A Child's Journey of Hope, Search, Discovery and Healing


I would not return to Boys Town until 1987; nineteen years after I graduated. It took me that long to fully realize all that it had done for me during my years I was there. Boys Town had been "my home." It was the only home I have ever known or will ever know in my lifetime.

On this page, I will share a few pictures from my return in 1997. I will also share black and white pictures of the places that were important to me from 1961-1968, as I remember them.

Dowd Chapel

Old Orientation Center where I first stayed

The Boys Town Alumni Association holds a reunion every two years on the last weekend of July on the BT campus. It is a time for former boys to come "home" to renew acquaintances and friendships and walk the paths they walked as young men.

For years, I had avoided these gatherings, mainly because it took me several years to realize Boys Town had been more than just a place that the foster care system had dumped me into. It had raised me, given me an education, nurtured me, given me a spiritual basis for my life and so much more. It had in fact been a "home." It was time for me to go "home" again.

Boy, was "home" ever different from how I had remembered it. Boys Town is now called "Boys Town & Girls Town." In 1973 the first girls were accepted onto the campus...yeah right, wait until after I graduate :).

The dormitory style living is no longer, nor are the separate living arrangements for grade and high schoolers. Today there are "house parents" rather than "counselors" in each living quarter. They have a family style living arrangement, with no more than eight children to a home and two to a bedroom. They eat their meals in the home rather than gathering in a huge dining room, as I had done.

Today the home accepts far fewer "homeless" children such as I was in 1961. Now, many are temporary wards of the court at the home to workout temporary behavioral problems, mandated by a court or unstable family situations. The student body has decreased from over 900 when I was there to just over 400.

Dormitory which used to house 100 boys each

Old Grade School...used to be home and school in early days...was first permanent building on campus, but was torn down in 1972 to make way for the new middle school

No longer do many stay at the home for periods of seven years or more as I and so many of boys in my time did...the average stay today is under two years. In a sense, Boys Town today is not the community it was in the 1960's. All of us boys knew each other...we were "one family." Today it is many families in their separate homes not even attempting to be a community.

I did see some former teachers, counselors, and classmates on this trip, but I was disappointed enough that I only stayed for one day of the reunion in 1987. Though had been "home," it had lost the feeling of home.

Outside of Music Hall

Inside Music Hall where so many world renowned artists used to perform for us boys and where we went for movies every Sunday night

It would be yet another ten years before I again went "home" for a reunion. I had more feelings of it being "home" this time, and I stayed throughout the reunion weekend.

This was the first time that an alumni choir was formed to sing during mass to close the weekend. I participated and it brought back oh so many memories. Memories of Fr. Schmidt or Moe directing us, the concert tours each year and the friendships I had with so many. We rehearsed each of the 3 days of the weekend just as we used to every night after dinner. We not only prepared for the mass but also a short concert to be given after mass in memory of Fr. Schmidt and Moe who had each passed away in the last few years. Though the "home" itself didn't feel like "home" due to all the changes that had transpired, it was good to be back.

Choir gathers after mass, I am in top row...far right, Renato, my best friend from boyhood, is towards the front with the sunglasses

Some of Class of 1968 gather for a picture...I'm in back with blue shirt, while Renato, in vest, hogs the front again :)

Picnic and socializing before heading to our "homes"

I returned once again in 1998. Fr. Val Peter, current Director of Boys Town, had asked if the Alumni Choir would sing the Memorial Mass to commemorate the 50th anniversary of the death of Fr. Flanagan on May 15. Fifteen of us gathered to sing the mass...all were living in Omaha except Joe from Kansas City and myself from Fargo. We made sure we also had a chance to remember and eat while we were there.

The "home" continues to change. Today the students live by a whole set of rules and earn points for good or lose points for bad behavior. Privileges are based on points earned. Many of those that come do not make it through the program, as it is now called...they are sent back home or back to foster care. There appears to be more staff than students.

In my day, no matter what one might do, Boys Town worked with you to make it through to graduation. There was no such thing as failure unless you decided to go AWOL and not return. That doesn't appear to be what is happening today. Those in charge today, believe that Fr. Flanagan & Msgr. Wegner did not know what they were doing in running a home for boys, despite 50 years and thousands of young men graduating and going on and making something of themselves. "I believe unless it is broken why fix it."

