HJ-ED-DHJ

Feb. 12, 2007

No excuses: former LP resident focuses on capabilities, not disabilities

New children’s book is her latest project

By Ivan Raconteur
Staff Writer

Maureen Pranghofer might claim she is just like everyone else, but one look at her life reveals that she is anything but ordinary.

The former Lester Prairie resident is a speaker, songwriter, and author. She has spent her life helping others and reaching out to those who are going through difficult times.

Her warmth and sense of humor engage one from the start, and it would be easy to forget that she happens to be blind and a functional quadriplegic.

Although she is physically confined to a power chair, there are no limits on her spirit or her creativity.

Pranghofer (formerly Maureen McGowan) will return to Lester Prairie Wednesday, Feb. 14 from 2-6 p.m. for a book signing at Charlotte’s Beauty Shop.

She will be promoting her new children’s book, “Ally’s Busy Day – The Story of a Service Dog.” The book, geared toward preschool through early elementary students, shows the many ways a service dog helps the person for whom it works.

Pranghofer said the book describes the role of her service dog, Ally, and she hopes that the book will help to educate not only children, but also parents who might read the book to their kids.

She also hopes the book will generate conversations about disabilities and capabilities, about teamwork, and about how service animals can help people remain independent.

The book was illustrated by Pranghofer’s sister, Chris (McGowan) Hubly of Tucson, Ariz.

Collaboration on the project was done entirely through e-mail.

Pranghofer sent the text for the book, along with photos of Ally performing various tasks, and notes on what she wanted for the illustrations, to Hubly.

Hubly, a graphic artist, then created drawings based on the photos, and sent them to Pranghofer.

Pranghofer said a portion of the proceeds from each book she sells will be donated to Service Dogs of Minnesota, the school that trained Ally for her.

Ally helps Pranghofer with a wide variety of tasks around the house.

If she drops something, Ally is there to pick it up.

Ally can open doors, and can even help Pranghofer remove her coat.

Training Ally is an ongoing process. The next task Pranghofer hopes to teach her is to retrieve items from the refrigerator. This is done by using a special container that belongs just to Ally, for the sake of consistency.

“When we do that, we have to make sure the other food in the refrigerator is covered up. She is still a dog after all,” Pranghofer commented with a smile.

She explained that part of the motivation for the book was the fact that she was constantly having to educate people about the difference between a guide dog and a service dog.

“When a guide dog is at home, it is just a dog. A service dog is always on duty, and 90 percent of their work is done in the home,” she explained.

Did fate bring them together?

Pranghofer spent four-and-a-half years looking for a dog training school that would allow her to use a service dog in her circumstances.

Every school she talked to told her that she could not use a service dog because she is totally blind (the concern is that the dog might pick up something that is dangerous to itself or the person for whom it works).

Pranghofer had given up hope of ever getting a service dog when trainer Kim Hyde found Ally in an animal shelter.

A chance encounter saved Ally’s life, and provided a solution for Pranghofer.

Hyde had been looking for a different kind of dog for another client.

While she was in the shelter, she happened to drop her keys.

Ally immediately picked them up and gave them back to her.

This gave Hyde the idea that she might be able to train Ally to fit Pranghofer’s needs.

The incident happened the day before Ally was scheduled to be euthanized.

A rocky road

Pranghofer has overcome many challenges in her life.

She was born three months premature, with a condition called Retinopathy of Prematurity, which meant she was legally blind.

Pranghofer was also born with a rare bone disease called Osteogenesis Imperfecta, which affects the way her body uses collagen. As a result, her bones are brittle and she has suffered more than 100 fractures.

Pranghofer’s parents, Bill and Celine McGowan, brought the family to Lester Prairie when she was in fifth grade.

Despite her health problems, Pranghofer was a good student, and graduated fourth in her class at Lester Prairie High School in 1972.

The school district helped her by ordering books on tape and large-print versions of books from the Minnesota State Services for the Blind.

Her school counselor was instrumental in converting a little-used room at the school for her to work in. Prior to that, she had not had much to do during the school day because she was unable to see blackboards or read textbooks, but had large amounts of homework each night. Having a room that she could work in during the day, with a typewriter and tape recorder, allowed her to balance her workload.

Pranghofer said it was nice growing up in Lester Prairie, because it was small enough for her to get around with her limited vision.

“At that time, most families sent blind children away to a school for the blind. My parents refused to do that. They treated me the same as the rest of the kids. My mom was a very forward-thinker,” Pranghofer said.

After high school, Pranghofer went on to college and earned a degree in music therapy.

She worked as a therapist for a few years before going to the University of Minnesota to start work on a master’s degree in medical social work.

Before she finished, she left to take a job teaching amateur radio for Courage Handi-Ham Systems, an international non-profit organization that helps disabled people become licensed amateur radio operators. This was a way to help them feel less isolated, Pranghofer said.

She first became interested in amateur radio when one of her role models, her Lester Prairie science teacher, Gordon Houk, happened to mention in class that he was an amateur radio operator.

