IOOF Widow's and Orphan's Home, Corsicana, Texas
In 1886, a very good year,
- Coca Cola and Dr. Pepper began showing up at corner drug stores
- Mr. Sears and Mr. Roebuck started selling stuff
- Thomas Crapper invented the modern flush toilet
- Grover Cleveland dedicated the Statue of Liberty
- The Odd Fellows of Texas began an institution that was destined to change the lives of children over the next 106 years.
To put things into perspective, the Odd Fellows of Texas were among the pioneers in the building of Orphanages in the United States. A book published in 1927, titled “Album of Odd Fellows Homes”, contains color photographs of every Odd Fellows Orphanage in the world. Of the 72 listed worldwide, 62 were in the United States.
The first home was established in 1872 in Western Pennsylvania. Four more homes would be established before the Texas home got its start. With Texas still part of the broad frontier, and with the large obligation of capital, the 1886 opening must have been a proud moment. With this bold stroke, Odd Fellowship in Texas surely began its journey into its most dynamic period. The legacy begins.
As they opened the door to the IOOF Widows and Orphans Home in Corsicana, the first child through the door was a boy named T. H. Streich and I was the 1,520th child to enter. I am proud to call myself an ex-student. T. H. and I, along with all those that came between and after us, are part of a large group of children that benefited from the legacy that the Odd Fellows and Rebekahs established over these many years and continues to build on today through its outstanding facility in Ennis along with its other important programs. I am personally aware of the quality of the Ennis facility as my mother spent her final 25 years there. She died at age 92.
With the closing of the home’s door in 1991, some 2,000 Widows and Orphans, representing 575 families, of brothers and sisters of this order, were nurtured and cared for and went on to become productive citizens of our great country. Consider what may have happened to those 2,000 souls if not for help from their father’s and mother’s fraternal brothers and sisters. We should never forget the good the order has done and continues to do today. As our numbers dwindle, I hope, no I know, that Odd Fellowship, with energetic leadership and redoubling efforts to make our numbers grow, can once again be a force in the community, as it once was.
The Odd Fellow’s impact on the area of the home is obvious when you consider what they have done with the land that was the Home. Sitting on that land today is; a Community College, Hospital, High School and a large recreational area which includes the old home lake, and of course a few buildings still remain under the control of the order. This generosity will always stand as a reminder of the great good that went on there.
Home, School, Chores and Playtime Balance
We were up early each morning, we made our beds, rushed to our daily chores and when the first bell rang out, we knew we had five minutes to the final bell for breakfast. Following breakfast we got ready for school, or during the summer we got our work assignments for the remainder of the morning. After dinner (for we had dinner not lunch), we boys gathered again to get our afternoon work assignments. Around 4 PM., those assigned to the dairy went to the barn to milk.
Supper was at six after which we were free to play, except during the school year, when we would gather at 7 p.m. at the school building for an hour of study hall. Saturday afternoons we were free except for dairy barn activities. Sunday was dairy barn again and Sunday school and church. When not at work or at school, we played hard. With a nice lake in which to fish and swim, and a nice branch for adventure and to hunt, we had a great place to spend our idle time. You never worried about not having someone to play with. A pickup football game was the norm.
Work was well organized. As all small boys did, I started off with the Trash Gang. Around age 10, I was moved to the dairy barn where I stood with a large scoop behind the cows to try to prevent an accident happening on the dairy barn floor. In another year or two I became a full fledged milker. Most older boys were assigned to the dairy barn. When milking was finished and the large 10 gallon cans of milk were deposited on the loading dock of the kitchen, we got ready for the next meal. After meals we went to our regular jobs, which consisted of: a Farm Gang, Carpenter Shop Gang, Power House Gang, Laundry Gang, House Cleaning Gang as well as Barber Shop, Shoe Shop, Hog Slopping and Butchering and more. We all learned how to farm, fix leaking pipes, unstop sewer lines, run electrical lines, repair broken screen doors, landscape maintenance, painting, welding, and on and on. When I graduated, though not an authority, I did know a lot about a lot of jobs. I cannot speak with authority as to the girls duties, but I can say with confidence, that they were as busy, while performing duties in the kitchen, dinning room, laundry, and housekeeping and more.
During summer, as the boys brought in produce from the fields, the girls spent many days preparing food for canning. With all this responsibility we were well prepared for our lives to come. I do not know of a single child that went into adult life with a bad work ethic.
The school at the home was excellent. Teachers were top notch and lived on campus. After academics we had available: piano lessons, voice lessons, tap dance, choir, band and of course organized sports. There were plays, variety shows and recitals. These were performed for all the residents and ultimately on the road at lodge halls and Grand Lodge. We practiced and performed in a beautiful turn-of-the-century auditorium. Seating some 700 people, including balcony, it had several music rooms, with pianos, and a band room just off stage. With large windows, high ceiling and abundant ceiling fans, it was a pleasant place, even in the summer. With its basement, containing a small gym and natatorium where the girls swam, it was quite something for its time. Amazingly, the auditorium still stands today as a symbol of its important past, and still a fine structure, just looking for a little face lift.
Mothers in the home were a God send. There were usually enough mothers to make a huge impact on the need to hire or not to hire additional matrons to help look after the children. They were invaluable, with their special motivation, and personal interest in their own, as well as all children. Though they could not be near their own children, necessarily, during daily routines, they did see them at meal times and as they felt the need. The work they did was essential to hold down cost and to keep a somewhat family atmosphere. I cannot praise them enough for their loving care. I know that they appreciated the care the Odd Fellows gave to them and their families.
In 1918, an ex-student of 7 years, was instrumental in establishing The IOOF Ex-Student Association and sometime later its newsletter titled the Three Links. The name of that ex-student was Stump Williams. Some of you may be old enough to remember Stump as a long time Grand Secretary. The first homecoming after WWII, there was a great gathering on the home grounds where most of the ex-students that lived through that war, gathered for a wondrous reunion. The greeting “Hi kid” could be heard time and time again, for in the home we always called each other kid. Thus the newsletter became the Hi Kid, and I am the current Editor.
Over these many years, we ex-students gather each year back in Corsicana where we reminisce over old stories and renew old friendships. Though our numbers have dwindled to just a fraction of what they once were, we still try to make the trek back each year. In 1987 the Grand Lodge granted the ex-students a 99 year lease on the land in front of the auditorium where we were able to build a memorial bell tower to house the original old bell. Each year, on homecoming Sunday, we hold a memorial service there, where we gather to say, “Hail and farewell to those old classmates, with books forever closed.” There was a plaque placed on the Bell Tower at its dedication that reads: Erected in AD 1987 by the ex-students association to commemorate the hundreds of students who lived, studied, and prepared for adulthood near this site, and to honor the Odd Fellows and Rebekahs of Texas who made our home possible. The Bell in this tower tolled the routine of the days for more than a century, marking not only the passage of time, but also the cumulative events that became the stuff of memories.”
What a pleasure it has been sharing this legacy that has so marked my and so many other children’s lives, and one that we should all be proud. For all my fellow ex-students, both living and dead, I say, “Thank you brothers, thank you sisters, may God continue to bless this fine order.
By: Verdie Cook
2017 Ex-Students Banquet and Homecoming.