Jamie Pauls, 50, of Chillicothe, describes himself as an ordinary man.
Jamie Pauls, 50, of Chillicothe, describes himself as an ordinary man. This modest description, however, is misleading; he is anything but ordinary. When Jamie was born, he was diagnosed with an undeveloped optic nerve for unknown reasons, causing him to be blinded for life. Despite this diagnosis, his parents raised him as a normal child. “I honestly don't have any memories of coming to the realization I was blind,” Jamie recalls. “It's just something I was always aware of. I think that's just something I always knew and just came to terms with at a very young age.” Jamie was born and raised in Chillicothe until the age of six. His parents, Jim and Wanda Pauls, taught him at home until he was ready to be placed in school. From there, the Pauls family moved to Austin, Texas in 1968 for Jamie to attend a school of the blind, which he did for several years. Jamie learned ways to function through his blindness, including learning to read Braille. After several years at the school in Austin, Jamie said his parents decided they wanted him to enroll in public school. So, once more, the family packed up and moved, this time back to his hometown of Chillicothe. At first when Jamie enrolled in the Chillicothe R-2 District, he and his family were met with some resistance. “They had never worked with a blind student, they were a little anxious about it, administration, teachers,” Jamie said. “But they did what they needed to do. When I first came, there was some resistance and they kind of, I think, probably didn't understand why I didn't just go ahead and go to a school for the blind. My folks were insistent that I not do that, and it was not a big ugly drawn out thing. I think people just had to sit down and talk it out and realize that this is really what my parents wanted.” Jamie was able to enroll in the district, and at first, he was placed in special education classrooms. “I started out in some special education classes and didn't really realize that that's where I was, but I think that was because they needed to see what my skill levels were, they needed to see what my behaviors would be like, how I can interact with other students,” Jamie explained. “Looking back on it now, I understand why they, back in the ’70s especially, would have done what they did. Today, I would probably have a resource, a paraprofessional, an assistant, an aide, if I needed that, someone who would learn Braille, learn some basic mobility and orientation skills. I would probably just start right out in the main classroom. But back then it was a whole different ball game.” In school, Jamie was able to move from the special education classes and stay in the main classroom. He said that children did not treat him abnormally but, rather, took special interest in him. “I was kind of a novelty,” Jamie said. “Being the center of attention, it's kind of tough for a 10-year-old kid to adjust to. But, I had a lot of friends and good teachers who knew very little about working with a blind person but certainly were willing to learn. I was treated very respectfully and I think I was able to make many friends in school at an early age.” While growing up in Chillicothe, Jamie said he never felt like he was missing out on any childhood experiences because of his blindness. “My folks were really good about letting me do things, and I had good friends and family, good cousins my age, that would take me places,” Jamie explained. “Whatever they did I was able to tag along.” It was around this time that Jamie first became active in playing piano as well. He said that while he was in Austin, he took a short amount of piano lessons right before moving back to Missouri. Once he was taking music classes at Chillicothe with Betty Preston, he was able to begin taking piano lessons again. “She put in a lot of time and effort,” Jamie said. “I learned Braille music and she learned some Braille music with me, but she actually would record on cassette tapes pieces of classical music and she would record like one phrase at a time; she would do the right hand, then the left hand and then she would put that together. “Just a few months ago I saw on the internet a person who was selling internet-based materials and basically they are doing exactly the same thing she did back in 1975,” Jamie said. “So, it was pretty interesting that it's come pretty much full-circle: something we were doing that was cutting-edge and didn't know it. She was just doing it because that was the best way she knew to get the information across to me.” Through Betty's hard work and Jamie's dedication, he was able to further establish his gift of both reading music and playing music by ear. His senior year, he decided that after graduation, he would attend the University of Missouri Kansas City's Conservatory of Music program. At Jamie's high school graduation, Jamie recalls that Superintendent of Schools Dr. Jim Eden announced to the audience, “When Jamie first came, I was hesitant, I wasn't sure that I wanted that, but I'm glad that he came through our school.” “That meant a lot for me; for him to publicly state that he had his concerns but that he was glad I was able to graduate,” Jamie said. Also at the end of his senior year in 1982, the Lions Club began a fundraising campaign entitled “Eyes for Jamie” which would raise money for Jamie to receive a seeing eye dog. Through several fundraising events, such as a benefit concert, the Lions Club was able to raise enough money for Jamie to receive a seeing eye dog after graduation. Jamie then traveled