Celebrating 95 Years: A Stroll Through the Rich History of The VFW National Home for Children.
2020 is our 95th year of providing a safe, nurturing environment for our nation’s military and veteran families! Please join us as we stroll through the history of the National Home. There will be links to other blogs, articles, and videos throughout this blog post. In the 1920s, there were no social programs or services available for the widows and orphans of WWI veterans. With no source of income, these mothers were left unable to provide for their children. Realizing this, and feeling a profound responsibility to care for these veteran families, the Veterans of Foreign Wars established the VFW National Home for Children in 1925. In March of 1925, the first family, the Polletts, came to live at the National Home in Eaton Rapids, Michigan.
During the 1930s, the Home continued to grow and expand as children and families poured into our program. In this decade alone, twelve more houses were built in the National Home Community, bringing the total by 1939 to 20 homes. Please enjoy a few short films about what it was like coming to live at the National Home during the ’30s and campus life. As the Home approached 1940, it was clear that the Great Depression had severely impacted our finances. Through the dedication of the VFW and its Auxiliary, however, they were able to donate $62,440.54 from Poppy Sales in 1941, and the Home was able to stay in operation during a challenging time.
It was during this era that the supportive structures at the Home were expanded to include the Nursery (now known at the Early Education Center) and the Guest Lodge and Chapel. By 1946, The National Home had 113 boys serving overseas during WWII; sadly we lost three of them during the war: Lawrence Sims, Radio Operator, U.S. Navy. Reported missing in action from the Navy Department. Lived at the National Home from 1928 to 1931 Maurice Chadwick, Airborne. Killed in France on November 7, 1944, after having been previously reported missing on that same day. Saw service at Anzio Beach and went as far into Italy as Rome before going to France. Anthony Walters, Airborne. Died of wounds received in action on Luzon, February 4, 1944. Admitted to the Home in 1937 and went directly from the Home into service. The 1950s was an exciting and vibrant decade in the Home’s history. We constructed the Montana Farmstead, which would house our newly created 4-H program, and the addition of a fire engine allowed us to have a fully functioning fire department! June 9th, 1954, the children were starstruck when WIlliam Boyd, Aka Hopalong Cassidy visited the Home on Michigan Day! That year he was elected as an honorary member of the VFW National Home for Children– the first person so honored. The Home’s campus continued to grow as we used the proceeds from the 1922 World Series to build our new Administration Building, and the completion of Illinois Cottage No. 2 brought our community to a total of 31 homes. In 1960 the Home hosted the National Veterans of Foreign Wars Marble Tournament, which brought youngsters from all over the country to the National Home campus. Tilton “Porkchop” Jr. of Wilmington, Alabama, took home the championship that year, the first African American child to do so, and the experience stayed with him for the rest of his life! We also expanded our recreation opportunities with the addition of our Scout Cabin, on our private fishing lake, Lake Romanis. Unfortunately, this was also the time of the Vietnam War, and the National Home was not untouched. Elgie G. Hanna came to the Home in July 1955 with his brothers Richard, Gary, Duane, and sister Angela. On March 20, 1968, while on patrol near Quang Tri, Viet Nam, Elgie was killed in action. During the 1970s, our program began to change. We became licensed as a residential program, meaning we had staff members as well as house mothers living in our homes, taking care of the children. Our need for a hospital on our grounds was limited, so our full-service hospital was renamed the Health & Education building and became home to a dental office, nurse’s office, coupon center, sewing center, library, barbershop, model train club room, and other program-related activities.
In 1975 we celebrated our 50th anniversary! In the 1980s, the National Home’s fire department was featured on That’s Incredible, an American reality TV show that aired on ABC. To view our segment from that episode, click here.
Our fire department was established in 1957 and was ran by the children of the National Home until the late 80’s when, due to changes in our insurance, the department was disbanded. In the 1990s, the National Home expanded our Community Center with a full-sized gymnasium, workout gym, licensed commercial kitchen, cafe, and patio. This space is used for many events today and also houses our education department, library, computer lab, and other arts and crafts rooms.
The new millennium brought a major campus update with a million dollar renovation of our Health & Education building, funded by the VFW Auxiliary. One of the most significant changes to the campus landscape was the 2005 groundbreaking for the first new home built at the National Home in 40 years! The 2,400 square foot duplex was built and sponsored by the United Auto Workers National Veterans Affairs Department. It was dedicated in 2006 for Steven P. Yokich, who served as president of the UAW from 1994 – 2002. Also, in 2006, a $500,000 gift from Douglas and Joanne Blake led to the creation of the Amy Ross Endowment Fund, a permanently restricted endowment fund that provides annual income to the National Home. The Blakes made their generous gift in honor of their son, Army Private Joseph R. Blake, who was killed in action while serving in Operation Enduring Freedom. Above is a special message from the Blakes about what inspired them to give to the National Home. In 2007, construction was completed on a second new duplex. The Alaska House and Hawaii House were constructed with funds the National Home received from the Buick, Pontiac and GMC division of General Motors – the proceeds from General Motors’ 2006 Memorial Day promotion, in which they donated $100 to the National Home for each Buick, Pontiac or GMC sold between May 22 and May 31 of that year. In 2008, the National Home launched a new service, founded on the premise that sometimes the best way to help an American war hero is just to listen, get to the heart of the problem, and find the right kind of assistance in his or her local community. Since that time, the Military and Veteran Family Helpline (800-313-4200) has helped thousands of military and veteran families by providing information, creating connections, and giving hope. The Helpline also serves as the gateway to determining eligibility and applying for our program. In 2007, the National Home was approached by a VFW member from the state of Washington wanting to help the Home. By 2008, he was asking about building a new home. He wanted to leave a lasting impact on the lives of struggling veteran families. He did just that when he single-handedly funded the construction of the National Home’s newest duplex, home to the Air Force and Air National Guard houses. The new duplex was dedicated in October 2011. Upkeep of the Air Force House is sponsored by the VFW Department of Europe, while the MOC and MOCA Grand of Florida sponsor the Air National Guard House. With the establishment of the Amy Ross Endowment Fund, the National Home built our Tribute Park in 2012. This park serves as a beautiful, peaceful place for our residents and visitors to enjoy, and as a place to memorialize and honor our nation’s veterans and active-duty military members. Items placed into the park go into the endowment fund and generate annual income for the National Home. In the fall of 2019, the National Home unveiled two significant renovated spaces on our campus, our Education and Training Center, and our new Museum! A modern, state-of-the-art meeting space, the Education and Training Center is a beautiful addition to our community, offering both a comfortable, intimate meeting area and a classroom-like setting, with a kitchenette and built-in sound and projection system! This space will host resident workshops like our financial management classes, as well as groups like our single-parent and Vet 2 Vet groups, as well as offering a meeting space for visitors to our campus. The long-anticipated National Home Museum offers visitors an interactive experience taking them from the very beginning of the National Home, all the way through to present days. The visually stunning displays showcase authentic National Home memorabilia, artifacts, photos, and videos. Listen to the stories of our past residents, take a flyover of the National Home’s neighborhood, and enjoy a take-home souvenir from our photo booth! The addition of these two buildings represents a perfect bridge between the celebration of our history and the optimism for our future. Here’s to another 95 years! The National Home and our Museum are available for tour by appointment only, Monday through Friday, from 8 am to 4 pm. Please contact us at 800-424-8360 or email us at Info@vfwnationalhome.org to schedule a visit!