stories from the book
by James V. Browning
For the Love of the Children
James V. Browning
I discovered America at Lohn, Texas, February 14, 1920. Lohn is in central Texas; it is about the size of Slapout, Rhuebottom and Bugtussle in Oklahoma. I grew up on a farm 1-1/2 miles from school. My choice in getting to school was to walk or run. I usually did the latter. I liked school and being with my peers.
When I graduated at barely seventeen years of age, Mother said, “You need to go and get more education!” Dad said, “Get on the tractor and help me plow.” I listened to Mother. My grandfather signed my note at the bank so I could attend business college in Abilene, Texas.
It is now 1938. I am employed as a bookkeeper for a grocery chain, traveling over much of Texas each month for over two years. World War II was in the making. In 1940, I entered Federal Civil Service, working as an accounting clerk for the U.S. Corps of Engineers. After five months, I was offered a promotion if I would move to the ordnance plant at Baytown, Texas. A June wedding was hurriedly moved to April 18 and my new bride and I moved to the Texas coast. Ten months there and a transfer came to Fort Hood, being constructed near Killeen, Texas. Our first child, Bill, was born July 15, 1942. A few months passed and I received a transfer to Fairbanks, Alaska. I enjoyed my work, but missed my wife and newborn son. After a year, I requested a release so I could return home to enter military service. I volunteered for the Air Force and entered pilot training. I was ready to enter the final phase of my training when the armistice was signed and I was discharged.
In February, 1946, I entered Hardin-Simmons University. As a freshman during Religious Focus Week, I attended a Wednesday night chapel service led by Dr. Bill Marshall, Wayland Baptist College. The theme of his message was this: Prepare now for the vocation in which you can have the most influence for Christ. It seemed that he spoke directly to me. I was preparing to be a certified public accountant. I immediately changed my major that week, so I would prepare to work with children. Graduation came August, 1948, with a Bachelor’s degree in Education, a permanent teaching certificate and credentials qualifying me to be a principal or superintendent of schools.
My wife and I were quite active in the University Baptist Church in Abilene. We were seeking God’s leadership in our lives, particularly at this point. A school board of a very large rural school in northern Texas invited us for an interview for the position of principal and offered me the principalship. I accepted. Returning home, after two days I called the school board and resigned. Something just wasn’t right (God was intervening). Three days later, while I was studying in the HSU library, a distinguished-looking gentleman approached me and introduced himself as Robert Cooke Buckner, superintendent of Buckner Orphan’s Home, Dallas, Texas. Following a two-hour discussion, he asked to meet my wife and two children. Another hour of discussion culminated in an invitation to come to Dallas for a visit. We went the next weekend.
Buckner Orphan’s Home was very impressive. A complex of some thirty red brick buildings, including a large church, elementary and high school buildings, some six hundred fifty children, two hundred thirty-five employees and all of this located on thirty-five hundred acres of land some five miles east of downtown Dallas on Highway 80. I couldn’t say no. Yes, we would come in three weeks at a salary of $150.00 per month with a home provided for my family just north of the campus. My position would be commercial teacher in the high school.
One year later, I was appointed high school principal. Another two years and I was asked to be Dean of the Home. My responsibility was great. I was “Big Daddy” to all the children, responsible for supervision and training of some forty child care workers, involved in all discipline matters, plus a multitude of other duties (my job description covered ten pages). There were not enough hours in my days. Consequently, after several months, I had a serious setback healthwise.
After three days in Baylor Hospital, the doctors told me, instead of the suspicioned brain tumor, I was suffering from total physical exhaustion. Three weeks rest was prescribed, to be followed by a lighter work schedule.
Another year passed quickly. Then along came an invitation by Dr. H. Truman Maxey to become resident manager of Oklahoma Baptist Orphans’ Home. I had just completed my Master’s Degree at Southern Methodist University by attending classes at night and on Saturdays. With my wife, Mickie, and our four children, Bill 10, Carol 8, Bob 3, and Kay 1, we visited Oklahoma City. The decision to come was made and we moved on campus in August 1954.
Before long, my title was changed to Superintendent. Some 150 to 175 children lived in eight buildings. Gradually, older buildings were replaced with family-type cottages. Later, a recreational educational building was added. Trained social workers were employed as funds permitted. The nursery was closed in 1962. All pre-schoolers were placed in good Christian foster homes. Adoptions increased. Where once we had sought custody of all children received into care, we gradually shifted to care through family and/or guardian agreements. Length of stay in the Home decreased. Children came to grow in care toward other types of care where possible. Fewer orphans, but an increasing number of children who were “uncared for” or “difficult to care for.” Our ministry changed from custodial care of the orphaned to treatment-oriented care of abused, deprived, neglected, delinquent, disturbed children who were products of poor home environment, poor parenting and family breakdown. Children increasingly needed professional therapy.
