Oklahoma Baptist Homes for Children

James Browning

stories from the book
by James V. Browning

Bits and Pieces of My Life

Lillie (Spurgin) Campbell

My first memory of the Baptist Children’s Home (actually it was called the Baptist Orphan’s Home at the time) was of Mr. Maxey coming down to our farm in southern Oklahoma; we were down by the creek where the pecan trees were and were picking our annual pecan crop, so it was in the Fall. My mother had died some time earlier and my father knew he could not raise three small children all alone, so he had consulted the pastor of our little country congregation for help in finding a placement for us. Our pastor had contacted Mr. Maxey, who came to talk to us about going to live at the Home in Oklahoma City.

Going to live at the Baptist Children’s Home was quite an adjustment for a little country girl. We did have electricity at our farm but we had no running water and things were pretty primitive there. The little school where I attended was a small town school where everyone knew everyone else, and all that was going on in the life of each one in the school; though I often did not get to go to school because of my mother’s illness, and the fact that my father thought I should be responsible for her care as well as that of my two younger brothers, when I did go, all there were very caring and kind toward me. Moving to the VERY LARGE OKLAHOMA CITY was pretty scary and going to the much larger school where no one knew me was quite a blow.

Once at the Baptist Home, I was placed with the Junior girls in the basement of the Mitchell Building where I think there were about 18 of us crunched up four to a room--a room being about a 10’ by 12’ space marked off by dividers with two double beds and lockers for each of us. We had one bathroom with two toilets, about four sinks and one bathtub for all 18. One of my memories is of our line-up for baths on three nights of the week; all of us were lined up and we were allotted three minutes each in the bathtub. This was to run the water in, wash off, rinse off, and get out!! Those may be the speediest baths of all time! Of course, all the floors in the basement were concrete and during this time I must have been anemic or something because several times I fainted and fell on the concrete floor, my hard head never cracked though!

One of the most meaningful things to happen at the Baptist Home, as far as I was concerned, was the addition of the music program. From the first when music lessons were made possible, I was able to begin piano lessons with various teachers, including Fran Rodgers, Don Drake, Clyde Holloway, and probably some others I’m not remembering right now. I also began to get to sing in musical groups such as the Tritones, which allowed me to begin to travel all over the state as we sang in churches in order to let Baptists all over Oklahoma see kids they were helping to raise. Bobby Jean Drake was our Tritones teacher and the backbone of this particular group and we often got to travel with her and Judson Cook on publicity trips. I was also privileged to be able to help the teachers who had younger choirs at the Home, such as Nita Lee, Vera Ashford, and Bobby Jean Drake. All of those who worked in the music program at the Baptist Home were very meaningful to me and have continued to be supportive of me as I have become an adult out in the world on my own and I will forever be grateful for their Christian influence and support.

One of the things I have mentioned to many people when I talk about my early life and how I have come to the place I currently occupy, is that I believe it was the music program and its opportunities to develop my meager musical talents that kept me sane during my turbulent teen years. Life itself is often difficult but life without a mother and a father who are there with you, supporting you through all the doubts and questioning of growing up, sometimes felt overwhelming. There were times when I was a teenager when I very seriously considered suicide, because I had no mother or father and I didn’t think I could face life alone. It was at those times that my music saved me. I would be in despair and I would go to the piano, which I was supposed to practice one hour a day anyway, and start out just banging out the notes, but before long my rage and despair would be over, and I would find myself playing calmly and harmoniously. Now when I counsel with depressed people, I understand more of what was happening in me way back then and appreciate the fact the I had a very natural and wonderful outlet for my feelings of hurt and sadness and rage.

When we graduated to the Potter Cottage (better known as the Big Girls Cottage), one of our duties was going to the laundry after school each day to iron. We did all our own laundry on campus and back then before the days of permanent press, everything had to be ironed. There were 10 or 12 ironing boards and irons built into the wall and we each had our special one assigned. One day when I left the laundry and my ironing for the day, I apparently forgot one little item, to turn off the iron. Guess what??!! The next day when I returned, my ironing board was gone, it had burned down. I undoubtedly thought that was pretty funny, but Mr. Browning (or whoever had to write the check to purchase the new equipment) probably didn’t! It also didn’t relieve me of my ironing duty; they simply assigned me a different board and probably watched me pretty carefully for a while to make sure I turned the iron off at the end of ironing.

