'I have a sharp memory in my mind, even though I can’t see'

Krystle Wagner • May 14, 2019 at 12:00 PM

As Loren Van Farowe walked along Grand Haven’s Pennoyer Avenue, a neighbor stopped to say, “hi.”

Van Farowe, 62, has become a familiar face to residents in his neighborhood. Since moving to the Christian Haven Home about a year ago, Van Farowe, who is blind, learned his way around the streets and walks four or five times a day.

All it took was one ride around the area learning the street names with his sister, Janna Bouma, before Van Farowe learned his way around.

“I learned them right away in a hurry,” he said.

While he is walking, Van Farowe keeps track and counts the streets to remember his location.

Van Farowe has met neighbors who often stop to talk with him and help guide him past sprinklers. One neighbor also gave him a safety vest to wear on his walks.

Sue Wilson, the community relations manager for Christian Haven, said Van Farowe surprised them when he started going for walks. Wilson said they want to make sure he’s safe, but they also want to respect his independence.

“We’ve all been absolutely amazed,” she said.

Setting out on his own isn’t new. Van Farowe also walked several miles a day when the family lived in Lansing, Bouma said. 

Van Farowe and his dad also pedaled a tandem bike around Grand Rapids, and his dad explained what they passed. Wilson said she wonders how much those experiences help play a role in her brother’s ability to learn his way around the area.

Van Farowe said he enjoys hearing the birds, talking to people and being independent.

“I have a sharp memory in my mind, even though I can’t see,” he said.

Van Farowe downhill skied for 10 years and enjoys swimming. He’s not afraid to be adventurous.

“I’m not afraid because I trust Jesus will take care of me,” he said.

Growing up, Van Farowe spent the first years living in Illinois with his family. In 1962, at the age of 6, he started working with a certified speech pathologist, Art Ruiter, to help him talk.

During a trip outdoors, the speech pathologist noticed Van Farowe expressed an interest in cars, so he started teaching him the names of parts of cars — bumper, windshield, mirror and more. That turned into expanding his vocabulary and speech.

Van Farowe’s family moved to Lansing, where he attended the Michigan School for the Blind for three years. They then moved to Grand Rapids and he attended Ottawa Hills High School.

After his dad’s death, Van Farowe moved to Grand Haven to be closer to his sister.

When Van Farowe moved to Grand Haven, he reconnected with Ruiter, who is also a board member of the Christian Haven Home.

“It’s been a blessing to reconnect,” Ruiter said.

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