Retracing Our Roots:  Reflections from Our Presidents




Ralph Frederick Neesam
January 5, 1920—September 12, 2010

Ralph Neesam was the second president of RID, 1968-1972.  Ralph was born in Wisconsin, January 5, 1920.  He died in Palm Springs, CA September 12, 2010.  He was the youngest of three children born to Frances and Fred Neesam.  Ralph and his two older sisters, Lucile Olson and Beulah Saxe, were all involved in careers serving the Deaf.

From “Defining Moments:  Recollections of Presidents Past and Present” by Cheryl Moose (July 2008 Views)

“Ralph Neesam, a CODA, celebrated his 87th birthday in January 2008, and in a recent letter to me he wrote: ‘I look back on our very humble beginnings and can hardly believe the fantastic growth and progress we witness today.  In my opinion, the young professionals in RID at present would benefit from an appreciation of the early struggles to breathe life into our organization.  An organization, I hope, that will always remember we are committed to remain a very important bridge between the Deaf world and the hearing world.

In 1968 when I was elected the second president of RID, I was working as the principal of the High School Department at the California School for the Deaf in Berkeley.  During my term, the board focused on the establishment and development of RID state affiliate chapters, codified the RID organizational structure and RID Code of Ethics and hired Emil Ladner as the second RID executive director in 1971.  Since we were finding and registering interpreters all across the United States, my goal was to bring them together in one place.

Serving as chair of the first RID Convention in 1970, I phoned my friend Mr. Huff and asked if we could use the Wisconsin School for the Deaf dormitories for this gathering, and he agreed.  Interpreters from throughout the nation came.  Southern California sent the largest, most organized and helpful group.  Many NAD members attended as well.  The first RID Convention was successful and a model for years to come. I am proud and gratified that my goals as second president of RID were attained.’”

Ralph served RID as its second president, but also as a member of the board and as member-at-large.  Ralph worked for over 40 years at the California School for the Deaf at Berkeley (now known as the California School for the Deaf at Fremont). Mr. Neesam received the RID Distinguished Service Award in 1972.

EvelynZolaEvelyn Zola  (1970-1975)








MichaelCinatlMichael Cinatl (1976-1980)

"What an honor it was for me to serve four years as the fourth president of Wisconsin RID! It was a time of growth for the state chapter and I spent many hours traveling the state meeting with various groups of interpreters to discuss what our state chapter could do for them in terms of professional development activities, the certification process, and building the membership-at-large. I was blessed to have mentors such as Evelyn Zola, who I credit with my interest in interpreting as we taught together at St. John's School for the Deaf in Milwaukee, Toni Sullivan, Eve and Leo Dicker, and Eleanor Collins to name a few.

During these years I was also able to work with some very creative chairpersons on the annual state conferences. These conferences enabled the members and those interested in the profession of interpreting to gather for several days to learn, have fun, and spend hours sharing ideas and thoughts. I believe that the biggest challenge we faced at the time was gaining the recognition around the state, that interpreting was a profession and that we adhered to a code of ethics.

After thirty years in Texas where I built a strong Interpreter Training Program at the community college here in Fort Worth, Texas; my fondest memories still remain with my roots in Wisconsin. So much of what I learned and experienced, I have carried with me and will always hold these memories close to my heart. As WisRID celebrates its forty years, I wish everyone connected to the chapter success and continued growth for many years to come!"



Leo Dicker (1981-1982)

Thomasine Teske (1983-1984)

Carol Morrison Schweitzer (1984-1985)  
“I had the privilege of entering the field of interpreting during the late 1970’s with the support of so many of our founders whom I respectfully call ‘elders’.  I was young, single, embedded in the Deaf community and ‘the language’ (“ASL” was not the term used then) and enthused by the world of interpreters and interpreting.  Eleanor Collins, Toni Sullivan, Eve Dicker and Evelyn Zola were the foundation of WisRID.  I recall learning much from them about the energy of WisRID.  It was an honor to be a part of the WisRID Board during the 1980’s.

Serving as president of WisRID was an exciting time of leadership opportunity.  It was also a time of transition for the organization. During this term, the Educational Interpreter Licensure working group was active.  Leo Dicker, Tomi Teske and John Murray were the lead on this initiative.  As WisRID, we were involved in sharing questions and supporting the initial licensing activity for K-12 interpreters.

In reflection, the 1980’s was a time; both nationally and in Wisconsin, where ‘we’ may have lost sight of the original reason why we became interpreters.  Interpreting was not ‘just a job’, it was a passion.   As we worked to define interpreters as ‘professional’ we distanced ourselves from the Deaf community.  We were like an awkward teen; wanting to be independent yet not really sure of what we were doing. All teens grow up.  RID and WisRID have matured into a much recognized and very politically involved organization in support of quality access and interpreter services for the community of people who are Deaf or Hard of Hearing. As we grow (RID and NAD) in strength and sophistication, there are more opportunities to be a part of the ongoing passion."

