Corsicana Daily Sun, Corsicana, Texas

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June 16, 2014

Former orphanage residents return for reunion Saturday

Corsicana — About 150 former residents of the Corsicana State Home attended the annual reunion this past weekend, for what could be the last time.

“I think we have a lot of people here because they don’t know if it will be the last time,” said Du’ane Yancy, with the Texas Juvenile Justice Department.

The Corsicana Residential Treatment Center, the former State Home, has been marked for closure by the state, but is still on life support with a skeleton crew and no youth living there anymore. That meant the former residents were able to drive their cars right up to the gazebo for the memorial service. It also means next year they might not be on the campus at all.

Even if they don’t have it on the grounds of the former orphanage, they need to have it, said Butch Nelson, who spent five years of his childhood at the home while his mom was in a tuberculosis sanitorium in Fort Worth.

“It doesn’t matter where we meet as long as we meet,” Nelson said. “That’s how everybody feels.”

Nelson left in 1953, and has now attended 57 reunions.

“The time I had here with these kids, they’re like my brothers and sisters. I’m closer to them than my own family,” he said.

Addie Ruth Carpenter Holleman, 78, came to the reunions every year for the last 15 years with her best friend Geneva Henson. Henson passed away last October. The two women met as kids at the State Home, and reconnected as adults. They spent about 60 years as best friends.

Addie was accompanied by Geneva’s daughter, granddaughter, and great-grandson.

“We call her my aunt,” said Bobbie Kent, Geneva’s daughter.

They came to see old friends and reminisce, Addie explained.

“I feel lost because my friend’s not with me,” she said. “She was like a sister to me more than my friend.”

Many of the former residents described the other “kids,” as their sisters and brothers. It was like an extended family at the State Home, particularly when it was a self-supporting facility. At one time, the orphanage had its own school and farm, where the kids worked to raise their own food. The football team was supposed to be pretty fierce.

Jim Bronstad, now 90, comes to the reunions to see the students he once taught at the school. He was a teacher, coach and recreation director at the State Home from 1953 to 1982.

“I come every year so I can see my kids,” he said.

The fate of the Corsicana Residential Treatment Center remains in the hands of the Legislative Budget Board. Even if the property is transferred to another state department, or given to the county or city, the memorabilia, like trophies and photos of the 100 years of raising kids at the State Home, will be preserved. They’re trying to get permission to move the materials into the former superintendent’s house to make it into a museum, Yancy said.

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More photos from the event are available on the Daily Sun Facebook page

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Janet Jacobs may be reached via email at jjacobs@corsicanadailysun.com.

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