Jan McQueen’s Charrette Experience


Above: Jan McQueen (middle, in black with a scarf, arm-crossed)

participated in one of thedaily stakeholders meetings.

Re: Charrette for Laurent, SD March 21 to March 26, 2005


I am the hearing mother of two deaf adult sons. For most of my sons lives we have lived in Grand Rapids, MI and in and around Frederick, MD.

M.E. Barwacz, Jen Miller’s mom, and I became friends when our children were very young. We have remained life long friends through the years and this is how I came to learn about Marvin Miller’s dream of building a town for signers and walkers. Through M.E., I heard all the preliminary ideas of the town and heard about Jen & and Marvin’s moves crisscrossing the country while having children and following a winding path that lead them to South Dakota where they found a "home" for Laurent, "a town of their own".

The Trip to South Dakota:

As a stakeholder I was included in the Charrette and flew to Sioux Falls, SD on Friday, March 18th. This was the day a large spring snow storm blanketed some of the area with as much at 10" of snow. Needless to say I was off to a rocky start when in Minneapolis, MN I was labeled a "distressed traveler" (a name the airlines referred to us as). I was unable to get a flight out of Minneapolis until Sunday. During the long wait of rescheduling, waiting on standby for 6 hours, and finding a motel to sleep at, I met a women who was also going to Sioux Falls. During our conversation I mentioned that I was going to Sioux Falls to help my friend build a signing - walking town. To make a long story short, she told me her parents (deceased) were deaf, and she and her husband had been saving all the articles from the local paper on Laurent. Sharon and I became friends and her husband volunteered to drive to Minneapolis and take us back to Sioux Falls on Saturday. During the course of my 30 hour trek to Sioux Falls, SD I had a chance to know Sharon and Dennis and someday we may be neighbors in Laurent. Small world!

From the time I finally met up with M.E. at the Sioux Falls airport, it seems like it was a whirlwind and I still have not yet come down out of the clouds. I will tell about my experiences at the Charrette which was held at Camp Lakodia on Lake Herman near Madison, SD. It is a beautiful newly remodeled camp grounds that made the whole experience even greater. In fact, I am making reservations to return there in the fall.

Most of the activities took place in the dinning hall at Camp Lakodia. This is where the Charrette Team and all the other professionals working on the town plan set up their computers, equipment etc. I won’t take the space here to list them all, if you are not familiar with the companies involved then please check out Laurent’s web site to fill in some of the gaps or questions you may have. For the sake of shortening this, I will use just one word to refer to all the professionals working on the plan as the "Team". I will also use just one word to describe the deaf or hearing people involved with the deaf community as "signers".

The Dinning Hall:

While we all had very nice cabins to sleep in, the dinning hall was our home away from home. Most of us spent 12 to 15 hours a day in this space.

The dinning hall is also where the "gallery" was located. These were 4 x 8 sheets of drywall assembled into a double sided according like wall to display all the plans, pictures, and ideas for the new town.

The dinning hall is where a local artist finished creating the miniature statute of Laurent Clerc. Laurent brought sign language to the US from France. This is who the town is named after. The statute will be 8′ tall and bronze, placed at the "V" shape building as you enter town.

The dinning hall was where many of the stakeholders meetings took place, along with the local community meetings. This is where the interpreters met and the interns had an opportunity to observe great conversations.

The dinning hall is where the local residents, local politicians and local professionals from all areas came to meet with us and watch the progress. All the utility companies were represented. Representatives from the school board, the McCook county offices, the local banks and on and on. Some came for one meeting or event, others were familiar faces throughout the Charrette. In the end they all came!

The dinning hall is also where we all ate breakfast, lunch, and dinner. Any visitor arriving at meal time was invited to join us. M.E. set it up so all leftovers were in the commercial size camp kitchen and anyone could help themselves 24/7. No one went hungry and we all came to know where everything was in this huge kitchen. The coffee pot received its most use in the late night hours as the "Team" continued to work very late and sometimes all night.

The dinning hall was also the "hang out" for any of us that wanted to chat after the meetings were finished. Some stayed to talk until wee hours of the morning. Later, we heard from the "Team" that the sight of these "signers" chatting away was an inspiration to the "Team" as they continued their work.

The dinning hall was also where the "signing" children ran around and played with crayons and play dough. We had several dogs join us too. They too hung out in the dinning hall. This is where the public could drop in at anytime and be shown the "work in progress". I mentioned before about the snow storm, well the days were beautiful by the time we reached the campgrounds but the sunnier it became, the muddier it became and so the dinning hall managed to become not only a collection of all kinds of adults, children and dogs, but mud too.

