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Humble Beginnings

In 1917, a young Irish priest named Father Edward J. Flanagan grew discouraged in his work with homeless men in Omaha, Nebraska. He shifted his attention and in December of that year, borrowed $90 to pay the rent on a boarding house that became Father Flanagan’s Home for Boys. Flanagan welcomed all boys, regardless of their race or religion. By the spring, 100 boys were living at the Home.

In 1921, Father Flanagan purchased Overlook Farm on the outskirts of Omaha and moved his Boys’ Home there. In time, the Home became known as the Village of Boys Town. By the 1930s, hundreds of boys lived at the Village which grew to include a school, dormitories and administration buildings. The boys elected their own government which included a mayor, council and commissioners. In 1936, the community became an official village in the state of Nebraska.

International Acclaim

News of Father Flanagan’s work spread worldwide with the success of the 1938 movie, “Boys Town”. Tracy won an Academy Award for his portrayal of Father Flanagan, which he later donated to the priest. After World War II, President Truman asked Flanagan to take his message to the world. He traveled the globe visiting war orphans and advising government leaders on how to care for displaced children.

Although Father Flanagan died in 1948, his work at Boys Town, which Flanagan called “God’s work” continued. Monsignor Nicholas H. Wegner became the new Executive Director of Boys Town and under his watchful eye, Boys Town doubled in population, gained solid financial footing and expanded educational, vocational, athletic and arts opportunities for its residents. Monsignor Wegner retired in 1973 and was succeeded by Monsignor Robert P. Hupp.

Expansion and Change

Hupp oversaw two significant changes at Boys Town. The innovative Family Home Program replaced dormitory living and girls began coming to Boys Town for help. The Family Home Program continues today as one of Boys Town’s trademark treatment approaches, where children live in homes and are cared for by married couples known as Family-Teachers. The Boys Town National Research Hospital® opened in 1977, during Hupp’s tenure. Today, the Hospital is a nationally-recognized treatment center for children with hearing and speech disorders and helps 60,000 deaf and hard-of-hearing students each year.

Father Valentine J. Peter led Boys Town from 1985 - 2005. During his tenure Boys Town expanded its programs and services to more than 12 sites across America. The number of children and families served by Boys Town skyrocketed, and the quality of care improved as new research-based services were developed. Boys Town opened its National Hotline in 1989.

Boys Town Today

Father Steven E. Boes has been the Boys Town Executive Director since 2005. Under his leadership, Boys Town continues to expand its care across America. Our national headquarters remain in Omaha. As one of the largest non-profit child-care agencies in the country, we provide compassionate treatment for the behavioral, emotional and physical problems of children and families. Each year, Boys Town touches the lives of over 2 million people. The National Hotline has handled more than 8 million calls since its inception and the Boys Town National Research Hospital® is a global leader in the research of Ushers Syndrome.

Father Flanagan’s simple dream to make the world a better place for children thrives today because people still believe that every child deserves to be valued and loved, and to live a healthy, positive life.

For more information on the history of Boys Town, contact Tom Lynch.