Patty Kolpiteke  (1986-1988)

Rick Harris & Margaret James (1989-1990)


Margaret James  (1989-1990)
“As a Wisconsin RID Past President I would like to take this opportunity to thank current RID members for giving recognition to our founding members.  Without the foundation laid by these hardworking members, our fine organization would not be where it is today…

There are two quotations that guided my presidency.  ‘It’s not what you say, it is how you say it,’ and ‘You have a right to complain about anything if you are willing to help be a part of the solution.’  These two premises still hold true today.  Wisconsin RID works because of YOU.  Wisconsin RID can be anything YOU want it to be.  Wisconsin RID can do anything YOU want it to do.  Let us now work together to make Wisconsin RID a stronger, more supportive, and more effective organization in the next 40 years.”








LizOppenheimerLiz Oppenheimer   (1990-1991)

“I would have to say that the highlight of my short tenure as WisRID president was organizing interpreters statewide to push the State to increase the wages that were paid to interpreters.  At that time and for many years prior, nearly all sign language and oral interpreters were hired through the State (I've forgotten the name of the particular agency, though) and there had been no wage increase foryears.

After several months of persistent phone calls, letters, and even a march at the capital in Madison, interpreters finally received their first pay increase in years. I believe what made the difference was three things:

1.  A willingness and readiness on the part of interpreters across the state to work together and present a consistent message over time.

2.  A determination to call the state office regularly and repeatedly, working up the hierarchy of the system each week:  "Interpreters haven't had a wage increase in years.  What are you able to help us with?  ...Can I call you back in a week to find out your progress?  ...Oh, you weren't able to learn anything? Then, I'd like to speak with your supervisor."

3.  A blend of firmness and respect, and a congruency between words ("We are insisting on a wage increase") and actions (calls, letters, rallies).”






Tim Mumm (1992-1995)
“I was president for four years if I remember correctly. I don't remember a lot about the achievements from that time. We did a lot of work with educational interpreters, hoping that they would feel more a part of WisRID and that they would get some of the support they needed.

By-laws were always an issue, and were the reason I stayed on for a total of four years. I think my term was to be up in three, but then we were changing the terms of President, President Elect, and Immediate Past President so that a person would be elected and serve three years, one in each of those positions. I don't think those changes lasted much beyond my years.

One of the first things that happened when I got into office was that a member confronted me to let me know that while we had a scholarship, the membership had no information on how to access it. The funds were there for people to take tests, but there was no procedure, no application form, etc. During my first year we developed the procedure and a committee to process paperwork and award scholarships. That may have been one of the most memorable things for me.”






Chris Prudhom  & Brenda Walker Ocacio  (1996-1997)

Brenda Walker Ocacio  (1997-1998)

Theresa Hedges (Schmechel (1999-2000)

LindaLonningLinda Lonning  (2000-2002)

“It was an honor to serve as President of WisRID.  At the time, I was very new to the field and depended greatly on more seasoned interpreters on our board and committees.  While I could not take credit for the work that was done, here were some initiatives that happened during my tenure:
1.  Resurrected a non-existent Professional Development Committee.  At that time, there was a significant push for more interpreters working in AODA settings so the PDC made training in this area a priority.  Betty Colonomos was also a frequent visitor to our state during this time bringing her Foundations of the Interpreting Process to numerous interpreters.

2.  The establishment of the Legal Development Committee.  Previous DSA award winners Stephanie Kerkvliet and Debra Gorra along with Sandy Peplinski took bold steps to fund raise and establish the WisRID Legal Institute which provided much needed training to certified interpreters to increase their competency in legal settings and raise awareness of the need for trained (and eventually) SC:L interpreters.

3.  Paid for the registration of WisRID members to attend a national conference.  Having just hosted a Regional conference in our state and receiving significant profits from it, we used this money to help fund an early bird registration for any WisRID member to attend the RID national conference in Boston.  It was our best turn out at a national convention.

4.  The Silver Scribe Award - Thanks to Sowa Unora and her beautiful work on the WisRID Interpreter (a printed publication at that time), WisRID won the nation's top honor in our category for the best newsletter for their membership.

Thank you for letting me serve WisRID.  The experience molded me into the professional I am today.”

Laurie Sanheim (Heesen)  (2002-2003)

Cassie Schellfeffer (Franklin)  (2003-2004)


Maria Kielma (2005-2006)
“I felt and still feel it is important to work together, and as President I tried to bring different factions together, both on the board and in the community. I tried to express that our organization is only as strong as WE make it, and that working together, with a variety of experience and knowledge we become stronger and well rounded.”













Susan Gordon  (2007-2009)















Anna Johnson  (2010 - 2011)
“The highlight of 2010 for me would have to be the Interpreter License passing into Law. Secondly, I was very happy working  with everyone on the Board.”









Susan Gallanis (2011 - 2014)










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Christina Destrampe (2015 - Present)