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updated: 7/31/2013 3:52 PM

Batavia church member uses sign language to help others connect

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Keith Isaac first came to Bethany Lutheran Church to share in the fellowship of the community supper. With a smile as cheerful as a sunny morning the newcomer didn't take long to connect with those around him. He did it with a wink and a wave, without saying a word.

Bethany member Pat Quast befriended the young man, using sign language.

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With two sons, two daughters-in law and a grandson who are deaf, Quast has realized the importance of learning a visual language to be able to communicate with the hearing-impaired.

"When my first son, Steven, was born 55 years ago, I had no idea that he couldn't hear," Quast said. "My neighbor first suspected it."

She took her son to the doctor and had his hearing tested. The doctor used a tuning fork next to his ear. There was no response.

"I asked him what I should do and he said he didn't know," Quast said.

After doing some research she learned that there were two options: A school in Milwaukee or a school in Jacksonville, Ill. Because Milwaukee was closer she and her husband decided Steven should go there.

"It was a boarding school and he could only come home every other weekend," Quast said. "He was only 4. Leaving him there was one of the most difficult moments of my life."

When he came home two weeks later he spent the entire weekend making a motion with his hand extended out from his chin.

"I had no idea what he was trying to say," said Quast. "When we went back to the school I asked his teacher what it meant?"

The teacher responded, "Mother."

Quast realized that she would also need to learn to sign so that she would be able to communicate with her son.

When her second son, Joel, was born deaf, he also went to the Milwaukee school. Unfortunately, the tuition became a burden, so the boys transferred to the Illinois State School for the Deaf in Jacksonville.

"I think they were happier there," she said. "So it all worked out."

The move proved to be a good thing because the Milwaukee school was in the news for having a priest who was sexually abusing children.

"It's hard enough to think about children dealing with that," Quast said. "When you think about the fact that many of these children couldn't even scream out, or tell anyone it was terrible."

Quast asked her older son if anything had happened while he was there but both boys escaped any abuse.

Pat Quast had three more children and none were deaf. She learned sign language and often signs for weddings and baptisms. Her daughter, Martha, signs as well.

Quast interprets for Isaac and she teaches a class in sign language at Bethany so that members will be able to communicate with him.

With her gentle nature and her commitment to helping the hearing-impaired, Pat Quast is sharing her gifts by teaching others to sign.

It's a language we should all know.

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