As a resident of Strawbridge Home for Boys in 1950, Jim Mathis, at age 13, found himself working on a full-fledged farm with cows, hogs, chickens and horses.
He soon learned a few lessons.
"Cows don't care what day it is. At the same time every day, when it is time to milk, they come to the barn," Mathis, now 74, chuckled. "Farming is a 24-hour, seven days a week job. (Today), there's not a farmer amongst us."
That "us" is Mathis' fellow alumni from Strawbridge, a Methodist-run home in Eldersburg where boys between ages 6 and 18 were sent to live, from 1924 to the late 1950s, either because they were orphans, or their families couldn't care for them.
"We lived just like other boys," Mathis said. "(Strawbridge) was just a place to live and work. We grew up no different than the rest of the guys in school, except we lived at Strawbridge and together."
That's one pearl of wisdom Mathis will share when he discusses his life at Strawbridge on Wednesday, Jan. 11, as he makes a presentation at 10 a.m. as part of Sykesville's "I Remember That" series, held at the Sykesville Townhouse, on Main Street.
Located on 318-acres of what was once known as the George Washington Manro Farm, the Strawbridge Home for Boys was founded in 1924 after George Albaugh donated the farm in 1922 to the Methodist Episcopal Church for use as an orphanage.
Before it closed in the late 1950s, when the Methodist Church consolidated its three homes in the area to become the Board of Child Care, hundreds of boys resided at Strawbridge, forming a bond that continues today.
"It certainly had the features of a family," recalled Don Smyth, 88, who moved to Strawbridge in 1929 at age 6. "We had a house mother and later on, a house father.
"At that point in my life, I didn't think of them as brothers," Smyth said of his fellow residents at Strawbridge. "Over the years, looking back, you see they really were your brothers."
As president of the alumni board for Strawbridge, Mathis organizes reunions. Initially gathering every five years, and then every two, the alumni get together every year now. Many still live in the area, while others, including Pulitzer Prize winner author D.L. Coburn, live out of state.
"They're not making any more Strawbridge boys," Mathis said. "We meet at St. Paul's Church in Sykesville. It was our home church, and is where the boys still want to meet."
"It's been since 1941 since I left," said Smyth, who lives in Cockeysville. "I'm one of the oldest. Over the years, at the reunions, the newer boys I've gotten to know."
Mathis and his two brothers, who also lived at Strawbridge, went home to visit their father and sisters once a month, on holidays and for one month in the summer during their time at Strawbridge. All of the boys did the same, Mathis said, who did not know one orphan during his five-year stay at Strawbridge.
"Most of the boys had part of a family," Mathis said. "The family unit was maintained through living at Strawbridge. All good memories."
While Strawbridge no longer stands, the Board of Child Care of the United Methodist Church still serves about 2,000 youth and families a day through all of its programs, said Mathis, who is a board member.
"It is a much more diverse organization today," Mathis said. "When I grew up, you were placed there by church and family. Today, it is more emotional and behavioral problems that need to be dealt with, and it is much more demanding. The Department of Social Services places them now."
The alumni of Strawbridge donate at each reunion to the Alice G. Seymour Education Fund, which they created in memory of Seymour, a housemother at Strawbridge for 30 years. The fund provides a scholarship each year to a graduating high school senior resident at Board of Child Care.
Having attended past "I Remember That" talks on other subjects, Mathis is excited to share his memories of Strawbridge.
"They're very well attended, about 30 to 40 people," Mathis said of the talks. "You talk about what you know about."
What he hopes to share, from the perspective of a Strawbridge alumnus, is the sense of community he had — and still has — with his "brothers," and with Carroll County
"We were boys in the community. People knew us. We went to the high school. We went to church. We played in the community, and we dated in the community.
"It was a good place to grow up."