Anniversary offers time of celebration, looking ahead

It was an evening of inspiring stories, thank yous and excitement for the future at the Arc of Butler’s 60th anniversary dinner and auction Saturday.

"This is such a great organization," said Sierra Scott, emcee for the evening and long-time volunteer with the Arc of Sedgwick County.

Before and during the meal, piano music was provided by Corky Siebert, who also had his story shared during the evening.

Siebert, who was born without eyes, had a rough start to life.

His mother was pregnant with twins, but four months before they were due, something went wrong and she lost Siebert's brother and Siebert was born, weighing only 2 pounds 9 ounces.

His family was told "to keep it here (at the hospital) until it died."

The doctors said Siebert would not be able to do anything, but the family did not give up hope and asked if there was anything that could be done. The doctor said all they could do was put him in an incubator, which they did, and Siebert began to grow. Four months later, on the date he was to be born, Siebert went home.

At nine months he started to walk, then he started to run, and he never slowed down from that point on.

One day when he was 3 years old he wanted to take a nap, something unusual for him. His mother, excited he actually wanted a nap, put him to bed and turned off the radio so nothing would disturb him. A little while later she heard music coming from the other room and thought he had turned the radio back on. When she went to check she found Siebert at the piano, playing songs and singing. He could play every song he had ever heard on the radio.

Now, at age 63, Siebert knows more than 20,000 songs and plays nine instruments. Last year, he performed 152 shows.

One time he met a woman who said she was soon going to be like him, because she was going blind, like he is. Siebert responded with, "Welcome to the party!"

"If all we have done in 60 years is make them believe their life is a party, we have done so much," said Marty Rothwell, an volunteer with the Arc for 34 years, who shared Siebert’s story.

Another inspiring story was shared by Chris Burke, the speaker for the evening.

Burke played Corky on the television show "Life Goes On."

Burke, 48 years old now, has Down Syndrome.

His parents were told he would not walk or talk and he should be placed in an institution.

He said he received help, what is now known as early intervention, and he learned to walk and talk. He attended three special education schools and learned to read, write, math, science and history.

"It may take me a bit longer to learn, but I have always worked hard and been able to do it," Burke said.

When he graduated, he knew it was time to get a job, but every time he applied for a job, when they learned of his disability, the job disappeared.

Burke had always had an interest in the entertainment industry, so he decided to pursue that even though his parents discouraged him from acting.

"One day I was watching TV and I saw a young boy with Down Syndrome in a show," he said. "I had always dreamed of being an actor."

Burke learned of a pilot a station was shooting for a new show with a young man with Down Syndrome.

"I smoked it," he said of the audition.

Unfortunately, that pilot was not picked up, but he did impress producers so much they created "Life Goes On" just for him. He spent four years on that show.

"I worked very hard to learn my lines," he said.

Now he enjoys volunteering his time and helping out.

He has this message for others: "I may have Down Syndrome but I have many abilities."

One of his abilities is singing and he has been a part of a band that was formed in 1992 and has played many concerts and released a CD. He also wrote a book about his life and is continuing to act, having roles in made for TV movies, as well as being featured on the cover of Life Magazine.

"We all have things that are special and unique to us," he said. "I want you to know, if I can do it, so can you. Follow your dreams."

Organizers also talked about the Arc of Butler during the event.

"The Arc has grown tremendously in the last 10 years," said Dave Matthews, Arc of Butler Board of Directors president. "We can't do it without your donations."

Nancy Olson, Arc executive director, said they are trying to continue to expand the Special Olympics teams, Circle of Friends and support groups.

"There are so many things we want to do," she said.

One of those people who have made these things possible is Neil Benson, one of the founders.

"Neil has dedicated this last 60 years to the Arc," Matthews said. "She helped get us going. Neil didn't want us to recognize her no matter what."

But Matthews talked her into it and they presented her with a bouquet of flowers in an engraved vase.

Benson has given countless hours of her time and leadership to the Arc of Butler and still serves on the board of directors.

"I want everyone to know how much this is appreciated," she said. "We have had our ups and downs. Through the years somebody has always come through to carry us on. This county is really a very generous county."

Olson said 10 years ago they joined with Benson to bring the Arc of Butler County back to what it had been. Also instrumental in that was Kerri Loucks, who they recognized.

"It has been a privilege serving these people," Loucks said.

Also during the evening, those attending enjoyed the five-course meal, took part in silent and live auctions, and were entertained by the Butler Community College Headliners.

Julie Clements can be reached at