George W. Fellendorf

Honoring the Individual, Remembering His Legacy

By Anna Karkovska McGlew

Fellendorf_ceremonyThe AG Bell board of directors and other honorable guests and volunteers recently gathered at the Volta Bureau for a ceremony recognizing the distinguished service of George W. Fellendorf, Ed.D., who served as the executive director of AG Bell and as the editor of the association’s peer-reviewed journal The Volta Review, from 1962 until 1978.  Dr. Fellendorf’s three daughters—Joyce F. Jackson, Linda J. Mousavi and Carol E. Barbierri—recently bestowed a generous gift to AG Bell in honor of their father, which inspired the event.

“Fifty years ago he began his service at AG Bell; it is most fitting that five decades later we remember and honor his service to the association,” noted Joyce F. Jackson.

In gratitude of their lasting gift to the association, AG Bell President, Donald M. Goldberg, Ph.D., CCC-SLP/A, FAAA, LSLS Cert. AVT, dedicated the fourth floor of the Volta Bureau as the George W. Fellendorf editorial suite. This is the space where AG Bell staff develop all communication and editorial materials disseminated by the association, including the Volta Voices magazine and The Volta Review. In addition, this space is an archive for editorial records and photos that document the history of the association and its members.

George W. Fellendorf was born in 1925 in Long Island, N.Y. Prior to serving as executive director of AG Bell, Fellendorf volunteered and served for the U.S. Navy and trained and worked in electrical engineering.

Dr. Fellendorf and his wife Hazel first became involved with AG Bell when their middle daughter, Linda, was born with severe hearing loss. The Fellendorfs chose a listening and spoken language outcome for their daughter, so that she could attend local public schools alongside her sisters. They brought Linda to the Helen Beebe Speech and Hearing Center in Easton, Pa., where she received services from one of the pioneers in the field of listening and spoken language, Helen Beebe.

Dr. Goldberg recalled first hearing about George Fellendorf as a volunteer at the Helen Beebe center in the 1970s during his college years: “George and Hazel were described as this wonderful couple whose daughter, Linda, had been seen by ”Beebe” and her colleague, ”Guffy” (Antoinette Goffredo).  I do not recall meeting any of the Fellendorfs then, but once in graduate school, Dr. Fellendorf’s name was ever-present—as the Executive Director of AG Bell and the Editor of The Volta Review.”

The Fellendorfs learned a great deal about the education of children who are deaf and hard of hearing and mentored other parents, with Dr. Fellendorf becoming the secretary of the parents division of the association. Fellendorf’s experience led him to a career change from engineering to pursuing and earning a doctoral degree in special education. He advertised in The Volta Bureau seeking a position at a school or a clinic.

An Unexpected Opportunity

In Fellendorf_dedication1962, at the AG Bell Convention in Detroit, Fellendorf received an unexpected opportunity that, in retrospect, was the culmination of his passion and dedication to his daughter’s success. He accepted an offer to become the executive director of AG Bell. It was a position for which he was uniquely prepared as he understood the needs of parents of children with hearing loss. Robin Wittusen, editorial assistant who worked with Dr. Fellendorf, captured Dr. Fellendorf’s suitability for the position, “A parent of a child with hearing loss himself, he had empathy and understanding of the parents’ situation, and he was both a professional resource for them as well as a mentor and inspiration.” Wittusen continued, “He was dedicated to promoting listening and spoken language education for children who are deaf and hard of hearing and worked tirelessly to do everything he could to encourage their parents to pursue this course.”

Fellendorf's 16 years of service coincided with gradual but dramatic changes in the field of listening and spoken language. In 1973, the Rehabilitation Act passed, one of the first major civil rights laws which created and extended rights to individuals with disabilities, increasing the number of students who are deaf and hard of hearing attending mainstream schools.

Richard H. Israel, Ph. D., who worked as Director of Professional Services and Programs at AG Bell from 1971 to 1975, vividly remembered two of Dr. Fellendorf's lasting legacies to the association and children with hearing loss, "George was a major force behind the AG Bell scholarship program and formulated the ‘Hearing Alert’ program to foster early identification of hearing loss in babies and young children. The legacy of this program is the Universal Newborn Hearing Screening program that is mandated in most states of the United States."

At the dedication ceremony, Dr. Goldberg was speaking for many as he reminisced about Dr. Fellendorf not only as executive director of AG Bell but as a person: “I will forever remember the twinkle in his eyes and the many acts of kindness he has offered to me, and so many of us.” For Suez Kehl Corrado, working as art director at AG Bell in the early 1970s, Dr. Fellendorf was a “father figure—an intelligent, caring boss whose foresight set the path of the association as a champion for the rights, education, and independence of people with hearing loss.”

Contributing to AG Bell

Bettie Donley, who served as AG Bell’s Director of Publications and editor of World Traveler magazine from 1969-1976, shared her memories about Dr. Fellendorf at the reception following the dedication ceremony: “One of George Fellendorf’s greatest talents was working with people to develop their own talents, to encourage them when they were hesitant to take on new responsibilities. His interest and support of all aspects of AG Bell made for a happy, productive workforce.”

Dr. Fellendorf continues to be active in the field of listening and spoken language, mentoring and guiding other parents of children with hearing loss, contributing to AG Bell publications, and serving as an inspiration to individuals living with hearing loss and the professionals that serve them.

Source: Volta Voices, May/June 2013