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American Legion rallying to save historic school

Friday, January 23, 2009

A historical school is being forced to close its doors.

The Indiana Soldiers' and Sailors' Children's Home (ISSCH) in Knightstown is being closed by the Indiana Department of Health in May.

"The American Legion is planning on attending a rally on the steps of the state house in demonstration of the closing of the school," American Legion Post No. 2, Treasurer Tammy Young told The Brazil Times. "On Jan. 26, at 10 a.m., alumni of the ISSCH members of various communities and legionnaires will protest before the vote on Tuesday."

The 143-year-old facility has been housing the children of Veterans who have no family since former Governor Oliver P. Morton first established it in the early summer of 1865, originally founded to provide care and education to the orphaned children of the Civil War.

In March 1867, the state assumed control and in the 1890s the number of Civil War Veterans orphans were becoming obsolete, the legislature amended the law to include all children of service men who served in active duty in anyway.

Since then, all children of veterans from all wars are eligible for admission.

"This is an option for servicemen," Former Commander of the American Legions seventh District Herb Hoffman said. "If something were to happen they wouldn't have to worry about their children, the American Legion and other organizations will help take care of them through this home."

When Indiana took control of the home, children who are "at-risk," can also be placed on the campus as long as they passed the admissions interview.

"For many children (ISSCH) is their last hope," American Legion Post No. 2 President of the Ladies Auxiliary Judie Durbin said. "You can't put a price on children."

ISSCH sits on 419 acres that include an administration building, children's dormitory cottages, Morton Memorial School, a hospital, dairy farm and campgrounds.

The school is Kindergarten-12 grade school, where each classroom size may be between 8-10 students and the school is on the Core 40 system. Vocational programs are offered through the school in building trades, culinary art, broadcasting, business and veterinarian science.

Children have access to a skating rink, swimming pool, a movie theater and a recreation building. Children are allowed one week of summer vacation on the campgrounds. Field trips and other special events offer opportunities for children to leave the property.

The home currently houses 114 students, there were 25 graduates in 2007, 11 graduates in 2008 and an anticipated graduating class of 18 for 2009.

"I have been here for 34 years," Superintendent Paul Wilkinson told The Brazil Times. "I have developed strong bonds with the students and teachers here. It has been a privilege to work with them for the betterment of the children and I will continue to do everything I can for them."

The American Legion as well as other organizations throughout the state support ISSCH through monetary donationsand volunteering.

"Naturally we want to keep the place open and we are concerned with the cost, we are asking for more students on the campus to help lower the cost and utilize the campus," Hoffman said. "Students should be given the opportunity between juvenile and (ISSCH). At (ISSCH) they can receive the help that they need and still obtain a valuable education. Show me another senior class that is so motivated to go into the military."

According to a press release provided by the Indiana Department of Health, in fiscal year 2008, the state spent more than $10.2 million to operate the Home, which served 185 students, with an average cost per child per day of $249.88 and during the past nine school years, the ISTEP scores at the Home have consistently been well below the state average.

A three-year assessment, which included evaluations by the Department of Education, the Family and Social Services Administration, the Indiana Office of Management and Budget, and architectural contractors, found:

* A lack of a clear mission and admission policies,

* Failure to supply education and support to students in local communities, which includes the help of families and non-profit organizations,

* An inefficiency in both teacher-to-student ratio (1:5) and in the cost of educating students ($91,205 per student, per year), and

* The out-of-date conditions of the facilities, which would cost between $65 million to $200 million to modernize.

Members of the legion have many concerns with the findings of the state.

"Has the state really neglected it, is that why they feel the need to close it," Young questioned. "They live there and are cared for 24-hours-a-day, of course it costs more."

A portion of the dues for the American Legion go to pay for the students at ISSCH, and each individual post gives money and gifts to the students.

"I would personally like to thank the American Legion and the other patriotic organizations who have helped us," Wilkinson said. "They have always been there when we needed them and have shown the students that they can accomplish their goals."

Many legionnaires can't understand how elected officials can turn their backs on children who are in need.

