My little sister was born with a severe developmental disability back in 1965. I remember how difficult it was for my mom, when after three-plus years of wondering if there was an issue the doctors told her that Claudia would never develop cognitive skills beyond that of a two or three year-old. Back then, many parents of a child with special needs felt completely alone, as if they had to scale a thirty thousand foot mountain with no climbing trail in order to find the services and assistance their child would need to have a decent quality of life. But fortunately for my mom, my beloved sister and our entire family, there was a group of parents here in Montgomery County who decided that their special needs daughters and sons were not going to be denied the opportunities to enjoy happy and productive lives. Bill Albertin was one of those parents. His son Dale had been born with Down Syndrome and Bill and his lovely wife Joan were among the group of pioneering mom’s and dad’s who banded together to form the Montgomery County ARC, which later became better known as Liberty. They simply refused to accept their children’s disabilities as liabilities. They advocated, petitioned and proposed programs for their kids to governments, school systems and employers and bit by bit, piece by piece, penny by penny, they developed one of the most successful ARC agencies not just in this state but in the entire country.
I’ll never forget the day my Mom first introduced me to Bill. We had driven my sister up to the old Fort Johnson Elementary School where Liberty was introducing the first ever summer school program for children with developmental disabilities. Standing next to the front door that morning, welcoming each child and parent were two men. One was a young Frank Capone, who had just been hired by the Liberty board to run the agency. Standing next to Capone was Albertin, but just before I shook his hand my Mom said, “Mike, I want you to meet the angel God sent to me!”
Now Bill was a very busy guy. A 1952 Amsterdam High School graduate who had served as Montgomery County Sheriff and County Clerk, he and Joan had also run their own business. In addition to Dale, they also had four daughters to raise so time was definitely at a premium. But Bill remembered what it felt like as a parent to be told that your child would never be normal. He had stood before that same mountain as my Mom and he made the decision that he was not going to let another Montgomery County parent or special needs child make that climb alone. So for the rest of his life and long after his son Dale passed away, Bill Albertin remained on the board of the Montgomery County ARC. For an incredible span of 55 years, he continued to be an active advocate and an “angel” for folks like my sister and my Mom. He passed away in 2011, but the Albertin family continues its deep commitment to this noble cause in the form of Bill’s daughter, Valerie Albertin Zabo, who continues to serve on the ARC Board to this day.
This former Bacon School teacher also celebrates her birthday on April 7.