Boys Town was not broken in 1973 when all the changes began happening...it may/may not be broken today...others will have to judge that. If I were at Boys Town today I would probably be among those that the current staff would have considered failures and I would have been returned to yet another cycle of moves within the foster care system. Today I could possibly be in prison or dead.

Cottage into which high schoolers used to move

High School Building

Old High School Dining Room, now the Great Hall where only noon meals are eaten. It is also used for special events, such as Reunion Weekend

I returned to Boys Town Aug 29-30, 2002, with some turmoil in my life. I needed a place where, despite all the changes, I felt comfortable. I needed that quiet time once again at the tomb of Fr. Flanagan and to visit with Renato...we were unable to hook up while I was there.

I also was close to Renato's younger brother, Dennis. He was two years behind us. Dennis unfortunately passed away suddenly just before Christmas 1999.

I spent hours in the Alumni building talking with some who were from the "old days." We compared notes and all realized that although Boys Town had been our "home," it was not "home" anymore.

Very few of those who graduate today join the alumni association, since they don't view Boys Town as ever having been their home. It was a place they spent a year or two and then went back to their own homes. The loyalty to the home is for us old-timers and not for the newbies. Today, they are lucky to know their next door neighbors, yet alone many of the other students.

The "Twelve Night" celebrations no longer happen, "intramural sports" are a thing of the past...even the old grade school football field has been demolished to make way for new family homes. The "Boys Town Choir," once nationally known from our tours and records, has made the heap bin of the past as has "Christmas Eve Midnight Mass." These were some of the things that made all of us at Boys Town part of the community and "our home." It is sad to see them all go.

During this trip, I found out that the last of the "old guard" has left the home. That is, all the teachers, counselors and others from my era are now either deceased or retired. The last was Dr. Pat McGinnis, who was a guidance counselor during my day. He retired in 2001 as Superintendent of Schools. The era of 1961-1968 is now history.

Going "home" again will be difficult in future years as there will be no one from the past to talk to or share memories with, except for fellow classmates. As the years go by, those will become fewer. In time, Boys Town's first 50 years will be only found in the history book of the home.

I can see now why it is even more difficult for those who were here before my time to come home...as their era has long been history. It's like going home and not finding your parents there, since they have passed. So to is that feeling, when those of us at Boys Town boys prior to 1968 go home. It will be "home" but at the same time it won't be...how sad it will be.

On my visit this time, a few of us who had visited in the Alumni Office, decided to go to lunch in the visitor's cafe. We did not know the table we decided to sit at would put us in a front row seat to observe a ceremony. During lunch, six young men and two young women were accompanied by Fr. Peter into the cafe to participate in a "Citizenship Swearing In Ceremony." Fr. Peter in his introduction, with a mural of Fr. Flanagan and the first five boys of Boys Town in the background, stated that thousands of previous students had taken this citizenship oath in the previous 85 years of Boys Town and they were about to become a part of this special village.

Those at my table could only look and wonder when such a ceremony had begun...I had never done this. I became a citizen of Boys Town just by arriving, just as one born in the USA becomes a citizen just by arriving by birth. There before a full cafe, the young people were to raise their right hands and take an oath of citizenship...making three promises which I don't fully remember, as I had become upset by this point.

After taking the oath, each person then had to address those in attendance. They gave their name, where they were from, stated the names of their house parents and assistant, stated 3 things they liked about the home, 3 goals they hoped to achieve while at the home and finally what had been the hardest thing for them since arriving at the home. I felt quite sorry for each young person as they went through this ritual. It became so obvious that the Boys Town I knew as a "home" was no more, but just another "treatment center" like those which can be found all over the country. One could tell by the comments the young people gave that they had been rehearsed so as to make a good impression. It appeared the ceremony was more for the staff gathered than for the young people themselves.

Later Friday, I went to the high school building. There in the lobby to the right hand side in a trophy case, were the trophies Jim and I had won so many years ago. I can still proudly proclaim that we were and are the best debate team Boys Town ever had.

