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The United Methodist Children’s Home, located in Little Rock (Pulaski County), began as a movement to create an orphanage in the denomination’s Little Rock Conference in 1897. The institution was incorporated on May 3, 1899, in Pulaski County and called the Arkansas Methodist Orphanage of the Methodist Episcopal Church, South. The trustees were Colonel George Thornburgh, Dr. James Thomas, Reverend J. A. Cason, and George Culberhouse.
Soon afterward, the stockholders of the Women’s Industrial Home at Fifteenth and Commerce Streets offered their property, consisting of three lots and a two-story building, to the orphanage incorporators. Mrs. L. R. Tabor and Mrs. Logan H. Roots were the property’s largest stockholders. Orphanage officials accepted the property, and the home began receiving children. The first orphan accepted was Jessie Miller of McCrory (Woodruff County). In 1907, the denomination’s three annual conferences in Arkansas assumed the home’s financial obligations.
In 1908, Thornburgh, chairman of the trustees, was instrumental in raising the money for a new orphanage at Sixteenth and Elm Streets. By July 1910, the building was ready for occupancy, and Thornburgh served as its administrator, without pay, until his death in 1922. He was succeeded by Dr. James Thomas, who served until resigning just before his death in 1943.
The orphanage was well supported during these years. Dr. William A. Snodgrass served as the house physician without pay, and Judge Thomas M. Mehaffy donated his services as the home’s attorney. The children attended Highland Methodist Church and Lee Elementary School. During the Depression in the 1930s, the women of the churches were dedicated to supporting the children’s needs, likely with clothing, entertainment, and other needs.
After Thomas died, Methodist layman J. S. M. Cannon was elected superintendent. In 1945, Cannon told the board he had found eighty-four acres on the edge of Little Rock that could be purchased for $10,000. He thought this would provide a beautiful location for the orphanage. In 1947, through funds secured by personal solicitation and the annual Christmas offering, the building was completed and the children were moved. By official action, the new articles of incorporation gave the home a new name: the Methodist Children’s Home.
Reverend T. T. McNeal succeeded Cannon in 1952, facing the task of caring for a greatly enlarged physical plant and the attendant increase in enrollment. In the four years of his administration, McNeal supervised the erection of two more buildings on the site. On September 6, 1955, the home entered seventy-one children in the Little Rock public schools: forty-three in elementary schools, eighteen in the junior high schools, and ten in Little Rock High School.
Reverend Connor Morehead became superintendent in 1955. During his tenure, a new chapel and a seventh cottage were erected. Succeeding Morehead was Reverend J. Edwin Keith in 1962; he continued until he died in 1977. Keith established satellite children’s homes at Magnolia (Columbia County), Searcy (White County), Fort Smith (Sebastian County), and Marked Tree (Poinsett County). Under his leadership, a Child Development Center was established; it sought to meet the needs of children who were deserted, neglected, or abused. In 1973, Keith guided the formation of a secure endowment of $1.5 million for the home through the sale of fifty-six acres of the home’s property to the University of Arkansas at Little Rock (UALR).
Dr. Joe R. Phillips succeeded Keith in 1977 and remained until he retired in 1987. Phillips’s tenure brought an integrated staff and the first black children into the home.
Reverend Bob D. Orr succeeded Phillips and is best known for being the catalyst for a different direction of care at the home. He was instrumental in implementing the Teaching-Family Model of care, a community-based approach that included an expanded program of services for the entire family. In 1991, Orr resigned and Reverend Robert Regnier succeeded him as president and chief executive officer of the home. Regnier redesigned the organizational structure. In 1995, the home was certified as a Teaching-Family Site. In 1997, the Joint Commission on Accreditation of Healthcare Organizations accredited the home.
There are six residential group homes in the state: in Magnolia (Columbia County), Batesville (Independence County), Fayetteville (Washington County), Springdale (Washington County), Lexa (Phillips County), and Searcy.
The United Methodist Children’s Home has been serving families and children for more than 100 years. Initially created as an orphanage, now renamed Methodist Family Health, the home has expanded its services to provide children and families with a continuum of care—an emergency shelter, therapeutic foster care, therapeutic pre-school day treatment, residential homes, psychiatric residential treatment centers, a counseling clinic, and the Methodist Behavioral Hospital. In 2005, Andy Altom was director and chief executive officer.
For additional information:Arkansas United Methodist Archives. Bailey Library. Hendrix College, Conway, Arkansas.
Kathryn Donham RiceLittle Rock, Arkansas
Last Updated 7/16/2008
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