Milne's memories shared with new book Bruce Milne signs a copy of Angels, Cripples, & Culprits for former student Karoline Gertonson. by M. Jill Sundstrom When Bruce Milne is alone, he reflects on the world around him, writing free verse poems to match the moment.
�They aren�t usually things I write to share with people,� said the University of South Dakota professor of education. But Milne�s reflections of his earlier life, as a patient in the crippled children�s ward at St. Vincent�s Hospital in Billings, MT, are a different story?one that is being shared as a new book, Angels, Cripples, & Culprits.
�I�ve been writing this book for a long time,� said Milne, who as a youth, broke his hip playing sandlot football. The injury, compounded by blood poisoning caused by a sore on his right heel, resulted in osteomyelitis, an infection of the bone, which spread throughout his body.
The effects of the disease were painful and crippling. As a result, Milne spent about two years at St. Vincent�s, together with many other youngsters who suffered from polio and other maladies that required constant treatment and multiple operations. Their stories ? both happy and sad ? are the basis of Angels, Cripples, & Culprits.
�I wrote this to express what I learned and felt at the deepest level during that time,� Milne said. �I wanted to look back to find some answers as to why I�ve become what I am today.�
Milne has been in the education field for 50 years ? 20 years as a teacher and administrator in Montana and 30 years teaching graduate and undergraduate education at USD. He also serves as co-director of the South Dakota Center for Education of the Gifted.
Angels, Cripples, & Culprits relates to many people, but two of them had a strong influence on Milne�s life.
�My mother was a very powerful influence on me,� he said. �She never let me compromise. There was a time that I was not supposed to get well or walk, or even live, but she refused to let me give up. It became a way of life for me. Somehow you have to get up, face the day, knowing somehow you�re going to make it.�
Milne dedicated his book to Sister Agnes Steiner, who served as the head of pediatrics at St. Vincent�s Hospital during the infantile paralysis or poliomyelitis epidemic in Montana and Wyoming in the late 1930s and early 1940s.
�In the absence of my mother, she�d sit by my bedside, hold my hand and pray,� Milne said. �I have often wondered why she devoted so much time and energy to me and questioned ?have I been worth it?� �
As he works with gifted youth today, together with Dr. Carole Kasen directing the South Dakota Governor�s Camp for the Gifted and South Dakota Ambassadors of Excellence, Milne reflects on the children he knew at St. Vincent�s.
�Some of those who were in the hospital were so bright,� he said. �I sometimes think if we�d have had the modern drugs and treatments available back then, they could have lived.�
Those who did may serve as an inspiration for another book.
�I know of two people who were ?cured�, but are now facing a second onset of polio ? post polio syndrome,� he said. �The word ?cured� doesn�t seem to hold with that disease. Once is Enough would be the title of that book, if it is ever written.�
But Milne would rather not concentrate on what he calls �morbid� thoughts.
�We did not have the fortune to be called handicapped back then,� he said. �We were crippled kids in a crippled children�s ward. But we did have fun.�
Wheelchair races, field trips, playing pranks on the nurses, ghost stories, summer camp in the mountains near Red Lodge, MT ? those were the fun times, Milne said, many of which are recounted in Angels, Cripples, & Culprits.
But beyond the book, Milne looks at his life with two basic philosophies.
�One is the unconditional acceptance of all people,� he said. �And the other is to make every day of your life count for something.
�I�m inspired by a lot of things. I�m writing all the time,� Milne continued. �I also paint and sculpt. But those are all hobbies, over and above my teaching. I see myself as an educator and I take pride in that. I love to teach and whether I�m a good teacher or not, that�s up to someone else to decide. For me, it�s the satisfaction of watching these young people come with their hopes and dreams, then encourage them not to sit on their talent and let it dry up.