Putting Love into Words


A mother goes back to school to give her deaf daughters the gift of speech

Sometimes adversity impels a person to greater heights, and sometimes it provides the opportunity for that person to be a blessing in the lives of others.

Adversity brought Arva Lovell the opportunity to help her two hearing-impaired daughters build productive lives as well as become an aid to many others similarly impaired.

Arva Robinson, from the small Idaho town of Oakley, had earned a teaching certificate at the southern branch of the University of Idaho (now Idaho State University) in Pocatello. In 1941, she married Edward L. Lovell, an agricultural education graduate of Utah State University.

In 1953, the Lovells bought an eighty-acre farm in Riverside, near Blackfoot, and Brother Lovell transferred to Blackfoot-area junior high schools, where he taught science and math for many years. It was after the move to Riverside that their fifth and sixth children, Paula and Ann, were born. When Paula was four years old, the course of her life changed, and along with it, the course of her mother’s.

One day, just before dinner, Paula asked her mother repeatedly for a cookie, but Sister Lovell refused. After dinner, as Paula was playing with her back to her mother, Sister Lovell asked, “Paula, would you like a cookie now?” There was no response. Sister Lovell moved closer and repeated her question. Again there was no response. Finally she walked to Paula and touched her on the shoulder. Paula turned to look at her mother, and Arva asked again if she would like a cookie. This time, the answer was an eager “Yes.”

The Lovells suspected that Paula’s hearing was not all that it should be. Visits to specialists in Pocatello and Salt Lake City confirmed that their daughter was suffering from a severe hearing loss—a nerve deafness which would get progressively worse. The specialists said that nothing could be done to prevent her deafness, and emphasized that Paula would be a very difficult child to raise. They suggested that it would be better for her if she were sent to Idaho’s special school for the deaf in Gooding, about 150 miles from Blackfoot.

“Arva and I decided between the two of us that we wanted to raise Paula in our own home,” Ed reminisces. “We wanted to be the ones to care for her, love her, and teach her the gospel. We knew that the only way we would send her to Gooding was if we moved the rest of the family there too.” They began to look for ways that they could provide Paula with the help she needed while remaining on their Riverside farm.

The Lovells had Paula fitted with a hearing aid, and it proved to be helpful. Sister Lovell began regular trips with Paula to the Idaho State University Speech and Hearing Center for testing and therapy. Wanting to do all she could to help her daughter, one day she asked the head of the center, “What can I do to help Paula?” The answer was that she had neither the training nor the education necessary to be of much help.

That answer was unsatisfactory, so Sister Lovell determined that she would train herself until she was knowledgeable enough to help her little girl. “There are some conditions that parents can’t handle, but I believe parents are in a much better position to know how to help their own children than anyone else, if it is possible.”

After talking it over with her husband, she enrolled in summer school at Idaho State University, taking classes in speech correction and learning how to use audiometers and other techniques. She observed closely how the therapists at the Speech and Hearing Center worked with Paula. Her observations, combined with knowledge gained in the classes she was taking, gave Sister Lovell the ability to handle Paula’s therapy herself.

Someone had told Sister Lovell of a family in which several children were afflicted with nerve deafness, each showing the first indication of the problem at approximately the same age. So Sister Lovell was concerned about her youngest daughter, Ann, and watched her closely. Ann reached the age of five—past the age when Paula was first affected—and her mother breathed a little easier.

But the day came when the Lovell family was attending a celebration in Utah, and Ann came into the house, calling, “Where are you, Mother?” Sister Lovell, in another room, called back, “I am here, Ann. I will be out in just a minute.” But her daughter kept calling, “Where are you, Mother?” Sister Lovell’s heart sank, and when the family returned home, she immediately took Ann for testing. To her dismay, she learned that Ann suffered the same impairment as Paula. Her hearing, too, would get progressively worse as she grew older.

She recalls her feelings: “It was as though I had a lead weight on my heart all the time. It was a most traumatic experience, and I cried all the time, when the family wasn’t around to see.” Then her resolve stiffened, and she determined once again to do all she could to help her two girls.

Arva and Ed Lovell believed that the Lord’s counsel is to fast and pray about problems, then get to work, and work hard. They knew he would help with such righteous efforts. “I believe the axiom, ‘Pray as if everything depends on the Lord, then work as if everything depends on you,’ Arva says. “Although we never had one certain spiritual experience, we received many blessings and much strength as we plugged along, day by day.”

