BOYS TOWN TALES OF YESTERYEAR
A former boy of Boys Town cannot reflect on his past without telling a few of the tales of his years there. As a matter of fact, that is the best part of the Alumni Reunions.
Many of the adventures of years past will probably not
be a part of the life of the young men and women at
the home today. Life at Girls and Boys Town today is far too structured and the youth's movements tracked so closely that they cannot enjoy the freedom and adventures that those of us prior to the 80's had.
Although some experiences carried over from grade school, most of the experiences I'll share here are from my high school years, since those years allowed much of our freedom.
My stay at Boys Town came during the height of the Civil Rights Movement. There, this was not an issue, as boys of ages, races and religions were accepted. The subject of race was rarely raised. It was not tolerated and we were all taught to get along. This was one of the things that impressed me the most during my stay there, and the "get along" lessons remain with me today.
Altar inside Dowd Chapel. I found many moments of solace here during my years at Boys Town...I still do!
Back in the early 1960's we grade school boys had a
way of getting even with so-called tough guys. We
would do a "short sheet" on them. Someone would keep
watch while another guy or two would remake the tough
guys bed. However, instead of making it as normal both
sheets would be made would be made up in half. That
is, they were folded over in half. It looked however
like a normally made bed.
When it came time for lights out the tough guy would
jump into bed and push his legs down into the bed. He
however would end up tearing his legs through the
sheets. Of course he would holler out "who did it?"
No one would ever admit to it. Everyone would have
their heads under the covers trying to stifle their
laughter. After a few times the tough guy either got
the message or had to nightly check his bed before
jumping into it.
Come to think of it; I remember doing this on occasion
even while in high school.
Also back in the "old days" each living unit had a
counselor and a commissioner. The counselor was an
outside adult while the commissioner was one of the
older boys. The commissioner was responsible for
carrying out the discipline of the unit.
There was one form of discipline that stood out. Any
former boy of Boys Town from the 1930's to early
1970's reading this will remember it.
The discipline was being part of the "floor shining
gang." Now, bear in mind this was not done with a
power shiner. Let me describe this floor buffer for
you. It had a metal pole about four feet in length.
Attached at the bottom was a 15-20 pound piece of
square iron with bristles on the bottom of it.
This is what was used to shine the floors. One first
went over the floor several times with just the brush
touching the floor. Then you repeated the process with
a cloth beneath the bristles.
Let me tell you, when one finished you could see your
face in the floor. Your arms were also tired as heck.
I made this floor shining gang more than one time.
These floor shining relics have been relegated to the
Hall of History as an exhibit. The kids of today don't
know what great exercise they are missing!
This was also the primary discipline used in high
school as well. Sit ups and push ups military style
was usually the other discipline used.
A personal experience from grade school I remember is
my first cigarette. Smoking was not allowed in grade
school. Well, I had to show how big a guy I was.
Along side of the famous "He ain't heavy" statue
One of the counselors in my building smoked Lucky
Strike cigarettes. A friend and I decided we wanted to
try them. We were twelve years old at the time. While
the counselor was out of his office area we crept ed
in and swiped his pack of cigarettes he had left on
the desk. We headed out to the old football stadium.
We each lit our first smoke. Boy, did we ever think we
were cool. As luck would have it...another counselor
drove by the stadium and saw us. He yelled out for us
to stay put and he stopped and parked.
He decided rather than taking us back to our building
and turning us in that he would teach us a lesson.
He checked how many cigarettes were still in the pack
and then divided them in two. He then lit each of us
one and told us to go ahead and smoke. He repeated
this until there were no more cigarettes. Besides
having one whale of a headache my stomach was also
We both swore we would never ever smoke again. I wish
I had kept that promise.
Only then did he have us get into his car and drive us
back to our building. He didn't turn us in and we
heard no more about the matter.
Dinner did not go down too well that night.
One of the highlights of most grade school boys was
being able to spend an afternoon a week during the
summer at the Boys Town lake. Yes, the campus actually
had its own lake. The lake remains today but times
have changed as to how it is used.
Boys Town Lake...in my day we could fish, canoe and swim;
today it is not used..what memories today's kids are missing out on!
Gregory Hall, where I resided during my grade school
years had use of the lake on Wednesday afternoon
during the summer months. Row boats were available as
was archery. The greatest thing though was being able
to fish and what came afterwords.
If one decided to fish they could catch up to three
fish. The lake was stocked with bullheads and catfish.
When the afternoon at the lake was over we were
allowed to take our catch up to the grade school
dining hall. There we turned in the fish, giving them
our names of course! We could come back an hour later
and our fish were cleaned and fried. Boy, was that
stuff ever good!
You could always tell during the summer which building
was having their lake day. That section of the dining
hall was fairly empty as they would be outside eating
I have not fished in years but still clearly see those
summer afternoons of my early years at Boys Town.
High school brought a whole new world of adventure.
