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


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 turning somersaults.

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 their catch.

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 were given.

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 for me.

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 single person.

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 Program.

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 throat!

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 the campus.

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 street.

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 still standing!

Father Flanagan visits with the first five boys of Boys Town.

I have to tell you about the escapade with Msgr. Schmidt. For this story I will call him just "Schmittie." One was not allowed to call him that while we were at Boys Town but once we graduated he felt we earned the right to do so. Schmittie was the Boys Town choir director I spoke of before. Now Schmittie loved the good things of life. He loved his berets, his loud Hawaiian shirts, rich expensive cigars and his Chives Regal.

I, as well as others were always asking him to let us try his Chives. We always got no for an answer.

Underneath the high school was a quarters where the priest on campus went for their meals as well as relax. They had a private dining room as well as library area. This is also the space where most of them kept their alcohol...especially at Christmas time.

Schmittie seemed to get his share of bottles of Chivas at Christmas. A friend and I were determined that the Christmas of our junior year he would have one less bottle.

A few days before Christmas my friend stood watch as I crept and and snatched a bottle while Schmittie and a few other priests were having dinner.

We ran back to our cottage and down to the basement. I had never tasted hard alcohol before and did this stuff ever taste strong and have a bit. We had about three shots a piece and were feeling pretty good. We hid the remainder.

As we came upstairs who was standing by the doorway but Schmittie. He said he knew it had to be us who took his Chivas. Of course we denied it. He said he wanted to give us something to enjoy it with and handed us both one of his rich tasting, expensive cigars. He also reminded us that choir rehearsal was in an hour and left.

Well, I just had to have another shot of Chivas and a taste of this cigar. Back downstairs I went. My friend didn't join me.

I had two more shots and lit up the cigar. Was that ever a mistake. I don;t know which caused most of the room spinning but did it ever spin. Soon I was looking for a bucket.

Anyone in the choir did not miss a choir rehearsal. After attempting to clean up, away I went despite still having the room spin and feeling sick.

Schmittie saw me as I entered the rehearsal hall. He just knew I was sick. All he said was, "Larry,feeling OK?" Smiling all the while as I looked and felt like hell.

It seemed that night that he worked the baritones and basses extra hard. All the while I just couldn't wait for rehearsal to be over.

Schmittie never said another word about the incident until 1987 when I went back for my first reunion. His first words to me were, "Larry, feeling OK?" We both had a good laugh and I finally admitted his Chivas tasted pretty good and it was his awful cigar that made me sick.

It was at this reunion the alumni made a special presentation to Schmittie. He had left Boys Town about ten years earlier. The presentation was a large oil painting. Around the outer corners were various pictures of the choir. In the center was a smiling Schmittie wearing a beret, a Hawaiian shirt and a cigar in his mouth.

Schmittie has been gone since 1994 but that picture is how I remember him.

He along with Msgr. Wegner were the father figures in my life growing up at Boys Town. One couldn't have asked for two better ones than them!

I could go on with several more stories...but then I might think it's another gathering of alumni. We go on for hours constantly saying, "remember when?"

As you can see, we boys of Boys Town were your typical teenage boys. One thing to the best of my knowledge that we did not partake of was drugs. This is not true of Boys Town today.

This at least gives you a taste of the tales of yesteryear. Though I didn't realize it until years later...these were very good years

I will always be one of Father Flanagan's boys of Boys Town.





























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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