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WMU speech and audiology program celebrates 75th anniversary

by Mark Schwerin

Oct. 11, 2011 | WMU News

WMU Department of Speech Pathology and Audiology's 75th anniversary logo.
KALAMAZOO--One of Western Michigan University's flagship programs and a pioneer in its field marks its 75th anniversary this month by honoring its founder and celebrating a long history of treating speech, language and hearing problems and training those who work with individuals with those problems.

On Thursday and Friday, Oct. 20-21, the Department of Speech Pathology and Audiology will celebrate its heritage and pay tribute to Dr. Charles Van Riper, a stutterer himself, who founded one the nation's earliest clinics for the study and treatment of speech disorders and the preparation of "speech correctionists." Van Riper went on to become a pioneer in the field, known worldwide for his innovative treatment. WMU's highly regarded specialty center in that discipline today bears his name.

The celebration comes shortly after the release of the Academy Award-winning movie, "The King's Speech," which placed stuttering and speech therapy center stage. The film documented the speech therapy given to King George VI and preparations for his landmark speech in 1937--a year after Van Riper started his own clinic at WMU. He died in 1994.

The 75th Anniversary Celebration will be centered around the 2011 Van Riper Lecture Series, with most events taking place in the WMU Fetzer Center. Lectures will focus on stuttering with the theme of "What's New in Fluency?" and feature presentations by Dr. Barry Guitar, professor of communications sciences at the University of Vermont, and Dr. Patricia Zebrowsky, professor of speech language pathology at the University of Iowa. On Friday, Dr. Mary Ellen Nevins, national director for Professional Preparation in Cochlear Implants, will present an audiology symposium covering language and literacy in deaf children.

Festivities Thursday evening culminate with a celebration banquet in the Fetzer Center. Banquet reservations are due Wednesday, Oct. 12. Friday events also include a mentoring luncheon for alumni, faculty and students before concluding with an open house and tours of the Charles Van Riper Language, Speech and Hearing Clinic in the WMU Unified Clinics in the University Medical and Health Sciences Center on Oakland Drive.

Throughout the two days, organizers will continue to collect oral histories and stories from alumni, and they are compiling a 75th commemorative edition of the traditional WMU Journal of Speech, Language and Hearing that will be available in the spring of 2012.

Activities also will spill over into Sunday, Oct. 23, when former department chair Dr. John "Mick" Hanley presents a talk on Van Riper's book series published under his pen name Cully Gage as part of the Kalamazoo Valley Museum's Sunday History Series. Though Van Riper was renowned for his therapies and academic contributions, Hanley will relate how many Michigan residents know him better as Cully Gage, the author of "The Northwoods Reader," a book of stories about life in his native Upper Peninsula.

Celebration highlights, along with the, day, time and type of event, include:

Thursday, Oct. 20

Friday, Oct. 21

Cost for both days of the lecture series is $175.

For more information or to register, visit WMU's Van Riper Lecture Series online or contact Paula Armstrong at or (269) 387-8045.