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Roy Franklin Kumpe (1910–1987)

Roy Franklin Kumpe founded World Services for the Blind. Visually impaired from trachoma—a viral infection that causes cornea scarring—he worked to create educational and employment opportunities for people who are blind or visually impaired, both in Arkansas and around the world.

Roy Kumpe was born on January 18, 1910, in Ironton (Pulaski County) to Dave and Mary Kumpe. Kumpe was the fourth child; however, two sisters died in infancy between his birth and his older sister’s. The family lived on a forty-acre farm, and Kumpe’s father raised livestock and grew produce that he sold to grocers. After the onset of blindness at the age of eight, Kumpe attended the Arkansas School for the Blind. Declining any financial assistance from his family, Kumpe sold Bibles and books to put himself through law school. He earned his degree from the University of Arkansas School of Law in 1938.

Capitalizing on the Randolph-Sheppard Act of 1936—which provided for the establishment of vending stands to be operated by blind individuals in federal buildings around the country—Kumpe created the first significant employment opportunities in Arkansas for people who are blind or visually impaired, linking federal vending stand sites with competent operators. Realizing that not enough visually impaired people were independent enough to be sustainably successful, he persuaded a statewide convention of Lions Clubs to sponsor a rehabilitation and training center for the adult blind and visually handicapped. Arkansas Enterprises for the Blind (AEB) opened in 1947. Since then, AEB has changed its name to World Services for the Blind (WSB) to reflect its global reach. WSB has served nearly 12,000 individuals from all fifty states and from fifty-eight countries. Under Kumpe’s leadership, WSB grew into one of the most comprehensive adult rehabilitation centers in the world, offering a complete life skills program, eight career training courses, a vision rehabilitation clinic, an assistive technology laboratory, and a college preparatory program.

Kumpe married Berenice Gray in November 1939. They had two children.

Although Kumpe never intended to make his disability into a career—hoping instead to run for the U.S. Senate—he turned his political bent to lobbying for better services for the visually impaired. He established the International Services for the Blind in 1971 and served as consultant to governmental agencies for the blind in El Salvador, Colombia, Uruguay, and Bolivia. He was also active in the American Association of Workers for the Blind, serving as its president from 1951 to 1953. He served on the board of trustees of the American Foundation for the Blind (AFB) in the mid-1950s. In 1972, he was the founder-president of the National Council of Rehabilitation Centers for the Blind.

Kumpe’s many accolades include an appointment by President Harry S. Truman to the President’s Committee on Employment of the Handicapped in 1949, the Merit Citation from the National Rehabilitation Association in 1962, the Migel Medal from AFB in 1970, and an appointment as Ambassador of Goodwill by the president of Lions International in 1974. He received an honorary Doctor of Laws degree from the University of Arkansas (UA) in Fayetteville (Washington County) in 1972.

Kumpe retired in 1978. That year, Arkansas governor David Pryor designated February 5 as a day to honor him.

Kumpe died on September 13, 1987. He is buried at Roselawn Cemetery in Little Rock (Pulaski County).

For additional information:
“AEB to Get $100,000 Grant.” Arkansas Gazette, January 11, 1977, p 1B.

“Founder and Moving Force of AEB to Retire as Director January 18.” Arkansas Gazette, July 3, 1977, p. 9A.

“Founder of Center for Blind Dies at 77.” Arkansas Gazette, September 14, 1987, p. 8A.

Kumpe, Roy. The Lion’s Share. Little Rock: Rose Publishing Company, 1983.

Roy Kumpe: American Printing House for the Blind. http://www.aph.org/hall/bios/kumpe.html (accessed June 13, 2013)

World Services for the Blind. http://www.wsblind.org (accessed June 9, 2013).

Susy Phillips and Melanie Jones
Little Rock, Arkansas

Last Updated 7/10/2017

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