National Orphan Train Complex Receives $71,000 Grant from Dane G. Hansen Foundation

By Toby Nosker
KNCK News Director

The National Orphan Train Complex hosted the 16th Annual Orphan Train Riders Celebration May 31st through June 2nd.

National Orphan Train Complex Curator Shaley George announced they've received a $71,000 grant from the Dane G. Hansen Foundation to complete the remaining interior work on the Legend Train Car, a rare 1860s-era wooden passenger car that will be used to educate visitors about the transportation experience of Orphan Train riders.

The $71,000 will cover interior work, such as electrical and HVAC needs, while Judi Jacobus, a retired Elementary School Speech/Language Specialist and Teacher, donated $5,000 to support exhibits. The Legend Train Car was named in 2016 in honor of Judi's father, John Lukes Jacobus.

At the annual President's Award Banquet held Saturday, June 2nd at Marla's Joy, this year's Founders Award was presented to Dr. Paul Erickson, a retired professor from San Diego State University. Dr. Erickson has been an active member of the Orphan Train Heritage Society since it's founding in 1986, and often gives talks about the work of the society while sharing the story of one Orphan Train rider -- his mother.

The Special Achievement Award was presented to John Shontz, Director of the Orphan Train Project in Helena, Montana, who served as the keynote speaker at this year's celebration. Since 2014, the Orphan Train Project has provided detailed itineraries of orphan train riders journeys from the east to new homes across the United States.

The Charles Loring Brace Award was presented to Dowagiac, Michigan Area History Museum and its director, Steve Arseneau. In 1853, Charles Loring Brace founded the Children's Aid Society to care for the children with the ultimate goal of having the children adopted. He came up with the idea to send the children on train to be adopted by families in the western United States. He sent the first trainload of 46 children west in September 1854 with one destination, Dowagiac, Michigan. In the Fall 2016, the City of Dowagiac and the Dowagiac Area History Museum were awarded a grant from the Michigan Humanities Council for its project, "Starting a New Life: Dowagiac's Orphan Train Story." The multi-platform project resulted in an Orphan Train mural on an exterior wall at the Dowagiac Post Office, several events and a coloring book.

The President's Award was presented to Suzanna Pitzer, a former Concordian and now a New York actress and author. Pitzer, a graduate of Cloud County Community College, is writing a new children's book about a tin elephant, which is in one of the displays at the Orphan Train Museum. Pitzer told KNCK News the opportunity to work on the book came from a conversation with her former instructor, Susan Sutton.

Pitzer said she's enjoyed coming to learn more about the Orphan Train Movement through writing the book.

The Sister Irene Fitzgibbons Award was presented to author Renee Wendinger, whose mother was an Orphan Train Rider. Inspired by her mother to reveal the factual story of children of the immigrant poor boarding orphan trains, her books, "Extra! Extra! The Orphan Trains and Newsboys of New York," and "Last Train Home: An Orphan Train Story," tell compelling stories about the people who made history aboard the orphan trains of New York.

National Orphan Train Complex Board member Wonda Phillips was presented the Volunteer Lifetime Award, while former work study Mandilyn Horinek received a Special Recognition Award.