At 50, Terry Haffner is a mature man who dominates a room. He's a fast talker, articulate, assured, one of six siblings that include a lawyer and a former police public information officer. He makes his living as a painter - which fulfills his career dreams - and he has traveled to at least 30 states as a motivational and inspirational speaker.
He also sits in a motorized wheelchair because he was born without arms and with only partial legs. He can get around quite well in the 600-pound chair, powered by two car batteries and rated to top out at 6-1/2 miles per hour. But, of course, he's rooted to the chair. He doesn't punctuate his conversation with gestures, and he doesn't shift position to draw the listener in. He just talks. And people listen, as they have since he started traveling from Fort Wayne to other parts of the country in the 1970s to speak to dozens of organizations about how you can overcome challenges and Do What You Always Wanted To.
"Usually, I talk for a while and give a demonstration of how I paint," Haffner says of his typical appearance before a group or at a school. "People are curious, just like I would be, so I tell them a little about myself first."
That little bit usually involves how Haffner has made his way since childhood in a wheelchair, overcoming obstacles, both literal and figurative. In addition to being a successful painter of landscapes and seascapes - always in his favorite medium, acrylics - Haffner for years was the local gadfly on the subject of building accessibility for the physically disabled. Although that battle largely has been won, a couple of generations of newspaper readers will remember his often emotional letters to the editor and guest columns on the subject.
"I got emotional, of course, because I believed in what I was writing about. That's okay; it makes people remember what you wrote," he says. Since he began his letter writing and organizing, the Americans With Disabilities Act has become the law of the land, and there is a Fort Wayne ordinance governing handicapped accessibility, not the least important aspects of which are the now ubiquitous ramps in curbs at intersections and handicapped parking spaces.
The activist is not quite done in Haffner's mind, however. A graduate of Bishop Luers High School and frequent speaker to classes at parochial and public schools, Haffner also sees some of those buildings at the final frontier to handicapped accessibility. Perhaps some other time. Haffner is content now with life and prefers to concentrate on his paintings. But just for now, come to think of it. He has other plans brewing.
"I haven't been speaking on the national circuit for six years because I took some time off to spend with my family. But I'm ready to get back to it," Haffner says, adding he has called a group that books disabled speakers in order to get on their list.
"Over the years I've concentrated on speaking to groups that work with the disabled, like Easter Seals, ARC of Northeast Indiana or Turnstone," he says, mentioning two Allen County organizations that concentrate on the mentally and physically disabled, respectively. "Often I talk about the power of art and music to help people reach goals that can help them in their lives."
The power of art can look pretty impressive when an audience watches Haffner paint while holding the brush with his prosthetic right arm and, when tiring of that, holding it between his teeth.
"I almost always put the brush in my mouth when I want to paint details. The kids in schools love to try it, but I tell them it takes a little practice to get it right."
While not venturing far recently in his specially designed van, Haffner never gave up speaking at local schools, inspiring thousands of students with his insights and with his perseverance. To this day he gets letters and Christmas cards from young adults who recall his visits to their schools. One woman wrote recently to tell him she had become a teacher herself.
"Those kinds of things make you feel pretty good," he says.
Haffner has spent a lifetime making other people feel pretty good, about them and about him.
"Terry was one of our founding members," says Karen Starn, president of Fort Wayne ArtSource, who helped start the Fort Wayne Artists Coop 10 years ago. Haffner has about 20 paintings on display at the gallery, 2812 Lower Huntington Rd.
"I've known him a long time. I always admired his work and his persistence at being creative. He's been very easy to work with. He has a great sense of humor and he's been an inspiration to me, as well," Starn said.
In addition to his work at ArtSource, Haffner also has a painting in the Artlink Members Show and another 10 or so pieces at Turnstone, 3320 N. Clinton St., where he donates a percentage of each sale to that organization.
Haffner's work also will be on exhibit at Art Around the Square in Columbia City Sept. 6-7. He has plans to exhibit his work this winter in a gallery in Ann Arbor, Michigan. His paintings invariably depict scenes of harbors, old barns, houses, boats, rivers. They are simple and direct and always full of vibrant colors. He doesn't do portraits, either of people or their pets. Many paintings are done from photographs sent to him by other people, seeking to recreate on canvas a favorite vacation scene or life's memory.
"I prefer painting from photographs, but I like them to be in black and white. That way, I can imagine the colors," Haffner says.
His interest in art dates to the fourth grade, when he first discovered he could cover a sketch pad on the floor with drawings. It must have been a revelation to a little boy who had till then spent much of his time learning to live so much differently than playmates. With a pencil and, later, a brush he could communicate ideas and emotions in a way most, less talented people couldn't. How about that? He could do something extremely well and you couldn't.
