VERMILION — Lucy Joyce Idol, a legendary local figure who fought to increase the quality of life for the developmentally disabled, died Saturday at the age of 90.
A woman far ahead of her time, Idol was one of the first to bring attention to the needs of developmentally disabled from childhood through adulthood in 1950s Lorain County. As a kindergarten teacher, Idol began teaching disabled students on her own time after school in 1954. She eventually became an advocate for the developmentally disabled and founded what is now the Lucy Idol Center in Vermilion.
Before founding the center, Idol worked with a group of dedicated workers and volunteers in church basements to increase opportunities for severely disabled children, according to the center’s website. She often accepted children who were rejected from institutions and care facilities and provided them with educational and life-enhancing opportunities.
Through land and monetary donations, the center began being built in 1969 and was completed in 1971. It has expanded over the years, receiving numerous accreditations, and has received funding from various local sources and governmental agencies. It has grown into a facility that provides comprehensive services to more than 30 adults with multiple disabilities.
The superintendent of the Murray Ridge Center, Amber Fisher, said she never had the met Idol personally but said her work in the field is “legendary.”
“We entered the field when a whole continuum of sources were available,” Fisher said about her professional contemporaries. “(Idol’s story) is sort of an inspiration that gives you a sense of where the field came from. It’s people like Lucy Idol and the parents that she worked with who advocated and brought the system to where it is today.”
Fisher said anybody who came into contact with Idol found her to be “amazing.”
“She’s so legendary because she was so mission-driven and she sort of epitomized the mission and attitude of people who work with those with developmental disabilities,” Fisher said.
“When she started, it was at a time when … there were few opportunities to have life-enhancing opportunities and education (for people with disabilities). She just dove in there and she saw that parents were without options and kids were without options, and she really, really made it happen when there was not a lot of funding and impetus to make it happen.”
Fisher said she has often drawn inspiration from a book sitting on her coffee table titled, “When No One Else Can Help: The Story of the Lucy Idol Center in Lucy’s Own Words.”
“When I first became superintendent, I was going around and visiting different people, and one of the places I went was the Lucy Idol Center and they gave me this book as a gift. I’ve kept it on my coffee table. It’s been about seven years and I can truly say that nothing else has been able to sit on my coffee table for that long,” Fisher said.
The book is available online at the Lucy Idol center website at www.lucyidolcenter.org. In the opening paragraph, Idol manages to capture the serendipitous experience of finding an unexpected path in life that led her to touching so many lives:
“I didn’t grow up in Vermilion, and I never expected to come live here. I never set out to have a school. It was never my idea to work with special adults and kids. It just happened. It all unfolded day by day, over forty eight years, and my strong hope is that it continues to unfold with the grace of God, for as long as there are people around the Vermilion area who need a little extra bit of care.”
Family members of Lucy Idol declined to comment Sunday.
Celebration of life
A Celebration of Life to honor Lucy will be 2 p.m. April 16 at the Lucy Idol Center, 435 Nicholson Road, Vermilion. The family suggests memorial contributions go to the Lucy Idol Center at P.O. Box 162, Vermilion, OH 44089, or the Lucy Idol Endowment Fund managed by the Lorain County Community Foundation, 1865 North Ridge Road E., Lorain, OH 44055-3300.
Contact Kaitlin Bushinski at 329-7144 or firstname.lastname@example.org.