Robert Dewaele thankful for correct diagnosis at Munroe-Meyer Institute

Robert Dewaele is an agricultural crop insurance claims adjuster and accomplished sculptor who grew up on a farm near Crescent, Iowa.
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Robert Dewaele is an agricultural crop insurance claims adjuster and accomplished sculptor who grew up on a farm near Crescent, Iowa. His interest in sculpting began in high school, and he continued his studies at Iowa Western Community College and Bellevue University.

Robert began publicly exhibiting his work in 1984 and currently has exhibitions at the Artists’ Cooperative Gallery in Omaha and the Burkholder Project in Lincoln. His work is part of numerous private collections as well. He had a working studio at the Hot Shops Art Center in Omaha for 13 years, until the passing of his wife, Diana.

After enduring a mental health misdiagnosis of bipolar disorder for more than 12 years from several mental health practitioners, Robert was fortunate to have met a therapist working for the Munroe-Meyer Institute at the University of Nebraska Medical Center. This was the first person who correctly diagnosed Robert with Asperger’s syndrome, an autism spectrum disorder. Receiving the correct diagnosis was transformative for him.

Being acutely aware of the need for accurate diagnosis and treatments for autism spectrum disorders, Robert has established a planned gift — the Robert S. Dewaele MMI Preparation for Resilience and Achievement Fund — with the idea of helping others on the autism spectrum achieve their full potential.

The following Q&A was conducted with Robert this spring.

What was the first job you ever had?    

I weeded soybeans for my neighbor at about age 12.

What is the best advice anyone ever gave you? 

While not direct advice, one of my first supervisors noted that the best thing that ever happened to me was that my father had taught me how to work. The supervisor went on to say that he could train anyone how to do a job, but he couldn’t instill a work ethic, which comes from within.

Who is someone from history you would want to invite to a dinner party, and why? 

I’d invite former President Franklin Delano Roosevelt. In spite of suffering from polio and its effects, he was able to take the reins of power during one of our most tumultuous periods and succeed in solving problems associated with the Great Depression and World War II. I have great admiration for this man because he was able to inspire and motivate our citizens in ways that are sorely missing today.

What is the first question you would ask that guest from history?

How did you keep your focus in the midst of seemingly insurmountable problems?

What is the one song you would be sure to play to set the mood at the dinner party? 

“Learning to Fly” by Tom Petty.

What is the question that you like to be asked the most? 

It’s when people inquire about the reason and inspiration for my artwork.

Who has influenced your life for the good, and what have you done to help others lately?   

My therapist was able to correctly diagnose my Asperger’s/autism spectrum condition when numerous other mental health medical professionals had failed to do so. If this condition hadn’t been correctly diagnosed, the negative effects on my life would probably have been even more severe. I’ll be volunteering my artistic abilities with the Trailblazer Program (at UNMC’s Munroe-Meyer Institute) by teaching beginning sculpture, and I’ve helped an individual financially who lost his job due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

Why do you plan to leave a gift to the University of Nebraska in your estate? 

I wanted to make a direct contribution to the people who find themselves in a similar and possibly more difficult situation than myself. I have an acute recognition of the challenges that these people will face navigating life, so it’s my hope that the contribution will ease their way through life.

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