Despite their numerous, hard-earned triumphs, Eckberg and the deaf community in Nebraska experienced a tremendous overhaul in 1998. Amidst overstated budget reports and a shortsighted institutional thrust to mainstream deaf children, the Nebraska School for the Deaf was forced to close its doors (see Figure 10) (see contextual essay). Of the period of time immediately following the demise of the school, Eckberg stated: “I felt betrayed… I needed a break from all the heartache and fighting our NSD family had gone through over the years. So instead of looking for another teaching job, I worked to change the mindset of those with the power to make changes. This was not to be” (Eckberg B1). Discouraged but refusing to resign herself, Eckberg looked for teaching jobs throughout the city of Omaha.
Yet, regardless of her outstanding educational attainments and extensive teaching experience, she was habitually denied work on the basis of her “disability.” For example, when interviewing at area schools, she was rarely provided with an interpreter and was often expected to read lips or communicate with potential employers over short telephone exchanges. When she applied to Westside hoping to obtain a position as a sign language instructor, she was rejected in favor of a mime with no teaching certificate. She was eventually able to obtain part-time work at Lewis and Clark Middle School, but the bigoted employment practices of school districts across the city had left a bitter taste in her mouth. In May of 2000, Eckberg wrote to the Lincoln Journal Star, proclaiming, “Nebraska has effectively slammed the door on deaf people as teachers. Any deaf person who aspires to become a teacher will have to take their expertise and knowledge to another state. Nebraska has said loud and clear, we do not want to have to educate deaf children with deaf teachers.”
Just over a year after this passionate editorial was published, Eckberg suffered a heart attack in her home and passed away at the age of 54. After her death, her surviving family put her personal possessions up for public auction. Fortunately, a graduate of NSD successfully bid on these items, and today, they are duly preserved in the Nebraska Deaf Heritage Museum and Cultural Center Archives. When I visited the museum recently, I had the privilege of perusing some of Eckberg’s effects. Her photographs, most of which documented her time at NSD, emanated the playful warmth that was so central to her being (see Figures 11a and 11b).
I was also able to set my eyes upon several pieces of art that had been created by Eckberg, including an exquisitely stained vase, a self-styled silhouette, and a realistic landscape picturing a