The orphan train and my friend, Roger Weber

By Gerre Joiner | Published Saturday, May 28, 2016

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Several months ago, one of my coffee-drinking friends pointed to Roger Weber as he walked in Whataburger, delivering the Wise County Messenger’s Update. He and Carla are some of the most faithful among the Messenger employees. They carry the newsy, little daily papers to more than 60 locations (restaurants, places of business, etc.) in Wise County. They make it look easy.

As Roger walked in, my friend asked, “Do you know about the orphan train?” I said I knew a little about the orphan train, though I didn’t know much.

I’ve researched since that day, and here are the highlights:

Back in the 1850s, orphans abounded, especially in the large cities of the north. Orphans and neglected children in New York City numbered around 30,000.

Charles Loving Brace founded an organization to meet the need. The Children’s Aid Society made arrangements with train companies for discounted fares, then rounded up the children and headed west.

Brace wrote, “There are many spare places at the table of life. They in the west have enough for themselves and the stranger, too.”

The organization would advertise in the local papers, giving information about the arrival of the train and the procedures that would be followed regarding the placement of the children.

My friend said, “Roger’s grandfather was one of the children that came to Wise County by way of the orphan train.” I knew there was a great story here. I didn’t have time to visit with Roger that day, but a few days ago, I asked Roger if he could make time to sit down with me and share details of his grandfather.

He said, “Yes, but Carla has more information than you can imagine. I’ll see when she can meet with us.”

We met at the public library later that day, and I knew right away why Roger wanted Carla to be present. She has done extensive research on Roger’s side of the family. It’s all there – the papers, the certificates, the Messenger newspaper advertising the arrival date of the train on which Roger’s grandfather arrived. I was amazed.

Here are some of the key points in the story of Rudolph Weber and the orphan train:

  • Rudolph was born Feb. 11, 1895, in Bayonne, N.J., to Henry Weber and Helena Huss Weber.
  • Hard times and some apparent neglect prompted Rudolph’s relocation to the home of an aunt, Mrs. Bruno Aust, in New Jersey. Difficulties in the home prompted Mrs. Aust to place him in the care of the Children’s Aid Society in October of 1906.
  • On Nov. 16, 1906, Rudolph traveled by train to Decatur with nine orphan boys. He was selected by the family of John S. Vick. The Vick family agreed to “… house, school and treat Rudolph as one of the family until he reached the age of 18 years.”

Both Mr. and Mrs. Vick were orphans as children, and one of their children had died six years earlier. They welcomed young Rudolph to their home and their farm in the Greenwood/Slidell area. The arrangement was wonderful.

The Children’s Aid Society sent a representative each year to check on the welfare of the young man, and every report was very good.

  • The Vick family never officially adopted Rudolph. He grew up as one of their children. At the age of 19, he married Susan Vick, the daughter of John and Betty Vick. To this union, Charlie Rudolph Weber was born in 1918. Charlie is the father of my friend, Roger.
  • In January of 1921, 26-year-old Rudolph writes to a friend at the Children’s Society, “… since John Vick took care of me, I am now taking care of John Vick.” Mr. Vick died Jan. 6, 1933.
  • In the ’40s and ’50s, several family members searched for the parents of Rudolph Weber, with no success. Also, during the 1950s, Rudolph returned to New Jersey to live near his brother, Gus, at Bayonne.
  • My friend, Roger, was born Feb. 17, 1954, to Charlie and Betty Weber.
  • Rudolph Weber died Feb. 19, 1984.

I’m wondering what to make of this wonderful story. Several ideas come to mind:

  • One man (Mr. Brace) saw a problem. He observed countless homeless children. He decided to try to make things better. He formed an organization that placed between 100,000 and 200,000 children in welcoming homes. The Children’s Aid Society effectively placed children for about 75 years, ending about the time the Great Depression began.
  • A friend of mine is on the planet and in Wise County because of the visionary work and benevolence of that one man – Mr. Brace.
  • I’ve known Roger and Carla since their college days at Tarleton State University in Stephenville, but I knew nothing of the orphan train connection until recently.

Everyone has a story. Some are more interesting than others. We won’t know the stories until our conversations get past current events and the weather.

I guess that means I’ve been (figuratively speaking) conversing with Roger and Carla about the weather … for about 30 years.

Thanks for your work, Carla. Thanks for your story, Roger.

And thanks Mr. Brace, the Children’s Aid Society and the orphan train!

Gerre Joiner is a semi-retired church musician and has lived in Decatur since 1999.

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