Coming back home
HOUGHTON – Bob Hambly Sr. had a rather chaotic early life, most of it not his doing, including ending up in the Good Will Farm orphanage in 1924 when he was just a few months old.
Hambly was in Houghton Saturday with his son, Bob Hambly Jr., celebrating the Good Will Farm’s 34th reunion.
Hambly Sr., who is 90 years old, was adopted from the Good Will Farm soon after he arrived. His mother had given up her parental rights. In his first 10 years, he lived in Sault Ste. Marie, then Gary, Ind., then back to Sault Ste. Marie.
His father was neglected by his adoptive mother, Hambly Jr. said. He became rather rowdy, spending much of his time on the streets. He became a ward of the state of Michigan in 1937, and as a result he was sent back to the Good Will Farm. When he was 15 years old, he went into foster care and lived in Trimountain. In 1939, his birth mother petitioned to adopt him, and it was granted.
Before being adopted by his birth mother, Hambly Sr. had six names and four birth certificates, his son said. His mother’s husband at the time she adopted him had the last name of Hambly, and when he was adopted he was asked what name he wanted for the adoption process, and he chose Robert Hambly.
After his mother died in 2005, Hambly Jr., who was born in 1950, asked his father if he wanted to come to Calumet from Kentucky, where he now lives, to see Sr.’s mother’s grave, and although reluctant at first he agreed, but said he had something to tell Jr. when they arrived. That’s when Jr. learned of his father’s past.
During that trip in 2008, Hambly Jr. said he hurt his knee and stopped into the Portage Health University Center clinic in Houghton, and while talking to the doctor who treated him, he asked if the doctor knew of a former orphanage in the area, and the doctor told them of the current Good Will Farm house, which was only a few blocks from the clinic.
Father and son went to the house, which Jr. said his father immediately recognized as it came into view. During a tour of the house, Hambly Sr. remembered it, although there were some internal structural changes.
His memories of his time at the Good Will Farm as a teen are all good, Hambly Sr. said.
“These were the finest people I had met in my life,” he said. “Because of my prior experiences (growing up), I didn’t know there were such people.”
Hambly Sr. said the Good Will Farm was a good place for all the children who lived there.
“I never heard a kid cry, including the babies,” he said. “Everybody got along.”
Late in 2012, Good Will Farm changed its name to U.P. Kids. Mark Lambert, U.P. Kids director, said the organization started as an orphanage called Good Will Farm in 1899, when it was located on property that is now Portage Lake Golf Course. In 1921, the organization moved to its present location in a former private house near Michigan Technological University.
Lambert said in the 1970s, the Good Will Farm became a residential facility for troubled youth.
“That started everywhere in Michigan in the 1970s,” he said.
Funding for the Good Will Farm comes from the state and donations, Lambert said.
The youth who come to Good Will Farm are sent there by the juvenile justice system and most are having troubles at home or at school.
The average stay at the Good Will Farm is one year, Lambert said, and the residents go to school through 12th grade in a separate building on the property.
“It is part of the Houghton (school) system,” he said.
The name change from Good Will Farm to U.P. Kids was for practical reasons, Lambert said.
“We’re not a farm,” he said.
Also, Lambert said there is often confusion with Goodwill Industries, with which the residential facility is not connected. The new name also focuses on children and the care they get.
“We need to be able to say what we’re doing,” he said.
Lambert said the large house, which has been used since 1921, is being sold. The boys are moving to another house next door.
For whatever reason, Lambert said there have been so few girls coming to the organization recently, that part of the program is being discontinued.
However, Lambert, who has been with the organization for 16 years, said he expects U.P. Kids will continue into the future.
“I think we’ll still be doing it for awhile because there’s a need,” he said.
One of the former residents of the Good Will Farm attending the reunion Saturday was Robert Salewsky, who said he was sent to it in 1986 when he was 12 years old from Menominee. He lived there until 1988.
Salewsky said he was sent to Good Will Farm because he got into trouble at school and at home, but he very much enjoyed his time in Houghton.
“It was great,” he said. “The staff was good.”
Although he wasn’t completely cured of rowdiness, Salewsky said his time at Good Will Farm was well-spent because he learned how to read there. He was just “kicked along” in school without learning to read.
Salewsky said he’s attended three of the Good Will Farm reunions. He now has a 2-year-old daughter, and he’ll do what he can to keep her from having to spend time there.
“That ain’t gonna happen,” he said.