My memories of the Children’s Home began when my family first moved two blocks south of the Home, on North Sandusky Street in Delaware. The Home was a huge white structure sitting at the edge of town, on top of a big hill just off of U.S. 23.
My first knowledge of the situation was when I saw a lot of kids walking past our house on Saturday afternoons. Eventually, I learned it was because the owner of the Strand Theatre invited the “Home kids” to come to the movies every Saturday afternoon, for free.
The only thing I knew was, for some reason, these children weren’t living with their own parents. And, I felt that whatever was going on, had to be hard on them. I remember they had their hair cut off very short. I was in the seventh grade and thought about the fact that if our parents couldn’t take care of my siblings and me, we could end up there, too.
The first girl I got to know, from the Home, was in my junior high homeroom at Willis School. I thought she was lucky in that her hair had not been cut off short because she got to come to school with her hair in braids or curls.
Although I lived close to the Home, I knew nothing about what went on inside while she was living there. She moved away before the beginning of our senior year. I lost track of her until I saw an article in the Delaware Gazette about her organizing a reunion of the Children’s Home kids, that was to be held in 2007. Her address wasn’t given, so I called the Gazette and they let her know I wanted to contact her.
Later, she invited me to come to their reunion and that’s where I got to see her. At that time, she wrote a book titled, “When Times Were Young.” When I got a copy and read it, I learned a lot about how hard her life had been when her dad dropped her, and her six siblings, off at the Home. She was only 10 years of age, and had to stay in the Home for the next seven years.
She was taken there by her dad because her mother had been killed in an automobile accident, and he couldn’t take care of all his seven young children, who ranged in ages from 3 to 10 years.
She wrote in her book about there being no end of problems. One of the problems that bothered her a lot, was that she wasn’t allowed to see her little brothers very often, because the boys were kept at one part of the Home, and the girls, at another part. This applied to when they played outside, as well.
Another of the rules was that the parents of these children were only allowed to come to see them for two hours, once a month, on a certain Sunday afternoon.
Life was very hard in every way for her. When it came to clothes, she said that what few clothes she had all went to school every day because someone else was always wearing them. She also said that she was supposed to be paid for the work she had done in homes for people in town. However, when she left at the end of her junior year at Willis, to go back to live with her dad, there was no money saved for her, as had been promised.
Another hard part was having to get out of bed every morning by 6 a.m., and get all their chores done before eating their breakfast of cereal and cocoa. Chores included dusting, mopping, washing, sweeping, cleaning everything. And then walking to school and getting there on time. It was one mile to Willis School.
After seven years of living at the Home, she and her siblings moved back with their dad. Little did I know when I saw her at school, what all she had been through before getting there each day. Or, how much work she had to do after school.
She only got to have two new pairs of shoes for the that entire seven years she was there. She wore a friend’s FFA jacket for one whole winter because she didn’t have a coat of her own. If any of the children wanted a drink of water, there were no drinking fountains. They had to get water from the bathroom sink, cup their hands, and drink the water they were able to hold in their hands.
I re-read her book this past week, and had to email her to say how sorry I still am, that she and her siblings had been treated so badly. It was as if they had committed a crime, and were there to be punished, when the only reason they were at the Home was to be taken care of, because their mother had been killed in an automobile accident.
Kay E. Conklin is a retired Delaware County recorder who served four terms. She graduated from Ohio Wesleyan University with a degree in sociology and anthropology.