However, some relics of the past have been scrapped. Fr. Schmidt, when he was director of the choir, had a wide range collection of music and books; some extremely rare. When he left the home it was decided to just pack them up and ship them out, with those responsible not caring what they meant to those of us from choirs past...at least they ended up at the University of Pittsburgh.

For many years, Fr. Schmidt conducted a two week Liturgical Music Workshop at Boys Town attracting, renowned musicians and scholars from across the globe...it is no more!

Our memories of those days at least are preserved in a book of notes that Fr. Schmidt had written over his 36 years at Boys Town. Many of "his boys" contributed to a fund to have the book recently published. Fr. Schmidt passed away in 1994.

Today's Boys Town may not appreciate those years of the past, even with their Hall of History; but "his boys" do.

Fr. Flanagan felt strongly that music played an important role in the overall development of a child...if he were to come back to Boys Town today I know he would ask..."but where's the music?"

I can't say if the Boys Town I remember was better than the home is today. Each has it's pluses and minuses. All I know is that it is "home" for me, and for many boys of my generation.

It is my fervent hope that Boys Town still fulfills the desires of a home that Fr. Flanagan began in 1917. His belief of "there is no such thing as a bad boy" has already gone by the wayside.

Field House now known as Skip Palrang Memorial Field House. Skip was Athletic Director for 30 years and produced many State Championships and a few boys who even went on to the pros.

Visitors to Boys Town will not see what I have put on this page. They will see the Visitor's Center, Field House, Chapel, a few other public buildings and finally the Hall of History. They will think the Boys Town of today is the Boys Town of the past...but only those of us who lived there in the past will know the truth. It is sad also that the students of today will never know what they have missed out on.

Many say, "one can't go home again!" I will return to Boys Town for future class reunions. Though the changes continue, I will make the most of my time there...I will make it "my home" even if it is just for a weekend...it is still the only "home" I have ever known. "Home" was taken from me far too many times in my young life...I won't allow anyone to take "my home" from me now or ever!

Fr. Flanagan began Boys Town weeks before Christmas in 1917 in hopes of providing a "home" for the homeless and orphaned. His theory was if you provided the basics of food, clothing and shelter then provide an education, guidance, sports, music and most importantly a spiritual life...any boy could become a productive member of society. Thousands have. We serve in many capacities in our new home communities; many have served and died in service to their country, some followed Fr. Flanagan's footsteps and are priests...so many boys Fr. Flanagan would be proud to call "his sons" if he were alive.

Msgr. Wegner nurtured this theory for 25 years after Fr. Flanagan passed away, only in the end to be cast aside as a failure and a broken man by those of today's Boys Town. He should have been laid to rest at Boys Town but was not...it's almost like his stewardship of Boys Town never happened.

They have new theories, new rules and programs...they have made a simple job a complicated one. Yesterday a boy could come to Boys Town from the street and be welcomed with open arms; now they must be referred and financially supported. Some will make it through the programs of today while others will fail and be returned to where they came from.

I think of the thousands of kids lingering in the foster care system such as I came out of over 40 years ago...they will never get to the Boys Town I knew and will in many cases never find "the home" that I did. Some say it is progress, but it can't be progress when so many are left out and when failure is also an accepted result...a result Fr. Flanagan would have never accepted.

Unfortunately this is the Boys Town of today, I prefer to remember the Boys Town of yesterday...for it is in that yesterday that I can still see and be "at home"...the Hall of History and the classmates of my years there are all of the "home" I have left, but that is what I will grasp on to in the years yet to come.

May God bless Fr. Flanagan, Msgr. Wegner and so many dedicated men and women of the past that made a home possible for so many. May God also bless the children of Boys Town today, that despite all the changes, they may find success in their lives. Finally, may God bless those in charge of Boys Town today...may He open their eyes of the past and cause them to realize Boys Town was not a failure in 1973, and need not be today if they would but return to the very simple theories and beliefs that made it what it was in the first place...a place where so many found their first and only home of a lifetime!

Boys Town Water Tower.. being a village unto itself it has it's own water supply





























Used copies of "LOST SON?" only may be ordered through Amazon.com, B&N.com and other major online book retailers since as of August 1, 2007, book is no longer being published.



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