Christmas in the orphanage: A child’s story

Dec 21, 2010

This Christmas story needs little set-up, other than a link to St. Johns Home, a shelter and residential therapy home for children in Grand Rapids, Michigan. The agency still exists, and many Amway employees have given and volunteered for the children there over the years.


I came to (the old) Saint John’s Home in 1951 at the age of three. There, the Catholic Nuns were our moms and dads and there were lots of kids for brothers and sisters. It seemed like two hundred or so. Four large dormitories separated the little girls, big girls, little boys and big boys. The buildings also housed the necessary classrooms and a large dining area. We had one TV and almost no time to watch it.

One of our summer activities was a group visit to a nearby farm. All the nuns and kids would climb aboard several semi-trailers (equipped with wooden benches) and sing one song after another all the way there. At the farm, there were piles of hay to play in, lots of animals to pet and a good meal afterward.

Another favorite activity was when Buck Berry would drop by the home to play his guitar and sing cowboy songs. He also did impressive rope tricks and showed us how to make corn stalks out of a newspaper.

The playground at the orphanage was huge. In addition to the usual swings and such, there were steep terraced hills for winter sledding. We sledded all day long and we slept at night. It was a good time. I remember learning to tie my shoes by the swings.

One Christmas, I received a yellow stuffed monkey with a plastic face. I loved that monkey and repeatedly asked one of the nuns (my favorite one) to give it a kiss. She always refused (probably out of concern for its cleanliness). At bed time, after the dormitory lights were out, any of the kids who wanted a good night kiss could ask for one. I asked my favorite nun for a kiss and she made her way through the dark to accommodate my request. I held the monkey in front of my face and she kissed it. Laughing, she jerked away and said that I was a naughty boy and we both laughed more. It was a merry Christmas for me.

I have always been grateful that Saint John’s Home was there to provide a loving home for me when I so desperately needed one. The many fond memories of my time there will never leave me. I am honored to have been selected to “give back” some of that care and share my childhood memories.

– Jim J.

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