WMU News

Antique hearing devices loaned to WMU

Oct. 19, 2000

KALAMAZOO -- A collection of nearly 90 antique, non-electrical hearing devices is being permanently loaned to Western Michigan University.

Known as "The Baldwin Collection," the exhibit could very well be one of the largest individually owned collections of antique hearing devices in the world. It includes an assortment of London domes, rigid and telescopic ear trumpets, conversation or speaking tubes and ear scoops.

A special ceremony to mark the official transfer of the exhibit to the University is set for 4 to 6 p.m. Wednesday, Oct. 25, in the WMU Unified Clinics on the third floor of the University Medical and Health Services Center at 1000 Oakland Drive.

The exhibit is being loaned to the University by Dr. Richard and Patty Baldwin. Richard Baldwin, graduated from WMU's former deaf education program in 1964 with a certificate to teach deaf children. He went on to earn a master's degree, also from WMU, in 1968 and worked as a teacher for hearing impaired children, a college professor and as state director of special education in the Michigan Department of Education from 1990-97.

After retiring from the Michigan Department of Education, Baldwin began writing mystery novels and founded Buttonwood Press. Born in Kalamazoo and raised in Grand Haven, he and his wife currently live in Haslett.

Baldwin, who was born with a hearing impairment and wears a hearing aid, began collecting the antique devices about a quarter century ago, says Dr. Harold "Hal" Bate, WMU professor of speech pathology and audiology and Baldwin's former teacher. Bate is coordinating the collection's transfer and display at WMU.

Over the years, Baldwin steadily added to the collection, with friends sometimes alerting him to finds they made on their travels. The devices have been stored for many years in a curio cabinet in the Badlwins' living room, with Baldwin occasionally taking them along with him when he visited a classroom or served as a guest speaker.

"He wanted to get them out where more of the general public could see them," Bate says.

Most of the devices are from the 1800s and would only provide moderate hearing assistance.

"Most of them wouldn't help all that much, except in cases of mild hearing loss," Bate says. "But the collection will serve as a perspective on the history of hearing devices and how far we've come."

The Baldwin Collection will be conveniently located and will be affiliated with the Charles Van Riper Language, Speech and Hearing Clinic. The Van Riper Clinic is part of the WMU Unified Clinics housed in the University Medical and Health Sciences Center. Responsibility for the collection rests with the Department of Speech Pathology and Audiology, which, along with the clinics, is in the University's College of Health and Human Services.

Wednesday's ceremony, which is open to the public, will include brief remarks by the Baldwin family and University officials. A reception will follow the ceremony and allow guests an opportunity to view the exhibit and meet the Baldwins.

Media contact: Mark Schwerin, 616 387-8400, mark.schwerin@wmich.edu

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