It's not about sight, it's
Washington students learn about power of
respects, Bill Wedekind is a lot like other baby
about his grandchildren and his hobbies. He loves old
western television shows from the 1950s and '60s and he
loves making pottery.
Wedekind has one other passion - showing students what
challenges can be overcome with perseverance. He should
know, because even though he has lived most of his adult
life as a blind double-amputee, he's become an
Wedekind, 56, and his wife, Diana, braved the frigid
temperatures last week, traveling from their home in
Westmoreland, Kan., to do pottery demonstrations for about
300 students at Washington High School on Friday.
Wedekind was a Marine in Vietnam in 1968, and an
explosion cost him both of his hands and his sight. He was
19 years old.
time I went home, my grandmother figured out what I could
do," said Wedekind. "She thought I could make
pottery. I thought she was crazy, I couldn't even dress
myself, but when I tried it, I knew this was it. I fell in
love with it."
Wedekind tried prosthetics, but they did not work
because blind people must have a sense of touch. By the
early 1970s, doctors had split his forearms to essentially
create two "fingers" on each arm. He's taken college
courses for his art, but couldn't earn an arts degree
because art is visual, he said. He learned most of his
craft through his grandmother and through trial and error,
and now produces several hundred pieces of pottery a year.
Wedekind told the students that packed into Chuck
Watson's art class about his history, which included
alcohol abuse in his family
"I had two
choices: I could feel sorry for myself, or I could get up
and make something of myself, and self-pity didn't work
for me," Wedekind said. "I was also
third-generation Marine and I was taught to never quit."
Wedekind last year at the Winfield Bluegrass
him personable and inspiring because throwing pottery is
not as easy as it looks," said Watson. "A lot of my
students want to give up and don't want to go on with it
and I wanted them to see him do it."
Young, 17, a senior at Washington, was one of the students
who took a lot more away from Wedekind's
today that it doesn't matter what your problems are, you
can do anything if you put your mind to it," said Young.
"He set his mind to do pottery and if any of us put our
mind to it, we can do anything in this world."
Wedekind began talking to students when his son, who
is now grown, was in preschool. He said he thinks it is
important to help students understand that people with
disabilities may look different, but they are the same as
anyone on the outside.
takes those preconceived notions away for some," said
all of these years, talking to students still makes him
anxious and he likes to try to plan out what he will say.
write speeches; they wouldn't help, since I don't read
notes," he quips.
"after getting up in the middle of the night and four
hours of planning what I would say, I went completely off
track," he said.
didn't seem to matter to the students, who watched him
throw pottery while telling the story of his life and
improvising with some jokes. "I have the most fun of
making fun of myself," he tells students.
students wanted to know whether he remembered the last
television show he saw before he went blind; one student
asked whether it bothered him when people call him
"disabled," (it doesn't) and another wanted to know how he
knows what colors to make his pottery.
difficult sometimes, because they didn't have all the
fancy names for colors back when I could see," said
Wedekind. "Pink was pink, it wasn't mauve."
Wedekind showed some of his finished pottery, which he
sells at several art and pottery shows each year. Diana
helps finish the pottery and is an artist as well.
gave the students a polished stone to carry with them.
When things get tough, he wants them to remember him.
these kids have faced or will face tough times in their
lives," said Wedekind. "It's easy to give up,
especially if they believe what they are facing is the
toughest thing anyone could face. I want them to say,
'Look at what he's done; what's ahead of me is a piece of