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Boys Town and One of its Oldest Alums Will Turn 100 Together

July 18th, 2017     By Boys Town Contributor

Boys Town History, Connecting with Kids, Saving Children, Village of Boys Town

​It’s a happy coincidence that Boys Town alum Joe Renteria will be celebrating his 100 th birthday this summer at Boys Town, right in the middle of the Home’s Centennial celebration.

Renteria will return to the Village where he grew up for the Boys Town Alumni Association’s Biennial Reunion, slated for July 11-16. His birthday is on July 17, and will be observed during the reunion festivities.

Nearing his own impressive milestone, Renteria serves as a link to Boys Town’s past and a witness to its present and future. Renteria says Boys Town showed him where family life begins.

“Being in a family setting is good,” Renteria said. “The way things are set up now here at Boys Town is the way it should be. A hug feels so good. That little sign shows that someone genuinely cares about you. That is the way it should be, and I hope that is the way it will continue forever.”

When Renteria arrived at Father Flanagan’s Home for Boys in October 1933, his options were running out. He had bounced around from orphanage to orphanage. He was in one in Leavenworth, Kansas, when he decided he couldn’t take it anymore. So he ran away. While he doesn’t recall exactly how he got to Omaha, he had heard enough about Father Flanagan and his home for boys to believe it might be a good place for him.

A lot has changed at Boys Town since Renteria left in 1935. But one thing Renteria says remains the same is how Boys Town cares for youth and families.

Renteria credits his long and successful life to two things: his deceased loving wife, Jill, of 71 years, and Boys Town. Renteria is the oldest living Boys Town alum, and his eyes still light up as he tells stories about living in the dormitory, working on the farm, and Father Flanagan.

Renteria arrived at Boys Town as a rebellious child. As a Native American in the early 20 th century, he was unwelcomed by many, and his attitude reflected the way he had been treated. Father Flanagan set the groundwork for his happy and meaningful life by welcoming him with open arms and teaching him the power of positive thinking.

One particular conversation with Father Flanagan left a lasting impact on Renteria. He recalls, “Father Flanagan took me to the side and said, ‘I’m not going to order you or tell you what to do, but since you’re one of the older boys it would be very encouraging to the younger boys if you attended church.’”

Renteria was not Catholic or very spiritual at the time, but he attended mass once a month to set a good example. He says the way Father Flanagan asked made all the difference. Later in life, his wife’s influence led him to develop a deep spirituality. Father Flanagan gave him a choice and allowed him to take control of his life.

When Renteria came to Boys Town, he craved stability more than anything. “I was at loose ends… always going from one place to another.” He said Father Flanagan and Boys Town gave him the stability he longed for, and once he found it, he never wanted to lose it again. Renteria says he remembers Father Flanagan for his “simplicity and sincerity” and he has tried to mirror these values in his own life. joe

Renteria was one of the first candidates to run for mayor at Boys Town. While he didn’t win the election, his picture with his mascot goat is displayed in the Hall of History. Renteria was able to serve his fellow students as a member of the Boys Town City Council.

With a better understanding of himself, Renteria was able to use his skills and talents developed at Boys Town to better his community; first as a member of the armed forces, then as head of the photography department at San Diego State University. Today, he still spends time advocating on behalf of the Native American Community.

Happy Birthday Joe! Happy Birthday Boys Town!


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