Linda S. Fifer is a retired speech pathologist who worked in the field for more than 40 years. First hired by the Montana Easter Seals Society in Great Falls in 1975, she later worked at Hellgate High School in Missoula, Montana, beginning in 1980 and was the director of the Speech/Language Department at Community Medical Center in Missoula beginning in 1982. A dedicated professional, she was initially inspired to pursue her field while in college. Taking a psychology course, Ms. Fifer was inspired by Koko the gorilla. Hanabiko, or “Koko” for short, was a female western lowland gorilla who was born at the San Francisco Zoo and was known for having learned dozens of hand signs from a modified version of American Sign Language.
Initially, Ms. Fifer was going to go into theater; her first love was the performing arts, singing and acting, but she soon found that her theater classes were no longer as fulfilling as she had imaged. Thus, she became involved in speech-language pathology because she woke up from a dream in the summer of 1971, in which she was in a sound booth and a deaf child was getting a hearing test. The words in her mind kept ringing “speech and hearing.” She took two classes in her sophomore year of college as electives and she was hooked. Over the years, working with people to help them progress and develop strategies to deal with obstacles has brought Ms. Fifer immense joy.
One highlight that stood out the most during Ms. Fifer’s career was a therapy internship, where she worked with a young deaf girl who was in the sixth grade. On the girl’s birthday, she used a birthday cake to practice language with her and then surprised her by having the whole class sing “Happy Birthday” to her in sign language. Another career highlight was when Ms. Fifer bumped into a girl she had worked with 15 years prior to help her with her lisp. They met by chance and the girl told her that she had become a speech pathologist because of her experience with her.
During her career, Ms. Fifer founded and directed PawsAbilities dog hearing program in Missoula between 1990 and 1992. She also utilized her creative expertise and became an interior designer while working full-time in speech therapy. She established AppleHearth Interiors in Missoula as president in 1993, a position she still holds today. Ms. Fifer is a longstanding member of the American Speech-Language-Hearing Association. She is a past president of the Missoula chapter of the Pilot Club and formerly sat on the board of directors of the Missoula chapter of the American Cancer Society.
As a VISTA volunteer, Ms. Fifer’s project was to develop the Western Montana Volunteer Center, a volunteer clearinghouse for the Missoula area. She tried to establish ways in which to avoid poverty. Receiving a stipend to help fund her efforts, she mostly relied on her volunteer work to make a difference. Ms. Fifer has also been active in the arts, writing and serving as a lyricist for the musical play “Eaton Street.”
The recipient of a U.S. Department of Education grant between 1990 and 1993, Ms. Fifer also received a Federal Grant in the amount of $300,000 to fund PawsAbilities. In honor of her work, she has been included in 25th and 26th editions of Who’s Who in the West. Completing a Bachelor of Arts and Master of Science at Kent State University in 1974 and 1975, respectively, Ms. Fifer received her Certificate of Clinical Competence from the American Speech/Language/Hearing Association. She later became certified by the Sheffield School of Interior Design, now known as the New York Institute of Art and Design, in 1993.