Deal reached on job for widow of blind vendor

April 26, 1995|By Larry Carson | Larry Carson,Sun Staff Writer

The Ruppersberger administration will allow a new blind vendor to manage the Baltimore County Courthouse cafeteria on condition that the widow of the old manager is guaranteed a job there for at least a year.

Officials of the state program that provides blind managers for concessions in public buildings have accepted the deal, ending a two-week standoff.

Betty Lou Hanes, 52, has been fighting since her husband's sudden death March 30 to avoid losing her livelihood at the Graceland Cafeteria. She and her husband, Lou Hanes, who was blind, turned the basement lunch spot into a popular shrine to his hero, Elvis Presley.

State and federal laws that control subsidized food concessions in public buildings require them to be run by blind managers trained by the state. The managers run the 85 shops statewide, but don't own them. Because Mrs. Hanes and her daughter Grace Zellner, 30, are sighted, they were to be replaced by June 1.

Mrs. Hanes' plight aroused sympathy among county workers, including County Executive C. A. Dutch Ruppersberger III, who intervened personally several weeks ago.

The county briefly considered breaking the lease with the program and awarding the concession to Mrs. Hanes, but backed off after stiff opposition from the state and other blind vendors.

State officials have stressed the importance of the program for blind people, more than 70 percent of whom are unemployed.

Mr. Hanes spent 20 years working in the blind vendors program, the last several as manager of the renovated cafeteria. The operation is subsidized by the state, which provided the kitchen equipment and paid for half the furniture and the original food inventory. The county provided the space and utilities and paid for the other half of the furniture.

Mrs. Hanes has said that her husband's death after 33 years of marriage has left her financially strapped.

The new deal requires that the state make Mrs. Hanes' employment as assistant manager a condition of granting the manager's job to a new blind operator.

Mrs. Hanes said yesterday that she's agreeable, though she would like to see her job guaranteed for more than a year.

"I would be willing to stay here as assistant manager," she said.

And although the final agreement must be worked out with whoever is chosen as the new vendor, she has said she hopes her daughter and four employees can keep their jobs, too.

Robert A. Burns, assistant state school superintendent for rehabilitative services, approved the deal and called it "an equitable agreement" that's "responsive to our customer, Baltimore County."

The only criticism yesterday came from Ralph Sanders, a blind vendor representing the Maryland Committee of Blind Vendors, who predicted court suits from widows of other blind vendors who have died leaving their spouses without jobs.

"Obviously, we're pleased" that the cafeteria will remain in the state program, he said, adding, "I wish her [Mrs. Hanes] all the best in the world."

But he added, "You can't change laws based on individual circumstances."

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