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Reverend Dr. Dosia Carlson. 1930-2021

“I don’t ponder what my life would have been like without a disability because it is a
natural part of me. We are of value just because we are, we have our being, and we
can respond to God’s love and hope.” –Dosia Carlson

Reverend Doctor Dosia Carlson was born January 11, 1930 in Huron, South Dakota to
Alexander and Elizabeth Carlson. The Covid 19 virus ended her life January 13, 2021 in
Phoenix. Her father pastored Congregational churches in the mid-West, served as Dosia’s
pastor-mentor and inspired her to want to become ordained and serve others as he did
throughout his life.
Dosia attended Whittier Elementary school in Toledo. Her 4th
-grade math teacher, Helen
Pierson Riley, was in charge of the Christmas program, and she soon discovered Dosia’s
aptitude for music and poetry. Mrs. Riley helped Dosia write her first religious composition,
which she taught to the school children at Whittier, and she conducted it for the school’s
Christmas program. This first musical success launched Dosia’s lifetime career of
composing church hymns, songs, religious poetry, music for children and adults, and
writing religious literature that brought her worldwide recognition. Christian church
summer camps introduced Dosia to the inspirational writings and oral histories of
missionaries, and she saw herself becoming a missionary in China. But that dream never
came true.
Spinal paralytic poliomyelitis (polio), struck 13-year-old Dosia the day before she was to
begin
her freshman year at DeVilbiss High School in Toledo. This devastating disease left her with
the
the biggest challenge she learned to overcome: being confined to a wheelchair for most of
her life.
Dosia spent a year at the Toledo Society for Crippled Children Home in Ohio, barely able to
speak or swallow. Damaged nerves at the base of her brain and along her legs made it
difficult
for her to move any body part from the neck down. Although she was placed in an iron lung,
that didn’t stop her love of learning.
She was a part- time high school student in her sophomore year, and her parents arranged
for her to be tutored at home, which made her more determined to realize that polio wasn’t
going to stop her from going to school. In her Junior year, Dosia was sent to a polio center in
Warm Springs, Georgia, where she underwent grueling and daily physical therapy. She was
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in a body cast from chest to toes in hopes of straightening her back. Medical aides had to
hold her schoolbooks while she read from them, and she did well in her education. Physical
challenges kept Dosia away from high school for some of the time, but she participated in
some music activities, and she began to produce religious compositions, and hymns that
served as settings as tools to teach others with physical disabilities. With the aid of crutches
and special walkers, Dosia was able to stand while delivering speeches or lectures and walk
for short periods of time. She never complained of the limitations she surely endured.
After graduation from DeVilbiss High School, Dosia received a scholarship to DePauw
University
in Greencastle, Indiana but suffered a bad fall shortly after arriving that required
hospitalization
and personal care. Because her family wanted her to be closer to home, she enrolled in
classes
at nearby Oberlin College (1949-52). She pursued a Bachelor of Arts in Education degree at
the
University of Toledo and graduated in 1954.
While at the University of Toledo, Dosia realized that she could use her own physical
disabilities
in a classroom setting as tools to teach others with similar concerns. She was convinced
that this was where she could best use her skills and experiences as was needed to help
others like her. She was offered and accepted the dual responsibilities in Toledo as the
director of a new high school program linked to the university called the Charles Feilbac
School for Orthopedically Handicapped. Dosia taught all levels and all subjects in one room
and her students excelled. In 1957, her faith and love of theology brought her to Hartford
Seminary in Connecticut, where she earned her Master of Arts degree in 1960. At that point
her teaching success, combined with her religious work within the
University of Toledo became well known because she was teaching students like herself and
they, too, graduated with degrees that provided them with job opportunities. Dosia’s
Master’s
degree took her to Defiance College in Ohio, where she became an Associate Professor in
the
Religion Department from 1960 to 1974.
But Dosia became very ill in that grueling demanding year of 1961. She was admitted three
times to the University of Pittsburgh Hospital’s ICU. Polio reared its head again. It should be
noted here that while she was hospitalized in those months of 1961, Dosia kept mental
notes about her polio treatments, the physical challenges she endured, her personal
thoughts and feelings of what it was like being so infirmed, a polio patient. In her 1968
publication, The Unbroken Vigil: Reflections on Intensive Care, Dosia described her
care-taking and personal moments of despair and pain. But at the same time, she wrote
about something new -- about the caretaking of patients like her who suffered from polio.
Little had been written about this in the medical literature available at the time. As a result,
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The Unbroken Vigil: Reflections on Intensive Care, became required reading in some
nationally known medical schools and classes and in religious seminaries.
Dosia’s strength and determination to improve and regain her wits about her made her
more determined to continue her education. She earned a Doctor of Philosophy degree at
the University of Pittsburgh in 1967. Her interests in helping people with disabilities led
her to the new and growing field of gerontology and she designed a sabbatical program to
learn how churches met the needs of the aging population.
A new United Church of Christ church had opened in Phoenix, Arizona. Dosia met Dr. Culver
“Bill” Nelson, the senior pastor of the Church of the Beatitudes and Dr. Everett Luther,
administrator of the Beatitudes Campus of Care. They encouraged her to spend her
sabbatical she did in 1972 and begin to develop gerontology programs and facilities, write
sermons and hymns and participate in the programs they felt the church could provide in
this new and growing field. In 1974, Dosia moved to Phoenix where she coordinated and
oversaw resident services at the Beatitudes Campus that started in 1964. She was an
immediate success. She also served as Associate Minister at the Church of the Beatitudes. In
January, 1979, nineteen years after her Hartford Seminary graduation, Reverend Dr. Dosia
Carlson went forth to serve as an ordained minister.
Dosia’s empathy for senior citizens heightened as she worked with them, especially women,
who she called “the invisible elderly.” They needed help with rides to medical appointments
or grocery shopping or personal care. To realize her vision of a community where every
person ages with compassion, dignity and hope, she founded the non-profit Center for
Developing Older Adult Resources (Center DOAR) in 1981 and served as its Executive
Director from 1981-1995.
This volunteer-based organization helped the homebound elderly stay in their homes
longer through free in-home services. In 2009, the name was changed to Duet: Partner In
Health & Aging. Dosia spent her final years residing at the Beatitudes Campus where she
had served, volunteering as director for the Beatitones, a choral group of residents, and she
developed the Center for Lifelong Learners on the campus.
While contemplating her work with Duet over a 40-year period, Dosia said, “ I think the
legacy of Duet includes enriched living for thousands of older persons, hope for caregivers,
guidance for grand families, and healthier congregations.” Isolation and despair is not the
final chapter for so many older adults. Dosia saw to that. Those who knew Dosia Carlson
well would agree that she was humble, resilient, and had a beautiful spirit. It’s no surprise
the Greek meaning of her name, Dosia, is “God’s gift