Beloit's Lutheran Children's Home


The Lutheran children's home at Beloit in the northwest corner of Iowa, was established by Norwegian Lutherans in 1890. By far the largest of the antecedents to LSS, the home had a peak population of 177 in 1926, and by 1942 had given care to 984 children. In 1942 there were 28 boys and 12 girls at the home. At that time it consisted of four institutional buildings, a chapel, and numerous farm buildings. The farm consisted of 617 acres of land, and, debt-free, was valued at $236,952.

The home was closed in 1945 and its assets used for a later re-location in Ames, where it now continues to serve children as a part of the ministry of Lutheran Social Service of Iowa.  See the continuation of this history at the Ames Historical Society Web site.

Some of the buildings remain as part of a farm in Beloit, and a cemetery marker memorializes residents who died during those 56 years, giving silent testimony to a ministry that responded to need.

The original program at Beloit was not envisioned as an orphanage. The campus had been intended to house a seminary for a Scandinavian Lutheran church body. The story goes back to 1860, when, at Clinton, Wisconsin, organizational action resulted in formation of the Scandinavian Evangelical Lutheran Augustana Synod in North America. Soon thereafter came the Augustana Seminary, located first in Chicago, later in Paxton, Illinois. Six years later the Norwegian-Danish part of the synod moved its part of this school to Marshall, Wisconsin. Growth was slow there, so, in 1881, the school was moved to a newly acquired location at Beloit, Iowa.

There it was established as the Augustana College and Theological Seminary. Shortly after, the city of Canton, South Dakota, just across the Big Sioux River from Beloit, offered a gift of a hotel property with the provision that the college part of the program be moved there. The gift was accepted and the college moved, leaving the Beloit property exclusively for the seminary.

Its history at Beloit was also short. The synodical merger between the Norwegian-Danish Augustana Synod, the "Conference" Synod, and the Anti-Missourian Brotherhood occurred in 1890, forming the United Norwegian Lutheran Church of America. Each of the three bodies of the merger had its own theological seminary, and they were combined into one location in the buildings of Augsburg Seminary, Minneapolis.

The summer of 1890 found the nine-year old buildings at Beloit empty. It was through the endeavor to make some good use of these buildings that Beloit Children's Home came into existence.

As early as 1885, the church publication known as "Luthersk Tidende" carried an account of a proposal made by the Rev. A. Wright. He suggested that if the buildings became vacant they should be used as an institution of mercy for orphan children and destitute old people.

Buildings Become a Children's Home

In August 1890 action was started by a visit of Professor George Sverdrup to the Beloit institution to determine if it could be developed into a children's home. That led to the establishment of the home under management of the Lutheran Deaconess Home in Minneapolis.

Sisters Martha Langaunet and Agnette Fagerlie came to Beloit in November 1890, and on December 2, the first orphan, a boy, came to his new home. By May 1891 there were 12 children.

The home continued under management of the Deaconess Home until the fall of 1892. Its early success was partly the result of early and substantial gifts from many benefactors.

Following action taken by synod boards on August 3, 1892, the United Norwegian Lutheran Church assumed management of the home under the temporary direction of a five-member board.

At the general convention of the church in 1895 the delegates adopted governing documents and gave it the official name "The United Church Children's Home."

The documents state that its "aim is to receive, support and train poor and defenseless children," and that "it is to be maintained chiefly by voluntary contributions from congregations, societies and individuals.

Children to be admitted were, as a rule, not to be under two years of age, nor older than ten. Upon admission, the child's relation to the home was considered identical to its parents. Rules for training provided:
"1. Every day, morning and evening devotion shall be conducted and no one without valid reason must neglect it.

2. Care is exercised to the effect that all who in one way or another has connection with the training of the child shall be earnest Lutheran Christians.

3. A school is conducted for six to eight months at such time of year as the board in its discretion may deem best, in order that the children may be instructed in religion and also in other useful lines. The children are also given suitable employment."

