Bridging two worlds -- sound and soundless

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Faith Lutheran Church
2265 Garden Drive
Avon, Ohio

Every Sunday Service Time: 9:30 am.

Interpreter provided and Pastor knows Sign Language. The church is located at the corner of Garden and Lakeland drives.

Bible Study for the Deaf -- Interpreted Every Tuesday, 7:30 pm.

FEATURE ARTICLE from THE MORNING JOURNAL, 7-15-01, By NORMA HIGGINS, Morning Journal Correspondent

"AVON -- The ability to bridge two very different worlds -- one with sound and the other without -- by using body, facial, arm, hand and finger movements is the unique talent of Shirley Prok.

Since 1999, Prok has been an interpreter for the hearing impaired who attend Sunday services at Faith Lutheran Church in Avon and she has worked as an interpreter for the deaf for 30 years.

The dynamic, expressive actions of Prok communicate to the deaf the sermons of Rev. Roger Daene, the choir music and many other aspects of the service.

Prok, 55, who lives in Lakewood, got involved with the deaf ministry through her husband, Rev. Myron Prok, a Lutheran clergyman in Cleveland who works with the deaf community.

However, living in a hearing-impaired world is quite natural for her.

Her parents, who lived in Nebraska, were both deaf.

At age 3, she learned what she calls her native language, American Sign Language.

''I was their everything. There were no phones for deaf people. I had a younger hearing brother, but there wasn't captioned TV for deaf people and no interpreters for deaf people,'' Prok said.

Sometimes, her parents were too dependent upon her to be their voice, said Prok.

She recalls at age 7 when her father had to go to court because of a traffic ticket and she was his interpreter. ''I remember jumping up and down on the high bench to see this judge, who was yelling at my father, and I was crying.

''You should not use children to do that,'' she stated.

''Close involvement of children with their deaf parents is difficult at times,'' she said. ''It still works that way unless the deaf become savvy. They should be using a professional who doesn't have any ties,'' commented Prok.

Her mother suffered from childhood illnesses that resulted in deafness, but her father was born deaf, she said.

''My parents met at school, married, and started a family.

''When I was a born, my dad created a baby alarm by using speakers and a big wire that came down the hall to the bedrooms with a light that flashed above my mother's bed, of course, warning them of my movements,'' she laughed.

In later years, she thought her father's ingenuity put him in the same league as Alexander Graham Bell.

Her parents encouraged her to speak by turning on the radio so she could hear voices and sounds.

Prok, who teaches ASL, said she tells students they have to think, ''time, location, subject, object and verbs, last.'' Articles such as ''the'' and ''an'' are not part of American Sign Language.

''It's not abbreviated. ASL is a way of signing that is totally different than English, however all the information is there, nothing is left out,'' she said.

Being deaf, in some cases, doesn't mean living in an entirely silent world, according to Prok. Many hearing impaired people can hear sound, they just don't hear words, she said.

Deaf people would not be able to understand the spoken word, because it is so dissimilar to American Sign Language, according to Prok.

More and more, deaf students are being mainstreamed into public education and provided interpreters instead of going to special schools, she said.

Because sign language is so different from the spoken word, deaf people don't get spoken humor, she said. ''They don't find stand-up comedians funny at all. They are very literal.'' If someone said it's raining cats and dogs outside, they might look outside and then ask why the person said that, said Prok.

In her sparse leisure time, Prok said she does difficult crossword puzzles, doesn't enjoy reading, because she was forced to read as a child, and enjoys watching television and listening to the radio.

''I work all day and then teach school at night and I have done that for 30 years.''

At one point, she worked for 16 years at a public education television station in Cleveland, where she signed a 20 minute children's program and a condensed version of a week's worth news for airing throughout Ohio. ''I had five jobs at one time,'' she said.

''People say, `It must be so rewarding.' What's rewarding? You do your job!''

The joy of her life is her 3-year old grandson, Eric, who has a hearing problem. ''He can sign a little, the words 'please' and 'sorry'. And when he is finished eating, he doesn't say anything, he just pushes his food away and signs play ...

When Prok is signing, it is like a theatrical performance, because much of making herself understood is through body language. Her arms whirl through the air, hands and fingers punctuating expressively.

Shirley Prok
Shirley Prok demonstrates how she signs at Faith Lutheran Church in Avon. Photo by Tom Whittington.

At Faith Lutheran, Prok stands just to the left of the dais and directly in front of her audience. Her eyes on the music stand while her mind and ears follow the minister's words, as well as those of the hymns. Expressions flit across her face, the element of humor is not lost and righteous indignation is demonstrated.

''It's the language. You have to do so much with your eyes, your mouth and your expression, the voice inflection. The bigger the signs, the happier you are, the angrier you are, the more dramatic you get.

''Also, whatever is said, I interpret it exactly. They have a right to know,'' she stated.

Daene said having someone interpret his sermons to the deaf is important to him. ''I worked with the deaf for five years in Canada in the Saskatchewan Province. The deaf ministry was very close to my heart. I love having them here and they are all welcome. They are an important part of our worship service.'' ... "

Biographical Sketches

(c) 2001, The Morning Journal

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