In 1921, the first of many children would begin residing at this newly constructed orphanage that came to be known as Hillcrest, which was located in Wheelersburg.
Over a course of nearly 50 years, Scioto County made it their mission to see that the children of Hillcrest would not be forgotten, especially at Christmas time.
For 33 years an annual Christmas Party was sponsored by the local telephone company, with Peggy Campbell, chief operator, heading up the project. This yuletide event was their main project.
Each year, they would present a large, much needed item, to the Home and every child would receive a personal gift from a telephone company employee who had chosen his or her name, along with a wrapped pair of house slippers and a treat box filled with oranges, apples, tangerines, candy, nuts, and balloons, that would be presented to them by Santa himself.
Rose Mowery is one of the children that resided at the Hillcrest Children’s Home. Now many years later, Mowery serves as the coordinator for the annual Hillcrest Children’s Home reunion.
“In 1943 a wonderful man by the name of George “Tiny” Slaughter, began devoting himself faithfully and selflessly to portraying the part of Santa, wearing a suit made by his wife. Out of his love and compassion for these children, he would carry his tradition on for the next 27 years. I wanted to raise awareness about the Hillcrest Children’s Home because it affected so many people,” Mowery said. “I took over a private Facebook group last August, and from that it has just evolved into all sorts of things. Then on January 29th of this year I officially accepted the role of heading up the annual Hillcrest Children’s Home reunion. The person that had been doing it unfortunately, passed away and so they asked me to take over, and I gave it some thought for a couple of months. The attendance was increased by 400 percent this year, and we currently have approximately 150 members in the group right now.”
She said she is very passionate about her involvement with the Home.
“For me, this is from the heart. It was an experience that was unique only to those who lived there. We were like one family, because we are all that each other had,” she said. “It is a very endearing thing to me, and I was only there for four years, where other kids were there much longer than that.”
Smitty “Buddy” resided at the Hillcrest Children’s Home from the time of his birth in 1947 until 1966. He said it was a very rewarding experience overrall.
“Going in as a baby, and growing up there, I saw a lot of kids that I made friends with, and we had some good times and some bad times. Thomas Cook and Dennis Geyer were two of my best friends there,” Hughes said. “We always did a lot of things together, basketball, softball, and did a lot of sleigh riding when the snow came down at Christmas time, and we really enjoyed it.”
He has fond memories of one of the Hillcrest employees who paid special attention to him. He credits Hillcrest for contributing to the person he is today.
“There was one lady when I was in the little boys dorm who really looked after me. I couldn’t do anything wrong, because she was always watching me, her name was Miss Queen,” Hughes said. “We had a lot of softball games, and I remember Christmas well. Mostly, on Christmas we pretty much got the same things,w e got house slippers and a you got a toy. They had Christmas parties, and we always had a big tree and always sang Christmas carols. There was a bunch of other activities that they would put on during the year. I believe I a m grateful for my experience there, I believe living at the Hillcrest Children’s Home has made me who I am today.”
According to Mowery’s findings in her research of the Hillcrest Children’s Home, the Christmas spirit and good cheer were upheld by many other contributors over the years who played a big part in the merriment such as Zeke Mullins, serving as Master of Ceremonies, and WPAY Radio Station who generally broadcasted the event on Christmas day, as well as many others including the V.F.W.,The FOP, the Local 2116 United Steel Workers of America, the Salvation Army, Wheelersburg Methodist Church, and numerous other county and city officials along with the citizens of Scioto County.
By December 1970, the telephone company had spent in excess of $40,000, not including personal contributions, from their employees for Hillcrest and the children of Hillcrest.
They were dubbed the Champions of these children. The Kiwanis Club, another large sponsor of the Christmas festivities since 1921, would annually purchase and deliver toys, at times providing to more than 200 children.
In addition to heading up the Hillcrest Children’s Home reunion, Mowery said she is currently working on other projects regarding the Home that she cannot disclose at this time.
“It has been an ongoing thing. On the Facebook page I posted a video of my gratitude. Every door that could open has opened for me, and it is just continuing on, and not just for me, its about the other kids that were there too,” Mowery said. “There were so many people that tried to help from the entire county (Scioto). It was pretty widespread as it relates to the involvement of people, there was a lot of care and compassion for these kids.”
Mowery believes it to be divine intervention that has made everything come into fruition concerning the Home.
“I truly feel that God had a hand in this. From the very beginning I had this notion about this group for those of us who were at the Home,” Mowery said. “It took off, and it went from there to me taking over the reunion, which went really well, given that I six months to come up with names, locate people, and put it all together.”
Reach Portia Williams at 740-353-3101, ext. 1929, or on Twitter @PortiaWillPDT.