L.A. Vigness, in a 40th anniversary brochure says, "The Beloit Children's Home is one of the blessed agencies through which Christianity, operating in and through our church, makes provision for the care of children whose circumstances are such as to require the aid of kind hearts and hands."

Needs of Children Become the Mission

The needs of children became the mission for this facility. A custodial program was designed and planned to meet the parenting needs of orphaned and dependent children. Its mission statement:
" receive, support and train poor and defenseless children. The home will diligently endeavor as far as possible to exercise a fatherly and motherly care for the child both physically and spiritually."

The early records of the home make evident the need for this kind of care. Among those who came in the early 1890s were:

*A boy "whose mother died when he was a year old and his father, with four other little children, could not take care of him."

*A boy, whose "mother died when he was ten years old, and he, together with his younger sisters...and his little brother...
were left without anyone to care for them. Their father was also very sickly, with consumption, so he was unable to work and support his children. Under those circumstances they were all brought to the Orphan's Home. A year after, the father died also with consumption, the same disease as his wife had."

* a seven-year-old "was brought to the Home by her aunt, who found it impossible to take care of her. Her parents we know nothing about. She was taken to her aunt when she was but a little girl, where she was abused and ill treated in many respects. She was made to sit in a dark cellar hours at a time, and was punished with many other severe punishments. As this did not agree with her very well, she tried her best to run away. This way of living made her a desperate child and hard to manage, but it was certainly the fault of those who treated her so mercilessly. After she was brought to the Orphan's Home she was taken care of in a proper way and soon became a good and willing girl."

* A nine year old whose "mother died when he was yet a little boy. His father was a careless man, who cared little for bringing up his children. He was also a poor man who had nothing to do with, and that may account for his act toward his children. The three youngest were brought to a family, who abused them very much, both by hard work and ill treatment. This was finally discovered by some kind people who brought them to the Orphan's Home."

In its 56 years of existence at that location, 996 children were served. Superintendents during those years were Sisters Martha Lanaunet, Jennie Olson, Agnette Fagerlie, Maren Island, Mr. Thore Gunderson, Rev. T.T. Thompson and Rev. Torger Thompson.

A survey made in 1942 recommended that the home at Beloit should not be improved and repaired, but rather moved to Ames. Reasons given were inadequate facilities, children too isolated, repair costs would be prohibitive, the central location and better facilities for school and church at Ames.

Vote to Close and Start a New Program

In 1944 the Norwegian Lutheran Church voted to close the orphanage and implement new programming to meet the needs of children. This action was a result of decreased need for custodial institutions, and the growing belief that resources of the church and society should be committed to helping families remain together.

Minutes of the Board of Beloit Children's Home from May 2, 1945 through July 18, 1949 outline the discussions and actions ranging from the official recommendation to the synod's Board of Charities that the Beloit Home be located at Ames, to the naming of the Rev. Douglas Jacobson as the first director of the "new" Beloit. The meetings in between were devoted to purchase of the land, selection of an architect and construction of buildings on the new campus. Arthur Bragstad was elected superintendent of the home effective June 1, 1945, and he supervised the transition and construction. When construction was completed he assumed other duties at the request of the Board of Charities which needed his services.

Part of the transition involved disposal of beds, bedding and clothing. Bragstad was authorized to do this and reported to the February 12, 1946 meeting of the Beloit Board that 83 cartons, four boxes, 22 bundles had been shipped to Chicago for Norwegian Relief. $110 worth of beds and blankets were sold to Chetek Bible Camp of Slayton, $100 worth of beds were sold to Bethseda Home, $26.10 worth of articles were sold as rags, $8 was received for a table and book nook and some articles were given o the Aase Haugen Home. At this meeting the board also decided that for the time being at least, the name Beloit Children's Home be retained.

Children's Home is Reborn at Ames

Ames, Iowa was chosen as the location for this new programming. Footings for the administration building and the first children's cottage were poured in June 1948. Construction began to build facilities that would provide residential services to children with emotional disabilities whose families could not care for them or were unable to meet their unusual needs.

