Mary McGrayel,
Founder of the Arc

by Rachel Perry
courtesy drawing

There’s a small Brown County group of noble and dedicated individuals who accomplish their work with little fanfare. The “Brown County Arc,” counting about thirty members, is committed to improving the lives of mentally and physically disabled citizens in the county.

One of the leading lights of the Arc is Mrs. Mary McGrayel of Nashville. Mrs. McGrayel recognized the need and founded the Arc in the mid-1970’s. Now 84, she continues to advocate for special Brown County residents. She became aware of the challenges of caring for disabled children with the birth of her youngest daughter.

“Our last child, Elizabeth, was born in 1958. She’s handicapped physically and mentally. She’s made such wonderful strides. She has her own apartment now and we’re real proud of her. But, when she was a child, there was a need for help for parents who had children with problems.”

Although she had already been teaching elementary school in Brown County, Mrs. McGrayel returned to college to earn her Master’s degree in “Special Education.” “Warren Ogle was the Superintendent, and it was not mandatory to have special teaching for students,” she recalled. “But he believed in it and I was hired as the only special education teacher in the system. There was nothing at all in the high school. So I had all ages. The longer I worked with them the more I realized that parents like myself and Bill, and others in the community, had no place to turn for help. Elizabeth didn’t fit into the public school system and yet we wanted her to have a life of her own…If you were a millionaire you could send your child for all this perfect help. Other than that it was just state institutions.”

Mrs. McGrayel made connections with the director of the Stone Belt organization in Bloomington. “Joan Burton (former Director) was such a big help,” she smiled. “She suggested that we set something up in Brown County. We advertised and had our first meeting for the Brown County Arc and had a really good response. And so we continued with the meetings and had bicycle tours, bake sales and other fundraisers. We then became affiliated with Developmental Services (DSI) in Columbus. We were right in between Developmental Services and Stone Belt. Geographically we were with the Columbus area according to the way it was sectioned off in the state.”

“We went to the Brown County Commissioners,” she continued, “and told them we were representing Developmental Services in Columbus. The Commissioners were very generous and allocated money for services here. We advocate by what we’ve done. We find those who are in need and then, in turn, provide services in Columbus.”

A survey was done and a bus route established in 1975 to pick up developmentally disabled people in all parts of the county. They are taken to Columbus where they are occupied with work that helps to provide future independence or semi-independence.

In 1982, DSI bought a house for the developmentally disabled on Hoover Road. Mrs. McGrayel said, “My husband helped locate the house and we were a vital part of the purchase, although our organization (the Arc) had no money…People who live there have house parents and they are transported to Columbus every day. One or two of the girls work in pubic services. Some of them are in the workshop at DSI and some of them are in a day program. The house can accommodate five to eight people. It’s lovely inside. It’s just an ideal place. There’s a lake up behind and they can go fishing.”

“Through the years the organization has done so many wonderful things. We have given scholarships, we’ve aided with medical bills and we bought a lift for a van. We’re also involved with Special Olympics.” Cummins Engine Company has helped support the Arc through their employee contribution program.

Although she has spent much of her life as an educator in Brown County, Mrs. McGrayel is originally from a small town in Knox County. She attended Vincennes University for two years and finished up her teaching degree at Indiana University. “Then my folks died,” she remembered. “And I had a dear Uncle whose son had died and they took me ‘under their roof’ in Columbus.”

“I met Buddy’s (oldest son’s) dad, Chuck Greller, when Atterbury was here…We were married in ’44. A month after we were married he was shipped overseas and was gone almost two years. He came back and just after I got pregnant with Buddy, we discovered that Chuck had angina. He died a month before Buddy was born. So Buddy was the only boy in the Greller family. When Bill (McGrayel) and I were married two years later, we wanted him (Buddy) to keep his family name. That’s why people get confused,” she laughed. “They hear both names—Greller and McGrayel.” Bill and Mary McGrayel had three more children, including Lucy (Principal at Van Buren School), Jim and Elizabeth.

Despite her justified pride in the past accomplishments of her Brown County Arc, Mrs. McGrayel worries about the future of the organization. The Brown County Arc is not-for-profit with no paid employees. (Stephanie Gore, the Secretary/Treasurer, and Mrs. McGrayel contribute countless hours.) Like all not-for-profit associations, the Arc has experienced a financial squeeze in the past few years. Their county allocation has been partially cut and voluntary donations have also dwindled. Additional memberships and donations are always welcome. Send to The Brown County Arc, P.O. Box 185, Nashville, IN 47448.