Editor’s note — This is part one of a three-part series.
No prior memories. No prior recollection. No prior experiences. For Rosemary Stovall, there was no prior life outside of the Hillcrest Children’s Home in Wheelersburg.
To the best of her knowledge, Stovall was a toddler when she arrived at Hillcrest — approximately in 1939 or 1940.
“I have no memories before Hillcrest,” Stovall said. “I understand that my dad had tuberculosis and my mother was an active carrier of tuberculosis, so they put them in a TB sanitarium. At that time, that’s all they knew what to do.”
Stovall lived at Hillcrest with her brother, Howard Evans. When she was approximately 6 years old, Stovall was placed with a foster family in northern Ohio, but her brother remained at Hillcrest. Stovall believes that her last parent passed away, because as long as someone was paying for a child or children to attend Hillcrest, siblings were not allowed to be separated.
Stovall couldn’t fathom being separated from her brother, however, and after a long struggle, she ended up reuniting with him at Hillcrest.
She didn’t mind living at the children’s home. In fact, she enjoyed many aspects of the experience. One of those experiences was called acrobats. The superintendent at the time was Florence Dawson, and she taught the kids a routine and created a program for the kids to perform.
“We went around, doing minstrel type programs for Kiwanis, Rotary, women’s clubs and different groups like that,” Stovall said. “I think they paid Florence money and that went for improvements at the home. She did a lot for the home. My happiest times was the years that we did the minstrel-type shows.”
Stovall said Dawson was a kind person who truly cared about the people at Hillcrest and wanted to give them the best experience possible. According to a Portsmouth Times article dated Nov. 20, 1953, Dawson served as superintended at Hillcrest from 1947-1953. In that same article, Dawson said, “The generosity of Portsmouth area people made my experience at the children’s home seem like Christmas every day throughout each year.”
While Dawson said her experience felt like Christmas, Stovall said one of the best experiences of Hillcrest was the entire Christmas experience. She said they always got candy and peanuts. They went to the dining room and opened their gifts. Before Christmas, the children wrote notes, asking for presents. Stovall said generally they received what they wanted.
“Christmas was absolutely fabulous,” Stovall said. “People were very kind and thoughtful with the stuff that they gave.”
Stovall fondly recalled other instances at Hillcrest that made her feel at home. She said on one occasion, the children were taken to the back yard where a plethora of watermelons awaited.
“You’ve got a bunch of kids shoving their faces in watermelons. No forks, no plates. That was a lot of fun,” Stovall said.
Another special day for Stovall was Independence Day.
“Fourth of July was a big deal,” Stovall said. “They called it kids day.”
There were several contests throughout the day and the children accumulated points. Some of the contests included a potato-sack race, a three-legged race and even a most freckles contest. At the end of the day, whomever had the most points won king and queen of the day.
“I won queen of the day twice. The first gift I won was a pair of binoculars and I was like, ‘What am I going to do with a pair of binoculars?’” Stovall joked. “Then the second time, I won a watch and I was really proud of that watch.”
During her time a Hillcrest, Stovall never felt diminished about her circumstances.
“I’ve got a lot of pictures and in every one, I’ve usually got my head thrown back and laughing,” Stovall said. “That makes me feel good because Hillcrest doesn’t define me — it never did — it was just my history and it was good for me. I didn’t know a mom and a dad, so I was very accepting of Hillcrest.
“I never questioned why I was there. All the time I was there, I never felt sorry for myself. I never felt depressed or felt low.”
Although she felt at home, her circumstances chanced in 1950. At the age of 13, a family visited the children’s home in search of a baby to adopt. Stovall had just returned to Hillcrest after cleaning a neighboring house and she was “presentable,” so she was asked to tour the home with the couple.
Before the couple left the home, they asked Stovall why she had never been adopted.
“I said, ‘Well, nobody wanted me I guess,’” Stovall said. “I was offended. Us kids were proud. We didn’t like sympathy so much.”
Approximately a month later, Stovall was told to pack up for a weekend trip with that same couple — Hazel and Ora Faulk. Shortly after, she began staying with the couple in Rosemount full time.
Although she hadn’t legally been adopted, she had found a family — or so she thought. She started attending school at Clay. However, not long after she started living with the Faulks, Ora suffered a heart attack and wasn’t able to work any longer.
“They weren’t wealthy people and with him not working, they didn’t have a lot of money,” Stovall said. “He worked at the steel mill. He had a good job, but he was the only one working.”
The Faulks called Hillcrest and told them they weren’t able to care for Stovall any longer. Since Stovall wasn’t 18, she wasn’t allowed to live on her own.
“I was going to have to go back to Hillcrest,” Stovall said. “I said, ‘No, I wasn’t going back.’ So, I looked in the paper and found a live in with a couple who were both doctors to just watch their kids. I just had to live with them because if they both got called out on a call, then there was no one to watch their kids.”
Stovall said the doctors paid her $25 a week, which she described as “unheard of” during that time period.
So now, at the age of 80, looking back at her time at Hillcrest, Stovall said she had everything she ever needed and has nothing but positive memories from her time at the children’s home.
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