It was a trip of 370 miles from Joplin, Missouri, three months by horse and wagon, through snow and sleet, over dirt trails, passing only tiny villages along the way.
Oren Wolf, father of three boys, had just lost his beloved wife, Mary, to illness. For a few months after she died, he had continued his work as a laborer in Missouri mines. It was grueling and dangerous. The hours were long, and with three children in his care it was a struggle to manage alone. After several months, he made a very difficult decision.
With that horse and wagon, he pushed north with his three young sons to find a Lutheran orphanage in Fremont, Nebraska. He’d heard about it from an acquaintance who told him about a home that took care of children, educated them and placed them with good families. Oren saw that as the best hope for 8-year-old Carl, 4-year-old Barry and William, age 2.
More than 100 years after that journey, Oren Wolf’s grandchildren finally learned of their family’s story. It is one forever linked to the history of Lutheran Family Services of Nebraska and one that speaks to the faith of a church and the value of offering a lifeline to a family in crisis.
The Wolf children spent about six years at the Lutheran Children’s Home orphanage in Fremont before each was placed with separate families in the area. “It had to be rough,” said Dennis Wolf, the youngest son of William, “to start with a new family, all without their parents.”
The orphanage was crowded, but the brothers received an education there and learned to work the land. When William was eight years old, a family from Utica, Nebraska decided to take him home to live with his four new sisters. His new parents made sure he was baptized, confirmed and continued his education.
Barry, the middle son, was taken in by a family in Randolph, Nebraska. After serving in World War II, he moved to the Pacific Northwest and later came back to Nebraska. Barry married but had no children and led a private life.
The oldest brother, Carl, is the one who provided the family’s history to William’s sons. He had become a member of the Strangaener family from Arlington, Nebraska. He had been baptized at the Fremont orphanage, and church was a powerful force in his life. He graduated from Concordia Theological Seminary in Illinois and was ordained at St. Paul’s Lutheran Church in Arlington. Carl served as a missionary in Argentina and loved to regale the Wolf family grandkids about traveling the jungle on horseback to spread God’s word. Carl also made sure the brothers stayed in touch – and he focused on keeping their story alive for future generations of the family.
When the orphanage in Fremont eventually merged with Immanuel Deaconess Institute in Omaha, Lutheran Family Services of Nebraska, as it’s now known, committed itself to express God’s love for all people through quality human care services that build and strengthen individual, family and community life. The Wolf family’s story represents the roots of professional and compassionate care that continues today at LFS.