This blog first appeared on the Kalamazoo Community Foundation’s Love Where You Live blog.
Our community is built upon the generosity of the people who came before us. Behind many names of our streets, public parks, companies, and organizations, there is a story of a local resident known for significant achievements or who cared so deeply about the well-being of their community.
Tom Vance (of the Kalamazoo Community Foundation) touched on this in his 10.22.2014 blog about the legacies of W.E. Upjohn. The organizations he helped establish or that carry his name contribute to the culture, education, and health of our present day community. But it is his original donation in 1925 to create the Kalamazoo Community Foundation that has the most profound and lasting impact on the residents of Kalamazoo County.
The same is true for Constance Brown Hearing Centers. In 1939, through a trust established by Constance Reed Brown, close to $250,000 from her estate was left to the Kalamazoo Community Foundation to assist Kalamazoo residents who were hard of hearing. The Foundation asked the Kiwanis Club of Kalamazoo for assistance to help fulfill her wishes. To best reach the hard of hearing, The Constance Brown Society for Better Hearing was formed in 1942.
Constance was born in Kalamazoo in 1877. Her parents and grandparents were deeply connected to the community. They built businesses and advocated for people to have more opportunities. In fact, some streets in the Edison neighborhood are named after her grandparents (Clinton Avenue, Reed Avenue, Cameron Street). Both Constance and her husband, Joseph E. Brown, were also strong proponents of the community. In return for the public helping to grow her family’s businesses, and thus their wealth, Constance’s bequest was to be used to help the people of Kalamazoo. And because Constance struggled with hearing loss for many years of her life, she specifically expressed a wish to benefit people who were hard of hearing.
From the start, The Constance Brown Society for Better Hearing had support. Grace Upjohn was one of the first Board members – her signature is on the original Articles of Incorporation. Mrs. Upjohn also provided funding to build the Harold Upjohn School, adjacent to Parkwood Elementary School, where The Constance Brown Society for Better Hearing taught hard of hearing and deaf students how to read lips, and performed hearing tests and provided deafness prevention and hearing and speech conservation clinics.
The Constance Brown Society for Better Hearing had its offices on Cedar Street where younger children would go for hearing testing and auditory training. In the mid-1960s, a rubella epidemic swept through the United States and resulted in 11,000 children being born deaf. The organization worked with many of these children during this time. Jim Gilmore, Jr. and his wife, Diana, were very supportive. Diana would visit often and bring gifts for the children.
Since its beginning, the name of the organization has evolved from The Constance Brown Society for Better Hearing to The Constance Brown Hearing and Speech Center in 1961 to our current name, Constance Brown Hearing Centers, in 2000. Even with these changes, we are still fulfilling our original purpose as expressed by Constance Brown: “To encourage and assist those who are hard of hearing; to create a service whereby the social, educational and occupational needs and the best interest and general welfare of the hard of hearing shall be promoted…and to generally promote and further the interests of the hard of hearing…through the acceptance of gifts, devises, and membership fees or otherwise.”
More of what Constance Brown Hearing Centers does today falls in the realm of healthcare. Research on untreated hearing loss has shown that it can negatively impact cognitive, social, and health outcomes. Thus, audiologists are health care professionals with advanced academic degrees who are certified and licensed to practice. We employ six audiologists who are uniquely skilled to identify, assess, diagnosis, and treat individuals with hearing loss. Our audiologists also educate and counsel patients and families because hearing loss affects more than the individual. We recommend people have routine hearing evaluations every two years after the age of 45 (or sooner if there is a family history or a medical condition). Having routine diagnostic hearing tests is as important as having routine eye exams and dental checkups.
We provide hearing healthcare to over 3,000 patients annually (from newborns to the very old). Our mission is to be the most trusted source providing state-of-the-art technology to improve hearing for all. The word “all” is significant. As a nonprofit, we are able to accept donations and grant awards, which enable us to make hearing health care more accessible and equitable via a sliding fee scale. Every patient, no matter what end of the economic spectrum, makes a personal financial investment in their hearing. And every patient receives the same high quality hearing health care to stay connected to their world.
It is a privilege to continue the legacy of Constance Brown, and to witness how she is helping one person after another, nearly 80 years later. Her passion to help others with hearing loss combined with her foresight to make a bequest to the Kalamazoo Community Foundation demonstrates how one person can have a lasting impact on their community for posterity.