Virginia Ford had always wanted to tell her story – one about living life with a disability. The key word being LIVING and not DISABILITY – because Ford certainly has lived her life the way she wanted to, not letting the limitations of having polio limit her goals or dreams.
Following a “rewarding elementary teaching career of 30 plus years in the Dexter Community Schools,” Ford was able to put pen to paper. And the result is a moving and personal story which illuminates and provides information on how she managed to meet every challenge with pure grit, strong faith, family support and a sense of humor.
Ford’s “Ginger Stands Her Ground” is a captivating story that chronicles her life growing up in the Dexter countryside as the middle child with seven brothers and three sisters. During the early 1950’s the polio epidemic was sweeping through the nation and it was the most horrific and misunderstood disease in the 20th century.
At the age of 4, Ginger was victimized with paralytic polio that stole her ability to walk. Her rehabilitation began at the University of Michigan Contagious Hospital, a stones throw down the hill from the Main Hospital. By the time she was 16, she had undergone six surgeries, leaving her to continue to stand her ground while walking with a limp and a full-length metal and leather leg brace.
In each phase of her development, she takes readers through her difficult times and rewarding triumphs and ends her memoir with what she considers her “great work,” the birth and early years of raising her son and daughter with husband Eric at their home on Portage Lake.
“Retirement afforded me the opportunity to write this story since it was my dream since I was a teen to have something more on the bookshelves about living a life with a disability,” said Ford, whose teaching career in Dexter included stops at Bates, Copeland and Cornerstone schools. “It’s a coming-of-age story and I would love to get it into the hands of high school students, book clubs and the general public to inspire others.
“I feel it resonates with many readers and gives them the conversations they can have as a starting place to share their perspectives as they reminisce on the history of these times.”
Ginger Visel (Ford) contracted polio in the winter of 1950, when she was not yet 5 years old. Her life would never be the same. By the time the virus was through with her, she had a withered leg, weak muscles, and hip trouble that required multiple surgeries.
The University of Michigan Hospital became a second home, the March of Dimes a reliable support system, and leg braces an everyday part of her wardrobe. In the era before ramps and automatic doors, Ginger had to learn to adapt to a world not built for her.
Surrounded by 10 siblings and guided by an unstoppable mother, Ginger met every challenge with determination and an unshakable faith in God. With equal parts cheerful humor and honest vulnerability, Ginger recalls desperately trying to fit in at school, the terror of learning to drive a hand-controlled car, the near-impossibility of finding an accessible college, and the worry that she’d never get married and have a family of her own.
One of the highlights of many in the book is how she wouldn’t let the restrictions of physical access hinder her goal of personal access to higher education. She wanted to be a teacher and nothing was going to stand in her way.
After a long, fruitless search for an accessible college in Michigan, Madonna College in Livonia referred her to Marymount Junior College in Boca Raton, Fla., which featured an accessible campus.
“It worked out perfectly,” said Ford, who then returned to Michigan where she attended Madonna College after the school completed its new accessible student residence building which “was an easy walk to the main accessible academic building.” She attended Madonna on a scholarship and graduated in the spring of 1968.
Before college, Ginger attended St. Joseph School K-8th Grades in Dexter and graduated in 1960. She moved on to St. Thomas High School for her freshman year but had to leave St. Thomas after her last surgery resulted in a full-length leg cast with crutches. She simply couldn’t manage all the stairs at St. Thomas.
So she transferred to Dexter High School for her sophomore year and then returned to St. Thomas for her junior and senior years, graduating with the class of 1960.
Even though she has retired from teaching, Ford is still very active in the community and still very much LIVING her life. Almost seven years ago, she helped start a writer’s group at The Cedars of Dexter with resident and board member, Paul Schubert. She named their comfortable size group: The Cedar Chips Writing Group of Dexter.
The group meets at the clubhouse twice a month for three hours bringing their No. 2 sharpened yellow pencils and legal pad paper (or laptop) to work on their craft.
This is where her book really got started. When it was finished this past fall, she worked on a short story about her life in retirement when she went on a cruise through the Eastern Caribbean with her son David called “Dancing Through the Stages of Life.” She submitted it in the 86th Writing Digest Contest and has recently earned “Honorable Mention” in the Inspiration Category.
“Ginger Stands Her Ground” is a very personal look at the complexities of being disabled before the ADA and is an inspiring story of the meaning of family, the importance of faith and the ultimate triumph of love.
The book was published by Fifth Avenue Press (Ann Arbor District Library) and can be easily obtained in paperback or kindle by going on Amazon.com. To order a copy of the book: https://www.amazon.com/Ginger-Stands-Her-Ground-Memoir/dp/194798912X
Ford will be selling and signing her book on April 14 at the Chelsea Spring Expo from 10 a.m. to 3 p.m. at the Senior Center in Chelsea.
MAIN Photo: Virginia Ford at a recent book signing with her editor Alex Kourvo at the Ann Arbor District Library