The Mennonite Orphans’ Home, known today as Adriel, started with six children on Nov. 21, 1896. It was directed by David and Ellen Garber on a farm in Orville. They took in orphans as well as children whose parents were going through a hard time and needed help until they got back on their feet.
Their mission was to bring up children for Christ and the church and when possible place them in suitable homes. The foster family institution responded to children’s needs and developed a network of Mennonite families across the United States.
Mrs. Garber had health issues and the doctor advised them that a move to a warmer climate would be beneficial. The Garber’s had 30 children in their care during their leadership. Abram and Katie Metzler from Columbiana, Ohio accepted the positions of Superintendent and Matron.
Not long after they began work at the orphanage they found out the farm they rented was to be sold. The search was on for a donated or rented home. A home was located in West Liberty, Ohio after it was purchased at a Sheriff’s Auction in December of 1899, by a local Mennonite group. It was the former home John M. Glover who built a brick mansion called “Grandview Heights” overlooking the Mad River Valley. In March of 1900 the Metzler’s and seven children moved to Glover Hall.
Several updates were made in the early days. In 1905, electric lights were installed. The next year a building on the grounds was converted to laundry rooms. An enclosed court yard was added in 1906 which provided much needed space and two years later bathrooms and toilets were installed. Other improvements were a bank barn that was built on the hill west of Glover Hall. An additional 23 acres was purchased by Martin Springer of Orville, Ohio in order to expand the orphanage work. There were eight acres in original purchase and two acres purchased since, gave the home 33 acres.
The need for more homes increased with 23 children in May of 1904 and by 1905 it rose to 51 children. By this time 122 children had been helped with 85 being placed in private foster care homes. A brick building was built for a girls cottage named Louisa Cottage after the donation of $8,000 by Louisa Snavely from Bluffton. There was an enclosed hallway that connected the new building with Glover Hall.
In 1917, Abram Metzler was stricken with disabling paralysis, so he and his wife Katie had to resign. Frank Smucker and family began work as Superintendent and Matron. In its first twenty years the Orphan Home helped 711 children, with 660 children being placed in foster homes.
After the death of Abram Metzler the home had workers who only stayed for a few years at a time. Then in 1923, L. L. and Nanna Swartzentruber arrived to continue the orphanages work. During this time there was a decline in children needing care which resulted in not as many foster homes needed. Although children were placed in foster homes the thought was that the orphanage itself should become a family to the children.
The Ohio Division of Charities, an arm of Department of Public Welfare, conducted a yearly inspection.
State sets standards
Standards were established for operating children’s homes by the state, which was less concerned with the spiritual needs of the children. They did bring order to placing children outside their own families.
In 1922, Elmer King bought the empty Hanger school house, which had a bell, on Hite Road and St. Rt. 245. He tore down the school and used the wood to build a chicken house and the bell for calling family to dinner. However Sam Yoder stopped by to let Elmer know that he had purchased the bell before Elmer bought the school and was there to pick it up. They solved the problem by compromising and donating the bell to the Orphan’s Home. The old school bell was used to call children and staff to dinner and for curfew until 1983 and taken down when the children moved out of Glover Hall. Today the old Hanger school house bell donated to the Home is displayed proudly in a showcase at Glover Hall.
The Orphans’ Home started a school in the fall of 1918 due to a disagreement with the local school, which during WWl expected the school children to salute the U.S. flag in a show of patriotism. This went against the beliefs of the Mennonite Church so The Orphans’ Home School opened. The school met state standards and employed qualified teachers. The first year they had two classrooms of first to seventh grades and had 79 pupils. The second year they added three more teachers and the third another. By the fourth year enrollment was down so only two teachers were employed. Afterwards it was too difficult to find teachers so the children were once again enrolled in the public school.
A hospital was added on the second floor of Louisa Cottage in 1926. It had one operating room, two wards and 15 beds, one bathroom and a small storage room. During 1926 to 1932, 52 procedures were performed, most being childhood accidents, appendixes, tonsils and adenoids.
During the Great Depression the home ran on a very slim budget. Locals helped by hauling coal for free and farmers donated hogs. Churches gave produce and fruit and local women helped with the canning. The Orphan Home’s farm provided eggs, milk and dairy products.
Arthur Hartzler donated 20 acres to the Orphans’ Home after the economy improved. The children attended Bethel Mennonite Church as well as having a morning lesson at the orphanage. Bethel Mennonite Church was known as the “Church for Orphan’s.” In the summer of 1935 a summer Bible school was started. It was the first such event in the area and over 173 children attended the two week program.
West Liberty residents take the reins
In 1939, Loren and Dorothy King took over as Superintendent and Matron and were the first ones from West Liberty to accept the positions. There were 27 children presently at the Home and in nine years it rose to 50.
During WWll, male labor was hard to find. The Home changed from horse power to tractor power which helped with costs. The older boys chipped in with chores and farm work along with Loren who also handled public relations, and general problems.
Updates were made as needed such as a new oil fired boiler in 1945, using the soft water from the new village water tower erected on the hill by the orphanage and connecting with the new sewage system.
A different course for the Orphans Home Program during the next twelve years focused on the children’s changing needs. Some children attended their own church denomination and others continued to attend Bethel Mennonite Church.
