House shows adaptations for people with disabilities

Joe O’Rourke and his mother, Theresa, watch a telecab go from the first floor to the basement at the new St. Ambrose University assistive technology house. The O’Rourke family donated money in honor of Jim O’Rourke who became a quadriplegic after an accident in 1963.

By Anne Marie Amacher

DAVENPORT – An assistive technology house that showcases adaptations available for people with physical disabilities was dedicated Oct. 8 by Bishop Martin Amos. Jim’s Place, a project of St. Ambrose University in Davenport, shows how a house can be retrofitted – no matter its age.

St. Ambrose faculty, staff students and the O’Rourke family gathered for a blessing on the house’s back porch and in the back yard. Named in honor of the late Jim O’Rourke, who became a paraplegic in 1963, the house at 2126 Brown St. is located about a block from the university’s main campus. The university owns the house.

Sister Joan Lescinski, CSJ, president of St. Ambrose, said the university’s occupational therapy department has worked for decades to help people with varying physical disabilities adapt to life as best they could physically.


Phyllis Wenthe, a professor in the occupational therapy program, said rooms in other buildings on campus had been used for demonstrations. “No longer will assistance be offered out of a classroom building. We can show modifications in a house environment.”

Wenthe credited Jon Turnquist, assistant professor of occupational therapy, as “the heart and soul of this project.” He said Wenthe’s dream became a reality with a lot of hard work.

A donation from the Hubbell-Waterman Foundation brought new hope toward the project becoming a reality, he said. A donation from the O’Rourke family solidified that reality.

“We honor Jim who had a ‘never, never give up’ attitude,” said Turnquist of the man who served as chairman of the board of his family’s business.

With the new assistive technology house, students and clients can work together and look for solutions as people with physical disabilities are discharged from hospitals earlier and earlier.

The house includes a voice-activated computer system that can perform such tasks as turning on lights. An elevator called a telecab allows access between the living room and basement. When the elevator is in the basement, the top of it matches the floor in the living room. Chair tracks move clients from room to room throughout the house. Lower counters allow those in wheelchairs to reach items more easily. Raised flower containers outdoors provide opportunities for gardeners unable to garden at ground level.

In trying to summarize the impact of his brother Jim’s life, Joe O’Rourke said, “How do you put 46 years into just four minutes?” He credited their “mother, Theresa” who is a strong, Catholic woman, for keeping the family intact after Jim’s accident.

In 1965 when Jim was released from the hospital, such technology as lifts, computers and software were not available. So the family stepped up to help the brother.

Joe O’Rourke said Jim took on the motto “Never, never give up.”

The family created O’Rourke Brothers Distrib-uting (now O’Rourke Sales Co.). Jim served as chairman of the board.

As technology evolved, Jim took advantage of it. “The Internet was huge for him. He looked up everything.”

For the last 10-12 years of his life Jim had his own house. He died in 2009.

“We are proud to have the opportunity to make this ‘Jim’s Place,’” Joe O’Rourke said.

Students from the occupational therapy department unveiled a sign with the name of the home on it. Bishop Amos blessed the house inside and out, praying that “God’s presence and healing grace will be discovered here.”

Tours of the house followed the ceremony.

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