About Us

About Our Chapter

The Northern Rockies Chapter of AER is the most active professional organization in the states of Idaho, Montana, and Wyoming serving the workers of the blind and visually impaired. The chapter has a history that is even older than the national AER organization.

The organization serves as an educational and social outlet for many teachers, rehab counselors, and other workers for the blind. Serving in these positions in rural states can be a demanding and lonely job and does not often lend itself to an opportunity to network or compare notes with other professionals in the field. That’s where we come in. The Northern Rockies Chapter provides annual meetings as well as newsletters to update the members on activities in the region.

Who can join? Anyone!!  The organization has attracted teachers of the VI, paraprofessionals, rehab counselors, administrators, consumers, and parents. The Chapter offers continuing education opportunities every year in order to renew or obtain certification in working with VI.  Ours is not a cold or detached group but one of family where we know each other as individuals and friends.  You can find a membership form under membership at this website or the national office at aerbvi.org.

Chapter setting new record in membership!

The History of Our Chapter

Like most other AER chapters nationwide, the Northern Rockies Chapter of the Association for the Education and Rehabilitation of the Blind and Visually Impaired (AER) began in 1984 with the merger of two older organizations… the AAWB (American Association of Workers for the Blind) and AEVH (Association for the Education of the Visually Handicapped).

In the beginning… Click to continue…

The History of Northern Rockies Chapter

Like most other AER chapters nationwide, the Northern Rockies Chapter of the Association for the Education and Rehabilitation of the Blind and Visually Impaired (AER) began in 1984 with the merger of two older organizations… the AAWB (American Association of Workers for the Blind) and AEVH (Association for the Education of the Visually Handicapped).

In the beginning the chapter consisted of four states…Idaho, Montana, Wyoming, and Utah.  An unusually high number of our early members had worked in two or more of the four states and it seemed to be a natural alliance of states. The first organizational meeting was held in Boise at the Idaho Commission for the Blind in early 1984. In order for the National Federation of the Blind (NFB) to be represented in the early development of the chapter, many NFB activists who were employees of the Idaho Commission had their memberships paid for them. Consequently, Idaho had about 15 charter members, Montana 8 and Wyoming about 3. Many of the charter members are still active.  Del Addis, Fred Bischoff, Ken McCulloch, Dennis Slonaker, Marilee Gross, and Dana (Neely) Ard are just some of the names still active in the field today.

The fledgling chapter had some early problems. Due to pressure from the Utah School for the Blind in Ogden, the state of Utah soon opted out to become its own chapter. Because many of the rehab folks in Idaho had ties to heavily Mormon Utah and vice versa, there was some resistance from rehab when Utah opted out to become its own chapter but nevertheless it became fact.  The chapter then looked to the province of Alberta to increase its membership and although there were individuals there that were interested, as a whole it could not be pulled off. It was feared that the chapter might not be able to have enough members on its own to continue. Those fears later became unsubstantiated.

The first election for officers was interesting. The nominating committee had recommended Chuck Wright (then from Montana) for President-elect. Because so many NFB employees from the Commission were present as new members, they instead nominated their own candidate, Frank Smith, who was elected our first President-elect. Soon afterwards, the interim president, Robert Langford, moved to Texas and Frank Smith became the chapter’s first real president. Frank was himself blind and a director of the Commission for Blind programs.  He had a calm and soothing personality and allowed the organization to get on its feet. Ken McCulloch, who is now the manager of this website, was elected Secretary-Treasurer and kept the organization functioning during some turbulent coming years. Another interesting fact is that Michael Graham, who was elected Montana Representative to the chapter, would later become director of the Idaho Commission.

Later that same year two of the Northern Rockies members… Frank Smith and Ron Darcy, director of the satellite program at the Idaho State School for the Deaf and the Blind, were elected to the first national board of AER. It was quite a plus for our young and small chapter to be so organized as to get both candidates elected.  Ron Darcy also got many of the ISDB teachers on board as members giving the organization some stability.  Also the first board meeting nominated Jerry Baker as President-elect since Frank Smith had assumed Robert Langford’s position as president.  This was an important decision as the next year Frank Smith became very ill and passed away.  Jerry proceeded to fill Frank Smith’s term as well as that of his own and did an admirable job.  Jerry is still an active member today and a recent recipient of the Frank Smith Award that the chapter gives to the person who has done the most in the tri-state region.

After its somewhat shaky start, the chapter began to steadily grow. An impressive base of teachers from the Idaho School for the Deaf and the Blind in Gooding gave the chapter a much needed base of support. Several conferences in the tri-states and around the northwest also led to the strengthening development of the chapter. In fact, some of the best attended chapter meetings were those held in Portland and Seattle.

As the chapter grew, the organization could see the need for yearly conferences and around 1998 began to meet yearly. These conferences now attract around 100 participants per year and are very successful. Many are quite unusual. The 2004 conference was in the little town of Cascade, Idaho, and included a “Host a Murder” in a four-star hotel with scenic train tour.  Other conference sites include Jackson, WY, Bozeman, MT, Idaho Falls, ID, and even Salt Lake City at the International Conference.

Our latest successful conference was in the colorful city of Cody, Wyoming, in October of 2007. Almost 80 attendees made it one of the most interesting conferences yet. Already a 2008 conference is being planned for Idaho Falls.

Around 2000, a program with Stephen F. Austin University in Texas provided long-distance training for several dozen new teachers in the region. Although this program is no longer in action, many teachers were trained for the area from this program.

The chapter has grown over the years to become so active and strong that it is admired by members in surrounding chapters. In 2006 the chapter was nominated for Chapter of the Year at the International Conference in Salt Lake. The Chapter didn’t win but attracted a huge crowd to its annual business meeting that was the envy of many.

Since the turbulent beginning, there has been very little politics in the Northern Rockies Chapter. That can be good or bad depending on your outlook. The chapter doesn’t tend to take stands on controversial issues and doesn’t even deal much with simple resolutions. It does, however, concentrate on the education and development of it membership. Many sides of the blind community are welcome in its ranks.

Every two years the chapter gives out two awards: The Frank Smith Award for the person who has done the most for the blind in the tri-state area (this does not have to be a member) and the H. Smith Shumway Award given to the member who has done the most for the chapter. At the 2007 conference the Frank Smith Award was given to Jerry Baker and H. Smith Shumway Award given to Ken McCulloch. Both recipients are steeped into the history of the chapter.

For more interesting tidbits of chapter history contact Ken McCulloch at Krmac6@msn.com or Mary Rich-Williams at mwilliams@ccsd.k12.wy.us

To join AER contact the national membership office at (877) 492-2708, or look online at www.aerbvi.org.

Contact Us:  nraer22@gmail.com

President: Leslie Bechtel Van Orman
Past President: Bruce Breslauer
President Elect: Barb Peterson
Secretary:  Kerri Norick
Treasurer: Jocelyn DeHaas
Idaho Representative: Tina Johnson
Montana Representative: Sharon Woods
Wyoming Representative: Jennifer D’Alessandro
Social Media Coordinator:
Suzie Mahon
Parliamentarian: Brian Darcy

Click here to read the November 3, 2020 Board Meeting Minutes

We can help you!

  • find a job in vision in Idaho, Montana, and Wyoming
  • become trained or certified to get a job in vision in one of our states.
  • remain certified or up-to-date on your training.
  • find information about training and services for visually impaired children and adults.