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Through the Decades, Boys Town Youth Celebrate a Tradition of Giving Thanks

November 25th, 2015     By Thomas Lynch, Director of Community Programs and Boys Town Hall of History

Boys Town History, Father Flanagan, Village of Boys Town

Thanksgiving means so much more than turkey and pumpkin pie to the children of Boys Town. It is a special holiday celebration when our young citizens express how thankful they are for a new start and a new direction in their lives. Our founder, the Servant of God Edward Flanagan, often said that the most appreciative children in America were those who lived at Boys Town.

The early Thanksgiving celebrations at Boys Town were often simple events, mainly because there wasn’t enough money to buy a full turkey dinner for the boys. In the 1920s, the boys would begin Thanksgiving Day with a hike, followed by an afternoon football game. Oftentimes, the boys enjoyed chicken for dinner rather than turkey.

In the early 1930s, the Servant of God Flanagan would give thanks every Thanksgiving for the Home’s supporters and donors who helped keep the doors open during the Great Depression. The boys often wrote stories for the Boys Home Journal that described the terrible effects the Dust Bowl-era drought had on the Home’s farm. But they remained grateful that they had a safe place to live and could enjoy a simple holiday meal with their Boys Town family.

The Home’s financial situation improved in the 1940s, and the Servant of God Flanagan was able to provide the boys with a traditional Thanksgiving meal. This meal often was donated by local supporters and businesses. During World War II, the Servant of God Flanagan would present a special sermon during Thanksgiving Day Mass at Dowd Chapel that was broadcast across America on various national radio networks.

Following the expansion of the Village of Boys Town in the late 1940s, its population grew to more than 900 boys. Through the 1950s and 1960s, Thanksgiving became a major event every fall, with dozens of turkeys being prepared for a grand meal that was served to the boys in either the High School Dining Hall or the Grade School Dining Hall. Following the meal, the boys would enjoy a special movie feature shown in the Music Hall, which had been designed by the Servant of God Flanagan for similar Boys Town “family” celebrations.

As the new Family Home Program was adopted at Boys Town in the 1970s, the boys – and later girls – ate their Thanksgiving dinners as part of a family in their homes with their Family-Teachers. Guests often included family members of the boys and girls.

Today, as in decades past, Thanksgiving at Boys Town is a time of reflection and gratitude for each of our young citizens. And at each Thanksgiving dinner, the youth express the same sentiments as those voiced by the boys and girls of earlier times: “Thank you Boys Town, for giving me a second chance.”

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