SYKESVILLE — Gently pulling up a blue cover to reveal the Strawbridge Home for Boys' gatepost, sisters Amy Mathis and Debbie Mathis Bogas beamed with pride. Their father, Jim Mathis, was one of more than 300 "Strawbridge boys" who called the place their home. The home's gatepost was dedicated at St. Paul's United Methodist Church in Sykesville Sunday afternoon.
"It's a testament that these boys had such a unique connection to the community," said Amy Mathis, of Philadelphia"They became part of the fabric of the community and many have stayed here."
According to St. Paul's UMC historian Patricia Greenwald, the Strawbridge Home for Boys closed its doors in Eldersburg in 1958. She said hundreds of boys had found it to be a warm and nurturing home since its inception in 1924. Each Sunday, the boys donned their best attire and walked down the aisle of St. Paul's United Methodist Church in Sykesville, where they worshipped as a group.
Greenwald said little remains of the old home and the home's historic gatepost was about to be lost to the widening of MD 32. Strawbridge boy James Mathis' family decided to rescue the gatepost and dedicate it to the memory of Mathis and all the other boys who called Strawbridge home.
"My father would be in awe," Amy Mathis said. "He would be so humbled and excited that all the boys were recognized. It's not just about him, it's bigger than that."
Greenwald said while driving to the cemetery following their father's funeral, the Mathis daughters noticed an old gatepost from the Strawbridge Home for Boys, where Mathis had spent his youth. They determined that it should be rescued from the widening of MD 32 and become a permanent monument to their father and all the men who were "Strawbridge boys."
"They approached me as I had been chair of the Sykesville Historic District Commission, and asked if I knew of a suitable location in Sykesville where the gatepost might be installed," Greenwald said. "As historian of St. Paul's United Methodist Church, I knew that the boys had come to the church each Sunday and sat as a group in the front pews. I suggested the lawn of St. Paul's for the memorial."
Jim Mathis's wife Lois Mathis, of Sykesville, said she wished her husband was "there to see the dedication."
"It brings back so many memories," Lois Mathis said. "Jim was very loved and sort of a natural born leader….We met at age 16 and were married for 59 years. We both went to the Board of Child Care all the time to volunteer and help in anyway we could. At our 50th wedding anniversary, we established a two scholarships to be given to two graduates every year."
Kristian Sekse, the Board of Child Care vice president of development and communications, said his organization is a combination of the Strawbridge Home and two other orphanages, which are all supported by the UMC.
"I've never met any of the Strawbridge alumni," Sekse said. "I think it's so cool. They have the coolest stories. It's neat to meet a big part of our history."
Betty Barr, of Upperco, attended the dedication with friends. She said her husband lived at Strawbridge from age four until he graduated in 1943. She also has a gatepost and plans to donate it to the church.
"My husband was a Strawbridge boy and he had taken one of the posts at least 25 years ago and put it in our yard," Barr said. "I told the church they could have it and they were delighted. The boys were like a big family."
Ninety-three-year-old Strawbridge boy Don Smyth, of Cockeysville, said he lived at the home from age five until he graduated in 1941.
"I worked on the farm husking corn, milking cows and doing laundry," Smyth said. "They taught me to get along with others and to do the physical part of helping on the farm, in the laundry and with housekeeping. They also gave me assistance getting into Western Maryland College."
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Ninety-year-old Francis Stonebreaker, of Eldersburg, said he lived at Strawbridge from 1930 to 1943.
"I learned how to farm and how to get along with people," Stonebreaker said. "Going in the Navy was a snap (after Strawbridge). I came here to see all the boys that's left. I have a lot of brothers."
Seventy-four-year-old Donald Mills, of Glen Rock, Pa., said Strawbridge was a positive influence on his life. He lived at Strawbridge from 1948 until 1952.
"It gave me direction and good work ethic. I really enjoyed my time there," Mills said. "It's a great thing that they got the post from the gatehouse. It's a reminder of what was in the past."