Looking through a blurry tunnel
Jack Rupert of Lake Crystal, formerly of New Ulm, has worn many hats in his life. He was a Vietnam-era U.S. Air Force electrician, salesman, banker, and insurance agent among other things.
Becoming legally blind in 2009, Rupert uses a guide dog and White Cane for mobility. He describes what sight he still has as “looking through a blurry tunnel. I see light and blurry people in a tunnel…”
With less than five percent of peripheral (side vision) that most people have, he can only see a handful of letters on a keyboard at one time, but he is still able to do what could be considered an amazing amount of things.
Jack said his sense of smell, touch, hearing and sense of direction are heightened by his blindness, enabling him to move about just by listening to sounds.
Rupert’s wife Jane and English Black Labrador guide dog “Candy” are his biggest aids.
“Candy and I are very close,” Rupert said. “She sleeps at the foot of my bed and is never far away, a couple feet at most. If I go outside without her, she’ll wait for me. She likes to fetch balls, play with a toy bear and play tug-of-war with a rope.”
His day usually begins at 6 a.m. when he plays with his dog and they walk one to five miles together. Evening walks are at least a mile with unleashed afternoon runs and rolls in between.
On command, Candy can help Jack find doors, rest rooms, curbs, parking lot vehicles and her toys. She leads him around objects he may encounter in the middle of sidewalks or streets.
“Candy and I work together as a team,” Jack said. “I give commands and give commands and she responds by her body language that I feel through her halter and leash.
Rupert uses a voice-actuated laptop computer.
He doesn’t drive but his wife often drives him to places including state and National Federation for the Blind events.
With the help of a caddy, known as a “coach” in the blind golf world that drives his cart, spots the ball and aligns his swing, Rupert can play golf. He claims his average is a double bogey.
“I can somewhat see the ball on the ground which helps,” Rupert said. “I’m always looking for someone to play golf with.” He most often golfs in Madelia but has played PGA courses.
Rupert has played in Birdies for the Brave, a military outreach initiative sponsored by the PGA Tour that has raised more than $40 million and grown to include a variety of efforts for wounded U.S. Armed Forces members with specialized needs, pre and post 9/11.
With the right resources, he does leather tooling. “I’m able to make just about anything anyone would want. My goal is to sell enough things to pay for my supplies.”
Rupert said people holding doors open for he and dog are really not needed because his guide dog is trained to enter and exit doorways a certain way and by command.
Perhaps the most upsetting thing he finds is people who don’t understand that blind people, carrying white canes have the right of way at all street crossings, whether they are marked or not, according to federal laws the American Disabilities Act (ADA).
“Violations are the smallest fine I know of, $50 and up,” Rupert said.
He sometimes finds retail shopping rather upsetting.
“Most people in stores think they are the only one shopping. I prefer to shop online,” Jack said.
Rupert said he is not aware of any other blind veterans in Brown or Blue Earth counties, but he suggested all veterans with any form of blindness to contact their County Veteran Service Officer (CVSO) or their nearest Veteran’s Administration (VA) Hospital Vision Coordinator to determine what benefits they may be entitled to.
It may be tough to find another person who networks as actively as Rupert does. Jack networks with other blind veterans via a Minneapolis VA Hospital support group and through people he met at the Hines Blind Rehabilitation Center, Smithtown, N.Y. Guide Dog Foundation alumni, the U.S. Blind Golf Association (USBGA) board of directors and the America’s Vet Dogs Foundation board, of which he currently serves. He also serves on the USBGA board fund-raising task force and with the Vietnam Veterans of America (VVA), and Knights of Columbus.
“Both of the volunteer positions keep me very busy sending e-mail and replying to questions,” Rupert said. He also networks with the American Legion, Disabled American Veterans, VVA, Board of Veteran’s Appeals, U.S. Air Force Red Horse Association, and Knights of Columbus.