to the Leader Dogs for the Blind School in Rochester, Michigan, for one month to receive his guide dog, Katie, a Yellow Labrador Retriever, and to get to know her. Immediately after, Jamie moved into a private dorm with Katie on the UMKC campus. Jamie majored in Music Therapy while at UMKC, graduating in 1987. While at school, Jamie also recorded a music album entitled “Love, Jamie” in 1986. He explained that his mother and paternal grandmother asked him to do it, and his grandmother financed the production. So, Jamie traveled to Nashville, Tennessee, and recorded an album with Nashville musicians. He said that the purpose wasn't to earn money, but to share his music and to make his family happy. Jamie completed an internship at the end of his senior year at UMKC at the hospital in Osawatamie, Kansas. He enjoyed his internship so much that he wanted to continue working there. As fate would have it, however, he was unable to find a job. Instead, in 1988 Jamie found a job working as a music therapist in the Indian Hills Retirement Village in Chillicothe and decided to take it. Though he saw it as a temporary position, he wound up working there for 16 years. After returning to Chillicothe, Jamie played music at Camp Rainbow, a camp for disabled children and adults, in Trenton during the summers. It was there in 1998 that he met Stacie Kirkpatrick (now Pauls), his soon-to-be wife. After they met, Stacie asked Jamie to play for her youth group. The two became instant friends, talking by phone and spending time together. “I proposed to her on Halloween evening right before we went to a church hayride,” the couple laughed as Jamie related the story. They were married in July 1999. Stacie said that at first, there was a big learning curve in regards to learning Jamie's routine. “There were a lot of tips and tricks that I had to learn along the way things that I took for granted, everything from making sure the dishes are in the same spot every time to learning how to group his clothes so he would know what outfit to wear every day,” Stacie explained. “I'm so comfortable now doing it.” In 2000, he and Stacie began working with private clients to provide them with music therapy as a team. Stacie had a background in special education, and with Jamie's musical talents, they were able to build a steady clientele and work together successfully. After doing that for awhile, Jamie began to work a few days a week at Verelle Peniston School doing music therapy, and also working three days a week for Serotek, an internet services company that provides different kinds of internet services for blind people. In addition to his work experience, Jamie also played in multiple musical groups throughout the years including Country Sunshine in the late 1970s, His Song gospel group in the ’80s and early ‘90s, Young Country based out of Laredo, Fresh Anointing gospel group and Rock'n Country variety show based out of the King City/St. Joseph area. He also plays the piano at House of Prayer and Turning Point Church. More recently, Jamie has participated in a reading program at Chillicothe Middle School the past two years. Jamie visits the middle school and speaks to a group of students, allowing them to ask questions about his blindness and playing the piano for them. “I was really struck by the questions they asked, they asked some really good questions, things that are hard to even answer,” Jamie said. One question he was asked that he found interesting was whether he had visions when he dreams. “It's kind of like I can walk around my house without needing a cane, that's the way dreams are, I just know where I am or where I'm going,” he explained. Though he has been blind his entire life, Jamie does not see this as a hinderance in any way. “I read a quote, and I can't remember who said it: ‘I've owned three businesses, I've been blind all my life, I'm frustrated by my blindness every day, but I'm the only one that can actually do anything about it,’” Jamie said. “When I read that, I laughed. I don't know about the ‘frustrated every day’ part, but certainly things come up. If a person loses their sight, that's one thing, but to never have it, you just learn to adapt and to use the alternative ways of doing whatever it is that you do. It's not something that I probably ever felt upset about.” In looking back on his family, Jamie said that he realizes now how hard they worked to raise him. “They have always been very positive church-going people so I had a good upbringing,” he explained. “Any opportunities that they could provide me, I've had. I came from a very good home, a very stable home, which, as I'm older now, I realize how blessed I am and in some cases how rare that can be. As I got older I realized how much I had taken for granted, things like even when my mom helped me set up my apartment when I got out of college and moved in on my own, setting up things in certain ways, arranging furniture and helping me with various things, things I just took for granted. I think when you get older you realize how much moms and dads put into raising you and how much they really care about you and love you." Jamie said that someday it would be nice if science made it possible for him to be able to see, but that's not the number one thing on his bucket list. “Some blind people... that has colored their take on religion, on God,” Jamie said. “I believe in God, I believe in healing, I believe all things are possible. But I've had a great life. If I died never seeing, I cannot say that God shortchanged me in any way. I would say that I've had a very good, very blessed life.”