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Standing in knee-deep grass by what once was a paved walking track, tennis court and a swimming pool, I look over the abandoned campus of Glen Dale Children’s Home. Melancholy falls over me seeing what once was is now just tossed aside.
Growing up in Sonora, we went to school with the kids who lived at The Home. They were a part of our lives growing up; some even were my teachers in elementary and high school.
In summer, they played in our youth baseball leagues. During school months, the boys played on our basketball teams and the girls were part of the cheerleading squad. When we had road games, the bus pulled up in front of The Home’s gym and picked up the kids before heading to the opponent’s school. Our Royal Ambassador basketball team played league games in The Home’s gymnasium one season.
So many names and faces flash through my mind, there isn’t enough room here to list them.
I still see many of their faces as I pass through my life, still friends. Once I came across a couple of the guys in the median of Interstate 65 in the middle of the night when I worked for Hardin County EMS.
In the darkness, I thought the men’s faces looked familiar, standing beside a wrecked car as we loaded a woman onto a stretcher. As we put her into an ambulance, Brent stuck his head inside and told Tommy “this guy (me) will take good care of your wife.” Brent asked if I recognized him or the other man.
I answered yes and said it was good to see them both, but wished it was under other circumstances.
Even after my school years, I had other associations with The Home and the kids living at the orphanage.
A friend managed the kids’ farm projects, his wife worked in administration. Another was a house mother in Chiles Cottage.
The kids started attending my church where I taught them in Sunday School. We used the church van on Sunday mornings to pick them up and return them. Several times, we had Sunday meals with them in the dining hall.
Once, our church held a youth lock-in in one of the old cottages. The kids helped with youth work projects and took part in other church events. Everybody was just a part of the group, no differences. We were glad to share time together.
Now walking through the deserted Chiles Cottages, it looks like the tenants pulled out and left in the middle of the night. Clothes lie strewn about in some rooms. A piano sits in the commons area. Dishes still sit in the kitchen area. A recipe box, with recipes, still sits in the same place on the counter. A post at the entrance has a big hole where there was a concrete insert that read “Kentucky Baptist Children’s Home 1915.”
Looking back I can see an association with this place throughout my whole life, a connection that now, seeing these once-beautiful grounds and what it stood for, makes me feel as if we failed somewhere.
When I was a child, the Kentucky Baptist Convention took up an offering every year for Kentucky Baptist Children’s Homes. They passed cards with slots for nickels, dimes and quarters. My dad always helped me fill the card with coins to put in the offering plate at First Baptist Church of Sonora. I wanted the kids to have the best. I did not know why they were there nor did I ever ask any of them. I just wanted them taken care of.
There were other Baptist homes besides Glen Dale and the money was for all of them. The cards held between $3 and $5. It was important to me to fill that card with coins.
As I got older, I realized our church, along with many others, quit taking the special offering for the homes. The KBC evidently was getting money from other sources. Somewhere somebody thought they had better priorities. I think if more people could have seen the faces and known the names of those kids, The Home still would be operating, providing a much-needed embrace for children without caring families.
What once was never will be again. In a few years, nothing will remain of the Glen Dale campus. What was a home for hundreds of children will be wiped away forever.
Neal Cardin is a photojournalist at The News-Enterprise. He can be reached at (270) 505-1753 or email@example.com.