“There’s no such thing as a bad boy.”
That was Father Flanagan’s belief when it came to helping young boys in need.
Father Flanagan founded Boys Town on that belief.
Boys Town Hall of History honors Father Flanagan’s contributions. The on-campus museum is housed in an old cafeteria.
The first Boys Town home opened in Omaha in 1917. He borrowed $95 from a fellow Omahan. The first location was on 25th Street.
He welcomed five boys to the home when he opened the doors. They were orphans or juveniles in trouble with the law.
He supposedly was once asked if he didn’t like girls since the home was for boys. Girls stood a better chance of being adopted as they grew, he replied. Once they get to a certain age or height, they could be taken in by people and have jobs as maids, nannies, etc.
Boys, on the other hand, didn’t have those chances, he thought. That is why he focused on helping boys.
The home quickly grew. In about six months, about 100 boys lived in the house, according to a Hall employee.
The second building to house Flanagan’s boys was a German-American home. It served up to 150 boys.
A local women’s group helped raise money for Boys Town by carrying buckets into “businesses” catering to men. They would put buckets in front of the men, and get them to donate.
As word spread about Boys Town, Father Flanagan realized the home needed to grow.
They eventually bought the farm where Boys Town currently sits. They acquired land as the facility grew.
Boys farmed and did other chores to help Boys Town become self-sufficient. The farm land is now leased to farmers.
The museum relives the history of Boys Town, from the first house on 25th Street to current expansion of Boys Town.
A tour of the museum follows the story in chronological history.
Memorabilia from Boys Town is located throughout the museum. A dentist chair and X-ray machine are among the items. Am=n old phone switchboard sits among the exhibits. Can you imagine someone today trying to handle calls on a switchboard?
During its heyday, Boys Town sports was among the best in the United States. The Cowboys would travel the country playing teams in football and basketball.
The school had its own bus that the teams would travel in during their sports tours.
A Boys Town graduate went on to be one of the original Seattle Seahawks in the National Football League.
Ken Geddes, also a former Nebraska Cornhusker, was an expansion draft pick by Seattle, when it joined the NFL in the mid-1970s. Geddes had played for the Los Angeles Rams before then.
Geddes and other original Seahawks were in the news recently as Seattle played in its second Super Bowl, and won the NFL title in 2014.
Another famous Boys Town graduate was Navy Captain “Pete Bucher”. He was the commander of the USS Pueblo ship. The ship and its 82-member crew were captured and held prisoner by North Korea for 11 months in the 1960s. The officer was exonerated of any wrongdoing in surrendering the ship.
The museum highlights the family homes on campus. Exhibits depict living rooms, a resident’s bedroom (Batman poster, included) and miscellaneous items.
Boys Town has earned its share of friends and supporters, including celebrities, politicians and athletes.
A display shows memorabilia autographed by some of them – a basketball from Kareem Abdul-Jabbar (NBA player), Gale Sayers (Omaha resident and NFL Hall of Fame player) and the great Hank Aaron (one-time all-time home run leader in Major League Baseball).
Boys Town has grown so much over the years that leaders have expanded the home concept to the east and west coasts, as well as southern states. About a dozen additional Boys Town campuses are located there.
In addition, Boys Town operates a national research hospital and crisis hotline. Godfather’s Pizza (with its headquarters in Omaha) was the first company to sponsor the hotline.
Boys Town started out helping orphans. Today, the majority of the students are from troubled homes. The school boasts a success rate of about 85%, the history staff member told us. That’s a great rate, if you think about it. Out of 100 kids possibly headed to a life of trouble, Boys Town succeeds with 85 of them.
The staff always works to improve the remaining challenges, he said.
Hollywood recognized Boys Town, too.
The movie “Boys Town” was filmed on site in 1938. The film, starring Spencer Tracy as Father Flanagan and a young Mickey Rooney, won the Academy Award for best picture and best actor. Tracy donated his Oscar to Boys Town.
Father Flanagan continues to be held in high esteem about Boys Town supporters. The museum has a section on the priests who have led the organization.
Flanagan is highlighted in the museum with a bust and exhibit of items. A priest suit and frock are displayed among other items.
Father Hupp, who ran Boys Town for several years, has a display recognizing him for his accomplishments.
Boys Town’s Hall of History is well worth the visit. It’s open daily. Admission is free, but donations are accepted.
For more information on Boys Town and the Hall of History, please visit its website at www.boystown.org.