LORDSTOWN Speaker tells pupils: Befriend 'different' kids
The North Canton man has a doctorate in education and travels as a public speaker.
By DENISE DICK
VINDICATOR TRUMBULL STAFF
LORDSTOWN -- A speaker from North Canton wants pupils to remember him when they encounter other children who are different.
Don Bartlette, a Chippewa Indian, was born in Walhalla, N.D., with a severe cleft lip and cleft palate. He overcame ridicule and physical abuse from his alcoholic father, other children and adults in the community.
"While I was a young child, people made fun of me, people hurt me and people hated me because I was different," he said.
Bartlette, who has a doctorate in education, travels around the country as a public speaker and has written a book, was a speaker Friday morning at Lordstown High School. The book, "Macaroni at Midnight," hasn't been published but it's the basis for a movie of the same title now in the works.
He was told he was retarded, that he couldn't learn and was turned away from school because of his disability and his American Indian heritage. He didn't learn how to talk or to chew and use eating utensils until was 12.
At that age, he met the woman who would become his savior.
Changed his life: Beulah Barta, a wealthy white woman, taught Bartlette how to speak and eat and encouraged and motivated him to learn. Barta was ostracized by her own family because of her association with Bartlette, he said.
Barta also paid for the surgeries to address his disabilities and the speech therapy sessions.
When officials in Bartlette's town allowed him to attend high school at Barta's urging, Barta spoke to a popular high school athlete, persuading him to be Bartlette's friend.
Message to students: "I challenge you to remember the young child who happens to be different," Bartlette told the students. "I challenge you to remember that white woman and my first friend in high school. You can have that impact on another student who happens to be different."
Bartlette was elected class president and the editor of both the yearbook and school newspaper his senior year.
"When I graduated, the superintendent said I was the first Native American handicapped student to ever graduate as valedictorian of his class," he said.
Bartlette still counts the high school athlete, an insurance agent in Minnesota, among his friends. He also keeps in regular contact with Barta. He graduated from the University of North Dakota and was a social worker, teacher and a principal before becoming a professional public speaker.