Humble Beginnings: Challenges Concordia Faced Raising Children in the Orphanage

January 15, 2013

In celebration of Concordia's 130+ years of service, we periodically post excerpts from our history book. In case you haven't seen any of our "Humble Beginnings" posts before, Concordia started as an orphanage in 1881. The excerpt below is about the difficulties of raising children in the orphanage in the early days. Runaways, accidents, illnesses - everything seemed so much harder back then! But, as you'll read, it wasn't all bad times. Enjoy, and leave a comment if you like. :)

... The children posed challenges as well. Some boys would run away, forcing the housefather to go after them. The housefathers were diligent in their efforts to retrieve these children, sometimes out of affection, but very often out of a sense of duty to God.

When two boys who ran away in September 1899 were not found in a few days, Mr. Lensner would write, "I couldn't keep out of my mind the thought of my poor lost sons, who were very thinly clothed and today were wandering around in the rain, who knows where. Although they were the two greatest liars in the orphanage, they nevertheless have an immortal soul which perhaps is still to be saved." Eventually, the boys would be found in Olean, New York.

Orphanage childrenThe next few years continued to be difficult as well, as Mr. Lensner noted in December 1901, "Herewith a difficult and trouble-filled year comes to an end. The Enemy has ?deep guile and great might.' Sad it is that he has such might with baptized little children. My health seems to be ruined. I am always so tired and don't feel at all well. Nevertheless, the dear God doesn't let us lack also good things."

Then there were the accidents to contend with, accidents which could only happen when boys are playing. For example, consider this entry from Adolph Brauer, the housefather who followed Pastor Detzer: "September 11 Karl U. cut Johann V. on the head with an ax. It was in play. The former had blindfolded himself and tried to chop a piece of wood. The latter held the stick which he was to hit and so Johann was hit on the head. It was a long wound and bled profusely, but the skull was not injured. ?"

In addition to accidents, illnesses were another stressful reality of the Home. Childhood diseases that are rare today, such as measles, mumps, diphtheria, and chicken pox, were all too common then and sometimes fatal. The first mention of the cemetery on the Home grounds appears in the journal entries of housefather Adolph Brauer, where he notes that Wilhelm Bischoff was buried on April 8, 1885.

At one point in 1908, half of the children were sick within a few months' time. Other contagious diseases such as influenza struck children, elderly, and staff alike.

When people weren't falling ill, the journals report cases of the farm animals occasionally becoming injured or dying. Sometimes it wasn't such a great loss as when one housefather noted, "The Home's dog, Turk, did us a great favor and died." But more often than not, the unexpected loss of a horse, cow, or pig dealt the farm a severe blow. Similarly, when a piece of equipment failed, be it the boiler, radiator, threshing machine, or kitchen appliance, life in general became more difficult.

Of course, to be fair, the journals do not dwell exclusively on the hard times. The majority of entries talk about the simple blessings of everyday life on the farm as well as the generosity of donors to the Home and its residents. The holidays brought days of excitement and joyful celebration, while the annual festival was a highlight of the summer (except for poor Pastor Hengist, that is!).


Founded more than 130 years ago, Concordia Lutheran Ministries is a faith-based, CARF-CCAC accredited Aging Services Network and recipient of the inaugural Pennsylvania Department of Aging Excellence in Quality Care Award. As one of the 50 largest nonprofit senior care providers in the country, the organization serves over 20,000 people annually through home care and inpatient locations. Concordia offers a lifetime continuum of care that includes adult day services, home care, hospice, medical and rehabilitation services, memory support, personal care, respite care, retirement living, skilled nursing/short-term rehab, spiritual care and medical equipment. For more information, call 724.352.1571 or e-mail us here.

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