He credits his first art teacher, Harriet Whonsetler at Brentwood Elementary School, with refining his artistic vision. She assured him he could draw, taught him about perspective and putting things in the distance. There's always something in the distance, isn't there, and whether you arrive in a special van holding your wheelchair or in more typical fashion, you still have to make the journey.
Haffner graduated from IPFW with a degree in mental health, but he's never worked in the field. Armed with a portfolio of newspaper articles and TV broadcasts about himself, he immediately set out on a journey through a world larger than Fort Wayne. His first solo drive was to Cincinnati, to speak at a college across the river in Kentucky. It scared the living daylights out of him.
But he kept driving, one way or another. Now, he lives with his family in a large room that has five floor-to-ceiling bay windows. In the summer, he takes it easy, enjoying life at a lake house, Come September, however, and he's back at work, beginning each day with an "Andy Griffith Show" rerun and then to his easel, where he paints or draws something, daily, without fail.
Nostalgic harbors, with picturesque boats rocking gently in low tide, or an old barn, its painted sides faded with weather and time. Other people's memories, sometimes. But always his vision of worlds he can visit through his imagination and his art. Sometimes, if you work hard enough, you can get to places other people can't.
by Alex Vagelatos
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Art on Broadway — Tours of 5 downtown venues featuring art from Alexandra Hall, Julie Wall, Peter Lupkin, Daniel Dienelt, Knotodday, Kay Gregg, Terry Ratliff and St. Monci, 5 p.m. Saturday, March 25, Broadway Street, Fort Wayne, free, 417-5925
Beer, Bourbon, Bacon Festival — Unlimited beer sampling from national and regional craft breweries, fine bourbon sampling and bacon inspired treats, 6-9 p.m. Saturday, March 25 (5-9 p.m. VIP), Marquis and Three Rivers Ballrooms, Hotel Fort Wayne, Fort Wayne, $35-$75, 484-0411
An Evening with Author Tom Frank — Author of What’s the Matter with Kansas talks about his new book; hors d’oeuvres, lecture and book signing included in admission, 6 p.m. Saturday, March 25, CS3 Hideaway, Fort Wayne, $15 plus donation, 602-1008
Puttin’ on the Ritz —Active 20-30 club fundraiser with live music from Chris Worth and Company, gourmet edibles, wine and beer, live and silent auctions; black tie optional, 7 p.m. Saturday, March 25, Fort Wayne Museum of Art, Fort Wayne, $50-$90, 450-2844
Shipshewana on the Road — Food, craft and primitives show and sale, 9 a.m.-6 p.m. Saturday, March 25 and 10 a.m.-5 p.m. Sunday, March 26, Allen County War Memorial Coliseum, Fort Wayne, $4, 483-1111
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Big Dick and the Penetrators — Classic rock at Navy Club, Ship 245, New Haven, 7-11 p.m., no cover, 493-4044
Brat Pack — Rat Pack/variety at Nick's Martini & Wine Bar, Fort Wayne, 9 p.m., no cover, 482-6425
Cougar Hunter — 80s glam rock at Vinnie's Bar, Decatur, 10 p.m.-2 a.m., $5, 729-2225
Ellsworth Sharp — Neofolk at Friendly Fox, Fort Wayne, 6:30-8:30 p.m., no cover, 745-3369
FBC Band w/Sheba — Variety/Music and Memories benefit at C2G Music Hall, Fort Wayne , 8 p.m., $7-$15, 426-6434
Fireball Matinee — Rock at Hideaway Lounge, Bluffton, 9 p.m.-12 a.m., no cover, 824-0455
Fleshwounds — Rock at Hamilton House, Hamilton, 9 p.m.-1 a.m., no cover, 488-3344
Fort Wayne Funk Orchestra — Funk at Dupont Bar & Grill, Fort Wayne, 9:30 p.m., cover, 483-1311
Fu5ion — Variety at Mitchell's Sports Bar & Neighborhood Grill, Fort Wayne, 10 p.m.-2 a.m., $3, (260) 387-5063
The Illegals — Rock at O'Sullivan's Italian Irish Pub, Fort Wayne, 10 p.m.-1 a.m., no cover, 422-5896
Joe Stabelli — Jazz at Don Hall's Gas House, Fort Wayne, 5:45-9 p.m., no cover, 426-3411
