Fall 2006

First Allied Health Sciences professorship honors 50-year friendship

A friendship between Maynard and Carolyn Sauder of Archbold, Ohio, and David and Dee Yoder of Chapel Hill that began when they were students at a Midwestern college more than 50 years ago has produced the first endowed professorship in UNC’s Department of Allied Health Sciences.

The Sauders are establishing The David E. and Dolores J. (Dee) Yoder Distinguished Professorship as a perpetual tribute to the dedicated professionalism and skilled teaching and research of UNC Professor David E. Yoder and the steadfast support of his wife, Dee. The Sauders’ gift of $666,000 will be matched with $334,000 in matching funds from the state’s Distinguished Professors Endowment Trust Fund, bringing the value of the endowment to $1 million.

David and Dee Yoder (standing) and Maynard and Carolyn Sauder at dinner on one of numerous cruises the couples have taken together

Recipients of the Yoder professorship will have distinguished themselves nationally and internationally with respect to research, practice and knowledge related to literacy for people with severe communication disabilities. The Yoder professor will bring a special dynamic to UNC’s Center for Literacy and Disability Studies, which Yoder co-founded in 1988.

Yoder, formerly chair of the Depart-ment of Allied Health Sciences and now a professor in the Division of Speech and Hearing Sciences, was instrumental in initiating and promoting the field of literacy for people with severe communication disorders. During his career as a speech-language pathologist, he became concerned that the majority of people with significant communication disorders lacked the one skill that would allow them to communicate fully with others—literacy.

“I had many clients with cerebral palsy who wanted to read and write but just didn’t know how. Basically, because they had never been taught,” Yoder said. “For too long teachers and clinicians believed that if a person doesn’t have the ability to talk, regardless of the cause, they aren’t capable of learning to read or write. We had the technology for them to be able to communicate through computers equipped with synthesized speech. But if they couldn’t read or write, then they couldn’t access the technology necessary for communication.”

For the past couple of decades, Yoder has focused his research on the literacy needs of people with severe speech and physical impairments and has garnered much recognition for his work. He is currently working to develop assistive technology for adults with such disabilities.

Although the Sauders pursued a very different career path and live states apart—they returned to Ohio after college to work at Sauder Woodworking Company, started by Maynard’s father more than 70 years ago—the couples have stayed very close. “A month doesn’t go by where we don’t at least phone each other,” Yoder said.

So when the Sauders’ daughter, Debbie, showed an interest in speech pathology as a high school student, they knew just where to turn for advice.

“Similar to most young people, I knew I wanted to make a difference in the lives of others, but I just didn’t know what career path would best put to use my skills and strengths,” said Debbie Sauder David. “My parents and I visited Dr. Yoder at the University of Wisconsin [where he was a professor at the time] to find out more about his profession and his work with people with communicative disorders.”

At Yoder’s recommendation, Debbie attended the University of Redlands in California as an undergraduate in 1974 and later the University of Wisconsin at Madison as a graduate student in 1978. After receiving her degrees, Debbie launched a successful 20-year career as a speech-language pathologist. Her area of expertise was helping people with severe brain injuries caused by automobile accidents and other closed head injuries to recover their communication skills.

“Dr. Yoder cared about me. He encouraged me as a teenager to pursue a career that would empower me to actually improve the quality of people’s lives by helping them to more effectively communicate and to share their souls with others,” Debbie said. “My parents’ gift to endow the Yoder professorship will help others to continue this important work.”

The idea for the professorship actually came about on a cruise to the Caribbean that the Sauders and Yoders took together back in 2002. At dinner one night, the couples were discussing a recent conference in Chapel Hill sponsored by the Center for Literacy and Disability Studies that Debbie had attended. Debbie was so excited about the work being done at the center that she went back and told her parents that it was definitely something worth investing in.

“Maynard and Carolyn told us they wanted to do something and asked me what the greatest need was,” Yoder said. “I told them support for the center, in particular for someone who could bring academic and research expertise to advance the work of literacy for persons with disabilities.”

Thus, the first professorship in the Department of Allied Health Sciences was born.

The Sauders are pleased to be able to support the center and their lifelong friends. “We hope our gift will motivate others to make similar investments in David Yoder’s work at the Center for Literacy and Disability Studies and in the department’s important mission to produce the nation’s leading allied health professionals,” they said.

Kyle Gray*

* With contributions from Karen Erickson, Catherine House and David Yoder.