A strong work ethic, solid family ties and a sense of humor have been staples in the lives of Herb and Maxine Younker of Minot.
The senior couple in Minot's deaf community, the Younkers don't consider deafness to be a handicap, and it certainly never handicapped them.
"Deaf people can do anything but hear," said Maxine Younker, 84, whose sign language is animated and lively.
Jill Schramm/MDN • Maxine and Herb Younker relax in their Minot home Aug. 24.
Herb Younker, 86, who speaks more reservedly with his hands and facial expressions, proved his wife's words years ago. Selected as Minot's outstanding employee with a disability in 1980, Younker was dedicated not only to his job at The Minot Daily News but to advocating for the hearing impaired through his involvement with the North Dakota Association for the Deaf.
Recognized for his positive attitude, Younker was noted for his willingness to assist others with hearing impairments in filling out forms for training and employment, for teaching sign language to parents of deaf children and the elderly, and for helping design television news captions.
Herb Younker lost his hearing to nerve damage from a bicycle accident at age 13. Not only was the adjustment difficult, but his friends ceased contact and his schooling ended until his parents found out about the state school in Devils Lake.
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Herb, who grew up in Beulah, and Maxine, a Stanley native, met at the North Dakota School for the Deaf. Maxine Younker graduated in 1946, a year behind Herb, and went on to Elgin Watch-Making College in Chicago, where she worked at a jewelry store for five years. When the company consolidated stores, her job ended and she came to Minot to work at a dental company.
Herb trained in printing at the Devils Lake school. He worked in a Devils Lake print shop for two years for the handsome sum of $25 a week before joining the printer's union and doubling his pay in coming to work for the Daily News in 1947.
Until retiring in 1990, Younker worked in page setup, which for many years meant operating a linotype machine. A linotype operator types on the keyboard of a large machine that assembles letters into lines of text that serve as molds for metal slugs. The slugs are delivered to a galley for inking, and the letters return to their original location for reuse.
Younker enjoyed the machine and missed it when the newspaper brought in new technology that had him sitting at a paste-up desk to lay out copy and advertising on pages.
He missed the Davies and Dobson families when they sold the paper in 1985. So he eventually decided to make that walk of almost a mile from his home near to the Daily News for the last time. Even a blizzard couldn't keep him from his walk over the years, with the result that he missed only a handful of work days over the years. When he retired, he received a card from two ladies, whose acquaintance with him came from seeing him walk by their homes day after day.
The Younkers built their home in Minot, doing much of the work themselves, after they married and started a family.
Maxine and Herb had been re-introduced in Minot by a woman who was Herb's girlfriend at the time. Maxine said she hadn't much liked Herb as a fellow student in Devils Lake, finding him of too critical a nature. Time or Maxine's influences matured him, though. His relationship with the girlfriend didn't last, but his marriage to Maxine has lasted 56 years.
"Money doesn't matter," Younker said, "as long as you have a good life."
And he considers his life to have been pretty good.
A member of the Eagles since coming to Minot, he was president of the Magic City Deaf Club and served as secretary and later president for the North Dakota Association for the Deaf. The Younkers have attended a number of association gatherings statewide and nationally. They had hoped to attend a national event in Chicago this year, but organizers canceled for financial reasons.
Their interests have extended to bowling and camping. They graduated from a tent to a camper to a cabin at Strawberry Lake near Velva. Herb has enjoyed Twins baseball, fishing and pool. He won the pool tournament at Somerset Court, where the Younkers have lived since June. They attend Our Redeemer's Church's weekly gathering of the deaf community at Somerset.
Being deaf has created its challenges. Herb Younker recalls being left in the dark at union meetings, even after letting people know that he needed communication in writing because he couldn't hear the speakers. The result was he quit attending.
Maxine Younker also remembers being stared at or treated as different because she spoke with her hands.
The Younkers see huge strides today in societal attitudes and the opportunities for people who are hearing impaired. Even hearing children commonly learn some basic sign language now, and technology that includes video phones and cell-phone texting has improved communication for people with hearing impairments.
Maxine Younker said students with hearing impairments today are mainstreamed and often taught to talk. Born deaf, Maxine remembers her school's effort to teach her to speak and her absolute inability to catch on. She said her attempts were good for a few chuckles before teachers made the prudent decision to move on.
But Maxine Younker had loved school. Younker's sister, 17 years older, also was deaf, and her parents ensured that their two other hearing siblings learned sign language as well so that the family could communicate.
Maxine Younker said she and Herb were fortunate to have three hearing children who learned fast. The children picked up on sign language right along with the spoken word. Maxine said she sometimes would discourage Herb, who retained the ability to speak from his hearing days, from talking at home so that the children's ability to sign would be strengthened.
Their daughter, Roberta Degenstein of Minot, said she and her brother and sister grew up comfortable in both the hearing and deaf world and had the chance to meet other children in their situations at the association conventions they attended with their parents.
Today, the Younker family includes seven grandchildren and two step-grandchildren and soon will add another great-grandchild to the 10 great-grandchildren and eight step-great-grandchildren.