My sister, Darlene Kay Segler, was born in San Antonio on July 23, 1953, the fourth child of Merle and James Segler. I was not yet four years old at the time. As was related to me in later years, an attending nurse at her birth told my mother that Darlene “was not right,” and she should give up her newborn daughter and “try to forget, put it behind her.” Merle ignored this callus advice and began a 58-year journey of taking care of her special Darlene while raising three boys and being a military wife and mother. Already scheduled for a tour in West Germany where my dad awaited us, it was six weeks before Darlene could make the trip to Europe, where we lived for three years. That trip was the beginning of Merle’s “journey,” shepherding four young children overseas—by herself! Every mother should experience driving from San Antonio to New York City, then shipping the car and finding the airport to board a propeller-driven aircraft across the Atlantic Ocean…
As a child, Darlene seemed “normal” to us siblings, except she could only jabber indecipherable phrases, which my mom could understand. She was active physically, and grew up in Central Texas, staying home, while my parents coped as best they could with jobs, three other children and a family business. As Darlene grew older, my mom shouldered every task, seeing that Darlene was loved and cared for, as we all did, never once voicing any regret that God and fate had given her this special child which would require her attention for the rest of her life.
In later years, Darlene lived at the Austin State School, then a facility in Abilene, followed by one in Temple and a couple of places here, after we were able to return to San Antonio for good. She was always brought home for a few days a month, despite the driving distances and the difficulty it put on our parents. They were determined that Darlene would always be a loved member of the family, a task carried out primarily by Merle until her death in 2011 at age 93.
I am certain that in her dying thoughts, she was thinking of all her children, Darlene especially, since she would never be able to fend for herself in this world. But by then, Mission Road Ministries had entered the lives of the Segler Family, truly a Godsend, since in later years it had become increasingly difficult for my elderly mother to cope with Darlene’s needs.
In 2005, Darlene moved into Covenant House. For years, she enjoyed the companionship of the other clients and was engaged in many of the activities made available by MRM to people with IDD. During that time, she made friends with housemates and became the favorite of many caretakers for her loving nature. Indeed, Darlene always wanted to give and receive hugs and smiles, jabbering away as she did so! Whatever her shortcomings in intellectual development, Darlene never lacked the capacity to show affection for those around her.
My mother and I were delighted with this turn of events, since her previous group home had proved to be a disastrous two years, causing lasting damage to Darlene and my mom. Merle became a staunch advocate and supporter of MRM, doing all she could to promote its success. One example is the Darlene Kay Segler Pavilion on campus, a facility refurbished in part by Merle in 2011. Having Darlene’s name above it was the perfect touch, since Darlene could recognize her name in print at that time. Darlene’s face lit up when Mom pointed out the big letters on the entry arch, a tribute to a daughter who would never get much recognition from the rest of the world. In doing that, she not only helped Darlene, she gave of herself to benefit everyone at MRM. That was Merle Segler. I share her philosophy of believing God places special needs persons among us as a test, to see how we treat those who cannot fend for themselves. If that is true, there is surely a special place in Heaven for my mom.
Sadly, upon Merle’s death, Darlene entered a decline. Combined with advancing age, it was determined that Covenant was far too active and noisy for Darlene, and she transferred to Kopplow House in 2015. She has lived at Kopplow House for the past several years with loving housemates and a caring staff. She has ups and downs, but throughout the days and years, Mission Road and its staff continue to fulfill the promise of care for those among us who are not as fortunate, ensuring that their lives are as complete as possible, promoting and applauding their accomplishments and refusing to let them be shackled by limitations.