Donald James Winge was born May 29, 1933 in Fargo, North Dakota. He spent his early childhood in Blanchard, North Dakota. His parents moved to Grand Forks in December 1940. Winge attended Belmont and Wilder public schools and 7th and 8th grades in Emerado, North Dakota. He graduated from Grand Forks Central High School May 29, 1951 and enrolled at the University of North Dakota that fall, majoring in Mechanical Engineering.
Muscular Dystrophy was diagnosed during the summer of 1949 while Winge was employed at the Grand Forks Municipal Airport, servicing crop spraying planes as well as private planes. He was told by doctors at the University of Minnesota hospital that he had six months and that he would be either dead or in a wheelchair. He proved them wrong.
In September of 1955, he was employed by the U.S. Department of the Interior, Bureau of Reclamation at Minot as an engineering draftsman concerned with the Garrison Diversion. In January of 1957, he transferred to the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers at St. Louis, Missouri as an engineering draftsman concerned with the watershed of various area rivers.
Winge returned to Grand Forks in 1958 to have corrective orthopedic surgery on both feet. He applied for and was accepted as an engineering draftsman and photographer at the U.S. Department of the Interior, Bureau of Mines in Grand Forks. Winge received a Civil Service Disability retirement in July, 1973.
During his employment at The Bureau of Mines, Winge pursued his education at the University of North Dakota, changing his major to Industrial Technology. By going to night school, switching to part-time employment, using vacation time and correspondence study, he completed his course of study and graduated from UND, College of Human Resources and Development, Department of Industrial Technology with a Bachelor of Science degree in 1982. He applied and received acceptance into Graduate School at UND where he focused on the design, development and fabrication of devices to aid the elderly and handicapped.
Winge designed numerous items to aid him in performing his job, as well as other aids in daily living. Winge's major innovation was a Rocking Chair Platform for Wheelchairs for which he received U.S. Patent #4,768,497. The platform was the focus of his Master's study. It accepted any standard wheelchair and provided back and forth linear motion with stimulation. After experimenting with several rocking speeds, the platform was mechanically operated at 15 cycles per minute. This rate provided a back and forth, as well as, an up and down motion which not only reduced a person's heart rate but also helped blood circulation and respiration. Winge developed three working prototypes to produce a safe rocking chair.
In the developmental stages, all efforts were directed towards Winge's prime concern, the rocking motion. A ripple effect was developed accidentally by the mechanical vibration set up by the gear reduction drive motor. These vibrations were constant, stimulating the whole body. He also discovered that hard rubber tires transmitted more vibrations to the patient than pneumatic tires. By stimulating the lower extremities, the mechanical vibrations relaxed the body and helped the patient to sleep. Shown at the National Home Health Care Symposium in Atlanta, the New Frontier Rocker was marketed by Mar-Tec, Inc. of Omaha, Nebraska.
Winge served on the Governor's and Grand Forks Mayor's Committee on the Employment of the Handicapped. "Equal access" was Winge's major concern including the accessibility of all parts of Grand Forks to all of its disabled citizens. He was responsible for the extension of sidewalk curb cuts used in the downtown area into residential areas. He constantly monitored businesses and encouraged remodeling projects that met the needs of the disabled. To assist in identification of barriers to the handicapped, Winge developed an accessibility survey which addressed criteria pertinent to 36 different entities. Results were compiled from over 1,000 surveyed businesses and made available to both the disabled and the business community.
Along with other disabled members of the Grand Forks community, Winge was responsible for the inception of the Dial - A - Ride (Paratransit) in 1981. After 13 years of correspondence with the US Postal Service, he was responsible for the installation of a ramp at the local Post Office.
An outspoken representative for the disabled, Winge never hesitated to point out potential hazards to those responsible. If appropriate corrective measures were not implemented, he was not hesitant to seek the attention of city, county, state or federal officials. Further inaction often resulted in his contacting the local media.
Winge was active in community affairs. He served as Boy Scout Troop 18 Committee Chairman and assisted the Scoutmaster whenever possible. He received an award from Troop 18 for his efforts as well as the Silver Beaver award from the Boy Scouts of America. He taught fifth grade Sunday school at the First Presbyterian Church for six years, and served as a Deacon of the Church.
Winge also owned Don's Cameras until 1988. To assist his photography interests, Winge devised a camera tripod for his three-wheeled electric scooter which allowed him to mount two cameras to photograph architectural barriers in the community which confront the disabled. He was nominated as the local Outstanding Handicapped Person of the Year in 1962, 1973, and 1980, as well as the local Outstanding Handicapped Federal Employee of the year in 1956, 1959, 1967, and 1970. He also helped with the Muscular Dystrophy Telethon and numerous other community projects. Donald Winge died October 2, 1993.
The Donald J. Winge Papers are arranged into five series as follows:
Series 1: Biographical Information and Personal Records
Series 2: Invention - Rocking Chair Platform
Series 3: Governor's Council on Human Resources
Series 4: Mayor's Committee on Employment of the Handicapped
Series 5: Award Certificates, Plaques, and Photographs