Civic Activist:
Boulder County Commissioner Homer Page

Copyright © 1995
National Federation of the Blind

          From the Associate Editor: Homer Page is First Vice President of the National Federation of the Blind of Colorado. He also coordinates the work of those who make things run so smoothly at national conventions. He is everywhere, spotting traffic jams, sending the nurse to those who need her consultation, calming restless teenagers, and dispersing youngsters who are playing on the escalators. He is unflappable, amusing, gentle, patient, and kind. On February 3, 1991, the Rocky Mountain News published a story about Homer Page written by reporter Kevin McCullin. It captures the essence of the man in his public life, and it tallies with what we know of him in his private life. Here is the story as it appeared:

          Homer Page's heart ached when war erupted in the Persian Gulf, and he made a vow to himself.

          Boulder County, he said, would not become a battleground of bitterness about the war.

          So Page, chairman of the Boulder County Board of Commissioners, assumed his familiar role of peacemaker.

          The night war broke out, Page hurried over to the Boulder courthouse, bullhorn in hand, to try to keep peace between anti- and pro-war factions.

          He then summoned civic, community, business, law enforcement, and religious leaders together. Collectively, they formed a community support network that aims to comfort anyone--regardless of political perspective--affected by the war.

          "I don't want anger and hatred to dominate my community, to take over the hearts of my people. I don't want to see people choosing up sides like a high school football game, my side against yours," Page says. "It's why I'm willing, and why I have to do this."

          In nearly a decade of holding political office--and in earlier years as an educator, theologian, and civil rights activist--Page often has succeeded in resolving disputes. A deep- rooted sense of social justice, instilled while growing up in a farming family that insisted he become self-sufficient, prompts Page to strive for a consensus.

          Yet Page, a lifelong advocate for the disabled, realizes he cannot solve all conflicts.

          Blind since his birth forty-nine years ago, Page has felt from others the ignorance of emotional and intellectual blindness.

          But the drive that helped him earn three varsity letters as a wrestler at the University of Missouri and unwavering faith in the American political process push Page to find a common will-- even in a war.

          "Good people with good faith can have different interests and opinions," Page says. "It's my job to be fair, treat each with dignity and try to generate some respect for people on each side."

          Page was elected to the Boulder County Commission in 1988 after serving six years on the Boulder City Council, where he became deputy mayor. His election to the Commission also forced Page to resign his job of fourteen years as director of the University of Colorado's Office of Services to Disabled Students, which he helped establish.

          He remains active in community service. Page serves as chair of the Colorado Center for the Blind, which he formed three years ago to serve as a "boot camp for the blind" by teaching survival skills and promoting self-confidence.

          Page and his wife Marci also publish a newsletter for the blind. They are active in a Boulder Baptist church. And, when each has the time, they indulge themselves in cross-country skiing, hikes, rock climbing, or Denver Broncos games.

          Seldom is Page bored. "Homer does not spend time sitting around," says Marci, who married him three and a half years ago.

          Nor, say those who know him, is Page ever boring.

          "Homer is a true philosopher," says Linda Jourgensen, who served with Page on the City Council and County Commission. "He's a great thinker, and he always thinks issues through."

          Page's thoughtfulness stems in part from a rich educational background. He received an undergraduate degree in sociology from Missouri, graduated from divinity school, and later received his masters and doctoral degrees from the University of Chicago in social ethics.

          In the early 1960's, Page joined civil rights activists in working to repeal Missouri's segregation laws. He worked another summer in a public housing project in St. Louis.

          His intellectual experience, he says, has been in "dialogue with the world. Knowledge and thought are interactive."

          Were it not for his parents, however, Page never might have developed an intellect or self-confidence.

          Page grew up with a brother and a sister on a 184-acre farm outside Troy, Missouri. His father, Homer Sr., served as town marshal and expected his blind son to milk cows or water and feed the cattle.

          The elder Page completed the eighth grade, and Page's mother, D'Arline, finished the 10th grade. But they insisted that their blind son study and be treated like sighted classmates.

          In first grade Page's teacher tried to place him in a slow- reading group. His father would not hear of it.

          "I hesitate to think of what my life would have been like if the expectations of me had been low, that I needed attention," Page recalls. "Instead, their expectation was that I was to produce, to perform, and to do quality work--no excuses."

          His father defended his son again. In the summer between third and fourth grade Page and his father were putting a roof over a chicken house when representatives of the Missouri School for the Blind drove to the farm.

          Homer, they said, should come with us to St. Louis for schooling with other children like him. His father thought for a moment and said no.

          "He said, `A boy's place is in the home, with his family. Besides, if he left, who would help me with all this work?' They left," Page says. "That told me my family cared for me, that I was an economically viable part of that family, and what more could you tell a nine-year-old kid? It allowed me to develop a strong sense of myself."

          Because Page's rural school lacked special instructional materials, Page was forced to learn mathematics without benefit of Braille. He learned to perform equations in his head, a skill he uses daily as a county commissioner.

          During budget hearings last fall, commissioners were doling a block of money to non-profit agencies. Jourgensen said to no one in particular, "Well, how much money do we have left?"

