Oklahoma Baptist Homes for Children

James Browning

stories from the book
by James V. Browning

A Decade Well Spent

Betty Smith

(Boys Ranch Town, 1979, on a WMU mission tour from Northwest Association) He came running in and threw himself across the hassock in front of the housemother. She reached out and gave him a loving pat on his shoulder. They talked for a few minutes and off he went, back to play. A warm rush of love just washed over me and I knew what could be in my life someday.

While in Oklahoma City one day, I stopped in at the Baptist Building to inquire about a girl our church was going to sponsor. Dr. Lowell Milburn and I visited about my husband and I becoming houseparents. I mentioned this conversation to my husband, Troy, and his response was, “You're crazy, we have a business to run.” A few years passed and I was at the Child Care office once again, talking to Dr. Milburn and I asked if houseparents had ever brought their mothers with them. He said the subject had never come up. I left our telephone number and returned to Gage.

Weeks later, I walked back to the butcher counter in our store and Troy said, “Why don't you call Dr. Milburn again?” My reply was, “I've already talked to him, it's your turn.” He called and life returned to normal for a few weeks. Then, Dr. Milburn called to ask about the application that was sent to us. We had completed it, but had not yet mailed it back.

While driving home from Woodward one day, I was talking to God. I reminded Him we were really hard-headed and He would have to make His will really clear to us. As I walked in the back door of the store, Troy was in the market with an amazed look on his face. “You'll never believe who just called me. Jerry Bradley from the Madill campus. They need a commissary man. He wants to come and visit with us about being houseparents.” Bradley came and we visited in our home.

A few weeks later, Jerry and Troy were talking on the phone, because we weren't sure if he wanted us. Jerry said he needed us in a month. We had already visited the campus at Madill. Our store sold in two weeks, which was a miracle in itself. We packed, and the three of us (Troy, me, and my mother) were in Madill in July of 1984. Jerry and Linda Bradley, along with men at the campus, helped us move our things into Gary Cottage. We began with a coed cottage, but eventually we had an all-girl cottage.

In March, 1985, God called my 87-year-old mother home. This was quite a trauma for the girls in the cottage, but they handled it well.

We moved to Kerr Cottage at the Oklahoma City campus in May of 1986, and once again had a cottage of teenage girls. Jerry Bradley was administrator there at this time. Troy was to work on the ground at the campus. He loved being outside and teaching the girls how to run a riding lawn mower. There was lots of laughter as they made really wild grass patterns while learning this task.

Troy and I had many goals as houseparents, but the most important one was that we wanted to help the girls know the Lord and to live for Him. The joy for any houseparent is to help the children grow as Christians through church attendance, devotion time and everyday living.

The structure of the cottages was to help the children know they could depend on warm safe beds for sleeping, good meals served at regular times, and dependable adults who were there for them after school, and also, good recreation for the fun times.

Troy's health began to fail and he had several trips to the hospital during 1987-88. In October, 1988, God called Troy home and for the next six years, with wonderful staff support, I remained at Kerr Cottage. There were from six to eight girls there at any one time.

Several social workers were part of my life during my 10 years in Child Care. One special social worker/friend worked with me and the girls for six years. Phyllis Gentry was an ever-present presence in the life of Kerr Cottage. Lots of laughs, a few tears and always love.

Such sweet memories I have of the girls in Gary Cottage on the Madill campus, and sharing in those memories was Jean Jacobs. Trips to Lake Texoma to swim and fish. A little boy's first “two-napkin” hamburger and a real Braums ice cream cone. (He was 10 years old and had eaten soft cones, but had never had a double dip cone at Braums.) Shopping for an Easter dress in Duncan for Gwen. A new straw hat to go with her beautiful dark hair. Her eyes danced with happiness and I wondered why her mother wasn't the one enjoying this child.

There are also memories of Kerr Cottage at the Oklahoma City campus, shared with an associate houseparent. Rowena Curren was truly a kindred spirit. Our ability to work and share together was blessed by God. She often had Sunday dinner with us because the girls wanted her there with us as often as possible. One time, the girls, with Mrs. Curren's help, fixed an anniversary dinner for Troy and me. They worked so hard to keep it a secret. Mrs. Curren was the associate houseparent at Kerr Cottage for the eight years I was houseparent.

One 14-year-old girl came to the cottage and had nothing to decorate her bed, such as a teddy bear or doll. I told her that she could take a doll from the toy cabinet for her own. The next morning, as I was doing a room check, I noticed a box beside her bed with a towel placed on top. I looked inside and saw the doll she had chosen, put to bed with a rolled-up towel for a pillow, a scarf for a blanket, and a perfume bottle for a toy. Rowena and I went together and bought a Cabbage Patch Doll for her. Another girl told her mother about the doll and they went together and got a brass cradle. These were given to her as a Christmas gift. There were a lot of tears and hugs under the Christmas tree.

There were tense times, difficult times and unforgettable times. Choir dresses to sew and drama costumes to get ready for class plays. One difficult situation to deal with was name-calling. A girl ran in from the school bus in a fit of anger, telling me another girl had called her the “B” word. I replied by telling her that was a good name. She yelled, “Mrs. Smith!” “It must be,” I continued, “that's what you call me.” She responded by stammering, “Wha...we...not to your face!”

