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Barry Schrader


I writing this column for the following newspaper:

  • Daily Chronicle : DeKalb County Life

The Articles started December 2007.


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This man's mission is to help fund a cure for blindness

By Barry Schrader.................................January 28, 2009

John Corneille is a man with a mission. Legally blind for many years and still practicing law in DeKalb, he finds the time to give talks on how to cope with failing eyesight and also raise funds for the Foundation Fighting Blindness.
Stricken with retinitis pigmentosa in childhood, a degenerative disease that slowly takes away your sight, Corneille has managed to lead a near-normal life for more than 40 years. But in the past three years, he has decided to help others with similar loss of vision, as well as raise money through VisionWalk to fund more research on possible cures for blindness. He set fundraising records with his DeKalb County team of walkers the past two years and this year has been named chairman of Chicago VisonWalk, which happens in June.
Despite his loss of vision, he still follows sports and has season tickets to the NIU basketball games, and until recently also held Huskies football season tickets. He and his wife Pam have two daughters, Megan, a senior at DeKalb High School, and Jillian, age 20. They have lived in the same home since 1992, which he says makes it easier to get around with familiar surroundings.
His biggest problem when taking his cane to walk to work is “low-hanging tree limbs and people who don’t shovel their sidewalks” he says, so he takes to walking in the street at times. He is close to his law office, so has the option of walking in good weather. He was with the same law firm from 1984-2005 and then, due to his vision, decided to practice on his own. He also decided to attend the Illinois Center for Rehabilitation and Education in Chicago so he could better learn to use his cane, learn Braille, and improve his computer and typing skills. He says the latest computer technology enables him to feed documents into the scanner and the computer reads them aloud to him. The same is true for his e-mail and he answered my e-mail queries promptly and with complete accuracy.
He brought some of the latest aids helpful to vision-impaired people to a recent talk at Oak Crest DeKalb Area Retirement Center. A talking cell phone that informs him who is calling verbally and dials numbers he reads into it, a talking wristwatch that announces the time and a handheld telescope to help read street signs and see traffic signals for those not totally blind. He demonstrated a talking calculator, a “CCTV” screen device to greatly enlarge documents and books, and an Amigo brand magnifier costing $800 that greatly magnifies reading material and even takes photos of prescription labels and phone book numbers for enlargement and saving.
Corneille is also a fan of books on tape supplied by a nonprofit group through the mail, much like Netflix is to movie watchers.
He met Chicago sports personality Rich King and his late wife Maggie, who was also blind, suffering from Usher’s syndrome, which also affects your hearing. After Maggie died in 2002 from ovarian cancer, her husband wrote a book titled “My Maggie,” which tells of her courage and their love for each other. Corneille is encouraging the purchase of the book because of the “wonderful love story it tells” and also because King is giving one third of the profits to fight blindness.
He has spoken to some three dozen groups in the area and welcomes invitations to spread his message and help others who have similar sight difficulties. You can find him in the phone book. I can attest to the fact he delivers a very compelling message.
POSTSCRIPT: The recent column on the Northern Illinois Farm Show generated several e-mail comments and other responses. John Horn, DeKalb County Extension director, clarified the hula hoop mystery. He said the hoop was actually meant to be a soybean counter. Farmers are to lay the hoop in the field and count the number of plants/beans inside the hoop, which helps compute a yield for the entire field. He also advised me there were yardsticks being given away at the show, as well as corn kernel-shaped stress sponges. Next year, I’ll get there earlier the last day and find those freebees!

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Barry Schrader
PO Box 851
DeKalb, Ill 60115