So, the dinning hall was where the feeling of community began. It had a feeling of a very large family/great room with lots of conversations, activities, work and people from all over the country joining in for a common goal of creating Laurent, SD into a real image.

In case anyone wants the "short version" of this experience, good luck! It won’t be from me. However, I will tell you my overall feelings at this point.


I truly felt honored to be in the presence of such great people with skills beyond my wildest imagination and comprehension. I speak of both the "Team" and especially the signers that came to help plan Laurent.

A few of the stakeholders meetings that I was involved with were life altering experiences. (At the end, we all learned that many of us had life altering experiences, one by one, for different reasons, but all come out of this with a sense of unbelievable accomplishment of great people and great minds.)

My most memorable experience was physically placing the buildings on the map of the town and discussing the spirit or intent of Laurent other than living and working there. First, we all listed the buildings and places that we thought the town needed. i.e.: post office, town hall, fire and police station, museum, schools, churches, grocery, hardware, senior citizen building, drugstore, hotel, community garden, cemetery, court house and the list goes on and on. Get out your local phone book and add to this list. That is how extensive this list was.

The Spirit of Laurent:

The spirit, what the town would eventually become, why would people visit Laurent as they were passing by on the highway? Why would people choose Laurent to visit on their vacation? This topic lasted a couple hours, ideas poured out of everyone’s heads. Details that I would have overlook, came out in streams of signing conversations. Very creative ideas were discussed in this brainstorming session. There were no limits, no one said, can we do this, it was just assumed that we could. No one asked how can this possibly be done, it was assumed we would. No one made one negative comment, it was all positive. It was one of the greatest outpouring of ideas that I have ever heard. I wish it had been video taped for its historical value.

I sat awed inspired by all this. I was so awe inspired by this because as a hearing person, I know I have the possibility of being great or doing something great, IF I take the right steps and do the right thing or I’m in the right place at the right time. This is a given for me and I believe for most hearing people this is how we feel. Most of the time we may not be "great" but it’s because of our own doing and not because the opportunity is not there.

During this brainstorming session, I saw the barriers lifted and real concrete ideas being discussed, without limitations of any kind. I met extremely well educated deaf, with good jobs, but still without complete and full opportunities, until now with a town they can call their own! They say "sky’s the limit", I sensed no limits, not even the sky.

The Team:

The overall experience of the "Team" was great, with a Charrette the town planning is crammed into one week. (Another way of planning a town is monthly meetings that take place over a long period of time.) The vision of the town has been Marvin’s since he was a little boy (so we were told by his aunt and uncle). The "Team" helped make Marvin’s vision a reality with buildings, streets, homes, businesses, parks etc that you can touch and see on paper. The "Team" learned from each other, along with all of the rest of us. They took our ideas and put them on paper and in logical and build able sense. They created an architecture and sight line to show off Laurent from the highway. They created it as a warm and inviting place that would peak the interest of travelers, tourists and still not compromise our homes and businesses. The "Team" listened to the local emergency management department, along with signing architects, signing fireman and used that information to build a town that will actually work for deaf people and the signing community. Heights of buildings, shadow lines, visible land markers to give directions to people in the town, buffer tree lines to protect from the winds, population density, ecological care and concern for the land, emergency exiting plan, widths of streets, widths and depths of lots, all these and many, many more were taken into consideration.

I met some really great people that week. I am sure our paths will cross again, either at one of the parks or at one of the many gathering areas to be built in Laurent. Maybe my lawyer, doctor, mayor, accountant, therapist, hair stylist, carpenter, plumber, financial advisor, maintenance man, and pharmacist will all be my friends and neighbors, along with being the businesses and services that I need in Laurent.

I believe we were all moved and inspired by something special that happened during this week. And my hope is that in sharing this small window with everyone, you too, will be inspired. Check out the web site, make a visit to South Dakota and support this wonderful endeavor that Marvin has lead us to. Our kids and grandkids for many generations will hear this story as they grow up in Laurent, South Dakota.

As one of the stakeholders said "I feel like a pioneer without my wagon, I flew here".


The town of Laurent will need all the utilities, of course. One interesting discussion was about the water. TM Water Co-op (?) is the place where you can purchase water, for your city or town. They are a not-for-profit company that sells water to the cities that request their services.

