Make us your home page

Today’s top headlines delivered to you daily.

(View our Privacy Policy)

Book helps students at Lighthouse of Pinellas share their lives of limited sight

John Humpal teaches creative writing for the Lighthouse of Pinellas, a nonprofit group that offers services to the blind and sight-impaired.

As his students started turning in papers last fall, he realized the writing was special.

"I started thinking: These people have some pretty good stories," said Humpal, a self-help author. "After reading three or four of them, I thought, these would make a good book. People don't understand what it's like to live blind. You have to change your way of life."

And so In-Sight, a book of short stories and poems by the blind and sight-impaired students, was born. The nearly yearlong project turned into a 213-page, large-print book that was published in June.

It is filled with contributions from about a dozen students, who wrote about everything from happy childhood memories and first jobs to living through the Great Depression and coping with their sight issues.

Like two of his students, Humpal is blind. But the 69-year-old Largo resident doesn't let it stop him from enjoying simple pleasures such as walking. He hikes along busy streets like Nursery Road every day.

Some of the authors prove that a challenge like lost or limited vision doesn't have to squelch a sense of humor.

• • •

Cremative Writing (an excerpt, p. 154) Russ Zurkan

We started this class a long time ago,

What we were getting into we didn't know.

Our instructor told us we would get better,

But a few of us still can't write a letter …

Well class, after three years we finally succeeded,

We've written some stuff and can't even read it.

• • •

The mission of Lighthouse of Pinellas, located on 112th Circle N in Largo, is printed on the back of In-Sight:

"To advance the independence, opportunities and quality of life for the more than 40,000 people in Pinellas County who are blind or visually impaired."

It's a mission accomplished as far as Ida Schwerzel, 94, of Clearwater is concerned.

"The teachers are wonderful; the volunteers are terrific," she said. "You socialize, you learn how to cope, it has so many advantages.

"Whereas if you were home, you'd feel sorry for yourself. It gives us a way to cope in our lives."

• • •

It Happens to All of Us (p. 80) Ida Schwerzel

There is no escaping it. Sooner or later, it will catch up to us. … It is called aging … don't ignore or pretend you don't see us. All we ask for is a smile or a friendly 'Hello' or even a gentle touch.

• • •

Schwerzel lost most of her sight after a cataract operation. After three surgeries, she still has partial, close-up vision in her right eye.

Fellow student Lucille Gradel, 79, of Crystal Beach has partial sight due to macular degeneration.

So how do students with vision problems write, anyway? Gradel said it's tricky, but worth the trouble. "I write and as long as I don't lift up the pen to stop writing, I'm okay," she said.

Schwerzel also manages with just limited vision in one eye.

"You know you say miracles don't happen," she said. "I can't write a check but (when) I'm writing a story I get the book with the lines. I can write on those lines."

Several other students use customized computers or get help from relatives or friends.

• • •

Visually Impaired (p. 170, an excerpt) Russ Zurkan

People with glaucoma, cataracts or degeneration,

Wear eyeglasses or contacts in sheer desperation.

All races and ages often become visually afflicted,

They use so many eye drops they become addicted.

But they learn to live good lives with good attitudes,

Those in this school live their lives in happier moods.

They are thankful for the blessings they've been bestowed,

And they want to do it themselves, if not pushed or towed.

• • •

Despite publishing the book and other successful programs, Lighthouse of Pinellas needs help, Gradel and others said.

"We really need more volunteers for teaching," Gradel said. "The music appreciation teacher died, and they never replaced him."

The organization is looking at a $60,000 budget deficit entering the last quarter of its fiscal year and the organization would like to raise $10,000 before the end of August.

Not enough people know about the Lighthouse, Schwerzel added. Her doctor told her about the services. But she worries others just don't know they're available.

"Not every doctor or nursing home is familiar with the fact that there is aid for people like us," she said.

Gradel hopes the book sales will help Lighthouse financially and also assist people like her learn that help is out there.

"Maybe people will pick one up and say, 'Gee I know somebody who could go to that school.' "

Info Box:

The students' large-print book, In-Sight, can be purchased for $10 through the Lighthouse of Pinellas website: or call (727) 544-4433

Money from book sales will help fund Lighthouse programs, which range from classes like cooking and yoga, to Braille and computers.

Book helps students at Lighthouse of Pinellas share their lives of limited sight 07/17/10 [Last modified: Friday, July 16, 2010 5:07pm]
Photo reprints | Article reprints

© 2017 Tampa Bay Times


Join the discussion: Click to view comments, add yours

  1. U.S. Rep. Charlie Crist and estranged wife Carole put Beach Drive condo on the market

    Real Estate

    ST. PETERSBURG — U.S. Rep. Charlie Crist and his estranged wife, Carole, have put their Beach Drive condo on the market for $1.5 million.

    U.S. Rep. Charlie Crist and his estranged wife, Carole, have put their Beach Drive condo in Parkshore Plaza on the market for $1.5 million. {Courtesy of Amy Lamb/Native House Photography]
  2. St. Petersburg showdown: Kriseman faces Baker for first time tonight at the Rev. Louis Murphy Sr.'s church

    Local Government

    ST. PETERSBURG — The mayor's race has been making headlines for nearly two months as Mayor Rick Kriseman and former Mayor Rick Baker have been making speeches, pressing the flesh at fundraisers and gathering their ground forces for an election battle that has already broken fundraising records.

    Former Mayor Rick Baker, left, is challenging incumbent Mayor Rick Kriseman, right, to become St. Petersburg mayor.
  3. Tampa moves to pause permits for 5G wireless equipment to assess impact of new Florida law


    To business groups, the bill that Gov. Rick Scott signed Friday will clear the way for superfast 5G wireless communications and give Florida an edge in attracting high-tech companies.

    Tampa Mayor Bob Buckhorn and other local officials have worried that a new state law aimed at facilitating the installation of 5G wireless technology could clutter scenic corridors like Tampa's Riverwalk.
  4. Trump takes another swipe at CNN after resignations over retracted Russia story


    NEW YORK — President Donald Trump used the resignations of three CNN journalists involved in a retracted Russia-related story to resume his attack on the network's credibility Tuesday.

    Anthony Scaramucci, a senior adviser to President-elect Donald Trump, talks to reporters in the lobby of Trump Tower in New York. [Associated Press]
  5. Clearwater woman dies after losing control of SUV, flipping in Palm Harbor


    A Clearwater woman died early Tuesday morning when she lost control of her SUV and crashed in Palm Harbor, according to the Florida Highway Patrol.