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Learning to be loved

After being bounced around foster homes since shortly after birth, Donald Vitkus, 73, of Leeds, was left at the Belchertown State School, an institution for the mentally disabled, at age 6. Labeled a “moron” he lived there until he was released at 17.

Vitkus served in the Army, got married, had children, earned a college degree and held jobs in manufacturing and human services. But growing up in what came to be recognized as a human warehouse, and without a family, left deep scars. His road since has been hard. Northampton author Ed Orzechowski, who has his own personal connections to Belchertown State School, tells Vitkus’ life story in his book “You’ll Like It Here.” Starting on Page C1, writer Suzanne Wilson describes how the two men came together and how Vitkus’ experience affected both men.

The story is accompanied online by a video by Gazette photographer Jerrey Roberts.

Donald Vitkus, who grew up at Belchertown State School, talks about his experiences from his room at the Community Living Center of the VA Medical Center in Leeds. His wife, Patricia, is beside him.

GAZETTE STAFF /JERREY ROBERTS

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