Our Stories: Alice Peck Soll
Alice Peck Soll has always been a force to be reckoned with. At 94 years old, she is vibrant, strong, and enjoys food shopping and cooking healthy meals whenever she can. It makes sense, given that her affinity for being active has always been one of her defining traits. Never holding back when the going gets tough, Alice’s life is clearly marked by a willingness to fight for what is right, to give back to her community, and to pave the road for herself and others when no one else would.
Alice was born May 30, 1928, the first of three hearing children born into a large extended family in New York City. Just prior to her second birthday, she contracted meningitis and became profoundly deaf—meaning nothing could be done to regain her hearing. The loss of her hearing at such a young age impacted her balance enough that she had to re-learn how to walk, although you would never know it by how physically active she became. Her greatest joy was spending weekends and summers at their ‘summer’ home in Pomona, New York doing anything and everything outdoors. Alice was given the same opportunities as her hearing siblings. She was fearless and extremely athletic, doing a huge variety of activities from horseback riding and gardening to tennis and swimming. She learned a great many things from her mother, including how to cook healthy meals. Her mom, who played piano beautifully, insisted she take piano lessons so she could learn rhythm, even if she couldn’t hear the music.
Growing up, Alice attended two different schools for the deaf in New York City. Alice had to learn how to speak, since she couldn’t hear spoken words as hearing children do. She also learned to read lips, and eventually learned sign language in her 20s. She graduated in 1949 and applied to five colleges, but despite her impressive A+ average, none would accept her because of her deafness. Unfortunately, at that time, colleges weren’t prepared for deaf students. Higher learning was one of many institutional blockades for persons with disabilities.
Soon after, Alice met her husband, who was also deaf. They bought a home in River Edge, New Jersey and raised their two terrific hearing daughters there. An incredibly social person, she continued her love of sports and the outdoors with her family and friends; snow skiing, water skiing, swimming, tennis, and more. In tennis, she played women’s doubles almost daily in River Edge during the week, and played on the town’s league team. Because Alice had such a strong serve and groundstroke game, she was in high demand for mixed doubles on weekends. At age 37, she tried out for and became a member of the United States tennis team and played in the 1965 International Games for the Deaf—also known to the International Olympic Committee as the Deaflympics—held in Washington, D.C. Alice and her doubles partner won a bronze medal, and amazingly Alice was the oldest member of the tennis team!
Always supportive of her daughters, she was the Associate Scout Leader for their Brownie and Girl Scout troops in River Edge for over six years. She also organized trips with family and friends to New York City to see Broadway shows and to visit museums, and encouraged her daughters not only in sports but also to learn piano as she once had. She told them if she could do it, they could too.
A constant through-line in Alice’s life is her dedication to helping others who are deaf. She was very active at Temple Beth Or of the Deaf in New York City, serving on its Board for 35 years. For many of those years, in addition to her Board work, she organized extremely successful fundraising events, including a fashion show luncheon at The Pierre Hotel. She also volunteered as an interpreter for the Deaf Unit at Rockland State Hospital in Orangeburg, New York and at Fountain House in New York City.
In her late 40s, Alice served on the Legislative Committee of the New Jersey Association of the Deaf and spent a great deal of time in Trenton advocating tirelessly to help expand the services of the New Jersey Division of the Deaf and Hard of Hearing. She worked hard to get legislative bills passed to mandate testing for deafness in babies, and to get services for deaf adults over 21 years of age who were not getting the services they needed due to their disability.
Supporting their large group of deaf friends, she and her husband also hosted fun ‘movie nights’ at their home. Congress enacted a law in 1958 which created the Captioned Films for the Deaf program, a free loan service of subtitled motion pictures. Similar to borrowing from a library, Alice would request movies which were sent to her home. Within a few years, the deaf and ‘hearing impaired’ were finally able to have a far better understanding of popular movies!
Alice lived in her beloved home in River Edge for 44 years then for 18 years in Hackensack. Upon learning about Westwood House, she left Hackensack for an apartment in Westwood until an apartment became available at Westwood House almost 3 years ago. Although she is still extremely independent, she likes to have some extra hands to help her around the apartment, except for cooking, which she loves and does on her own. She enrolled in our program, Portable Assisted Living Services (PALS), to have help with light housekeeping, laundry, weekly blood pressure monitoring, and some proactive care assistance. Her nurse, Linda, keeps in regular contact with her family, who feel much more comfortable knowing that PALS is close to help quickly whenever she needs it. Even though Alice is capable of handling her life all on her own, she knows she doesn’t have to, and PALS helps her continue to be her best, most active self!