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Column: Speech center prospers over 50 years
Johnny Vardeman

An 8-year-old was going through Northeast Georgia Speech Center’s hippotherapy program when he told the horse he was riding, “Walk on.”

Those were the first words the child had ever spoken in his life. His mother, looking on, broke out in tears. Their lives had been affected. 

“My life had been impacted, too,” said Diane Brower, speech center executive director.

In another program, a child’s speech couldn’t be understood. She became frustrated that others couldn’t understand her words. She was in therapy a number of years, but eventually overcame her problem, and now communication is her career.

Those are but a couple of examples Brower brings to mind when reflecting on the 50th anniversary of the Northeast Georgia Speech Center. 

She has plenty to remember because she’s been with the center 45 of those 50 years. She remembers in 1970 when the center first resided in the old Sunday school building of First United Methodist Church, which was located then on Green Street.

The Junior Service League, as it was called then, got the speech center started, and the Junior League has continued its support through the years with volunteers and finances. Before it was organized, those with speech problems had to drive to Atlanta or Athens for help.

The center used to just be a part of the Gainesville School System. Alice Ann Mundy, who has been connected with the speech center for 50 years and serves as an honorary board member, was in Arizona when she got a call from Revis Blakeney, then superintendent of Gainesville schools. 

“I was hired over the phone from 2,000 miles away,” Mundy said.

Demand for its services became so great, the school system couldn’t meet the need. The schools primarily were accommodating elementary students, and there was no place for older students and adults to go. That’s when the speech center had to morph into a stand-alone organization.

After operating in the First Methodist space, the center moved into a small house on the Brenau College campus in 1975. It became nationally accredited in 1976, incorporated in 1979 and formed its first board of directors.

The speech center moved into a house it bought on Spring Street in 1982 and remained there until relocating to the Business Center on East Washington Street. Its services have expanded, reaching out into the community to hospitals, nursing homes and other schools. 

The center that first served preschoolers, now has a program for toddlers and continues to serve students from Gainesville and Hall County school systems.

Though she has been a mainstay at the Northeast Georgia Speech Center, Alice Ann credits Diane Brower with much of its success. 

“When children come in the front door, they are smiling,” Ann said. “And they and their parents are happy when they leave. The parents are so joyful.” 

She credits this outcome to the positive atmosphere embraced at the center.

Brower has a message for today’s parents. 

“It’s so important to talk to your child, read to them, sing to them, bombard them with language,” she said. “It doesn’t cost anything to talk to a child.”

She worries that with so many cellphones and other electronic devices in today’s homes, children won’t develop adequate communication with adults.

Johnny Vardeman is retired editor of The Times. He can be reached at 2183 Pine Tree Circle NE, Gainesville, GA 30501; phone, 770-532-2326; email, or His column publishes weekly.

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