Friends met at Kelso Home for Girls in 1938

Girls at the Kelso Home for Girls present a Christmas concert in the 1950s. (Submitted photo / May 21, 2012)

Relaxing in an easy chair in her Parkville apartment, Maybelle Burns Boone, 81, recalled the lessons she learned growing up in an orphanage.

"It taught me how to cope with life. You never knew what was going to happen to you," she said.

Seated nearby on a sofa, her oldest friend, June Mulligan Hoshall, 80, agreed, saying orphanage life rescued her.

"We (she and her siblings) would never have turned out to be the kind of kids we turned out to be if we were left to run the streets. We would have been no good," Hoshall said.

Boone said the orphanage instilled a love of security.

"I hate changes. I love routine," she said.

"That's because you were brainwashed," shot back her friend.

Both women burst into laughter.

The exchange illustrated their mixed feelings about an institutional childhood that has passed from the scene. The big-building approach to child-care services they experienced is mostly a memory in the United States today.

The orphanage where the two grew up was the Kelso Home for Girls in Towson, which was built in 1925 and administered by the United Methodist Church.

The Kelso building at 600 W. Chesapeake Ave. served as part of the Towson Family YMCA until it was torn down last winter. Construction is expected to begin this fall at the site on the new Y Family Center.

During its decades of operations from 1925 until it was phased out after being sold to the YMCA in 1958, the Kelso Home was occupied by 40 to 50 girls at a time.

It is incorrect to think that the "orphans" who lived there were bereft of family. Many were members of large families that had been rendered incapable of providing proper child care because of circumstances, often the loss of a parent.

Such was the case with Hoshall and Boone.

Hoshall's mother could not care for her nine children by herself after her husband died in an accidental electrocution, so Hoshall and three of her sisters were sent to live at Kelso.

Boone had a mother who died young and a father who drank. Of the five children, Boone and her two sisters went to Kelso; her two brothers went to the Strawbridge Home, a boys' orphanage in Eldersburg.

Both women were 7-year-old girls when they entered Kelso on July 5, 1938. Their friendship was cemented soon after and has endured ever since.

'Had to learn your manners'

Right away, the girls learned that Kelso had rules.

"You were a little scared at first. They were very strict," Hoshall said.

Boone agreed. "You had to learn your manners. You stood when an adult came into the room. You said, 'Yes ma'am' and 'No ma'am.'"

The younger girls slept in open dormitories, the older ones in smaller shared rooms. They lived by bells that woke them up and sent them to meals.

The two girls attended the public schools in Towson up until graduation from the old Towson High School, now the Bykota Senior Center. Before going to school each morning, each had to complete assigned chores and make her bed.

Both said there was no stigma at school for being a Kelso girl.

"We never were made to feel different. There were always shelter girls in your class," Boone said.

Misbehavior brought demerits, they said. The fine for demerits was removal of time allotted to spend away from Kelso with families, such as on weekends.

Corporal punishment was used. Hoshall said she was spanked with a hairbrush in an attempt to cure her of bed-wetting.

"That went on for five years," she said.

For Boone, a source of anguish was a rule against fraternizing with her sisters living at Kelso. She said she once saw her younger sister, Geraldine, throwing up in the dining room out of nervousness and was forbidden to go comfort her.

How were the meals?

"They were substantial — three squares a day," Boone said.

"One day I asked for a second hot dog. They said, 'You eat like an animal. Have a potato instead.' " Hoshall said. "They had the best strawberry shortcake, though. I've never had better since."

For the youngest girls, bedtime was 7 p.m. When the adults had left the room, the girls sometimes played a bed-swapping game they called "Upset the Fruit Basket."

Roller skating was huge at Kelso and the girls regularly got new skates for Christmas, one of three gifts they could ask Santa for. Also popular were softball, marbles and jumping rope. In warm weather there was a "silent hour" in which the girls sat on the lawn in silence for an hour, mostly reading.

Upon graduating high school, the girls were expected to make their own way.

"They made sure I had a job and someplace to go and they turned me loose," said Boone, who graduated from Towson High in 1948.

She landed a job in a furniture store and went to live with her grandmother.

Hoshall's experience was less straightforward. She ran away from Kelso once and ended up living with her mother during her senior year in high school. She got pregnant. She did graduate from Towson High, though, in 1949. She now lives in Essex.

Boone has been married twice and has three sons and two grandchildren. She worked at a credit card company and a print shop. She lived for a while in Florida after her second marriage.

Hoshall — who has four children, five grandchildren and three great-grandchildren — also was married twice.

"Every man I was married to is dead. And I didn't kill them," she said with a grin.

Both recalled special moments at Kelso.

"We had a cook. She was deaf, but could read lips. I used to go up to her room. I would tell her all my problems and say, 'I want to run away.' She would write, 'No, no, don't do that. Things will get better.' She was such a sweet person," Boone said.

For Hoshall, it was Christmas.

"Every year I asked for roller skates and I got them. I loved to roller skate," she said.

Transition to Board of Child Care

Kelso was one of three area orphanages that merged in 1960 into the Board of Child Care, a ministry of the Baltimore-Washington Conference of the United Methodist Church. The BCC has a $30 million annual budget and a staff of 475.

Thomas Curcio, BCC president, said his organization has a main residential campus in Randallstown and several satellite locations. The BCC cares for about 140 children ages 10 to 21 on a daily basis, mostly on the main campus with a few in the satellite homes.

"Most of the children who come to us come from dysfunctional families," he said, noting that most are referrals from child welfare and juvenile justice agencies.

He said about two-thirds of the youngsters return to their homes after residential treatment. Their progress is monitored by social workers.

"Many of our youngsters look at us as family. ... We put a strong emphasis on education, motivation and values," Curcio said.

He said 38 will graduate from high school this year and some are headed to college.

Curcio, who has 20 years with BCC, said child services has evolved from custodial — "three hots and a cot," as he termed it — to an emphasis on treatment and oversight.

"We provide a structural but welcoming environment with a lot of nurturing and care," he said. "Through a high level of supervision and structure, we are able to remotivate and change the way they look at things and value themselves."

Curcio said BCC is the largest provider of out-of-home child care in Maryland. He said the need for such care will never go away.

As for the Kelso Home, it's now gone.

The building, which had served the Y of Central Maryland as a childhood development center and for other programs, was demolished in January and February. The programs were shifted to other structures on the Y campus.

Construction is due to begin this fall on a new Y Family Center at the site.

Sara Milstein, chief marketing officer for the Y, said some artifacts from the Kelso building were saved such as bricks, photos and drawings.

She sees a continuity in the Y superseding the Kelso Home.

"(Kelso) was an institution that has given way to more modern forms of early childhood development. The Y is a strong force in the youth development arena," she said.

On June 2, at 6:30 p.m., the Y will break ground for its new Family Center on Chesapeake Avenue. The celebration will include a fundraising wine tasting.

The Kelso Home lives now in the memories of the women who spent their childhoods there. Boone and Hoshall credit the institution with rescuing them from difficult circumstances and preparing them for adulthood.

But, tellingly, Boone also recalls a favorite activity she shared with other Kelso girls.

"We would take a composition book and we would cut pictures out of magazines of a beautiful home and paste it in the book. We would also cut out pictures of beautiful rooms and families and other people and put it in the book. That was our home," she said.