Chapter 1: Early Life and Career
6:10:11:21 - 6:10:44:14
My name is Lisa Sonneborn, and we're here on November 28th, 2012, interviewing Peter Polloni. Also present is our videographer, Bunni Ogunleye and Mr. Polloni do we have your permission to begin our interview?
Thank you very much
6:10:44:14 - 6:10:59:17
Q: Mr. Polloni, can you tell me when and where you were born?
A: I was born in Massachusetts in a little bird called Pigeon Cove, just outside of Rockport, Massachusetts. And years passed.
6:10:59:17 - 6:12:44:25
Q: You've spent most of your professional career working on behalf of people with disabilities both in Pennsylvania and around the country. And I'm wondering, Mr. Polloni was that always the career that you had envisioned for yourself?
A: No. I started out from high school to undergraduate work at a school called LeTourneau Technical Institute. It's LeTourneau University today, in Longview, Texas, and I pursued the course work in electrical science, gaining my baccalaureate degree in electrical science. And then, uh, from there I went off and entered seminary, and at first here in Philadelphia, actually, north of Philadelphia, for a year, and at that institution I met my wife. She was a secretary to the Dean. I met her that year and the following year we transferred up to Gordon Conwell Theological Seminary in Massachusetts. The Conwell school came from Temple, it was a merger between Gordon Divinity School and Conwell School of Theology here at Temple. So that was an interesting merger. And, uh, actually that took place a little later. I graduated in 1959 from the seminary, it was Gordon Divinity School at that point, and gained my master's in Divinity.
6:12:44:25 - 6:15:58:09
Q: Mr. Polloni, I wondered that drew you to your disability work?
A: Actually, after seminary, I was ordained in the Baptist Ministry, and took a church in Wycombe, which is just outside of Doylestown, Pennsylvania. And uh, small church, and because it was small I had to do other things to meet the needs of a family at that time. We had two children as I came out of seminary, and we, uh, in serving that congregation, there was a young man in the congregation who was severely developmentally delayed. And so we got acquainted with that family and they brought to my attention the fact that Bucks County Association for Retarded Children, at that time, were looking for an executive director, and they had had a bad experience with somebody, and I guess they thought if they hired a clergyman maybe he would be more honest. But that was my initiation into the field at that time with the Bucks County Association. And that was in 1960, and subsequent to that, and during that period, I went over to Delaware County and was kind of oriented into the field of services that Delaware County was offering at that time. And at the same time, of course, became acquainted with institutional life and took time to go and visit Pennhurst state school and hospital, and was kind of shocked at what I saw. Especially in the back wards with the more severely disabled. So that was a penetrating thought at that time, as we got initiated in the field. But the ARCs at that, at the time in the early '60s were kind of emerging. They kind of emerged in the early '50s. They were gathering momentum as parents got together and were concerned about the lack of services, and the lack of response to their needs. And the ARC became quite a strong, I would say powerful, volunteer advocate organization during that time frame. It probably hasn't maintained that in more recent years. I guess one reason is more service is made available; the more people are integrated into services, the less concern about the demand for services. So, it was a pioneering period in the '50s and '60's. And we were just starting nursery programs for early education of disabled people in the community and Bucks County had early education programs in Quakertown and Doylestown and in Bristol. And then they also were starting sheltered workshops. We had a sheltered workshop in Bristol and in Doylestown. They were formative at that point, as compared to the rehabilitation programs that exist today.
6:16:11:17 - 6:17:28:12
Q: Mr. Polloni, you talked about - during part of your early ministry, your first church, that you supported [a family]. The son of the family had significant disabilities. And I wondered if you could tell me just a little bit more about that family and your interaction with them. Was supporting them an extension of your ministry in some way?
A: Uh, yes. I was uh, aware of the needs of their son, but he was into a sheltered workshop program at that time so. The, and that family was an advocating couple, so they were working with other, other couples and, shakers and movers in the movement at that point and getting things going and so on. And subsequently there were other disabled young people at the church, a Down Syndrome baby was born within the church so we had interaction with that family as well. And, as time goes on you have more and more experiences, of course.
More Interview Chapters
About Peter Polloni
Minister, Former Deputy Director, Pennsylvania Office of Mental Retardation
Arc, ICF/ID, Institutions, Life-sharing, PARC, Pennhurst, Right to Education