Saturday, May 26, 2001

Ky. Children's Home residents reunited

By Scott Wartman
Enquirer Contributor

        COVINGTON — Charles Hayley said he remembers childhood as a time when he was different from everybody else.

        Rather than living with his parents, he lived with 15 other boys in one big dormitory room.

        At 5 a.m. every day, a headmaster would blow a whistle signaling time for chores, which usually for the young Charles consisted of working in a hot boiler room, waxing floors or working in the kitchen.

[photo] Joyce Ozepy of Erlanger sits on the porch of the old Children's Home of Northern Kentucky in Covington.
(Patrick Reddy photo)
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        After finishing his work and eating breakfast, it was off to school like every other kid his age.

        Mr. Hayley, now 59, said he knew he wasn't like the other kids. “When you went to school, you knew everyone went to a family,” Mr. Hayley said, “and you would hear them talk about fun things they did with their families.”

        This was his daily routine between 1945-1957 in the Children's Home orphanage in Devou Park.

        Today, Mr. Hayley will reunite with those he spent 12 years with at the Children's Home. It will be the first reunion at the Children's Home since 1993.

        The people who grew up at the Children's Home were like family because they experienced childhood together, Mr. Hayley said. Becoming a close friend to someone was dangerous, however. “It was real hard when someone would get adopted and you wouldn't see them again,” said Mr. Hayley.

        Mr. Hayley and most others who lived there were not orphans but came from troubled families who financially or emotionally couldn't raise their children. Mr. Hayley's mother sent him there along with his brother and sister when he was 4.

        In retrospect, he views his experience at the Children's Home as positive. “We thought it was bad at the time,” he said. “Under my circumstance, however, it was the best thing for me.”

        Mr. Hayley said the Children's Home gave him a strong work ethic and discipline that he wouldn't have gotten if he stayed at home with a mother who was struggling to make ends meet.

        When he was 16, Mr. Hayley was approached by the overseer of the home, who told him his mother was able to care for him again and he would be going home that day. He said he left the only place he knew as home without any warning or fanfare. He calmly gathered up his belongings, rode to a bus station and made his way to Price Hill.

        A year later, his brother and sister were also back to live with their mother.

        Mr. Hayley said he thinks that his experience at the home left him with an advantage over some other people because he learned discipline and respect. “There was always someone there who teaches you to respect people,” Mr. Hayley said. “You learned to work hard and it was very regimented.”

        Mr. Hayley is now a retired city employee and lives in Anderson Township.

        Linda Turner, 45, of Fort Thomas, is another Children's Home alum who said her experience was positive and taught her to deal with hardship. “I grew from it,” Ms. Turner said. “I learned there was a lot of children with need much more than mine.”

        Ms. Turner said she lived at the Children's Home from 1962-1969 and, like Mr. Hayley, had a mother who wasn't able to raise her children.

        Ms. Turner attended the last reunion and said it was a magnificent experience. “We got big pictures together and it was just like taking a family portrait,” Ms. Turner said. “It makes me cry just thinking about it.”

        Jean Williams, head of Community Relations for the Children's Home, said she looks forward to a poignant reunion.

        The Children's Home stopped being an orphanage in 1979 and the building was converted into offices devoted to family therapy. There are cottages behind the building which house youths who come from troubled families, but the housing is only short-term, with a stay lasting between two and 18 months.

        Ms. Williams said the focus of the residential housing at the Children's Home is to give therapy to the children and to reintegrate them quickly back into their family or a foster family. No longer, said Ms. Williams, do children spend a majority of their childhood at the Children's Home.


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