"If we can bail out the banks, auto makers and everyone else why can't the government continue to take care of the students," Durbin said. "You can't put a price on veterans or children."

Petitions are located at American Legion Post No. 2, Reberger's Dry Cleaning and Phillips 66 Gas Station. For more information on ISSCH or the rally, contact the American Legion Post No. 2 at 443-8611.

Rally information

What: Rally to save the Indiana Soldiers' and Sailors' Children's Home in Knightstown

Where: On the steps of the state house.

When: Monday, Jan. 26, 10 a.m.

* Petitions located at American Legion Post No. 2, Reberger's Dry Cleaning and Phillip 66 Gas Station.

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I was unaware that this was being considered. Holy cow. Sounds like the State has it in their mind to neglect it, then forget it! Even with the Legion and others providing financial assistance they still let it get into that condition. Is the condition really as bad as they say or is it another of the governments skewed studies to meet their agenda?

I will encourage all of my comrades to get down to the Post and sign that petition.

Judy and Tammy are great ladies that will definately ensure the voice of Clay County is heard. Go get 'em ladies! Thanks for your service to all.

-- Posted by michael.galloway1 on Sat, Jan 24, 2009, at 8:22 AM

Dear Michael..

I graduated from Morton Memorial High School---the school on the grounds of ISSCH. I was placed there with 4 of my siblings in 1969. I have been active in the Alumni Association and have returned to the Campus on a regular basis. I am a photographer and I can assure you, the grounds of ISSCH is one of my most favorite places to photograph. It's beautiful and so full of History. The cost of repairs and/or refurbishing is grossly inflated. I would love to know where they got the 65-200 million dollar figure. It is said that they did a 3-year study. The Health Dept. is now being challenged on that study---they need to produce it's contents. The important function of this facility is the care of the children. Personally, I feel our Home has been squeezed into the corner by the state and the agencies responsible for sending children there in the past. The State agencies quit promoting the Home and that has created the low enrollment. I am not an advocate of Foster Homes. I feel they are not adequate for larger families. Like my own family of 5, we would have been split among many Homes. Being at the Children's Home allowed us to be together, as many larger family were just like ours. Being a "Homie" means having many brothers and sisters. I developed the Official Site of the Morton Memorial Alumni 8 years ago with hundreds of the Alumni listed with me, and some that check-in daily. You would only have to spend a day on my site to understand what the Home has mean to all of us.... Thank you for your support Michael

-- Posted by SusanJackson71 on Sat, Jan 24, 2009, at 10:10 PM

I didnt even realize the state had a home for the children of vets who had lost there life fighting for are country. How sad they want to close it. When so much is expected of theses soliders & wars still being fought I feel this is still needed. How sad they want to close it. So what would they do with all these children that have no familys. Is this another one of Daniels cost cutters for the state.

-- Posted by kd323 on Mon, Jan 26, 2009, at 8:08 AM

To whom it may concern:

I am a former student/graduate of the facility and was very shocked to discover that the state has shut the doors on my Home / school. I spent from 8th grade till I graduated High School. I dont see how the facility could need so much money to modernize. 200 million dollars seems extreme. It just seems way over the cost of what it really is. The American Legion and Amvets I feel contributed way more then the State has ever. It is basically saying that these organizations does not know whats good for American Family needs for the children who are without. The American soldiers who sacrificed there lives for our country so that places like this would exist. How can they not take the word of the sponsoring organizations, after all, they were always there, every event the Home ever had, the sponsoring parties saw what was going on. Do you think that they would sponsor something if they thought that this wasn't a great place for children in need? The I.S.S.C.H gave me a second chance at life when all else failed for me, the Home seemed to make me understand when all else couldn't... I am saddened by this....For over 140 years of remaining open should say enough about it. You couldn't ask for a better person to run the place then Mr. Paul Wilkinson who has been the heart and soul of for 34 years. Dedication is the only word I have and there is alot others that filled the place that made sure everything was done right for the kids as well as the facility.... God help Indiana for letting this place become something other than what Oliver P. Morton intended it to be, "A Home Away from Home."

-- Posted by Byron Leitner on Thu, Jul 30, 2009, at 4:52 PM

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