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Monday, December 8, 2014

Boys Town A Omaha Landmark Revisited

There are many important landmarks in my area that I have never visited. That is not the case with Boys Town. During the off season for softball from around ages 13 to 16, I attended a free pitching clinic held at Boys Town for youth in the Omaha, NE area regardless of whether or not you were on a team. I may have had inkling or more about the mission of Boys Town, but I was blind regarding much of the good works that took place at Boys Town despite my familiarity between the walls of the field house week after week where I practiced the windmill pitching form.

I may be sketchy on the exact chronology or my feelings at the time, but I will try to relay my impressions as best as possible about my becoming increasingly aware of the mission of Boys Town.

When I heard that my maternal grandfather wanted to take visiting family to Boys Town, I remember being surprised that he would pick this as a tourist attraction. Although I did not make the trip, I recently learned that Becky Bohan Brown had this opportunity with grandpa.

In my 10th grade year in high school, I needed to do a speech for religion on someone who I considered to be a modern day prophet. I noticed that we had a biography about Father Flanagan and probably picked him out of convenience. I do not remember any of what I read and little of what I said. I do recall expressing in my closing that I hoped there would be someone like Father Flanagan there for me if I ever were in need.

Turning channels and finding the 1938 movie “Boys Town” had the greatest impact in helping me realize just how big of impact Father Flanagan had on the world.

I believe the first time seeing the film on television was during my high school years because I remember standing before the bronze statue “He ain’t heavy, He’s my brother” with much appreciation from the newly gained context.

I recently liked Boys Town on Facebook and have checked out their web site. I feel their official pages are among some of the best that I have seen with a constant stream of positive news. Throwback Thursdays have new meaning with quotes from Father Flanagan and pictures from his era. Just recently, I read there about Father Flanagan working to help orphans living in sewers in war torn Japan after WWII. My heart was warmed as I went to a link where Boys Town youth expressions of gratitude. One youth related how the Thanksgiving at Boys Town would be like the traditional one with good food and the trimmings shared with others at Boys Town. Another youth gave thanks for the sobriety that she never thought possible prior to Boys Town. Each story is unique, but I know there are youth who have been nurtured through the years at Boys Town who have seen and experienced things prior to Boys Town that no one should experience in a lifetime. Boys Town has been the difference right when they needed it.

I think I was well into my thirties when I learned the real significance that Boys Town was to my maternal grandfather as I spoke with him about his experiences there. He had worked there briefly as a landscaper doing contact work and knew Father Flanagan personally. He told me that he was a wonderful man. Grandpa was the second youngest of nine children born to loving German and Dutch immigrants. I am not sure about the older children, but it was necessary for the younger children to start working around age 12. According to my great aunt, they could come home at night if they were close enough. My grandpa lived and worked on farms. He experienced the good and the bad of living conditions. At one farm, he worked on an empty stomach and soon left there. After returning to his sleeping quarters at another farm, he found another person in his bunk and moved on that night. Fortunately, there was a good family that he lived and worked with in Nebraska and even moved with them to Colorado.

I think that my Grandpa must have had quite a rapport with the youth as he told me that Father Flanagan wanted to hire him on a permanent basis. Seeking year around work, he changed careers and become a highly skilled welder. Through the years, my grandpa stressed the importance of having a trade. Father Flanagan strongly believed in teaching young men a trade. Although times have changed, there are still many good paying jobs for those skilled in a trade and others that are there for four year degrees. In 2014, 109 of the seniors who resided at Boys Town graduated. Looking at the break down of 48 students bound for community college, 15 students entering the work force, 3 bound for cosmetology school and 15 for the job corps suggests an emphasis on vocational training and also higher education.

Boys Town was founded in 1917, the same year that my grandpa was born. In 1921, Father Flanagan moved Boys Town to the outskirts of Omaha and welcomed boys from different backgrounds and creeds. The 160 acre farm would be away from what he considered to be the ills of congested city life. His philosophy that there is no such thing as a bad boy only a bad environment is the underpinnings of Boys Town. His belief that the cost to society would be more expensive down the road if youth were not given the needed environment lives on today at Boys Town.

In 1973, Monsignor Robert Hupp became the head of Boys Town. During his time, a shift from dormitory life to the Family Home Program was made. Girls also began living at Boys Town during his leadership.

Most likely due to my living in Omaha, NE, my Great Uncle Wayne Bohan informed me that he donated to Boys Town. He was originally from Adair County, Iowa and had been a large animal veterinarian and a mayor of a small town in Minnesota. This was one of the few in person exchanges with my great uncle, a man known for being outgoing, giving bear hugs and having a hearty laugh. As we conversed, I sensed that he felt good about supporting such a worthy cause. The fact that 90 percent of the money donated to this 501(c) 3 nonprofit goes to help youth shows that they are very efficient in their organization.

In 1977, Boys Town opened Boys Town National Research Hospital ® in Omaha, NE. This hospital is nationally respected in the field of speech and hearing and continues to expand its services.

The statistics of 2013 paint a picture of Boys Town making a difference across the county as more than 28,000 children and 7,000 families received direct youth care services. 82,000 children and 40,000 families received health care services.

There are more than a dozen Boys Town sites across the nation. Boys Town reach will continue to expand across the county with community initiatives identifying the areas of greatest need. This will result in facilities being opened in neighborhoods and local and diverse residents will be hired to staff these facilities.

Over the years, I have known adults who were once residents of Boys Town including one who had been voted Mayor. I have known dedicated Family Teaching Couples, adult mentors and teachers at the school at Boys Town. I have not set foot on Boys Town’s grounds since high school, but I have continued to feel its influence.

Boys Town Quotes:

“I know when the idea of a boys’ home grew in my mind, I never thought of anything remarkable about taking in all of the races and all of the creeds. To me, they are all God’s children. They are my brothers. They are children of God. I must protect them to the best of my ability.” - See more at:

“The poor, innocent, unfortunate little children belong to us, and it is our problem to give them every chance to develop into good men and good women.” - See more at:

Sources for Blog Post:

Official Boys Town Web Site and official Boys Town Facebook page

Graduation Summary for 2014 Document

Boys Town 2013 Annual Report

-population-we™ blog post by Barb Bohan
© 2014 population-we, LLC 
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1 comment:

  1. Barb: Thanks for your effort on the post. You really brought Boys Town to light; especially, through Grandpa's eyes. We are so fortunate to have such a refuge for boys and girls in Omaha.