John Byler and his sister lived at the bottom of the hill by US HWY 68 and his property was next to the Home’s on the north and west side. When he died he deeded his home to the Orphanage and in 1946 Loren and Dorothy moved in.
Due to government subsidies to poor mothers they were able to keep their children at home with them so there was less need for care of “economic orphans.” Instead more families needed help with children with backgrounds of emotional turmoil. In 1950 the name, Mennonite Orphans Home changed to Mennonite Children’s Home and the focus was to once again change the Home to meet the needs of the children.
Paul Diller became the superintendent in 1953 and they continued work in three areas with emotionally disturbed, mentally disturbed and pre-delinquent children. In 1955, Lester Weber took the helm and the name was changed yet again. The board secretary, Dorcas Kauffman, chose a Biblical Hebrew name for the new school, Adriel, which means, “Flock of God.”
Many challenges were tackled to make this program work. During 1957 to 1968 they had five administrators and staff did not stay long. By the 1960’s the Agency was seeing more behavior problems with the children.
The barn burned in 1962 and a new one was built that included a gym. A mixture of school, work and play time worked well with the children. Help was hard to find on the farm and when the cost to maintain it increased the Children’s Home rented the land to a local farmer and the school focused on keeping cattle.
The former 1830’s home of Ira Reynolds on Newell and Reynolds streets was called Sycamore Heights. When the last owner Mrs. Solomonson died in 1958 they purchased the property and it was used to house staff. The house was once used as a home for the elderly and was broken down into small apartments. At this time the Byler property was not needed so it was sold.
The girls moved to Sycamore Hall in 1962 in the effort to separate the girls and boys and Louisa Cottage was used for the boys until 1966 when the state condemned the cottage as a living facility. Afterwards it was known as ”the school.” 1968 brought about a new two story building that gave them the capacity to house up to 24 children.
Competing in Special Olympics
In 1970, six of their youth qualified for the International Special Olympics held in Chicago. Two years later they qualified in California and 1976 in Michigan. This opportunity gave the children a chance and was very therapeutic. Other types of therapy activities were used such as music, pet and camping.
In 1987, another building was constructed and named The John L. Yoder Activity Building, which housed the school and summer programs. John L Yoder was a board member from 1940 to 1970. Glover Hall was renovated as was Louisa Cottage and the cottage was renamed Swartzentruber Hall in L. L. Swartzentruber’s honor.
In 1983 a new home was built on Detroit Street on the north end of campus and was the first residential home. Sycamore Heights was renovated in 1985 and used as a Teaching Family Home. 1988 the old Thompson home, named Oak Manor Home, was purchased 5 miles south of West Liberty. A second residential home, the Walter Lane Home, in Bellefontaine was purchased in 1990. Maple Ridge Home was built five miles east of West Liberty in 1995 and when completed the 1968 Eastview/Westview building was closed.
A merger between the Champaign County Board of Education and Adriel School took place in 1984 and was known as the Mac-A-Cheek Learning Center, which was an outreach for Logan and Champaign counties and worked with severe behavior handicapped children providing mental health services.
The Adriel School Community Service program became known as Ben-El Child Development Center.
Ben-El is a Biblical Hebrew word meaning “Child of God.” It was a Mental Health agency that served Logan and Champaign Counties. In their first one hundred years they helped 3,951 children and their families.
In 1992, an Archbold office was opened to operate Northwest Ohio specialized Foster Care Program and it was structured after Adriel School. Another office was opened in Dublin in 2007 and Toledo in 2012. A Defiance office was opened in 2017 and an old school purchased to serve a growing Archbold office. Harmony Hall was opened in 2009.
During the winter of 2016 and 2017 several things took place to cause change at Adriel. They took in emergency placements who did not adjust to life in their new surroundings and there was a big fight that took place on school property. Also, there were allegations against four staff members of fifteen different violations.
In 2017, the Ohio Department of Job & Family Services would not renew Adriel’s license for the residential program. The Adriel Board of Directors made the tough decision to close the program after finding homes for the children in their care at the time. The Residential program closed but they now are back to their roots of offering foster care and adoption services.
The organization encountered many problems and challenges and mistakes were made. They have continued to adjust to the children’s needs and changed the things that needed changed. Today the mission remains the same as when it began 121 years ago, helping the children. They continue as a Social Service agency for children with foster care, independent living, family coaching, adoption and a variety of programs geared towards preservation of the family.
Also in February of 2017, The Transitions Academy, an alternative school that offers more one-on-one help than the traditional classroom opened using former Adriel school rooms. They used the facility for the rest of the school year.
Adriel School has a presence in 44 Ohio counties and several programs are in the works that will serve the community in the coming years.
Ways to help with Adriel’s Foster Care Program would be to become a foster parent, make a monetary donation, adopt a child, give to the Adriel Foundation, volunteer, and participate in golf outings and the Annual Benefit Quilt Auction. To contact Adriel School call 937-465-0010, visit the website at www.adriel.org or go to their Facebook page.
Sources: “The Child” by L. L. Swartzentruber, 1931, “Journey of the Flock” by James Burkett, 1996, Tribal Stories Book, by Board and Staff of Adriel School, 1996. Todd Hanes, Ariel School CEO, Adriel website, The Bellefontaine Examiner and The West Liberty Branch of Logan County Library.
Tami Wenger is a regular contributor to this newspaper.