An increasing staff was needed to care for a reduced number of children. All child care workers had to become state certified with a minimum of twenty-five hours of training. Houseparent couples were employed. More time off duty was now required for child care personnel to recoup emotionally and physically.
In 1981, sale of the Home property was announced. We were to be moved by June 1982. Because we had 200 acres of property in south Oklahoma City, we made plans to move to 16301 South Western, Moore school district, Cleveland County, yet five blocks within south Oklahoma City limits. Six cottages, administration building, education/recreational building, commissary, staff house, and shop building were constructed. Because of numerous delays in construction, we had to purchase three 4- to 5-bedroom homes in Moore for children and staff, along with placing more than fifty children in temporary foster homes. We waited eagerly to move into our new Home, which we did in late summer 1983. Our new Home and campus were featured in a national publication in 1984.
As to my participation in organizations and professional growth in my field, I share the following: I earned a certificate in child care administration at the University of North Carolina in 1974. I became an Oklahoma University certified child care trainer in 1970; I have led over 150 child care training workshops in eight states. It was my privilege to help organize an annual workshop for Personnel of Homes for Children at the University of Texas. I chaired the Workshop Program Planning Committee three years and served as teaching consultant eight years. I have maintained active membership and served as president of the Oklahoma Association of Children’s Institutions and Agencies, the Southwestern Association of Executives of Homes for Children, and Child Care Executives of Southern Baptists. I served for several years as Southwest Accreditation Commissioner (8 states) for the National Association of Homes for Children. In 1970, L. E. Rader appointed me to the Oklahoma Child Care Advisory Board where I served for fifteen years. Through the years, I have served on others boards for shorter periods of time.
From 1970 to 1991, I maintained active membership in the north Oklahoma City Rotary Club. This afforded me many opportunities to speak to Rotary Clubs all over Oklahoma about our Oklahoma Baptist Child Care ministry.
After three years on our new Children’s Home campus, I was brought face-to-face with retirement. Convention policy is that one must retire before age 66 or move to another position with the Convention on a part-time basis. I was invited to move to the Baptist Building to work in the home office of Oklahoma Baptist Homes for Children. My responsibilities: Training of child care workers on four campuses; an annual three-day workshop for all staff members of OBHC; supervision of college students (usually 10-15) assisting them with monthly allowances, payment for books, scholarships, part-time employment, etc.; working with alumni; speaking in churches, world mission conferences, civic clubs, schools, etc.; and assisting the President of OBHC however needed. All of this has truly been a fulfilling and enjoyable experience.
In retrospect, I feel that I have been where God wanted me. Yes, my life has been only a drop in the bucket, but my Lord knows it has been in the bucket. I will complete fifty years in child care this summer. God has gifted all of us to make a difference in the lives of children; my life has touched more than 3,000 children and I think I have made a difference in the lives of many.
I thrill at the success stories you read in this book. So many who have suffered so much childhood misery, heartache, and pain have overcome tremendous obstacles to achieve what they have today. A few responded to my request for their story, that, after repeated attempts they could not bring themselves to writing about the painful parts of their lives before coming to the Home. Several who submitted their stories mentioned shedding many tears. One 45-year-old business man shared this comment: “This is therapeutic. To dig out these painful memories is difficult. I found myself with tears streaming down my face as I wrote my story.”
Of the many stories written, please remember there are hundreds of others who could have responded had they been contacted and given the opportunity to share.
As I reflect over these fifty years in child care, I ask myself, “Do I have any regrets?” Yes, I do have. I regret all the sacrifices my wife and four children were required to make for me to continue in this ministry to needy children. So often, my family received the left-overs. Going home to my family after long days and nights wrestling with people problems, I was exhausted and failed to fill my role adequately as husband and father. My family endured the consequences. Also, I regret not having the vision and fortitude to supply the help needed by all children who came into care. With some we failed. I beg forgiveness.
In conclusion, to love what you do and know that it is important in God’s sight brings joy and satisfaction like nothing else. I thank God that I heard and responded to His call to child care.
If I were standing to be judged before the Great White throne,
Where I could hear the angels sing and hear the sinners moan,
I would want no greater advocate to plead my case for me,
Than just a boy or girl who would say, “Gee, he did a lot for me.”