June 16 2010 12:00 AM

Mental health champion Richard Prangley to get award from MSU, another platform for his advocacy


Sitting in the living room of his home on Foster Avenue on Lansing’s east side, surrounded by a remarkable collection of ducks made of various materials, Richard Prangley is happy to tell his life story.

Some of his story is painful, some of it uplifting, but his retelling of it is entirely purposeful: to spread the word that we need to change the way we treat people with mental disabilities.

In 1955 at age 6, Prangley was wrongly placed in an institution in Coldwater. He was abused in a system that treated the developmentally disabled as if they did not deserve a normal upbringing. Prangley did not receive any semblance of an education. But when he emerged at age 21, he soldiered on, got a job, became a taxpayer, homeowner and a huge political influence in Michigan on mental health issues.

Prangley’s story has been well chronicled and has reached thousands. Lansing State Journal columnist John Schneider wrote a book about Prangely, and CNN and national network news program have aired stories about him.

This Saturday, Prangley will reach a new audience as he accepts an award from the “Outstanding Special Needs Advocacy Award” from the Eric “RicStar” Winter Music Therapy Camp, held at the Michigan State University Community Music School.

Prangley said he would use the award as a platform to continue his advocacy.

“I want to get the message out that people need to break through the stigma of people with learning disabilities,” he said. “I’ve got the opportunity with this award to shed the light for others.”

Judy Winter began the camp in honor of her son, Eric. Eric Winter had cerebral palsy, though he partook in music therapy classes at the Community Music School. When Eric Winter died in 2003 at age 12, he was in the midst of composing music. The camp provides a chance for persons with special needs and their siblings to create music.

For 30 years up until his retirement in January, Prangley had been an employee at the state Department of Community Health, a job that was created for him by former Gov. William Milliken. Prangley has known all of Michigan’s governor’s since Milliken, and once met with President Ronald Reagan.

Most recently, he has been trying to catch President Barack Obama’s ear. He wants national recognition for Michigan’s model of placing developmentally disabled persons in a community setting, where they can contribute to society. He wrote the president a letter in March asking for recognition of the Community Health Department on its 150th anniversary. He has yet to hear back.

“Hopefully, this will open up some door,” he said of the RicStar award.