Meet Zelda Gebhard: Feeling Down? Help Others!

Meet Zelda Gebhard: Feeling Down? Help Others!

By Sarah Peterson


This afternoon I met Zelda Gebhard over a phone call, my Monday blues evaporated with the sound of her cheerful, musical voice.  She greeted me as if we were old friends.


"I've been cleaning my cabinets," she said.  "It's kind of like buying new underwear - they make you feel good, but nobody sees them!"


Zelda suggested we reschedule for Thursday evening, as she works part time at an insurance agency and was headed out the door to her quilting group where she teams with other women to make mission and prayer quilts at her Methodist church.


"We call ourselves the Merry Monday Quilters and giggle together like little girls," she said gleefully, already offering a glimpse into her full, vibrant life.


Zelda has loved sewing her whole life, but she placed quilting aside for a while when her vision loss made the hobby too frustrating.  But one day after accompanying her friend on a "shop and hop," she returned home with a sewing machine that would revive the pastime. 


The machine offers a special pressure foot that ensures a perfect one-fourth-inch seam every time.


Zelda's journey has not been without its challenges, but when life doesn't present solutions like the special sewing machine, she chases them down with humor, kindness and a gentle strength.  Hailing from Syracuse, Kansas, Zelda was born with Stargardt Disease, a genetic degeneration of the retina. 


Both parents were carriers, but Zelda was the only one in her family who was affected.  Aside from having trouble hitting the ball during sports, her condition progressed slowly and didn't become serious until years later.


Zelda studied business at Northern University, married and raised four sons.  While working as a medical transcriptionist, her vision worsened such that she began to seek resources like assisted technology and voluntarily gave up her driver's license.


"I had learned how to do normal things, but when my fourth son was born, I had to admit I needed help," she said.  "It's like showing a movie off a brick wall - no matter how hard you focus the camera in, you can't get a clear picture."


Rather than considering her vision an inconvenience, Zelda focuses on the opportunities and it brings her. 


She served two terms on the governor-appointed Advisory Committee for Vocational Rehabilitation, the North Dakota State Council on which for a time she served as chairman.


She is on the advisory team for the North Dakota Vision Services and School for the Blind.  She has belonged to the North Dakota Association for the Blind for fourteen years, the editor of the newsletter for five years, four years as vice president and membership chair, and currently presides as president.


Among other projects the group is reaching out to medical professionals, opthamologists and optometrists to educate them about the vision loss community and its needs. 


Through being a legislative liaison for the organization, she presents blindness issues to state and national leaders.  They also advocate for issues such as transportation and funding for blindness services. 


The things we take for granted might become unavailable if we don't explain why we need them, she noted.


"A need to get out and spread the word about low vision propels me to be active in our organization," she said.  "Low vision is an isolating disability already, so it's especially important to advocate in rural areas. 

People need to know that although there will always be frustrations, they are not alone."


Zelda's involvement eventually led her to American Council of the Blind conventions where she learned about CCLVI.  Now she serves on the Board, as well as the convention planning and public relations committees.


"Our world isn't shrinking - it's expanding," she said.  "Whenever doors close, more open."


Zelda credits her husband for much of her positive attitude.  He never allows her to feel sorry for herself, she said.  He also provides her transportation and makes sure she gets to see people.


"I think everyone gets down, especially when you have a progressive vision loss," she said.  "You're always grieving and thinking about the things you could see last year but can't this year.  That's why I love to go out and do something for someone else; it helps take the focus off of me."


Zelda's faith and love for her family also fuel her optimism.  She has four grown sons and ten grandchildren, and she is heavily involved with the Wesley United Methodist Church of Edgeley.  Aside from being a Merry Monday Quilter, she mentors and teaches children through various youth programs like Sunday school and AWANA. 


She also treasures her time spent in a women's Bible study.


"My advice to those struggling with low vision is to not prematurely give up on things you love to do; just find different ways of doing them," she said.  "I find it advantageous to be persistent.


I am truly thankful for my blessings and for the Lord's faithfulness to help us endure, survive and even thrive no matter what we encounter in life."