward.
As a person who has lived with legal blindness for over 80 years, a former leader for two low vision support groups in Valparaiso for 19 years, and a former member of the Board of Directors for the American Council of the Blind in Indiana, Verne still welcomes one-on-one conversations with anyone concerning visual impairments and how to live with disabilities.