John Curran & Renegade — Country at Alley Sports Bar, Pro Bowl West, Fort Wayne, 9 p.m.-1 a.m., no cover, 483-4421
Johnny Freakin' Xcitor — Country rock at Beamer's Sports Grill, Fort Wayne, 9:30 p.m.-1:30 a.m., no cover, 625-1002
Kat Bowser — Variety at Don Hall's Guesthouse, Fort Wayne, 9 p.m.-12 a.m., no cover, 489-2524
The Orange Opera w/Mickyle James — Rock at Brass Rail, Fort Wayne, 10 p.m., $5, 267-5303
Prime Suspects — Variety at American Legion Post 499, Fort Wayne, 8-11 p.m., no cover, 483-1368
Quincy and the Q-Tet feat. Phil Potts — Rock/variety at Downtown Eatery & Spirits, Warsaw, 10 p.m.-1 a.m., no cover, (574) 267-6000
Second Nature — Pop at Crazy Pinz, Fort Wayne, 8-11 p.m., no cover, 490-2695
Shannon Persinger Quartet — Jazz/variety at Club Soda, Fort Wayne, 9 p.m.-12 a.m., no cover, 426-3442
Todd Harrold & Nick Bobay Duo — R&B/blues/variety at American Legion Post 148, Fort Wayne, 7 p.m., no cover, 423-4751
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Ambitious Blondes Karaoke — Variety at Office Tavern, Fort Wayne, 10 p.m., no cover, 478-5827
Beat Karaoke & DJ — Variety at American Legion Post 296, Fort Wayne, 8 p.m. , no cover, 456-2988
Bucca Karaoke w/Bucca — Variety at Tower Bar & Grill, Fort Wayne, 10 p.m., no cover, 436-6310
Classic City Karaoke w/Bryan Lee — Karaoke at Corner Pocket Tavern, Fremont, 10 p.m., no cover, 495-9255
Classic City Karaoke w/Tobin — Karaoke at Toad's Tavern, Monroeville, 10 p.m., no cover, 623-6226
DJ Shawn — Karaoke/variety at Club Paradise, Angola, 10 p.m., no cover, 833-7082
Fort Wayne Karaoke — Karaoke at Latch String Bar & Grill, Fort Wayne, 10:30 p.m., no cover, 483-5526
Fort Wayne Karaoke w/Brian — Variety at AJ's Bar and Grill, Fort Wayne, 9 p.m., , 434-1980
Fort Wayne Karaoke w/Josh — Variety at Arena Bar & Grill, Fort Wayne, 10 p.m., no cover, 557-1563
Fort Wayne Karaoke w/TJ — Variety at Chevvy's, Fort Wayne, 10 p.m., no cover, 436-4748
House DJ — Variety at Early Bird's Ultra Lounge, Fort Wayne, 9 p.m., cover, 483-1979
House DJ — Variety at Flashback on the Landing, Fort Wayne, 9 p.m., cover, 422-5292
Karaoke — Variety at Crooner's Karaoke Bar, Fort Wayne, 10 p.m.-3 a.m., no cover, 486-1979
Live DJ — Variety at Wrigley Field Bar & Grill, Fort Wayne, 10 p.m., no cover, 485-1038
Shooting Star Prod. w/Barbie — Variety at Uncle Lou's Steel Mill, Fort Wayne, 10 p.m., no cover, 436-5787
Shooting Star Prod. w/Stu — Variety at Pike's Pub, Fort Wayne, 10 p.m., no cover, 478-6200
Sidecar Gary's Karaoke & DJ — Karaoke at Kville Pub, Kendallville, 9 p.m.-1 a.m., no cover, 348-1677
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The Children’s Hour — Lillian Hellman’s seminal drama about bigotry perpetuated against the LGBT community and how easily a lie can spread, 7:30 p.m. Saturday, March 25, First Presbyterian Theater, Fort Wayne, $12-$20, 426-7421 ext. 121
Getting Sara Married — Comedy about an unmarried lawyer in need of a husband (according to her aunt), 7 p.m. dinner, 8 p.m. curtain, Saturday, March 25, Arena Dinner Theatre, Fort Wayne, $40 (includes dinner & show), 424-5622
One Foot in the Gravy — Howard Kingkade’s comedy and winner of Fort Wayne Civic Theatre’s Northeast Indiana Playwright Festival, 8 p.m. Saturday, March 25; 2 p.m. Sunday, March 26, Arts United Center, Fort Wayne, $10-$20, 422-4226
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22nd Annual Valentine’s Invitational — Works from local and national artists, Tuesday-Saturday and by appointment thru March 31, Castle Gallery Fine Art, Fort Wayne, 426-6568
2017 Scholastic Art & Writing Awards — Award-winning works from northern Indiana and northwest Ohio middle and high school students, Tuesday-Sunday thru April 9, Fort Wayne Museum of Art, $5-$7 (members, free), 422-6467
Afros: A Celebration of African Hair by Michael July — Contemporary photography exhibit by Brooklyn author/photographer, daily thru April 14, D’Agostino Art Gallery, Indiana Tech, Fort Wayne, 399-8626
