Monday, August 20, 2001

Adults at reunion remember orphanage

By Emily Biuso
The Cincinnati Enquirer

        Though the celebrants at the fourth annual Colored Orphan Asylum reunion share neither genes nor a last name, there was no doubt Sunday's gathering was a family reunion.

        About 20 people who lived at the former Cincinnati orphanage and their families came together in Glendale to reminisce about their days sharing clothes, chores, holidays and their childhood.

        “We are a family,” said Kirby Rashid, 55, who has been organizing the reunions since 1998.

        There's a core group from the orphanage — which operated for nearly123 years downtown and, later, in Avondale — that keeps in touch regularly, but at least one new face shows up at each reunion, said Ms. Rashid of Avondale.

        This year's surprise guest was Bernice Provo Thomas, who flew in from Westchester County, N.Y., to attend her first reunion. Now an accountant for Sotheby's Auction House, Mrs. Thomas, 53, shed tears as she swapped stories with childhood friends with whom she sneaked onto the roof for a smoke.

        “It doesn't matter where you go in the world. We have a foundation,” she said.

        The New Orphan Asylum for Colored Children opened on Ninth Street downtown in 1845. In 1866 the orphanage moved to the former Underground Railroad site in Avondale. It closed in 1967.

        It existed because black children weren't allowed in other orphanages during those years, Ms. Rashid said.

        Over a scrapbook and potluck dinner they remembered shopping trips, generous Christmases, proms, music lessons, and outings to Coney Island.

        “It saved my life,” said Dotti Adams, 56, who lived at the orphanage from age 8 until her 16th birthday. “I don't know where I'd be if I hadn't been there.”

        A self-described rebellious child, Ms. Adams said the strict rules and cultural experiences provided by the orphanage made her who she is today.

        Now studying to be a paralegal, the North Avondale woman still thinks of her upbringing when making her bed — military style — or setting a table.

        Ms. Adams and Juanita Warren, 55, let out gales of laughter remembering how they'd iron khakis until the pants could stand up on their own.

        “It was like a home, not an orphanage,” said Ms. Warren of Avondale. She called her grandson over to introduce her longtime friends.

        “These are all my sisters, every last one.”


Cops take Spanish lessons
Retiring clerk saw council make history
Messages of peace, unity close Reunion
- Adults at reunion remember orphanage
Art Academy design is on the bunny
Boone Co. to tap Cincinnati water
Ousted mayor running to regain office
RADEL: Telemarketer's call sells man on warning
No teachers strike in Franklin
Hoop students return earlier
Building promotes wildlife
Development to draw jobs, traffic
Festival unites people, peppers
Heritage Fest still growing
Local Digest
You Asked For It
Boone cops may regroup
College students pick research over summer jobs
Electric chair may end up in museum
Poll: Majority of Ohioans say school funding inefficient
Fund raising starts early
Have a tax reform idea? Step in line
License plates a tricky mix of vanity fare
Mammoth Cave concern raised