Blind Fannie May clerk trading chocolate for teaching

Blind Fannie May clerk trading chocolate for teaching

CHAMPAIGN — Brad Blair, the blind Fannie May candy store clerk in Champaign who uses braille labels to tell dozens of different chocolates apart, is leaving next month to pursue his dream career as a teacher.

Blair said his last day at the store will be Christmas Eve. In January, he and his wife will be heading north so he can begin work on a second master's degree at Northern Illinois University to become a teacher of visually impaired children.

The 35-year-old Blair has been working part time at the Fannie May shop at 402 S. Neil St. since 2015. He and store Manager Lindsey Walden labeled the chocolate trays behind the counter in braille so he could fill individual customer orders.

But the labels are just to be on the safe side, Blair said. While he's been blind since birth, "my memory is very good."

Walden said many customers have come into the store to meet Blair, and she knows of a couple of Fannie May store managers in communities near DeKalb who'd like to hire him.

Transportation would be an issue, though. There isn't a Fannie May store in DeKalb, and Blair gets to work locally on a Champaign-Urbana Mass Transit District bus.

Before he leaves next month, Blair said, he's due for a pay raise, and a few new flavors of chocolates will be added behind the counter — something he's glad he won't miss.

But he's always been a teacher at heart, he said.

Blair already has undergraduate and master's degrees in German and originally came here to work on his doctorate at the University of Illinois with plans to teach German at the college level before learning the competition for teaching jobs in that field is fierce.

Blair later decided to go back to school to become qualified to teach blind children, but he wasn't able to make that work until the upcoming spring semester at NIU, he said.

In all, he said, he'll likely be in school for two-and-a-half years before he goes on to his first teaching job.

"I'm hoping that my blindness will give me something of an extra edge with some of my blind students," he said.

What he'll miss most about his current job is all the people, Blair said.

In his experience, buyers of chocolates come from all walks of life.

"Name a profession, and I've probably met somebody who's done it," he said.

He remains a fan of chocolates — and not only those from Fannie May.

"There's nothing wrong with M&M's," he said.

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