An Artful Spring — Works by Gwen Gutwein, Patricia Weiss, Austin Cartwright and more, Tuesday-Saturday thru March 31, Crestwoods Frame Shop & Gallery, Roanoke, 672-2080
Decatur Sculpture Tour — 31 original sculptures and 15 permanent exhibits on display, walking tour maps available, thru April 1, Decatur, free, 724-2605
Echolilia — Works from Timothy Archibald and his autistic son, Eli, Tuesday-Sunday thru June 11, Fort Wayne Museum of Art, $5-$7 (members, free), 422-6467
Entropy — Daniel Swartz solo exhibition explores relationship between death and mourning through combinations of mythology, mathematics, multi-dimensional physics and pop culture, Monday-Saturday thru April 1, Jennifer Ford Art, Fort Wayne, 740-1309
Diane Allen Groenert — Exhibition of local artist’s Downtown Series and new works, Monday-Saturday thru June 24, West Central Microcreamery & Cafe, Fort Wayne, 415-9293
Expressions of Existence — An exhibition of works by artists through history, including Jackson Pollock, Andy Warhol, Francisco Goya and others whose works have been influenced by disabilities, Tuesday-Sunday thru June 11, Fort Wayne Museum of Art, $5-$7 (members, free), 422-6467
Fort Wayne Artist Guild Exhibitions — Works by Alice Siefert at Aldersgate United Methodist Church, Jennifer Caudel at Allen County Retinal Surgeons, Anita Trick, Citizens Square (2nd and 3rd floors), Darlene Selzer Miller at The Einhaus Group for Women’s Health, Patricia Weiss at Heritage of Fort Wayne, Emily Jane Butler at Ophthalmology Consultants (Southwest), Linda Binek at Ophthalmology Consultants (North), Carolyn Stachera at Rehabilitation Hospital of Fort Wayne, John Kelty at ResCare Inc. Adult Day Service, Wiletta Blevins at Town House Retirement, Karen Bixler at Visiting Nurse Hospice and Barb Yoder and Karen Harvey at Will Jewelers, thru April 30, fortwayneartistguild.org.
Fort Wayne Photographers Club — Exhibition featuring local photographers, Tuesday-Sunday thru April 30, Foellinger-Freimann Botanical Conservatory, Fort Wayne, $3-$5 (2 and under, free), 427-6440
Garden Party — Garden-themed works in a variety of mediums from over 30 local artists, Monday-Saturday thru March 31, Orchard Gallery of Fine Art, Fort Wayne, 436-0927
Generations: A View of Who Was Who — Works by Romare Bearden, Kara Walker, Alma Thomas, Jacob Lawrence and other African-American artists, Tuesday-Sunday thru April 9, Fort Wayne Museum of Art, $5-$7 (members, free), 422-6467
Glass: A Medium in Art and Automobiles — Dale Chihuly blown glass and fiberglass auto, daily thru Sept. 8, Auburn Cord Duesenberg Museum, Auburn, $7.50-$12.50, 925-1444
A Mary Poppins Garden Party — Child-oriented garden exhibit, Tuesday-Sunday thru April 1, Foellinger-Freimann Botanical Conservatory, Fort Wayne, $3-$5 (2 and under, free), 427-6440
Moments in Time: Reflecting on the Human Spirit — Elizabeth Opalenik photographs from her recent Amish series A Journey Home and her Reflecting on the Edge exhibition, daily thru March 26, Visual Arts Gallery, IPFW, Fort Wayne, 481-6709
Outdoor Sculpture Invitational — Fifteen outdoor sculptures from regional artists, daily thru April 30, School of Creative Arts campus, University of Saint Francis North Campus, Fort Wayne, 399-7999
RAW. Untamed. Unashamed. Visions of Freedom. — Abstract romanticist works in acrylics and epoxy from Kristy Jahn, Fridays and Saturday-Thursday by appointment thru March 25, The Gallery at Pranayoga, Fort Wayne, 423-9642
Sharon — An exhibition of Leon Borensztein photographs chronicling the struggles he faced raising his severely disabled daughter, Tuesday-Sunday thru June 11, Fort Wayne Museum of Art, $5-$7 (members, free), 422-6467
Wabash County Schools Exhibition — Works by high school art students, daily thru April 16, Clark Gallery, Honeywell Center, Wabash, 563-1102