Tuesday, June 14, 2011

~ There is Hope ~

~ for those who have little, for those who have none, for those who need help,  there is Hope.

     Hope Farm was located in beautiful Dutchess County, NY in the town of Millbrook.  it was founded in 1906 as a home and school for disadvantaged children in Dutchess County, NY in the town of Millbrook.  The first high school class graduated Hope Farm School in 1932.  In 1940 the school was renamed Greer School in honor of David Hummel Greer, a former Protestant Episcopal Bishop of NY.
     Uncle Billy was a student at Greer from September 1941 - January 1944.  I have a 'report card' from this school which is basically just his grades typed on a sheet of paper.  I don't know why Uncle Billy attended this type of school which was located about half-hour away from his family's home in Poughkeepsie.  If I had to guess, I would say that his home life was unstable.  The unhappiness started before he was even born.  Uncle Billy came into this world amid tragedy.  My great-grandmother, Josephine was pregnant when her 3 year old daughter died.  I don't know what day God intended Uncle Billy to be born but I guess the trauma that his mother endured brought on his birth, the day after his sister died.  This was in 1927.  His eldest sister (my maternal grandmother) was 9 years old.  According to the 1930 U.S. Federal Census, my grandmother, at 12 years old, was living with her grandmother instead of her parents.  I don't know where her younger brothers were living.  I wonder if they were living with their father?  and where was their mother? I cannot find her (or her husband and the boys) in the 1930 census.  I wonder if my grandmother was sent to live with her grandmother immediately after the death of her sister.  The death occurred in Brooklyn and little Dorothy was transported up to Poughkeepsie to be buried in the family plot.  Did her brothers stay in Poughkeepsie with their father?
     When I found Uncle Billy's report card years ago among some papers in a clutch belonging to my great-grandmother, I had no idea who William Davis was.  My mother told me that he was my grandmother's youngest brother and that he hadn't been in touch with the family for years.  My mother didn't know anything about her uncle and her mother had been dead for quite a few years.  I contacted my grandmother's cousin, Geraldine (on her mother's side) who couldn't tell me anything about Uncle Billy other than the family hadn't seen him since the 1950's.
     I called a high school in Millbrook to inquire about the Greer School.  The person I spoke to directed me to a town historian who told me that the school had been closed and is now a retirement home.  I was determined to find out more about this school and my great-uncle.  I called the retirement home and luck was on my side.  The woman who answered the phone was a former student of the Greer School.  She attended years after my uncle graduated so she never knew him but that's okay because luck was once again on my side.  There was a reunion to be held soon and Jan was going to ask around and see if anyone remembered my uncle.  In the meantime, she sent me two alumni newsletters so I could read about what life was like at Greer.  I read the newsletters then was hit with an idea...   I called Jan at the alumni association to ask if she would mind printing (in her newsletter) a letter that I wrote the alumni.  She was more than happy to assist me on my quest.  My grandmother's cousin, Geraldine had sent me photos of a young Billy looking so handsome in his navy uniform.  I sent a copy of one of these photos along with a letter identifying myself and asking if anyone remembered my Uncle Billy.  I received two replies to my letter which Jan was kind enough to print.  Both gentlemen who replied sent a photo of my uncle. Herb, the baseball pitcher, said that "Bill was younger and in a different cottage" and didn't have anything else to say about him.  Joe remembered Bill during the 1941-44 period. He said that he didn't remember much about the old days at Greer but that he remembered Bill as a "likable and cheerful guy, always full of fun".  At the reunion, there was one gentleman who remembered that Uncle Billy moved to Dover,DE and worked in a car dealership.
     The Greer School Alumni Association has a website which also features the yearbooks from Greer. The following is an excerpt from the 1937 yearbook:
History of Hope Farm
      Those interested in Hope Farm will find that its origin, growth and purpose form a colorful history.

      In 1906, Bishop Greer, then head of the Diocese of New York, Dr. Russell A. Hibbs, and Miss Florence Rapallo, who were interested in opening a home for children, purchased a tract of land near Millbrook, New York, from the Brothers of Nazareth, who had started a school for boys on this land called Priory Farm. Already standing was Main House, the old monastic building erected in 1896 and used at the opening of Hope Farm for all purposes.

      In 1907, Hope Farm was officially opened with the Reverend Thomas R. Hazzard as Superintendent. The original Board of Directors numbered ten.

      The first cottage erected on Hope Farm was Daisy cottage, named "Daisy" after Bishop Greer's daughter. Work was started on this build-ing in 1910. The beatiful rock found all over the Farm served excellently in its building. It was built for little children and the head of the nursery department was Miss Misner, who is still here today as assisstant-to-director. With the completion of Daisy, sixty small children were cared for. After many years it was remodeled into a cottage for boys from ten to eighteen, and remains so today. Thirty boys and a number of staff are housed there. 

 here's the rest:  http://greerschool.org/37yb.html  (note: I did Not correct any misspelled words in the excerpt above)


     By 1963, Greer had eight cottages housing students from 6-19 years of age.  the cottages were home away from home.   Besides the fun activities such as fairs and dances, school plays and sleigh rides; there was a school newspaper, banking and vocational programs to prepare students for life after high school.
     After so many years of no contact with his family, I found Uncle Billy living in Delaware.  He sent me a letter telling me that the only people who truly loved him were his sister (my maternal grandmother) and his cousins (on his father's side).  I met Uncle Billy's cousin Pat who told my mother and me that her mother (Billy's father's sister) wanted to adopt Billy but her father didn't approve of the Davis family so poor Uncle Billy lived his unhappy life in his broken home until he became a student of the Greer School at the age of 14.
     After he graduated high school, Uncle Billy enlisted in the navy and served three years.  While attending college, he was recalled to duty in Korea.  He served a short tour then returned to college taking advantage of the G.I. Bill to further his education.  Uncle Billy received a B.S. degree in Industrial Engineering and retired after 30 years with Chrysler Corporation.  Uncle Billy had been living in California for many years then decided to move back to the east coast.  I was once again lucky to have found him back in Delaware.  He did not want anyone to know where he was living, he had his reasons. I respected his privacy.

     A little boy with nothing had Hope and became something...

                                    William Howard Davis  29 January 1927 - 21 February 2010

Hope Farm: http://greerschool.org/phfc.html
Greer School Photos: http://greerschool.org/photoalb.html
YearBooks:   http://greerschool.org/yearbooks.html

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