Each high school boy was to have a job on campus. This
is how we were to earn our thirty dollars a month we
I had a great job my freshman and sophomore year.
Msgr. Wegner had his home connected to the chapel. My
job was to be up at 5:30 and to be at his home by
6:15. I was met by Mrs. Ann Fischer, his personal
cook. Mrs. Fischer was the mother of the famous
Fischer boys of the National Football League. It was
my job to help prepare breakfast and serve for him. It
was great working with Mrs. Fischer. She always saw
that I had a snack to take to school when I left for
class. She said a growing boy needed more than three
meals a day.
It was during those two years that Msgr. Wegner and I
got to be fairly close. Though the adults were not
suppose to give us money Msgr. always saw that I had a
few dollars in my pocket. Once breakfast was served he
usually invited me to join him at the table. We always
had interesting conversations.
It was at the start of my junior year that I was
greeted by Msgr. Wegner rather than Mrs. Fischer one
morning. He took me aside and put an arm around my
shoulder. He informed me that Mrs. Fischer had been
killed in a car accident the previous night. She had
been like a mother to me for the two years I worked
with her. I lost someone special and the tears came.
Msgr. Wegner personally took me to the funeral and
then to her home afterwords to eat and to meet her
sons. Apparently she had told them about me. They knew
me as soon as I entered the door. It was a sad day
Father Flanagan's statue and his early Boys Town home,
now the oldest remaining building on the Boys Town campus.
It was built in 1927.
Msgr. Wegner did not hire a new cook after Mrs.
Fischer's death. Thus my job at his home ended and I
moved on to work with the Director of Food Services.
Working for Mrs. Fischer and Cy is where I learned to
cook and bake. A skill still in use today being a
Msgr. Wegner's and my relationship however continued
throughout my remaining years at Boys Town. His door
was open to me whenever I wanted to visit with him if
he was in town.
During my senior year while I was still entertaining
the thought of becoming a priest he arranged for me to
spend a week at Mount Michael Abbey in Elkorn,
Nebraska. It was shortly after that week I decided it
was more my desire to be like Msgr. Wegner than a real
vocation making me think of becoming a priest. I
decided not to enter the seminary. I believe Msgr.
Wegner knew this would be my decision but he allowed
me to make it on my own rather than directing me in
any one direction.
Besides getting a job when one entered high school;
freshman were also required to attend summer school
during the summer of transition between grade school
and high school. It was thought that this would better
prepare us for the new school term. Summer school
lasted six weeks.
Since I had no real interest in school at that time I
decided to go to the Boys Town Trade School rather
than taking academic courses. I enrolled in the Bakery
The Bakery Program provided all the bread as well as
pastries served at Boys Town. Each were prepared
daily. The highlight of the course came each day as
the goods came fresh from the oven. Though we were not
supposed to take any; hot, fresh danish or bread
seemed to find a way under our shirts as the class day
ended. Those of us in the class had our friends gather
around us as we left school to share in the goods. You
have not tasted heaven until you let a piece of hot
danish with a little melted butter slide down your
I remained in Trade School only that first summer as
it was felt by others that I had the capability to do
well in a collage prep course and I was so enrolled
come that fall.
The Trade School is no more at Boys Town. The
transition of the early 1980's did away with the
school. This surprised me as it was here that many of
the boys of previous generations as well as mine found
and trained in what would become a lifetime career for
them. Courses, in addition to Bakery, were offered in
Auto Mechanics, Sheet Metal, Barber Shop, Ceramics,
Woodworking, Printing and Culinary Arts. Not all boys
were meant for a college prep course back then and I
doubt if this is any different today.
At least I can remember those fun afternoons that
summer of 1964!
Basically in high school we were on our own from the
time we rose at 6:00 a.m. until bed check at night
around 10:00 p.m. We were responsible to see that we
went to class, did our jobs, homework and any extra
activities we were involved in. We had free roam of
I already told you in the previous chapter of my going
AWOL in my sophomore year.
Boys Town in the 60's was about ten miles from Omaha.
Omaha ended at seventy second street and farmland
began. Boys Town was at one hundred thirty second
Because families visited the home there was need for a
motel of some sort close by. Thus the 10 Mile Inn
came into being. It included small cabins as well as a
lounge. Now one just cannot attempt teenagers with a
place like this close at hand and not expect them to
take advantage of it.
I can still recall vividly those nights a small group
of us would head across the field towards Dodge Street
and sneak across to the Inn. Because some of the
counselors would go there at the end of the day we had
to check out the place before we would go in. The man
who owned the place really didn't care about age as
long as one could put money on the bar.
I don't remember any of us ever getting drunk on these
escapades. It was one or two beers and sneaking back
to campus before the late night walk around by the
counselor to check beds. We never did get caught.
Boys Town is now surrounded by Omaha. The 10 Mile Inn
is no more. The tales that place could tell if it were
Father Flanagan visits with the first five boys of Boys Town.