When Mary Ann Brown’s son Shelby was born with Down syndrome in 1949, she started down a path that would not only change her life, but would also have a lasting, positive impact on so many in her community.
“Back then, the doctor just handed you the baby and that was it,” said Mary Ann. “There were no services when he was born.”
In 1952, in an effort to create more opportunities for her young son, Mary Ann became involved with a group of parents, who later formed the Allen County Council for Retarded Children. The parents worked together to establish a school for their children, who were excluded by law from attending public school.
The council was successful in establishing the first school for children with developmental disabilities in Allen County — the Robin Rogers school.“We opened the Robin Rogers school because we knew how to take care of the kids,” said Mary Ann. After Senate Bill 169 established the county boards in 1967, the Allen County Board of DD began overseeing schooling for children with developmental disabilities and named the school Marimor School after the first teacher hired by the Council.
It was then that Mary Ann and the council opened a day care. “We also bought campgrounds so the kids could have a normal summer camping experience with cabins, a swimming pool, and full-time summer programming.” In time, Mary Ann and the council also developed a variety of residential options for people with developmental disabilities.
Mary Ann continued to serve the developmental disabilities community throughout her career. She was the volunteer director for ARC before she was named executive director in 1974. She continued in that position until she retired in 1995. For several years during her volunteer time, she was also employed by the Allen County Board of DD.
Even after retirement, Mary Ann returned to the work she loved — providing residential supports and helping people with developmental disabilities live as equals in their communities.
There was one person that Mary Ann cared for that she became particularly close to — Bridget Kennedy. Bridget, whose mother died when she was a child, was 14 and living in a foster home when she first met Mary Ann, who offered her one of the first placements in a new group home.
Bridget now lives independently in an apartment and has a job. Even though Mary Ann has now retired to Florida, she and Bridget remain close and talk on the phone every day.
“I miss her and I appreciate knowing what’s happening,” said Mary Ann. “I’m proud of her because she is doing a good job of living her life.”
Mary Ann’s legacy of leadership and numerous contributions to the lives of people with developmental disabilities has earned her the title of “matriarch of DD” in her community, as well as a residential facility in Lima named for her.