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Jewish World Review
/ 10 Sivan, 5768
I received a gift in the mail today - an honorary certificate along with a citizenship card for Boys Town. I am now an official Honorary Citizen of the famous Nebraska village which was started by Father Flanagan over 90 years ago. Boys Town is one of the charitable organizations that my wife and I have donated to through the years. I first became aware of it, probably like most people, through the 1938 MGM movie starring Spencer Tracy and Mickey Rooney.
My citation reads as follows: "In appreciation of Assistance Rendered Father Flanagan's Boys' Home Presents Mr. Greg Crosby the Title of 2008 Honorary Citizen. This Certificate of Appointment has therefore been issued by the Officers and Governing Board of Boys Town under the authority vested in them by the Citizens." Signed Father Steven E. Boes, National Executive Director.
If you think this citation makes me proud, you're right. I feel great about it. Honorary Citizenship is a time honored tradition dating back to 1937. If you think I received it because I gave a ton of money to Boys Town, you're wrong. I only send in maybe 10 or 20 bucks a year - I wish I could afford to send more, but we give what we can afford to give and we do give to other charities as well. So you see, even though I'm not one of Boys Town's heavy-duty, rich patrons, they nevertheless saw fit to make me an Honorary Citizen. I like it. Makes me feel like Mickey Rooney or something.
I guess I'm just an old softy. I cry whenever I watch the Boys Town movie and see the part where Pee Wee gets hit by a car. Gets me every time. I really like the whole idea of Boys Town - a place where troubled and homeless boys can go to ultimately become good men. A place where they're taught right from wrong, good manners, self discipline, and how to work with others. Father Flanagan's motto "There's no such thing as a bad boy" is such a wonderful thought. I don't know if it's true or not, but the optimism and faith behind those words is a pretty terrific thing.
The story of Boys Town really does read like a movie story. Father Edward J. Flanagan came to Omaha, Nebraska in 1913, during a drought that year which filled the streets with unemployed farm workers. When he saw the many homeless young boys outside his Workingmen's Hotel for impoverished men, Father came up with his philosophy that assisting a boy when he was young might prevent him from turning into a homeless man.
On December 12, 1917, Father Flanagan borrowed $90 dollars from an anonymous friend believed to be Henry Monsky and opened the first Father Flanagan's Boys' Home, a nonsectarian, non-proselytizing home for boys. It was an old run-down Victorian mansion near downtown Omaha. Five boys were the first to benefit from Father's vision, and those first residents barely had time to get settled before a steady stream of additional boys began to arrive.
The boys were sent by the court, referred by sympathetic citizens, and many times simply wandered in on their own. The front door was never locked, and any boy who came was allowed to enter, regardless of race, color or creed. There was hardly enough money to feed them, but these boys received stronger nourishment than food - love, care, patience and understanding in rich quantities. And that's how Father Flanagan began his effort to rehabilitate children instead of imprisoning them.
As the population of boys increased, bigger and bigger quarters were needed. Finally, in 1936, the village of Boys Town was incorporated and became an official village of the state of Nebraska. The elected their own government, mayor, council, and commissioners and even had their own post office. To this day, Boys Town has the youngest voting population in America, with an elected government run by the students.
Father Flanagan always said there would be no fences and no locks on the doors of Boys Town. He said, "I am not building a prison. This is a home. You do not wall in members of your own family." You got to love a guy like that.
The front of my Boys Town Citizenship card looks pretty impressive and official. The back of the card is printed with a simple prayer.
A Prayer for a Good Day
Just for today I will be happy.
I am going to need your help.
I will not dwell on thoughts that depress me.
I will replace them with happy thoughts.
Just for today I will make a big effort
to be agreeable.
I will be cheerful, Lord. I will not be crabby.
I will lift my face in a smile instead of a frown.
I will remember fondly the warmth of
I will hug someone today.
I will even hug my dog or my cat.
Today, Lord, I will do something good for
I will not count the cost.
I will not ask the price.
Dear Lord, thanks for listening
to my grand plans.
Above all, just give me a smile,
And a helping hand to get me through my day.
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JWR contributor Greg Crosby, former creative head for Walt Disney publications, has written thousands of comics, hundreds of children's books, dozens of essays, and a letter to his congressman. A freelance writer in Southern California, you may contact him by clicking here.
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© 2006, Greg Crosby