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47 years ago…

LARRY KASSOUF
Guest Columnist
opinion@lbknews.com

Parmadale Orphanage
Cleveland, Ohio

It is September of 1964, and I am teaching sixth grade at Parmadale Orphanage in Cleveland, Ohio. Serendipity had brought me to this place. I had grown up in a home with parents who were kind, loving and emotionally grounded. They accepted the task of being a parent as one of life’s sacred duties. I was not remotely prepared for the experience of teaching in an orphanage.

These kids struck out at everyone and everything. They did not know how to play fair, fought often, stole constantly and had no hygiene skills. They had never had an environment where they could draw and paint, sing and dance, play and work, and learn to hold hands and share with others. Teaching the children to trust, embrace each other and realize there can be a world in which they are valued was the work at Parmadale. It was a learning ground for all of us requiring humility, hard work, generosity and the transfer of love to a child who may have never before experienced an affectionate touch.

The first time I went to hug a child was after one of the children had lost a minor scuffle. As I reached out to him, the child flinched. I came to find that flinching was a common response from children who had abusive parents. Imagine life as a child where you fear the touch of your parents.

Imagine, also, the difficulty of encouraging each child to feel wanted, loved, respected and worthy. Discipline and criticism were reserved for those times when the children’s safety was in jeopardy. The intensity of living in a world of uncertainty is overwhelming for a child who moves from foster care to an orphanage, then back and forth again. Everything in these kids’ lives is magnified. They live in an insecure and tumultuous world.

Overriding the emotional roller coaster of children growing up in broken and abusive homes is left to the people who watch over these kids. In many cases, the goodness and patience of the individuals who care for these children allow them to become productive fathers, mothers, neighbors, friends and colleagues. The good souls who direct these children’s lives are truly earth’s angels.

The list of people who were raised in an orphanage or by foster parents includes Herbert Hoover, Andrew Jackson, Nelson Mandela, Eleanor Roosevelt, Bertrand Russell, Edward Albee, John Keats, James A. Michener, Edgar Allen Poe, Leo Tolstoy, Louis Armstrong, Johann Sebastian Bach, Ella Fitzgerald, John Lennon, Faith Hill, Ingrid Bergman, Carol Burnett, Art Linkletter, Frances McDormand, Marilyn Monroe, Babe Ruth, Greg Louganis, Jim Thorpe, George Washington Carver, Arthur Andersen, Steve Jobs, Dave Thomas (founder of Wendy’s) and Rudyard Kipling.

The list also includes my friend Hugh and my wife’s grandmother, Blanche.

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5 Responses for “47 years ago…”

  1. Bea Bakondy says:

    Was wondering if anyone remembers Sister Arthur or Eugene Froelich?
    I was there between 1958-1962.
    Any info would be appreciated.
    Thanks,
    Bea

  2. Mr Kassouf

    I remember a very different Parmadale. I was there from 1944-1950. It was a wonderful place to live. Of course times were greatly. different
    We had a cottage ( a misnomer as you know) which held 40 boys managed by one nun. A choir that sang throughout Northeast Ohio, sports teams that competed with high schools. An enriching environment that enabled us to learn and grow as we involved ourselves in the varied programs offered.

    The nuns were mostly loving and we all participated in the upkeep of the village.

    Of course there were a few malcontents but most of us became close, some i still call brother when we get together.

    Without Parmadale, i would not have been able to attend St. Ignatius HS, Graduate from the US Naval Academy or receive a masters degree from the University of Chicago. Many of out time went on to further education, successful marriages and lives.

    It was all because of the dedicated nuns and generosity of the Northeast Ohio Catholic community.

    Unfortunately there no sisters (nuns) to serve and the catholic support is fractured.

    I am blessed to have been there. I also know the difficulties kids face in your time and today because also managed Ohio Boys Town where we cared for abused and unwanted teenage boys.

    Just wanted to let you know that the time-line of many fine institutions sometimes disintegrates.

    You should be proud of your effort in a very difficult situation.

    Thanks

    George McNulty

  3. MJ says:

    My mother and several of her siblings (The Custer kids) were at Parmadale around that time. She was abused daily by the Priests and nuns. Thank God she found a kind hearted soul in my father, married him and never looked back. They raised 3 kids…a lawyer, an accountant and a housewife… I’m sure she will never forget the horrors of Parmadale, but she didn’t let that keep her from having a happy adult life. Those that hurt the children there will answer to God one day….and then burn.

  4. Marilyn Novosel Osborne says:

    You were one of my teachers at Parmadale. I remember your thick black rimmed glasses. You brought in a swarthy guest speaker who showed us a film about the Middle East. When we laughed at the strange sounding names of the cities, that speaker warned, “One day you will know the names of all these places and more!” He was right. You were a good teacher. However, I take exception to some of what you wrote. For example, cleanliness was paramount! We were living with nuns, after all, and showers were taken daily and clean clothing was donned each day. Yes, some of the children there had been abused, but many of us came from single parent families where a parent had suddenly died. In my case, my mother had died of cancer at 27. My father was left with 4 children and no support system. Children were expected to go home for lunch and there was no before or after school care like there is today. Things fell apart, and I ended up at Parmadale. Today, that would never happen with all the support systems in place. Furthermore, I wish it were true that discipline and criticism were reserved for those times when the children’s safety was in jeopardy. The reality is that some of the nuns were very abusive. One beat the girls for no reason and had them beat each other. If she weren’t dead, she surely would have been tried in a court of law by now. My sister was one of her victims and never recovered. Yes, there were good people who cared for us. My own house mother, Sister Mary James, taught me a great deal. Our coach, Miss Barb, made sure we learned to play sports well and fairly. Our English teacher, Mr. Bonza, was a great inspiration to me, kindling a love of language. I make a living writing now thanks to his influence. Many from Parmadale are now renewing our friendships thanks to the internet. Some thrive because of their experiences at Parmadale, but others despite theirs. Every cottage was different, depending on who was in charge. I’m glad to know you are alive and well, Mr. Kassouf. But, be careful what you write, because we are out here all grown up and reading.

  5. Hi Mr. Kassouf. I was at Parmadale in 1964. I was never in your class. But my best friend in Cottage 9, Marilyn Novosel, was! I remember you well, having had a girlish crush on you from afar in the 7th grade. Everything you’ve said is true. Imagine, also, how important every one of our teachers was to someone who was an orphan, getting no visitors, someone whose world was made up of only a few adults seen at school and the 2 nuns in our cottage. You’ve done God’s work, Mr Kassouf. You should be proud of yourself. It’s good to see that you are doing well. You look terrific in this photo.

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