Bob Planer of Mount Airy was a retired special education teacher with the city schools and a founding member of the Arc of Surry County who died in December.
However, Planer’s legacy survives, including the designation of a special day in his honor by city officials and being selected for the Unsung Hero Award of the state ARC, which is scheduled to be given posthumously tonight in Winston-Salem.
A meeting last week of the Mount Airy Board of Commissioners included a special presentation in which March 15 was declared Developmental Disabilities Awareness Day in Bob Planer’s memory.
On hand for the presentation was his wife, Mary Planer, and Pam Padgett, president of the Arc of Surry County (formerly known as the Association for Retarded Citizens).
“Bob would be honored,” Mary Planer said of the action by city officials. “He never expected any special recognition for anything he did.”
The honor bestowed by the city government occurred in conjunction with March being National Developmental Disabilities Awareness Month. It was enacted by Congress in 1987 to promote respect for people with intellectual and developmental disabilities and to educate others about the skills and talents they possess.
Planer, who was 62 when he died on Dec. 24, devoted his life to doing just that, according to Padgett, who is associated with a local entity aiding that population, Behavioral Services Inc.
“Bob’s devotion to the field of intellectual and developmental disabilities was known by everyone in our county,” she added.
“He served as a special ed teacher until his retirement. Bob enjoyed helping his students participate in Special Olympics each year. He was the author of many papers written about various developmental disabilities and disorders.”
Those documents were given to the parents of Planer’s students to better help them understand their children’s condition, according to Padgett. The papers additionally served as valuable tools in building awareness among other teachers and school administrators about the youths and their behaviors.
Planer also devoted about 40 years to the local Arc, a volunteer-based membership organization made up of individuals with disabilities, their families, friends, interested citizens and professionals in the disability field. This involved serving as an officer of the group 17 times since the 1960s, including as treasurer at the time of his death.
During his long association with the Arc, Planer aided the establishment of group homes, apartments and a workshop in Surry County to help individuals with intellectual and developmental disabilities reach their full potential.
Planer was a prolific fundraiser, which ranged from manning booths set up during local events to generate awareness and money for various projects to writing and producing a play he also acted in to benefit the Arc.
“There was nothing that Bob would not do to help,” Padgett remarked. “I consider myself very lucky to have known Bob over the years — I benefited greatly from his view on the disabilities that we work with at Behavioral Services.”
The city proclamation in honor of Planer, read aloud by Mayor David Rowe, states that he “was a faithful servant to individuals with special needs and believed that all people with intellectual and developmental disabilities are defined by their own strengths, values and abilities, not by their disability.”
Other Mount Airy officials also offered comments about Planer.
“He was always speaking for those who didn’t have a voice,” said Commissioner Jon Cawley.
“Never a finer man,” Commissioner Jim Armbrister, a retired member of the Mount Airy Police Department, said of Planer, with whom he worked in the city school system while serving as a community officer.
“He was a role model,” Armbrister said.
“Mary, I just want to thank you for sharing Bob with everybody,” Commissioner Steve Yokeley told Mrs. Planer.
“In his lifetime, Bob made our county, as well as many other counties, more aware of our (target) population — and mainly more accepting,” Padgett mentioned. “This man’s legacy is one of great leadership, compassion and love.”
In view of his contributions, the local Arc decided to nominate Planer for the Unsung Hero Award, an honor given from the state level of the Arc.
“And we were so delighted when we were notified that he had won,” Padgett reported.
She is scheduled to accept the award in Planer’s memory during a banquet tonight which will cap off an Arc conference in Winston Salem.
The Behavioral Services Inc. organization, located at 2342 S. Main St. in Mount Airy, also will be holding a 10th-annual balloon release in memory of Bob Planer next Thursday at 3:30 pm.
Anyone interested in attending is asked to call 336-719-1686 to reserve a balloon. Refreshments will be served.
Tom Joyce may be reached at 336-415-4693 or on Twitter @Me_Reporter.