The end of an era

Ninety-three years, 3,320 children. That is how many years ago the Good Will Farm (now U.P. KIDS) acquired the Goodell family mansion, and the approximate number of children that were provided a home under that roof. Some babies and children stayed for a short time. Others for many years.

Now the home is gone, and its passing has a wide and varied effect on many people.

But before I discuss the personal impact, there are a few facts to share.

First, and most importantly, the residential treatment program still exists providing a home and school to youth. The program remains, only the former home is gone. The change in homes is about numbers: averaging 45 children a year in the past to six currently (six youth a year who need all the care and guidance we can give them!).

U.P. KIDS also provides homes to children and youth through our foster care and adoption programs. Other children and families receive service through our Big Brothers Big Sisters mentoring programs, and several in-home services designed to strengthen and keep the family together. Over 800 children and their families are currently served annually.

Secondly, the Goodell home became the Good Will Farm orphanage in 1921. But The Farm began as an orphanage with five siblings in 1899, and was located near the current Portage Lake Golf Course. During those 21 years, over 1,000 other children were provided a home and school. Between the two homes from 1899 and 2013, over 4,320 children were cared for.

Lastly, the orphanage transformed to residential treatment for youth in 1972 (as did orphanages throughout the country in the early 70s). What were the practical changes? Many! First, the Child Welfare Fund that was established in the 1950’s began providing funds for the care of children in need (not the actual cost of course!), and the burden to support fell less on the community and volunteer staff. Many new rules came into play: fire and food safety, staffing qualifications and requirements, annual reviews, etc. Instead of averaging 45 children it became 15. The age was limited to 12-17, and younger kids found care primarily in foster homes. The length of stay was shortened to an average of one year. Were the changes positive? In most respects, absolutely. Are residential children different than orphans? Well, residential kids usually are not orphans in the legal sense.

But most have living absent parents. And all the kids during the orphanage years weren’t orphans either! While doing research on the history of Good Will Farm I came across an ad for the Farm in the Gazette from many decades ago stating “Drunken Mothers give up your children.” Period language at its best!

So who is affected by this change? Of course the youth who were moved from the 12,000 square foot mansion to the smaller family home. This was a very positive move for them and they recognized it right away. The mansion was unique, functional and awesome, but also institutional. Now they live in a typical home setting.

It’s different for past residents and their families. We have had an annual reunion at the home for nearly four decades. Now the home no longer exists. Last year a past orphan from the 1930’s attended, as well as youth from the 80s and 90s. Now what? Every year former orphans or their offspring would stop by just to walk through.

Many from the orphanage years have stopped by to walk up the main stairway that they were not allowed to use during their stay (for whatever rationale)! Now the stairway is gone (but the railing is still with us and will be hung as a tribute to the period in our downtown offices at the old Depot)!

The staff who worked in the home, especially those who spent most of their career there, experienced a variety of emotions from the process and change. Tom Dahl, 35 years, Bob Rashliegh, 34 years, Mark Weber and Carol Monet, 26 years, Luke Bedore, 20 years, and our recently passed friend and co-worker Earl Alexander, 34 years. Imagine moving out of a home occupied for 93 years! The records, documents, pictures, memories, relationships, stuff! Watching numerous 100+ year old trees fall, then the building. It will be with us for a while.

Many local supporters, historians and people interested in fine old buildings and homes have expressed sadness in this local loss, even while recognizing the need to move forward.

Now the new memories on this best piece of property in Houghton surrounded by Michigan Tech will be in the hearts and minds of MTU students who will have that panoramic view and short walk to classes!

If you’re still reading this, thank you! And give me a call anytime! 482-0520.

Mark Lambert is executive director of U.P.?Kids in Houghton