Blind Couple Leads The Sighted In Church And School

April 10, 1991|By Jane Lippy | Jane Lippy,Contributing writer

WESTMINSTER — Although their world is devoid of light, Gary and Ninette LeGates are a beacon of inspiration.

Both have been blind since birth. But the Westminster couple is a vivid embodiment of the saying, "Better tolight one candle than to curse the darkness."

"We've had a lot of miracles and have many interests," 38-year-old Ninette said.

Gary, 39, teaches language courses at Westminster High, and Ninette is an analyst for the U.S. Department of Defense atFort Meade, in Anne Arundel County.

Gary and Ninette both suffered retinopathy prematurity when they were put in incubators as infants. A too-high concentration of oxygen caused scar tissue to form over the lenses of their eyes.

But from an early age, they found plentyof support and encouragement from their parents.

"We were blessedin our parents," said Gary. "They said, 'You can do anything you want to do.' They didn't hold me back."

In addition to their careers,the LeGates are also musicians. Accompanying themselves with guitarsand keyboards, Gary and Ninette sing at church services and other events throughout the county.

However, Gary will admit music wasn't a lifelong ambition.

"I did it just to be with her," he said.

The LeGates have performed together since 1974, when the minister at Deer Park Methodist Church asked them to perform. A concert at LazarusUnited Church of Christ in Lineboro soon followed.

"Word got around," said Gary.

The couple now performs at Westminster Baptist Church, where they've been members since 1979. Among other activities atthe church, Gary serves as Sunday School superintendent, while Ninette writes a "New Members" informational column for the church newsletter.

"We've worked there since 1981," Gary said. "We're friendly, and they like us. The church has been good to us. We try to give something back."

Their activities don't stop at the church door.

Gary is a board member of the Maryland School for the Blind in Baltimore, president of the school's alumni association, and an officer in the National Association of Blind Teachers. Ninette serves as secretaryfor three similar groups.

"We're people-oriented," she said.

Gary was born in Wilmington, Del., and raised in Easton, Talbot County. Ninette was born in Chambersburg, Pa., and raised in Hagerstown, Washington County.

They met at the School for the Blind, which drawsstudents from across the region. Gary was 7, and Ninette was 6 at the time.

The LeGates said their education there was excellent and inspired them to continue in school.

Gary attended Western MarylandCollege, majoring in Latin, French and education. He went on to PennState University, where he received a master's degree in classical literature.

After graduating in 1974 with an English degree from Western Maryland, Ninette took Russian language courses at Penn State and earned a teaching certificate. They married in 1976.

The LeGates strive to be self-sufficient, but some aspects of life -- such as reading and transportation -- can pose challenges. Neighbors or volunteers read them their mail and sometimes offer a lift to a doctor's appointment or other errands.

"God sends us people," Ninette said. "Somebody always shows up. There is always a solution if we seek it out."

Gary teaches four Latin and two French classes at Westminster High School, where he's been on the faculty since 1977. He catches a ride to work with another teacher and pays an aide to help out in theclassroom.

"I'm not out to cost them more money or put a handicapon the system," he said. Volunteers from the church help out when Gary administers an exam.

Ninette commutes with co-workers to Fort Meade, where she has worked since 1976.

At the red-brick rancher where they've lived for 13 years, Braille books and magazines abound. Braille materials take up a great deal of space, as the LeGates' 18-volume loose-leaf Bible attests.

The LeGates say their faith sustains them in world full of challenges.

"I couldn't do anything without it," Gary said. "You can only do what God gave you to do. There's nothing else to trust in."

Ninette agreed.

"God worked things out," she said. "He can do things we cannot do. He sends the people we need at the right time."

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