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Johnstown poet with cerebral palsy remembered

Tribune-Democrat - 3/16/2021

Mar. 16—As an early survivor of cerebral palsy, Arlyn Iris Edelstein's entire life was spent wheelchair-reliant and with disabilities that made it difficult to speak.

But the Johnstown woman never let any of that stop her from sharing her voice through poetry and writing — or her relentless determination to break the boundaries that the world set for her, Edelstein's brother, Michael, said.

"From her earliest days, my sister had a positive disposition — and rather being focused on what she could not do, she focused on what she could," he said.

Edelstein found a way to keep doing that throughout her life before passing away Saturday at the age of 74.

An early student of the special needs-focused Matheny School in New Jersey, education would become a big part of her life in the years that followed, accomplishing the rare feat of graduating with a high school diploma and later, earning a degree from Edinboro University at a time when those opportunities were just starting to become possible for people with cerebral palsy.

Michael Edelstein has no doubt the steadfast support and encouragement she received from their parents, Nathan and Evelyn, played a pivotal role.

"My father figured out how to teach her to type," he said, noting that he modified an IBM keyboard and taught her how to use a stylus with a handle grip to strike the keys.

Edelstein would go on to write a school book on etiquette for an early publisher for special education faculty — years before it became a mainstreamed teaching field in school-age education, he said.

After graduating with a degree in literature from Edinboro in the mid-1970s, she turned to poetry, serving as a local poetry society member, writing one complete book of poetry and occasionally getting published in The Tribune-Democrat.

"Poetry was a wonderful way for her to express herself," said Julie Horowitz, of Johnstown, a longtime friend. "It was an outlet for her."

Horowitz said she doesn't believe her friend was trying to "prove anything" to anyone else — rather, she embraced new challenges as something to strive for as personal goals.

"She always had a goal. And she always tried to exceed her potential — something she was successful at many times," Horowitz said.

Edelstein was also devoted to her Jewish faith and an active member of the Beth Sholom Congregation, writing its regular bulletin for many years, her brother said.

In recent years, staff with Allegheny Unlimited Care Providers' Ashdale Apartments also became like a second family — and it was one of many organizations she supported.

"She was very concerned about the world around her," Horowitz said. "She donated to Doctors without Borders, Greenpeace and many organizations dedicated to health concerns because she felt it was important to make a difference."

Edelstein will be laid to rest at Grandview Cemetery on Wednesday.

The John Henderson Company Funeral Home is handling her arrangements.

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