On Wednesday, Feb. 27, the American Sign Language (ASL) Club had the opportunity to meet its founder, Sam Roach, and to listen to his educational journey as a partially-deaf student growing up in rural Arkansas.
Roach came to Harding in 1949 and founded the ASL Club in 1950, which was later recognized as an official club in 1956. Roach dropped out of Morrilton High School in the 10th grade because the school could not provide the resources needed for his studies, but this did not inhibit his life-long desire to learn. After working in San Diego, California, during World War II, Roach returned home, and his step-mother encouraged him to attend the Arkansas School for the Deaf to finish his high school education. When he enrolled, he had been communicating by reading lips and listening closely.
“I didn’t know anything about sign language or the deaf school,” Roach said. “When I went to the school, [I told] the superintendent I wanted to go to college.”
He completed his schooling in three years and passed the entrance exam to enroll in Gallaudet College in Washington D.C., a college designed for deaf students. Roach was there for a year before he received an invitation to attend Harding College. Gallaudet’s president told Roach of the opportunity, and he agreed to go on the condition that he could return if he “couldn’t succeed at the hearing college”. After a year at Harding, Roach started the ASL club because he wanted to teach his hearing peers how to better communicate with the deaf community.
Sophomore Makinzie Haught, president of the ASL club, found Roach to be very peaceful, interesting and insightful.
“[Sam taught us] that you can make a connection in any situation,” Haught said. “Even if you have a disability or you are not the same as another person, you can still connect. I think he is a good representation of bringing the Harding community closer to the deaf community.”
Professor emeritus Linda Thompson has been the sponsor of the ASL Club since the 1980s and communicated with Roach and his family to attend the meeting. The ASL Club was the first group of non-family members to watch a documentary Roach’s son created about his father. This documentary explained the struggle of being partially deaf while highlighting his father’s accomplishments and positive attitude.
“I think at Harding we have such a heart and mission to bring Christ to people and to reach out and help where needed,” Thompson said. “There is a definite need among the deaf.”