It was a rocky start for Garry DeFreece in July 1950.

Doctors told his parents their baby would never learn to walk, and maybe he would not be able to use his hands. Never normal, for sure.

At least that's what his cousin tells him. His parents, soon after his birth, dropped him off at the Beatrice State Developmental Center, to be raised by the state until he was 19.

"At the time, I thought it was OK. I mean, the food was OK. I had a roof over my head. ... Of course, I didn't know anything different," he said. 

His family was the 30 or so kids on his unit. He learned that whatever he was going to get, he would have to work for it, and save for it, and be proud to buy himself. 

He didn't meet his mom or dad until he was in his mid-30s. He's 66 now. He has a younger brother somewhere in the state he's never met.

After he was out on his own -- with pressure from his grandpa -- his parents came to see their son seven or eight times, DeFreece said. But once his grandpa died, even that stopped. 

Few visits, no help, he said. And that was hurtful.

"After all, it was not my fault that I came into this world this way."

Those doctors, it turned out, were way off base on their predictions about Garry DeFreece's future. 

He walks a lot, including a mile to work every day from where he gets off the bus, on feet that are not flawless, but pardoned for their imperfections. 

And those hands, with fingers that were at one time fused and are now, with surgery, a couple of thickened fingers and a thumb on each hand, communicate the beauty DeFreece sees in his world with intricate and detailed pencil drawings. Even though he's never taken a lesson.  

"But I kept it up and kept it up and kept it up. So then as I was getting older, I was figuring a lot of stuff out on my own," he said. 

DeFreece has lived near the Capitol a few decades. He has worked at Lincoln Laminating as a finisher, doing sanding and routing on kitchen cabinets and bathroom vanities, more than 20 years. He tried to retire, but they called him back to work part time. 

"I make my own living. I'm pretty much proud of it. I can do a lot of things on my own," he said. 

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Reach the writer at 402-473-7228 or jyoung@journalstar.com

On Twitter @LJSLegislature.


State government reporter

JoAnne Young covers state government, including the Legislature and state agencies, and the people they serve.

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