          Page instantly blurted the five-figure amount, to the penny.

          A county staff member, using a calculator, confirmed the figure moments later.

          "Homer does all of our finances," Marci laughs.

          As a teenager, Page also refined a skill that enables him today to resolve disputes or comprehend issues. He learned to listen, to hear voice inflections and tones, to interpret the speaker's thinking.

          "My listening, I think, is more of a philosophy. It's my way of being able to understand," he says. "Some people listen with their eyes. Most of us act in our unique way, with a structure of meaning. You listen not so much to the words, but to the structure of what is being said."

          To Marci, Page's special trait "is a way of living. It's part of what I love about him."

          Colorado University hired Page in 1974 to develop and oversee its programs for the disabled. Few disabled students were on campus at the time, and even fewer services. Over the years, Page added programs and services.

          He aimed to help disabled students have control and management of their lives and succeeded with many. By 1988, 325 students were in the program.

          One of Page's students became a Fulbright Scholar. Another earned a fellowship in Washington. Another now teaches law.

          Marci now serves as assistant director of the program, but Homer was forced to resign after becoming a commissioner. He still teaches a graduate education class.

          Page's devotion to education continues today. He and Marci helped form the Colorado Center for the Blind in 1988, a school where rock climbing is part of a curriculum designed to help the blind student become independent.

          "I want to create high expectations. I want them to become self-sufficient," Page says. "We talk about the Colorado Center as boot camp for the blind. People need to understand there is an expectation of them, that they do not have to be dependent on society.

          "There is a presumption that blind people should not be expected to clean their rooms, to mop the kitchen, to take care of themselves. So they get into a life where they are told being mediocre is wonderful. To me, that is not acceptable."

          The Center has produced success stories. Page speaks of a man who "sat on a couch for three years" after losing his sight but now works again as a mechanic. Another student, who lost his vision after an accident, was not allowed to walk alone across a room. Now he works for a restaurant and is raising a child.

          Page performs his job without much assistance. Instead of reading background memorandums, Page listens to the memos on tapes. When required to travel, he catches a bus, hitches a ride, takes a taxi, or walks the two miles from his home to the courthouse.

          Page expects no special favors. Yet, to his disgust, he occasionally finds unintentional or deliberate slights in a sighted world.

          "I was walking to work one morning and a woman said, `God bless you. It's wonderful what you're doing.' It was amazing because I could walk down the street?" Page says, and shakes his head. "We have to break through that phony expectation so that blind people realize they can compete with sighted people in the job market, the marriage market, all these places where our lives are carried out."

          Airlines, Marci says, particularly are annoying to her husband. So was a letter to the editor that appeared shortly after Page's election as County Commissioner. The writer castigated voters for electing a blind man "who couldn't do the reading," Page recalls.

          "It was so ignorant and so unfair. It's one thing to say you don't agree with me in a political sense because I'm a Democrat," he says. "But to have them think the most damning thing they could say about me is that I'm blind and can't read was so unfair."

          Public service beckoned to Page early in life. To a boy who grew up in the Midwest of the 1940s and 1950s, citizenship and democracy became "one of the most important things we have, and I still believe it is. I've found the political process to be challenging and a place where my skills can be used well."

          Page ran for the Boulder City Council in 1982 and won. He sought along with other council members to balance human service needs with the city's pro-environmental stance.

          His capacity to listen to all sides of an issue and to find a compromise acceptable to the conflicting parties was appreciated by then-Mayor Ruth Correll and Jourgensen.

          "Homer has this ability to find the middle ground and tie together opposing forces to solve a problem and bring opposite ends to a consensus," Correll says. "On Council he was able to pour oil on troubled waters and bring a reasonable approach to a problem."

          Page sees politics as "listening to the public and leading and expressing in policy the common will of the community. You try to take a situation and find a way to harmonize it, to take the risk and make a decision."

          Anxious for new challenges, Page ran for County Commissioner in 1988 against incumbent Republican Buz Smith and won. His mediation soon helped resolve a smoldering dispute between the Commissioners and former sheriff Brad Leach over his budget.

          Former Commissioner Josie Heath and Leach sparred at a budget hearing just before Page's election. The exchange culminated in Leach's telling Heath, "I won't take a public whipping over this, Josie."

          Page soothed the hard feelings soon after his election.

          "I thought it was a conflict situation where no one was going to win," Page says. "I tried to help facilitate a discussion about what was real. It allowed both sides to come together and go forward."

          Leach, who served as sheriff for twenty years, left impressed with Page.

          "I think Homer's one of the most knowledgeable Commissioners on any issue because he researches it and he listens," Leach says. "He's an excellent Commissioner."

          Indeed Page relishes his work. On an average day he may leave his north Boulder home at 8:30 a.m. and not return for twelve hours. On weekends he often brings home tapes of background material for the upcoming week.

          He knows not everyone agrees with his decisions, and some Boulder County residents may not like him. Page accepts the criticism but rejects cynicism and hopes the electorate recognizes that he truly cares.

          "People have tried to put me in a lot of pigeonholes over the years and pin me down," he says. "But those pigeonholes can be expanded, and I'll keep expanding them."

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