Another memory from Potter Cottage. Oh, how Mrs. Horn liked to make us biscuits when she was the substitute housemother for us, and, oh, how I loved to eat her biscuits!! And speaking of food, when we were the older girls, we were paired with another in the cottage and were responsible for meals, both planning and cooking them, so as to prepare us for life after THE HOME. At one point I was paired with Patricia Fields for kitchen duty. You know, we often had tour groups of people coming through the cottages to see what they looked like and after a while of being on display like monkeys in the zoo, we grew tired of being looked at. So, one time when Patricia and I were in the kitchen preparing a meal and we heard a tour group open the front door, we decided to hide, and did so in the long pantry attached to the kitchen. We were so pleased with ourselves and hiding from being on display this time that we got the giggles really bad, but were trying to be quiet so as not to be found, and Patricia wet her pants (and the floor, too).

  • Continued...

    Mrs. Huffman was the long-time housemother for the Potter Cottage during my time in that cottage. She was an excellent seamstress and made many of the clothes worn by the girls in the cottage. While sewing or in the process of making the many dresses, Mrs. Huffman was so genial and really interested in making things fit just right and look just right. Though I have never had daughters to raise (only sons), I now have greater respect for the wonderful attitude she had while trying to satisfy each girl’s desires.

    I would be remiss if I didn’t mention that wonderful church that was my sponsor during all my years at the Baptist Home, First Baptist Church, Yukon. Though there were many people there who were kind and helpful to me over the years, one family that stands out more than most were Glen and Zella Faye McKinney. And I have to tell one story from Yukon that I remember vividly. One summer I was in Yukon on July 4, I don’t remember whose home I was staying in, but the daughter and I spent a good bit of time out in a field with a lot of weeds that day. The next morning when I awoke, my abdomen and legs and feet were absolutely covered by little red dots everywhere (I tried counting and got up to 400 on my stomach alone!!). Well, that scared everybody a lot, not knowing for sure what it was, so I was sent back home, where we decided they were chiggers and treated them appropriately.

    We attended John Marshall High School from the Home and there I became involved in a myriad of activities, and did well. I was on the National Honor Society, was usually in the Student Council, and was in the band several years. I attended First Baptist Church in Oklahoma City, where I was also involved in many activities. One of the special things about our church was that we had a busy youth program and even got to go to Falls Creek and stay in our church cabin there (Mary Ellen Crossland was a wonderful influence through the church for me personally.). Of course, all the people who were responsible for the music program at the Home were also involved in the music program at FBC, so I got to see them and gain strength from their influence there, too.

    In many ways, growing up in a group home, such as the very large scale Baptist Children’s Home of my day, was not easy. Many from the Home felt stigmatized at school and at their church, and therefore chose not to become active any more than was absolutely required. I am grateful that I never felt stigmatized and did choose to become active in a lot of organizations in both places, which I think benefited me far more in the long run than sticking just with others from the Home would have done. I certainly realize that, had I not grown up at the Home, I very likely would never have had the opportunity to go to college or to earn the graduate degree that I have today. I often tell others that I come from a family of white trash, that is, a poor white family with no education and who literally live on the edge of existence. I am the first of my family to ever graduate from high school (some cousins have now done that), and I am still the only one with a college degree or a graduate degree.

    I am grateful that I have had the opportunity to develop the gifts God gave me and that the Baptist Children’s Home prepared me for that possibility. After graduating from Oklahoma Baptist University, I was awarded a grant to attend social work school at Washington University in St. Louis; I completed my MSW there many years ago now, and have been an active social worker in a variety of settings.

    Currently, I am approaching 10 years of working as a hospice social worker, but my most satisfying work lately has been the voluntary type. During this past year, I was invited to be a speaker for the first Women’s Conference of Southern Baptist Convention missionaries in Europe, where I spoke on depression and did a Grief Support Group, as well as offered some individual counseling sessions, and I spoke for the annual mission meeting of the SBC Mission to Spain. Both of these were hard work, but were very gratifying because of the wonderful people I was able to work with. I have recently trained as a consultant for the Baptist General Convention of Texas’ Christian Life Commission’s new program called Hope for Home. This is a multifaceted effort to help families cope with the myriad problems and pressures that beset us all in our modern world and utilizes volunteers all over the state to tailor specific programs to individual churches and their needs.

    Other people from the Home who were memorable are Mrs. Stinson, who helped us shop for our clothes and who tried to teach us to be polite, have good manners and etiquette, and how to dress appropriately for each occasion; Miss Gilliam, who was a perpetual taxi driver; Jean Hack, who listened when we needed that so much; Judson Cook, who was a wonderful supporter and friend to many of us and still is, for that matter.

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