August 6th, 2007 02:03 EST
For Talented Blind Man, Four Senses Are Better Than One
Singer and songwriter Marvin Whiteman was born on August 21, 1952 in Wellsburg, West Virginia. Marvin was born two months premature and weighed only two pounds when he was born. He jokes that he has been late for everything else ever since. While in an incubator, he developed a condition called with retinopathy of prematurity that left him totally blind for the rest of his life. Doctors are still unsure of the cause of this condition. However, despite his inability to see, his parents Chuck and Jo’Ann Whiteman stepped up to the task and, instead of concentrating on the sight that Marvin lacked, they focused on the senses and health that he did have and raised an educated, well-rounded, talented man who has touched many people through not only his life, but his amazing music ministry.
When Marvin was 2 years old, he and his father traveled to Florida for a surgery to repair his tear glands and save his eyes, so he would not have to get artificial ones. His parents never treated him any differently than they would any other child and let Marvin realize his “difference” in his own time. “If we went somewhere, so did he,” says Jo’Ann, “and whatever we were doing, he was doing it too.”Soon came a time when his parents had to make a very hard decision about schooling for Marvin. They decided to send him to the WV School for the Blind in Romney, WV at the age of six. With the school being three and a half hours away, Chuck and Jo’Ann could only make a few visits each year. But despite the distance, they felt this was best for Marvin and would give the best education he could get.
After overcoming homesickness, Marvin thrived at the School for the Blind and in third grade, he started taking classical piano lessons. He also joined the chorus in his seventh grade year. This continued until Marvin completed his schooling at Romney. Marvin recalls many children he met while at the school for the blind who did not have basic skills such as walking up and down stairs or even feeding themselves because their parents had never allowed them to do such things. He contributes much of his success as a person to his parents and the way they raised him just as they would a sighted child.
Marvin returned home at the age of fourteen after completing the eighth grade. He attended local public school at Wellsburg High School from ninth to eleventh grade, and graduated in the first graduating class at Brooke High School. In his high school years, Marvin continued to participate in piano playing and chorus, making all-county and all-state chorus. He also joined the Key Club, and was inducted into the National Junior Honor Society. After high school, Marvin attended West Virginia University for one year, where he took mobility classes. He desired a degree in the French language, hoping to one day be an interpreter. However, the textbooks needed for his classes were not printed in Braille; so, Marvin transferred to West Liberty State College in West Liberty, WV where he studied and received a Board of Regents Degree in psychology. Marvin also stayed active in music through the West Liberty Choir and several Rock Bands including the Liberell’s, Blind Hem, Wycked World and Nightengale. He also did some solo work singing and playing the piano at pubs and parties. Marvin also met his wife, Ruth, at West Liberty State College and they were married in the chapel there in 1979.
In 1980, Marvin’s first child, Allan, was born. One year later, after Marvin became a Christian, he took a job in Charleston, WV working for the International Christian Braille Mission (ICBM), which was then located in the basement of Boulevard Church of Christ. ICBM produces Christian Braille Literature and sends books and magazines all over the country and even the world. In 1984, Marvin’s wife, Ruth, gave birth to their second child, Julie.
During this time, Marvin traveled quite a bit representing ICBM at different churches and functions to gain support and educate about blind people. This is when Marvin started to sing and play the piano in churches. Marvin really excelled in and enjoyed these performances and was well-liked by his audiences and in 1996, he left ICBM to pursue his music ministry full time. Since then, he has been song leader for countless revivals, retreats, church meetings, vacation bible schools, church camps, dinners and other events. He describes his fondest memories in his ministry as the summers in which his whole family traveled along with him from place to place. He has produced three CDs which he sells at his concerts. Marvin has performed in more than ten states but does most of his work in northern West Virginia and the Ohio Valley.
That being said, Marvin describes the hardest part of his work as depending on public transportation. Most of the time he rides the Greyhound bus, but many times the busses are very late and sometimes do not even show up! And even if they are on time, with all the stops they make, sometimes it will take him eight hours to get somewhere that anyone else could get to in two hours or less by car. He also has to depend on the different churches’ sound systems, pianos and keyboards since he cannot travel with his own equipment by bus.
However, in November of 2006, Marvin and his wife, Ruth, moved from Charleston, WV back to Marvin’s hometown of Wellsburg, WV and many of the places where he performs regularly are much closer. Now it is easy for someone from a hosting church to just pick him up or for his wife to drive him there and back in a much shorter amount of time.
Summer is the busiest time for Marvin. Since June he has already been song leader at two vacation bible schools and four weeks of camp. Upcoming events in August include a performance with Wellsburg’s Music in the Park program on August 12, another vacation bible school in Unionport, OH, a Homecoming Meeting in Hopedale, OH, Family Weekend at Elkhorn Valley Christian Service Camp and a concert in Columbiana, OH.
Marvin says he could not do all that he does if it were not for his loving wife, Ruth. She takes care of all the bookkeeping and taxes, writes a newsletter to send to Marvin’s supporting churches, helps with the duplication and sale of his CDs and, of course, transportation. Ruth says she is glad to be a part of the way that Marvin can affect people’s lives for the Lord.
When Marvin is not traveling, he enjoys listening to baseball games, and sitting on his parents’ porch in Wellsburg, listening to the boats going down the Ohio River, and also listening to the birds of which he can identify 20-30 different species. Throughout his life Marvin has done many things that people with sight have not even attempted such as roller skating, water skiing, riding a bike and going off the high dive at the pool: the one thing for which he is most remembered in Wellsburg.
Marvin has fun wherever he goes. He is a laid-back person who is very easy to get along with. Children flock to him and he is happy to answer any question they have about his blindness. But most of all, Marvin is a wonderful influence in the lives of so many people. Because of him, many people have given their lives to Jesus and that is what drives him to keep doing what he does. He has inspired both blind and sighted people to realize what they have instead of looking at what they do not have. Things have not always been easy for Marvin, but he says that God has provided for him whenever he has needed. Marvin hopes to continue his music career into his old age for as long as he can. He is thankful to have lived such a full life already, and looks forward to what is ahead.