She worked for the organization for 12 years before going back to school to finish her degree. She had just two quarters left when an elevator accident on campus in 1993 left her totally blind.

She said this was especially devastating to her, since cataract surgery in 1984 had improved her vision enough that she could watch television, read, and navigate in familiar places without a cane or guide dog.

Following the accident, she went to Blind Inc., an adjustment-to-blindness center run by the National Federation for the Blind. She learned to read Braille proficiently, use a long white cane, and do household chores such as cooking.

She admitted that, for a blind person, cooking can have some interesting results. Once she made some Jello with fruit that didn’t set up quite right.

When her husband got home, he explained that this was because she had used gravy mix instead of Jello. The boxes were the same size, and she hadn’t bothered to make Braille labels for them.

She started her own business, Hidden Gifts, doing Braille transcription and public speaking.

Pranghofer faced another setback in 1996. A spinal cord injury and multiple fractures caused by an automobile accident left her a functional quadriplegic. She has good use of her left hand and limited use of her right hand.

Neighbors helping neighbors

After the accident, Pranghofer and her husband thought they would have to move because their house was not handicap accessible and they could not afford modifications that would be needed.

When their neighbors heard about this, they told the Pranghofers that they couldn’t move, and got together and donated their time and labor to make the home accessible so the Pranghofers could stay in the neighborhood they loved.

Music with a message

Pranghofer said she has always enjoyed music, and in 1988, she began writing songs and giving them to the music director at her church. Some of those songs were recorded and included on CDs produced by the church.

She described her music as contemporary Christian.

“My faith is the basis for my life. My passion is to write songs for people who are hurting, people who are in a difficult place,” she said.

She continued writing songs, and two CDs of her original music are available.

The first, “Some Run the Race,” is dedicated to her husband of 28 years, Paul Pranghofer.

He, too, has overcome many challenges. He was born with no arms and one shortened leg.

He retired after working 34 years as a software developer. He volunteers at Noble Elementary School in Golden Valley, and is also a part-time referee for the Minnesota High School League adaptive sports program.

Pranghofer’s friend, Sara Renner, coordinated production of the CD, which includes songs that Pranghofer wrote, performed by other musicians.

Pranghofer wrote and sang all of the songs on her second CD, “Arise,” which was released in 2005. She said all of the songs on the CD were written for people who are “grieving, hurting, healing, and recovering.”

Her music parallels her philosophy on life.

“Almost every song is based on an experience I had. I think I can put that into words. You may be going through a difficult time now, but things will get better,” Pranghofer said.

Spreading the word

Over the years, Pranghofer has spent much of her time educating people about issues related to people with disabilities.

“The big thing that I want people to know is that people who are disabled have lives just like everyone else. They have the same emotions, the same needs, and they do the same ordinary things like going to the grocery store.”

The only difference, she said, is that the lives of disabled people can be much more complex, and they may require more planning to do simple things.

“You have to get creative about problem solving,” Pranghofer commented.

“Some people think there are disabled people and there are other people, and they are separate but they are not,” she said.

She added that some people do not want to think about people with disabilities.

“Instead of backing away, people need to think about disabilities and what they would do if they became disabled. That does not mean they should live in fear of what might happen, but they should be prepared. Unless they die suddenly everyone will have to deal with some form of disability before they die,” she said.

Pranghofer is available to speak to church or community groups.

She said she tailors her presentations to the needs of each group.

She and her husband work together during speaking engagements and often answer questions from audiences.

“We make a really good team,” she commented.

Pranghofer said she has also been hired by businesses to talk to employees about how to deal with customers who have disabilities.

One recent presentation was made at a church that asked her to speak about how it could welcome people with disabilities into the church.

Braille transcription service available

Pranghofer runs a Braille transcription service from her home in Golden Valley.

Clients send her documents, usually via e-mail, and she produces documents in Braille.

Pranghofer said she works on a wide variety of projects.

Many of her customers are businesses who ask her to produce things such as theater programs, brochures, or restaurant menus in Braille.

She also does work for people who may want to send a gift or a wedding invitation to a blind friend or relative.

A life filled with variety

Health challenges have not slowed Pranghofer down, and she said she enjoys the variety in her life.

She never knows what each new day will bring, or what project she will take on next.

“Right now, my vocational dreams are coming true,” she said.

The Braille transcription business keeps her busy, and the public speaking, the music, and now the book, have given her creative ways to spend her time.

“It is kind of cool,” Pranghofer commented. “I am never lacking for things to do.”

Want to buy the book?

Pranghofer will be signing copies of her book, “Ally’s busy Day,” at Charlotte’s Beauty Shop, 512 Central Avenue, Lester Prairie, Wednesday, Feb. 14 from 2 to 6 p.m. Her CDs, “Arise” and “Some Run the Race” will also be available.

The book and the CDs are available through Pranghofer’s web site, www.maureensmusic.com.

The book is also available through www.amazon.com.

Braile transcription service is available through Pranghofer’s other web site, www.BrailleIt.com.

Questions? contact Maureen at (763) 522-2501.


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