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Mooseheart celebrates 100th anniversary

Mooseheart Child City and School student A.C. Cunningham, 8, shoots pool with Kohl's employee Gary Wegrzyn in Mooseheart's recreation center as part of a Kohl's Cares day. Mooseheart will celebrate their 100th anniversary Saturday.
Mooseheart Child City and School student A.C. Cunningham, 8, shoots pool with Kohl's employee Gary Wegrzyn in Mooseheart's recreation center as part of a Kohl's Cares day. Mooseheart will celebrate their 100th anniversary Saturday.

MOOSEHEART – Chet Albright has been involved with the Moose fraternal organization in some capacity for nearly his whole life.

Albright and his six siblings lost their mother when she was only 40 years old. His father, a graduate of Mooseheart Child City & School, leaned on the organization for help. Albright attended the school from 1950 to 1957, he’s still involved as a volunteer with the organization – payback for everything Mooseheart has done for him, he said.

“First, it was a home in the truest sense of the word,” he said. “What Mooseheart did for me, my brothers and my sisters, it’s done for thousands of other kids.”

Albright worked for Moose International for 20 years as supreme secretary and as director of fraternal operations.

He also worked in admissions at Mooseheart. Mooseheart leaders say it’s longtime Moose supporters like Albright who have helped the Mooseheart thrive over the past century.

The organization – a residential childcare facility for children whose families are unable, for a number of reasons, to care for them – will celebrate 100 years of helping children and families in need.

A centennial celebration is planned Saturday – exactly 100 years after Mooseheart’s dedication ceremony in 1913.

But Mooseheart leaders had some hurdles to clear when the idea of the residential school surfaced in the early 1900s.

“I think it’s tremendously exciting that an institution that wasn’t supposed to be here is here 100 years later,” Albright said. “The foresight of the early leadership is amazing.”

When the idea of Mooseheart Child City & School came to fruition a century ago, support from the Loyal Order of Moose and the Women of the Moose was as prevalent then as it is today.

The story of Mooseheart started in 1906, when James J. Davis agreed to help recruit Moose members to help keep the organization alive, according to historical records.

By 1911, membership grew to more than 200,000 people. Davis became the director general and sought to establish what was then deemed the “Moose Institute.”

After buying more than 1,000 acres near Batavia in 1912, Mooseheart materialized. A dedication ceremony was set for Sunday, July 27, 1913.

Thomas Marshall, who had just taken the reins as vice president of the United States, first hesitated to speak at the dedication of what he considered an orphanage.

But Mooseheart initially was established as a school and a home for children with deceased parents, who then had to be Moose members.

From the 1960s through the 1980s, Mooseheart slowly began accepting more children of nonMoose member families.

By 1994, the organization officially changed its policy to accept children of any family in need, regardless of whether the family was tied to the Moose organization.

“When my family came, you basically were orphans and your father had to belong to the Moose,” Albright said. “That has changed, and I think for the better.”

Today, Mooseheart serves a little more than 200 students, including Abi Alade, 14, who moved to Mooseheart with her sister in October 2010.

She said she thinks Moose members are the reason Mooseheart still is thriving after 100 years.

“They do a lot for us,” she said. “Whenever I have problems, I think of the Moose members and how they gave their time and their funds to make sure we have a better education and a better life.”

Audrey Show, 14, is about to start her freshman year at Mooseheart. She said as Mooseheart gears up to celebrate its 100th anniversary, she’s run into several people who have told her about parents, cousins and other family members who graduated from Mooseheart.

She’s planning a trip to Moosehaven in Florida, a sister campus that’s a retirement community for Moose members.

She said she’s looking forward to the trip – which she has made before – because it’s a chance to talk with those who have championed Mooseheart over the years.

It’s great, especially going to Moosehaven, because residents there have been members at least 15 years, some 30 to 40 years,” she said. “It’s cool that they’ve done that for so many years.”

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