This writing first came about to promote my artwork. It’s evolved into something more personal and I know, the two are intertwined. This is because the art is a culmination of the places I’ve been… the people I’ve been affiliated with, and experiences that I’ve had in life which are reflected in my work. This writing is a short follow-up to the family reunion I recently attended.
This statue meant little to me when I arrived in Nebraska at 11 years old. I was unfamiliar with the slogan “He ain’t heavy father, he’s my brother…”. I didn’t know I would finish my formative years at the place first known as “Overlook Farm” and in later years, the “Village of Boys Town”. How many times did we hear, “I’m only here for a short while…”? Like so many others, I assumed the arrangement was temporary when I first arrived at Orientation. A lot of water has passed under the bridge since Father Flanagan first borrowed $90 to establish the first boys home. A lot of water has passed under the bridge since I came to Nebraska at 11 years old. Father Flanagan’s successor was Monsignor Nicholas H. Wegner, a priest who carried on Flanagan’s passionate concern for homeless and disadvantaged children. I grew to love and respect Msgr. Wegner as much as I did the priest who was responsible for me being Boys Town, Father William Diersen. That story in itself deserves more than a couple of chapters and I’ll reserve that for another time. For now I’d like to concentrate on the recent family reunion at our home.
Every two years the Boys Town Alumni Association hosts a family reunion. That’s been going on since before my day. I hope it continues long after I’m gone. The reunions are more than just an opportunity to relive the old days and share the brotherhood that is so strong between the Alumni. It’s an opportunity for the newer generations to hear from the old ones, compare notes and laugh at the similarities. And to share the differences of our experiences in the home. Unknowingly, we ALL share something in common, And that is, at some point, “life” threw us something that we couldn’t handle on our own.
Let me regress. I always end these reunions with a solitary walk around the lake, and then a visit to the old grade school Dining Hall which is now the Boys Town Hall of History. I “walk the lake” out of memory and respect for the classmates, the teachers and counselors I grew up with, who perhaps weren’t able to attend the affair. And those, no longer with us. I walk the lake as a need for reflection, telling myself, “THIS is where I came from… THIS is my childhood home.” I used to have an internal struggle. “Where IS home?” The first 11 years of life I spent growing up in Louisville, Kentucky. My mother would have been todays poster child for “abusive parent of the year”. A parish priest, where I served as an altar boy, and one of his colleagues where I attended Catholic School joined forces to convince my Dad and Step-Dad, to have me removed from a demoralizing situation and sent to Boys Town. Again, another story for another time. The fact is I went from a constant state of insecurity to a place that I learned to call home.
Standing at the wall in the “new” museum, which bears the names of lifetime alumni members, I know that we ALL share one thing in common. “Life” threw something at us. I love these reunions because you feel neither beneath anyone nor superior to anyone. We all revel in our brothers or sisters success and we all share compassion for those who have suffered since graduating. We all went on to form a separate identity between ourselves and the home and we all learned the freedom to express who we were and to create our own experiences. Yet again we all share one thing in common. Father Flanagans Boys Home.
Words cannot accurately describe the feelings that overwhelm me when I attend these reunions. I have an advantage over many of the alumni because I’m only a few short miles from the campus. I can take a walk around the lake, spend some time in Dowd Memorial when the mood strikes. But it’s a different feeling knowing that I am among hundreds of my brothers and sisters for three short days. I’ve never attended a failed reunion. I have been disappointed when some classmates were unable to attend or I learned of yet another classmates passing. This year was no different as they memorialize new names on our Veterans Memorial wall at Boys Town.
One last thing I can say about this years reunion, was something I recalled reading, written by Buddha: “If you light a lamp for someone else it will also brighten your path.” I would simply like to thank each teacher, counselor and student that I have had the good fortune to be associated with since first becoming affiliated with the Home, when I was 11 years old. I’m proud to be able to call Boys Town, “Home” and equally as proud to call each of you, “brother” and “sister”.