  • Continued...

    In August of 1989, a new member came to Kerr Cottage, a four-month-old Lhasa Apso puppy named Patches. Oh, how the girls loved him, even when he would protest to their leaving on dates by continuously chasing his tail. I told them that God and Patches were the only two they could tell all their thoughts to who wouldn't tell anyone.

    As you can imagine, we did have problems with phone calls, so the understanding was that the cottage phone would not be answered after 9:30 p.m. At that time, they were to be in their room, ready for bed.

    I had the opportunity to work with a girl who had exhausted another campus and group home and this was her last chance to make it work. She was 16 and had been in child care since she was 6. She had a very stormy personality. She was given to an aunt at the age of 2 and told that her mother was dead. A short time before coming to Kerr, while on a family visit, she found a letter written by her mother to the aunt. With the Lord's help, she and I were able to work with one another. She spent a lot of time walking around the oval drive at the campus, which was the outlet she needed to work off her temper. She wasn't allowed to keep the other girls upset, so out she went, muttering, crying, screaming. A few times around and she was ready to come back and we could calmly work things through.

    Her aunt called and let her listen to a tape of her mother. This was the first time since she was 2 years old that she had heard her mother's voice. Her mother was in jail in Los Angeles. I encouraged her to make a journal of every-day experiences: the test that she bombed, the ones she aced, the choir performances and fun times, without condemnation of her situation in life. She mailed this journal with school pictures to her mother, asking her to call any Sunday afternoon. She watched the phone Sunday after Sunday for quite a while, then, dejected, went on with her life. One night about midnight, the phone rang and I decided to answer it. A woman asked for this girl. As I went to her room, I was praying every step for a calm spirit. A very sleepy girl came to the phone--it was her mother calling from the visiting room in the jail. She talked to her mother for an hour, asking unbelievable questions about her life: “When are you going to grow up?” I heard her say. And three different times in three different approaches, she gave her mother the plan of salvation, turning to me for support when her mother said she was too bad. She told her of the woman in the Bible, caught in adultery, and prayed for her. The mother was laughing and turning to others in the room at first, but then finally began to listen. She had received the journal, but hadn't gotten up the nerve to call her daughter. The girl was really restless after the call. A few weeks before her graduation, her father, who she didn't even remember, called.

    When I came back from Spring Break, Mrs. Curren told me this girl had left to live with a family she had met at church. There was contact with the Children's Home and the administrator dealt with the situation. We were able to talk now and then and even after I retired, there has still been contact. She married and has a darling daughter that she brought to the cottage and shown the nice room she shared with a roommate.

    My brother lived in Port Isabel, Texas, and invited the girls down to see the Gulf and South Padre Island. He took us out on his large boat and the girls swam in Barracuda Cove. Donna Norris, another staff member, went with us on this trip. What an exciting trip it was! To see a porpoise beside the boat and the talk of sharks. Some of the girls were afraid. One girl got so hot, she just dove in the water, with the attitude of, “Look out, sharks, here I come.” I don't remember Donna swimming at this time and needless to say, I didn't. The spiritual and financial support of Southern Hills Baptist Church and Rancho Village Baptist Church, combined with saved allowances and other private donations made it possible for us to go on several trips in a six-year period.

    A dentist at Southern Hills let us use his house in Florida for five days. The girls saved their money and gifts from Sunday School classes. This is what they used for eating money on the trip. Phyllis Gentry went on this trip. On the way we picnicked at the Tyler, Texas Rose Garden, toured Vicksburg battle ground, and saw a lot of the Southern countryside. Phyllis took the girls to the beach several times a day. We had pizza at Panama City. We went to Seaside. Then on the trip home, we took in Natchez, Mississippi, and saw the Rosalie Ante-bellum home, and took a buggy ride tour of Natchez. We spent the night at the Baptist Home for Children in Monroe, Louisiana, and had crawfish for dinner. We started home the next day and swam Ouachita Lake and saw President Clinton's childhood home in Hot Springs, then on to Oklahoma City.

    Thanks to Rod Phillips' support and encouragement, I was able to work until August, 1994. After retiring and moving to Gage, I had an operation on my back--all in 30 days. Rod gave me the opportunity to volunteer in 1995 and I worked on the costumes for the Christmas pageant, staying on campus two weeks a month. In March of 1996, I was driving home from Texas, praying God would open the door for something I could do. I felt so useless and needed to be in service now that my health was better.

    I stopped at the Oklahoma City campus to see if someone would go to lunch with me. The staff was in a meeting at the gym, so I drove around the oval on the way out and decided to stop anyway. When I walked in the gym, three people met me, asking if I could help them out at Lucas Cottage. Rowena and I worked together for 11 months until new houseparents could be hired. So I tell people I retired, was rehired and retired again in December, 1996. Art Brown in Madill called and needed relief help for a week in January and February, 1997.

    Then I went back to Gage with my memories of a decade of service to the Lord at OBHC.

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