The new buildings were dedicated and the first child was admitted in October 1949. As he began his duties as first director at the new Beloit Lutheran Children's Home the Rev. Douglas Jacobson stated:

"It must be recognized that Beloit exists for the sole purpose of helping the child. While we attempt to provide a home-like atmosphere in our cottages, we must be ready to admit that we cannot particularly provide family life experiences. The value of treatment within Beloit comes from the group living experience and the individualized casework experience. It is our purpose to provide a flexible program to fit the child's needs rather than adapt the child to Beloit."

Jacobson served as director until 1958. Leonard Larsen, who joined the Beloit staff as a social worker in 1956, served as acting director for part of 1958. He would later serve for 17 years as the chief executive officer for Lutheran Social Service of Iowa. George Black served as Beloit director from 1958-1961; the Rev. Reid Seastrand from 1961-1968; Dr. Paul Temple, 1968-1971; and Denis Schaefer, from 1971 until 1982 when Beloit merged with Lutheran Social Services of Iowa. Schaefer then continued for several years as director of Beloit and the Ames LSS service center.

Beloit developed a progressive treatment program. It was an open setting based on power of relationships, good clinical practice and focus on each child'' primary need for parental nurturing and expectations during and following treatment. The "parental force" philosophy it adopted relied heavily on this nurturing within the center and on involvement of the child's parents in the treatment process when that was possible.

A campus school was established in 1962 for children who could not be mainstreamed into the public schools. A recreation building was completed in 1965 with emphasis on holistic treatment of the child. An outpatient program was begun in 1967 to assist in problem solving in areas of children's adjustment problems, in parent-child conflicts, and in marital disharmony.

A later mission statement said:
"The objective of this agency is thus to deploy the resources of the agency and of the church toward the improvement of conditions which affect the lives of individual children and their families in order that they might grow to their fullest potential. Effort will be directed at the resolution or elimination of interpersonal, familial and social factors which are determined to be detrimental toward the attainment of this objective."

Children served at Beloit from the beginning have ranged from age six to 14 at admission. One hundred-eight were served from 1949-1961, 125 from 1961-71, plus 130 in the outpatient program: 125 were served in residential treatment from 1971-82. From 1982-90, 120 children were served in residential treatment, 2,216 people served in outpatient care, and 146 in foster care and in-home.

Beloit Merges with LSS

Beloit had been continuously owned by the parent national church body since its birth in 1890 at Beloit, Iowa, until its merger with Lutheran Social Service of Iowa in 1982. First, the Norwegian Lutheran Church, then, because of subsequent mergers, the Evangelical Lutheran Church and The American Lutheran Church. Because the ALC, nationally, no longer wished too directly own such institutions. merger conversations began with LSS in the late 1970s leading to the eventual merger of Beloit with LSS in 1982.

Beloit Lutheran Children's Home continues to serve young children, but now as a Psychiatric Medical Institute for Children. With a capacity of 30 boys and girls, in residential units of five children with an adult counselor, it seeks to bring wholeness back into the lives of severely disturbed children who have experienced multiple, often horrendous abuse, and need intense care under psychiatric supervision.

Some of these children are today's new "orphans," because the courts have terminated the parental rights of their parents. They hope for eventual placement in extended foster care or in an adoptive home. Today's LSS adoption program facilitates adoptions for special needs children like these and others.

Source: "Hope for all Generations", Chapter 3, Beloit Lutheran Children's Home, Beloit, Iowa, by George Hanusa. Roger Gutmann, President and CEO of Lutheran Social Service of Iowa, and Heather Fink, LSS Director of Communications, authorized George Hanusa to give me, Roseanna Zehner written permission to put this article on the Lyon County Site. A special thanks to all.


Transcribed by Darlene Jacoby


Webization by Kermit Kittleson - Aug. 2006