Founder & Charter Member of Affiliated Blind of Louisiana, Inc.
Many men dream and hope their dreams are realized. Others dream and are unsurprised when their dreams come true. A gentleman who epitomizes the latter is John Lemaire.
John was born blind in 1922 in Forked Island, Louisiana. He was twelve years of age before he became aware of the availability of special schooling for the blind in Baton Rouge. While in school, he earned spending money selling brooms, mops, and magazine subscriptions, and by playing music. He graduated from high school in 1945 and for the next 35 years was involved alternatively and simultaneously in the music business and in the operations of vending stands. John tuned pianos for many years and then owned and operated a piano business for six years. Most of the time the music business was conducted in the evenings because of his vending stand businesses. Over the years he operated five different vending stands in Lake Charles, Alexandria, and Lafayette. In 1980, he retired from his last vending stand at the State Office Building in Lafayette. But permanent retirement was far from John's mind.
In 1988, serious fund-raising efforts were initiated through charitable gaming (bingo) and enough money was raised by 1990 to purchase the Most Holy Sacrament Convent on West St. Mary Boulevard in Lafayette. With over 70,000 square feet and four acres of property, the facility was ideal as a future training center. The only problem was the building needed approximately $3.5 million in renovations in order to meet fire, safety, health, and occupancy codes and requirements.
Undaunted by what would seem by most to be an insurmountable obstacle, John Lemaire set out to raise the money needed for renovations. In 1991, with the help of Louisiana's Congressional Delegation, he received a $3 million special purpose HUD grant. In 1992, the Louisiana Rehabilitation Services awarded ABL a grant to assist in the renovations and for staffing and furniture and equipment. The following year, LRS added another grant for staff and furniture.
In November, 1991 ABL's founder, John Lemaire, was appointed its first Executive Director. He sought and received other grants. He entered into contractual agreement with the City of Lafayette to provide transportation services for Lafayette's elderly and citizens with disabilities. And most importantly, ABL's training center opened its doors to clients.
Over John's lifetime he received many awards and held numerous positions in various organizations. He was as active member of the National Federation of the Blind, having served on its board for twelve years and as its president from 1975 to 1979. He is a recipient of ABL's Bumble Bee Award for outstanding achievement and of the 1990 Bishop's Charity Award for charitable contributions to the community. In 1994, John received the Governor's Award for Disabled Citizen of the Year for his contributions and service to the blind and deaf-blind.
John was 79 years of age when he died on March 30, 2001. He worked as Executive Director, maintaining a full time work schedule until the very end. There is not a day that goes by that he is not thought of and missed greatly.
John Lemaire was a man with a dream.
John Lemaire imagined a training center for the Blind of Louisiana ... and he achieved it.
John Lemaire dreamed of independence for the Blind of Louisiana ... and they are becoming it.