It's probably been more than 40 years since Heather Madison Walden has stood on the ground where the Lake Bluff Children's Home once occupied a full block near the northeast corner of East Scranton and Evanston Avenues.
But this place holds good memories for her even if the circumstances that put her in the children's home from 1961-64 were not. Walden's parents were getting a divorce and her father had a drinking problem.
"My Mom explained our going to the Children's Home like it was just like cousin Linda, who was going to college," Walden said. "'We will see you at times. We still love you,' my Mom said."
While at the orphanage, Walden said she doesn't recall "any time where I was scared out of my wits, it was uneasy at times, but not scared," she said. "Thinking back we were able to go to things. We saw Victor Borge, Narrator of Stories and Harmonicats. We had opportunities we would not have had like going to the circus and Riverview every year. We saw moves. I think we were fortunate."
To commemorate the memory of the children and staff that lived and worked at the orphanage, a historic marker was officially installed Monday in a sidewalk panel at the northeast corner of East Scranton and Evanston Avenues in Lake Bluff.
The Lake Bluff Children's Home began in 1894 with the arrival of six orphans from Chicago and within a couple years grew to 30 children. The building was incorporated in 1895 as the Lake Bluff Methodist Deaconess Orphanage and between 1895-1969 expanded to become known as the Lake Bluff Children's Home, housing over 100 children per year and covering the entire 200 block of Scranton Avenue.
Memorial Marker Coordinator Tom Tincher explained many of the children who stayed at the home were not orphans, but given up by parents who could no longer afford to support them.
"Many of these children grow up and return to visit the Lake Bluff Community," Tincher said. "They are disappointed the orphanage is not there. This marker can alert people to where it stood."
The Vliet Center for Lake Bluff History collaborated on the historic marker initiative with the Lake Bluff Women's Club, Village of Lake Bluff, Grace United Methodist Church and ChildServ.
In 1973 the Lake Bluff Children's Home was renamed ChildServ and moved to Chicago. Jim Jones, ChildServe CEO, said "there was such wisdom and such a vision for what the organization is today. Like to think that 116 years later it is still the same, wanting to bring permanent support to families."
"ChildServ is Lake Bluff's Home," Jones added. "In terms of making a commitment to serve today's disparate people in underserved communities, they need the same kind of love they had then. All communities need to keep a great beginning alive."
Over the years the Vliet Center has collected documents and photographs, as well as positive feedback from visitors who lived in the orphanage and come back thrilled to see the museum exhibits. Often they report the times spent in Lake Bluff were the happiest days of their life.
Phyllis Albrecht, former Village president and Vliet director, explained that "the dedication of caregivers to children is a story we hear over and over again."
United Methodist Church Pastor Debbie Fisher explained "the Methodist Church was right across the street from the orphanage. They came and filled our Sunday school classrooms and sang in our Choir. It was a wonderful relationship."
Many of the volunteers and employees of the Children's Home were also church members, explained resident Mary Dalton, who has lived in the area since 1954. Long time townie Ethel Tincher explained that "people really felt connected with the Children's Home. Many pictures hanging in the Vliet Center used to be in the Methodist Fellowship Hall."
Volunteer Kraig Moreland is currently working to raise enough money to finish producing a video on "Memories of the Children's Home of Lake Bluff." Moreland has traveled to 10 states to interview and gather information.
"Everyone I talked to, people who worked here, then went to work at other orphanages, all stated that it was not the same feel," Moreland said. "The staff and people who worked here were family. The married couples and people taking care of them were one big family. They had some outstanding leaders, and staff that were committed to kids."