Earlier this year, the Emblem Club Scholarship Foundation presented Fresno State with a check for $250,000 at its annual meeting Jan. 28th in Visalia. The gift will establish an endowment to support Deaf education programming for the Silent Garden.

“I am so appreciative of the Emblem Club Scholarship Foundation and all the Emblem Club members across this region for providing Fresno State with this life-changing endowment in the Silent Garden,” said Dr. Denise Seabert, the dean of the College of Health and Human Services who attended the Emblem Club quarterly convention to accept the donation. “This gift will help us provide free community outreach, education and conferences tailored to the needs of Deaf individuals and their families, teachers and professionals, enabling Fresno State to be leaders in the field of Deaf education.”

The Deaf education program at Fresno State trains teachers and professionals to work with Deaf and hard-of-hearing children, their families and other professionals. The program’s goal is to ensure that Deaf and hard-of-hearing children have full access to educational and professional opportunities. More than 1,500 alumni have graduated from the program.

The Silent Garden at Fresno State was created in 2008 by Fresno State professor emeritus Dr. Paul W. Ogden, who also attended the gift presentation. The program provides continuing professional education opportunities and resources post-graduation to teachers and other professionals who work with Deaf individuals, allowing education to continue and keep up with new developments in the field.

The Emblem Club began during World War I as female relatives of Elk fraternal club members met to wrap bandages for wounded soldiers overseas. These days, club membership extends to men and women, and chapters exist across the nation. The Emblem Club Scholarship Foundation was established in the 1970s to create scholarships for students becoming teachers of the Deaf and hard of hearing. 

Julie Swaggerty is the 2022-23 supreme president of the national Emblem Club organization. She said the Emblem Club Scholarship Foundation has been working closely with Fresno State for 54 years, and has contributed well over $1 million dollars in student scholarship support.

“The idea for the foundation came from my mother, Jeanene Swaggerty, past supreme president, as my father was born Deaf in one ear, and developed Meniere’s disease in the other ear,” Swaggerty said. “Because of this difficulty, and the times being what they were for educating persons with any disabilities, he was unable to continue his studies under the GI Bill to become a pharmacist. When the opportunity arose to create the foundation, scholarships for students wanting to become teachers of the Deaf was a natural choice.”

Swaggerty highlighted the Emblem Club founder’s motto and the club’s guiding principle: “The Torch of Education so the Deaf and hard of hearing may lead a fuller life.”

“I am so proud of the fact that this endowment is so unique,” Ogden said. “Many of our alumni majoring in Deaf education received financial aid from the Emblem Club Foundation Scholarship when they were studying to become teachers. And now, the endowment will be there to support their professional growth by providing the latest education to teach the Deaf and hard of hearing. There is always new research, new technology, new classroom techniques, etc.”

Joanna Hendrix — a Deaf education teacher of preschool, transitional kindergarten and kindergarten students at Ralph Dunlap Elementary School in Orcutt Union School District — can attest to the high quality of the Deaf education program for teacher candidates at Fresno State.

Hendrix earned a bachelor’s and a master’s in Deaf education at Fresno State. 

Santa Barbara County Education Office
Joanna Hendrix / Photo credit: Santa Barbara County Education Office

“The high-caliber professors provided a rigorous curriculum with ample opportunities for hands-on learning,” said Hendrix, who received scholarship support from the Emblem Club during her time as a student. “I benefited from the small class sizes which provided opportunities for deeper connections and collaboration amongst my peers.” 

Hendrix, who has been teaching for 22 years, was named the 2023 Teacher of the Year by the Santa Barbara County Education Office and was a finalist for the 2023 Californian Teacher of the Year.

She credited the Emblem Club’s “Adopt-A-Student” program for helping forge lifelong relationships with peers and colleagues who participated in Fresno State’s Deaf education program. She also maintains a connection to this day with Ogden, who saw something in her that she didn’t see in herself and encouraged her to consider teaching the Deaf.

This story was originally published in Fresno State News.