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Humble Beginnings: Financial support crucial in early 1900s

October 23, 2012

In celebration of Concordia's 130+ years of service, we're periodically posting 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 Concordia's financial hardships in the early 1900s. Interesting stuff - enjoy!

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In the meantime, the Board was hard at work providing both the financial and human resources needed to run the Home. Both were to prove problematic in the extreme. The fact that the Home was situated on a working farm helped immensely as it provided much of the food that was necessary for the children and staff. Its proximity to St. Luke also made it easier for its parishioners to lend a helping hand when needed.

But the fact remained that financial support was crucial to the Home's survival. Since the churches viewed the Home as a mission, parishioners were encouraged to make donations accordingly. Some large donations were in the form of bequests, such as Mr. Oertel's donation of the original farm. One such major donation was made by Mr. Gerhardt E. Niemann, who actually made his will on May 1, 1882, seven months before the Home was even established. Mr. Niemann directed that after his wife's death, all the remainder of his estate would "be given and bequeathed to erect or support an orphan asylum of the Evangelical Lutheran Church?". Mr. Niemann died in 1888, but his wife would live on for 21 more years. After her death, the estate amounted to $169,636.58, a tremendous amount in 1910. However, a large part of these funds were invested in the First and Second National Bank of Pittsburgh, which failed and closed its doors in 1913. Subsequently, the Home would realize only about $96,000 from the estate.

John LiebegottLiebegott sm 200x300

According to John Liebegott, "I was told in later years that this loss influenced the Board of Directors to resolve that all investment funds loaned must be secured by first mortgages." Although they often discussed the possibility of investing more in stocks and bonds, they invariably chose to stay with the mortgages. The stock market crash of 1929 and the resulting Great Depression did cause several people to default on their mortgages, but the Home would have sustained even greater losses had more of its funds been in stocks and bonds.

For all their efforts and wise stewardship, the Home's finances were always extremely tight. Were it not for the efforts of the Concordia Ladies' Aid Society and the generous donation of goods from individuals and parish congregations, it's fair to say the Home's residents would have been in dire straits. The Concordia Ladies' Aid Society was organized in the fall of 1915 "for the object of giving aid to the Concordia Orphans Home and the Old Folks Home at Marwood, Pa., to give aid to any other institution of our Synod when deemed necessary, and to promote interchurch sociability among Lutherans who are one with us in faith." By 1932, the society had nearly 500 members and in the first 17 years provided the following to the Home:

  • Nearly all the floor coverings
  • Frigidaire for both orphan and elderly homes
  • Helped to install modern machinery in the bakery and laundry
  • Furnished the kitchen with a modern stove and many of the utensils
  • Playground and playroom equipment, clothing, shoes and toys for the children
  • Blankets and linens for the beds

The Home also kept precise and phenomenally detailed records of every donation ever made to the Home, no matter how large or small. There are ledger books filled with innumerable donations of every kind: fruits, vegetables, bread, and other foodstuffs as well as clothes, linens, books, and other hard goods. Donations arrived throughout the year, with extra gifts of cash, candy, meats, etc., arriving for the holidays.

All combined, the Home's resources were generally close to providing for its expenses. Over the years, providence and stewardship usually saved the day, but it was usually a touch and go situation.

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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 serviceshome carehospicemedical and rehabilitation servicesmemory supportpersonal care, respite care, retirement livingskilled nursing/short-term rehabspiritual care and medical equipment.

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