• Emailarticle
  • Writecomment

A Fund of Hope

Giving deaf students a chance at college scholarships

  Victor Hugo, the great 19th Century French author, created literature’s most famous deaf fictional character, Quasimodo, the bell-ringer in The Hunchback of Notre Dame. In Hugo’s original story (not the anodyne Disney adaptation), Quasimodo was rendered deaf by the loud ringing of Notre Dame’s cathedral bells. Despite his inability to hear and his physical deformities, Quasimodo was a saintly person blessed with kindness, a sensitive disposition, and a profound sense of integrity and honor. The Hunchback of Notre Dame is essentially the tale of courage and spiritual strength in an adversarial world.
  The spirit to become self-sufficient in a hearing world is also behind the local Louise Tumarkin Zazove Foundation (www.ltzfoundation.org), a Chicago-based foundation that helps deaf students receive a college education. The foundation is named after an exceptional physician, Louise Tumarkin Zazove, whose son lost his hearing at the age of three.
   Louise Tumarkin was born in 1915 in New York City, the eldest child of poor Russian Jewish immigrants. She grew up during the Depression with the dream of becoming a physician. American medical schools maintained strict quotas for Jews, especially female Jews, and despite a superior academic record, she was only able to gain acceptance to medical school in Scotland.
   She was home for a visit in the United States when World War II broke out. The attacks by German U-boats on American ships prevented her from returning to Scotland to finish medical school. She applied and was fortunate to be accepted at the Chicago Medical School (now Rosalind Franklin University of Medicine and Science). Despite being forced to start her medical studies over, she became the only female graduate in her class.
  She began her medical practice as a general practitioner with expertise in pediatrics. She later became a practicing psychiatrist.
   Louise married a medical school classmate, Dr. Earl Zazove. She and her husband had two children—a son and a daughter. When their son Philip was three years old, they discovered he had a profound hearing loss in both ears, the cause of which was never determined.
  In the 1950’s most deaf children were sent to special schools where they were taught to live in an insular world with other deaf children.
   The Zazoves refused to follow the conventional wisdom of the day. They immersed themselves in the medical and social aspects of deafness, studied sign language, and sought expert opinions on alternative ways to educate their son. Defying the advice of experts, they sent Philip to public school in the Chicago suburbs, where he excelled. Following in his parents’ footsteps, Philip became one of the first deaf physicians in the United States. He has earned advanced degrees in medicine and business, written several books, and currently teaches at the University of Michigan Medical School. His success is a testimony not only to his own remarkable skills but to the determination his parents demonstrated a half-century ago.
   Louise died unexpectedly in 1994 after a routine knee operation. The Zazoves had been married over 45 years.
   Today, at 90 years old, Dr. Earl Zazove remains actively involved in the Louise Tumarkin Zazove Foundation and its day-to-day operations: “After my wife died, her friends started a memorial fund in her name. Our family felt the best way to honor her was to use this to start a foundation involving her two great interests in life—providing educational opportunities and helping the deaf integrate into society.”
   I asked him about the Foundation’s mission.
  “The Foundation is interested in selecting highly qualified, exceptional high school graduates who are deaf, and sending them to college...These are students who might not otherwise get this opportunity. The students we select can apply to any college or university in the United States. I’m happy to say that every student we have selected so far has done well and there has been no problem helping pay for anyone’s tuition.”
   “We take applications from any deaf student who is a citizen or permanent resident living anywhere in the United States.”
   “Our first student graduated from the University of Michigan and wants to do work for the disabled. She was from a small town in Michigan and her family was not well off; her mother has to take in boarders,” he continued. “We were very pleased when she graduated and she got up at a fundraiser to tell us how college changed her whole world and outlook on life. We have five graduates; two are engineers.”
   “We have a reserve and an endowment that we are managing carefully. But as you know, college is only getting more expensive. Between my family and about 75 contributors, we are doing pretty well. We send out a mailing to about 300 people, primarily teachers, friends and relatives of students, updating them on their quarterly progress. We have fundraisers once or twice a year. This enables us to focus on scholarships. Occasionally, checks come from unexpected places. The mother of our first graduate, who is hardly wealthy, sent us a small check at our last fundraiser, as do some of our other parents. We were able to get matching funds from her employer,” Zazove said.

Published: August 08, 2010
Issue: Fall 2010 Issue