During many conversations and meetings it was determined that Laurent could use a one million gallon tank. Salem is in dire need of water also, so the Laurent water tank may be a benefit to Salem also.

This project that will take a minimum of 18 months. During this time, the tank has to be ordered from a place that makes water tanks (you can’t go to Home Depot and pick one off the shelf). The existing pipe line is 4" and needs to be replaced with 8" (?) pipe. The water supply comes from Dalton (?). After the tank is ordered and received it has to be erected. Then that will probably take you to the fall or cold weather. It must be painted before it can be filled with water. So in the spring during warm weather it will be painted. After the paint dries it will be filled with water. However the level of water will be determined by the usage needed at that time.

Another thing about the usage. This has to be regulated and monitored very closely. The water needs to maintain a certain level in the tank during the cold months so it does not freeze up. The water cannot just sit in the tank and wait for everyone to turn on their faucets. The water has to be used within a limited period of time and constantly refilled, always maintaining a predetermined level, depending on usage and weather related factors (water height level/gallons).

I gained a lot of insight about the water supply system. I have a new found respect for the water company and their willingness to explain how this all works to some "city folk". Being a "city girl", I just turned on the water and out it came, with not much thought as to the process.

Meeting with local neighbors:

I was not able to attend the entire meeting due to an overlapping of a stakeholder’s meeting. I can only relate what I heard near the end of the meeting.

When I joined in, much of the conversation was about the new Laurent residents and whether we would approve of the nearby farmland and all that goes with it. Such as, flies, cow pie, odors from the nearby farms, including a hog farm.

The local residents had conversations going between each other, some supporting Laurent, others not sure, while a few were very vocal about their feelings. The Team, said this is "great", this is exactly why we are here, we want to know all your likes, dislikes, advantages and disadvantages. This is part of the charrette process.

One of the discussions centered around the fact that future Laurent residents would move to Laurent, which is mostly farm land and decide they didn’t like the smells or objected to farm life and the new residents might want to sue the farmer’s.

As I listened to these conversations, I began to empathize with the local farmers and understand their view better, along with understanding their fear of the unknown. Most have lived there for many years, sometimes hundreds of years.

They didn’t know much about all of us. We, on the other hand, knew or will know everything about the surrounding area, the small towns, and the farmland. Marvin and M.E. have been very honest in their descriptions of the area and will continue to tell us more as they too learn more.

I did say at the meeting, and I felt as though I was representing the stakeholders, "fortunately for us, we will know everything about this area, good, bad or otherwise, before we make a CHOICE to move here. If I make a choice to move here, I am not going to sue my neighbors".

I came out of that meeting with a much better understanding of why they had concerns about us as new residents. They just have not had the opportunity to know who we are and why in the world we would want to move to their community. Soon they will know us through our emails, our visits and our stories carried across the country as we arrive, first one by one then more will follow. I bet the local residents will become a large part of our extended family as time goes on.


One group of ladies that I was talking with asked me about where I lived and my neighbors etc. I said I lived in a small condo in the suburbs of DC and had lived there 13 years. There were 9 units in my building and I only could recognize probably 5 of my neighbors. I did not know any of my neighbors other than to say "hi" as we passed on the way in or out.

Their reply was "I couldn’t imagine that"!

M.E. and I had very little time to see the area. However we did manage to get some great veggie pizza at a Salem gas station/7-11 type store on Saturday after the charrette was over and we were back in Salem and had unpacked. There were a few tables to sit and eat at, so we chatted as we ate our pizza. I had noticed a group of (6-7) local residents, probably farmers, I assumed They were having Saturday afternoon coffee.

As M.E. and I were leaving one of the gentlemen must have recognized M.E. and asked "How was the meeting last night?" (Meaning the final night of the charrette and unveiling of Laurent). As M.E. answered (never a short answer!), we ended up sitting and chatting about Laurent and all that had taken place the past week. We sat with the local residents, probably another hour. They were very interested in what was taking place in their community.

Here is another thing I don’t believe that I have ever done, or at least not in many years. Our lives, especially on the east coast, seem to be in a rush and no time to make new acquaintances.

After returning home and in telling a friend about my experience with being stranded in Minneapolis and making a new friend at the airport (Sharon) and then accepting a ride with she and her husband to Sioux Falls. My local friend was astounded that I would ride over 4 hours with complete strangers. After thinking about it, I probably would not have done that same thing where I live now. Interesting, it never struck me at the time as a risk.

The end for now, or until I think of more stories

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