With a heart for children with disabilities, Sue Cromley, 88, has spent almost 60 years helping the Center for Human Services in one respect or another. On Nov. 10 she was honored by the Center with a special dinner.
“We had a very nice turnout at the tribute dinner to honor longtime Center board member, Sue Cromley,” Susan Mergen, CHS director of development, said by email. “In addition to 50 Cromley family members there were church friends, Center board members and the CHS leadership team.
“Close to 100 people enjoyed Chili with the Cromleys a fundraiser and tribute dinner, $12,250 was raised to support the mission of the Center,” Mergen added. “Sue dug out her famous chili recipe and Kehde’s BBQ made the chili. Sue wrote an article back in 1995, ‘A Parent’s Perspective Then and Now.’ It was reprinted and handed out to the guests.”
Cromley knows firsthand the heartbreak a parent goes through when their child has a disability. Her son Glen L. Cromley, now 69, developed brain damage due to a high fever of 107 at age 4. The family lived in Kansas and at the time, and in the 1950s, there were no services for children with disabilities nationwide.
Determined to make a difference and not wanting to break up her family by institutionalizing Glen, she began organizing events in Topeka, Kansas, but soon learned the family would be moving to Sedalia.
“Sue Cromley has been actively involved with the Center since 1958, first as a parent with a child with special needs and then as a board member,” Center CEO Ann Graff said. “She organized the first Center fundraiser, a chili supper and that is why we planned Chili with the Cromleys. It was a pleasure and honor to recognize her recently in front of her 50 family members and many CHS supporters.”
Cromely said she was surprised with the tribute dinner.
“I thought oh my,” she said Tuesday while laughing. “People from my church were there, my family turned out, pretty much all of them.”
Comley’s first fundraiser decades ago, for the fledgling Center, was a chili supper hosted in the basement of Epworth United Methodist Church. At the time, she was worried about attendance because of winter weather.
“That day couldn’t have been worse, ” Cromley said. “It was snowing, it was cold, it was terrible … and people came, and they came, and they came. We ran out of chili.”
The group couldn’t believe the response they received from the community and they scrambled to make more chili for ticket-holders. Cromely doesn’t remember the amount raised but it exceeded what they expected.
“We realized then how good the people in Sedalia were to support us,” she added. “That was back in the days when children with disabilities had absolutely nothing. They couldn’t go to school, a lot of times they couldn’t even go to their own churches.”
From that first chili supper her efforts blossomed. The Center has grown over the years to include many entities under its umbrella, that specializes in helping children and adults with disabilities.
“The Center programs have evolved over the years beyond our wildest dreams,” Cromley said. “It never occurred to any of us, that we could hope for something like this to happen (for) our families. Because then, it was just a struggle to keep them at home.”
Cromley, who worked for 22 years as the director of a regional council for developmental disabilities, said she is pleased to see the wide number of programs now available for families.
“We managed to get local programs going pretty much all over the state,” she added. “Workshops, group homes … whatever it took.”
When she was asked if she could sum up in a few words what years of service helping others at the Center meant to her, she tried.
“For me it’s been a miracle, actually,” she noted. “When you are a parent and you find that you have a child with a disability, your world kind of crashes. Nobody really expects that, a parent having a child and being told that the child has maybe spina bifida or maybe cerebral palsy. That’s the death of a dream for a parent, basically.
“You face something that truly I don’t how people who aren’t religious can handle,” she added. “Because that’s what, basically, all you have left is ‘Lord where do I go from here?’ For me it’s been a very rewarding journey, for most parents I think it is.”
Cromley, who still serves on the board for the Cooperative Shelter Workshop, said she believes Sedalia is one of the greatest communities around.
“It’s a wonderful community,” she added. “It’s very, very welcoming to people with disabilities. We are greatly envied by a lot of communities.”
She also noted that CHS is a great legacy to be part of.
“It’s amazing when you look back at the beginning, and I’m old enough I can do that, and see where we started out, and what we’ve wound up with,” Cromley said.
Faith Bemiss can be reached at 530-0289 or on Twitter @flbemiss.