I arrived at Boys Town, Nebraska in the late morning of April 16, 1961. A priest from Boys Town had met my social worker and me at Eppley Airport in Omaha and drove us the miles to the Boys Town campus. At the time, Boys Town was 10 miles west of Omaha. Today Omaha surrounds the campus.
I arrived a terrified boy of 11. I had "my bag" of worldly possessions with me. I had no idea what was to become of me. I was in a place I had never heard of before arriving.
After a brief meeting with a caseworker, my social worker departed Boys Town for her return flight to Detroit. I felt I was alone and lost in the world.
I was taken to what they, at that time, called the Orientation Center. There, I was shown a bed and a locker that was to be mine supposedly for the next 2-3 weeks. Then I was tested, interviewed and they determined to what part of Boys Town I would be sent.
I still very clearly remember crying myself to sleep my first night at Boys Town and for nights afterwards.
Boys Town at the time, was divided into a grade school section and high school section. Grade schoolers, such as me, were sent to one of four dormitory styled buildings after orientation. Each building had four dorms holding 25 boys. Each boy was assigned a bed and a locker.
Part of the testing program in orientation was that each boy who came through was taken to what was called the choir section, to be voice tested to see if they had a voice that might have choir potential. Apparently I did, as after orientation I was assigned to Gregory Hall, in which only choir members were assigned.
I still remember after being at Boys Town about a week, a counselor coming to visit with me. While talking with me he decided to checkout my locker. There he found "my bag." I should say that in the first days there one was taken to the clothing store on campus and given a number of sets of clothes and toiletries.
Mine were all packed in "my bag."
The counselor asked me "Why were all your things in a bag rather than hanging up or on the shelves?"
I told him "I wanted to be ready when they came to get me again to take me elsewhere."
The counselor called me over to and took me in his arms saying, "No one is going to come and take you away. I know about your life to this point and I want to let you know....you now have a home."
I don't think he ever fully figured out the emotions he triggered within me with those words. My eyes began misting up and before long I was crying uncontrollably. "You now have a home" kept going through my mind. "No one is going to come and take you away." For the first time in my life someone had actually said "I was home." I had waited over 11 years to hear those words. I don't know how long the counselor held me in his arms, but I know it was long enough for us to miss dinner in the dining hall and he had to make arrangements for food to be brought to me. I know that for the first night since coming to Boys Town I did not need to cry myself to sleep.
Soon after leaving orientation for Gregory Hall, I was caught up in the activities at Boys Town as most boys were. Though the school year would soon be over, I was assigned to the 5th grade. I began daily choir practices along with the other choir members. Now that I had a home, my life looked different. I even unpacked "my bag" for the first time in almost 11 years...it was never packed again.
Each boy at Boys Town was allowed to have an approved mailing/visitor list. I submitted only one family's name; The Monshors. I might be over 800 miles away from them but I still considered them my parents. I could only hope they would be approved, as I did not know if the court would tell Boys Town not to allow any further contact with them. Fortunately there was no court order and they were approved to write and visit. I wrote them long letters every week telling them of "my home." They promised to make the trip to Nebraska for Christmas to visit me.
Christmas 1961, was my first of seven Christmas's at Boys Town. The Monshors kept their word and did come to visit the Sunday prior to Christmas. It would turn out to be the only trip they were able to make to Boys Town. The following spring Ernest suffered a heart attack that would limit his abilities from then until his death in 1975.
Because of the long bus journey to and from Boys Town, they were only able to stay for a few hours. They saw to it that I would find presents from them under the tree come Christmas Day. I remember standing at the Boys Town Pylon as they boarded their bus to travel back to Omaha to catch the Greyhound to Detroit....crying because I wanted to go with them.