Like her sister, Ann was fitted with a hearing aid. Sister Lovell worked long hours with her two youngest daughters, helping them in speaking so that they didn’t drop the sounds they were unable to hear. Ann remembers, “Mom spent hours drilling us again and again on our speech. ‘See, Sew, Sally, or Railroad, Rooster, Ride.’ Getting my S’s and R’s is exceptionally hard for me. I can’t hear these sounds enough to automatically say them right. I used to get so frustrated sometimes. But Mom kept on going. I’d get a gold star for every so many words I said right, and a cookie after so many stars. Sometimes I kept going just for my rewards.”

Their mother also taught the little girls to lip-read, showing them how to recognize from lip and tongue movements what sounds and words were being said. “Our family home evenings were very helpful in teaching lipreading to the whole family,” Sister Lovell remembers. “Our favorite game was saying the name of a Church hymn by moving the lips only—no voice. The rule was that this had to be done naturally, with no exaggeration of mouth movements. It was fun to see who could guess the name of the hymn first. All the children became very proficient.” (Two of the basic methods for helping the hearing-impaired communicate are sign language and oral communication. The Lovells determined that oral communication and lip-reading fit their circumstances. Many others use signing effectively.)

When the girls began attending the public schools, Sister Lovell chose their teachers each year, picking the ones who were willing to work with them.

Sister Lovell continued with her own college education, taking classes as she could, concentrating on speech and hearing therapy (audiology). Finally, in 1966, she earned her bachelor’s degree in elementary education. She also was awarded a speech and hearing therapist certificate.

Then she started work on her master’s degree. During the last six months before she finished her required work, she completed sixteen hours of course work, finished a master’s thesis, devoted fifty hours to private therapy, and taught school for four of those months. Often she would come home exhausted at the end of the day, then stay up studying until 1:00 A.M. or later. Without her husband’s help, Sister Lovell says she couldn’t have reached her goal.

“Actually, we all worked together,” Ed Lovell explains. “She did what she could at home, and I saw that the rest was taken care of.”

Arva was awarded her master’s degree in speech pathology and audiology in 1973.

Over the years, the Lovells also supported Paula and Ann in developing many talents and interests, including some that other people would have thought impossible for them. There were dance lessons, “in spite of the fact that we couldn’t really hear the music as well as the other kids,” Ann says. Paula remembers wishing that she could play the piano as did her older sisters, Sue and Kenna. She set that as a goal for herself, and received much encouragement from the family. “Some people later thought that it was amazing I could play the piano. But I was never told I couldn’t do it, so I never had any doubt that I could.

Paula says of the relationship with her sister, “It was wonderful to grow up with someone else with hearing problems. We were able to talk to each other, share our problems, encourage each other. Ann and I were really close as sisters and friends.

“Sometimes when we get together with the entire family, we can’t understand a lot that is going on because everybody is talking, so Ann and I start lip-reading to each other. People say our mouths are going one hundred miles per hour, and not a sound is coming out. We can talk to each other from clear across the room, if we want.”

Ed and Arva Lovell constantly stressed to all the children the importance of a college education. Sue, Sallie, and Kenna (now Mrs. Rick Thiriot) each completed bachelor’s or master’s degrees. Bob is a year short of a degree in business management.

Paula met her husband, Richard Titus, through correspondence, as he served in the mission field with her brother, Bob. The couple and their four sons live in Seattle. “It isn’t always easy for her,” Paula’s mother observes, “raising four active little boys. Sometimes she can’t tell exactly what the children are saying to her, and she can’t always hear the telltale sounds of mischief. But the older boys are now a big help to her, telling her when the baby is crying or needs her attention.”

Ann received a bachelor’s degree in public health and behavior science from the University of Utah. “I never realized all my mother did for me, until I left home and went to college,” she muses. “I soon learned the frustration of trying to learn by having to work it all out myself.” She remembers periods of discouragement; she quit college once for a couple of years, and “came close to quitting two or three other times.”

“I’m so glad Mom and Dad went all out for me during the years I was at home,” she says thankfully. “I had a basic education behind me, together with the knowledge that I was capable of achieving anything I wanted, scholastically. The confidence I had in my own abilities came from the successes I had in my early years, provided by parents who saw that I got the help I needed.”

[photos] Photography by Eldon Linschoten

Norma H. Hill, mother of seven, is public communications director of the Riverside First Ward and the Blackfoot Idaho Northwest Stake.