A look back at the old St. Joseph Orphanage in NLR | News
Once home to thousands of orphans, the old Saint Joseph Orphanage sits along Camp Robinson Road.
Former orphans we talked with say this place changed their lives for the better and put them on a brighter path for the future.
"I'm getting too old to straddle this thing," caretaker Julius Greb says.
Still, the 80-year-old Greb keeps on his four-runner, delivering food and hay to the cows, some of the remaining residents at the old St. Joseph Orphanage.
As caretaker, Greb also spends a lot of time in his shop.
"I sharpen hoes and I change motor blades," Greb said.
It's a job of 54 years, spanning a lot of history here.
"We heard kids all over the place," Greb said.
They're kids who made the St. Joseph Orphanage home from 1910 to 1978. The founder was Bishop John Baptist Morris and the teachers, the Benedictine Sisters of Fort Smith. Greb left the teaching to them, but played football with the kids.
"They tackled me the same as they did to each other," Greb said.
When we came by, our cameras caught some former orphans on a visit.
"Where are you from?" Greb asks one woman. "We live in Brandon, Mississippi," she responds.
Dana Walker of North Little Rock also stopped by, grateful for his eight years here.
"A good foundation in prayer, a good foundation in work ethic. I could have gone down a different path had I not come here," Walker said.
There are good memories too, like special events in the dining room.
"The dignitaries, the governor, senators would come out and have a sausage dinner. We'd all be behind here helping to serve plates," Walker said.
In the hallways, signs mark the old administrator's office and the library, plus some changes here and there.
"Right here looks like a classroom but it used to be a little nap room," Walker said referring to one room.
One floor up, the chapel was part of the daily routine.
"We were alter boys, we did mass every day," Walker said.
And while no fun and games in the chapel, there sometimes elsewhere.
"We tried to jump and hang on every once in a while, grab it and swing. Boy if they caught you, Sister Charlene caught you, it was Katy Bar the Door Baby," Walker said hanging onto a ceiling pipe.
There are a lot of fond memories at this historic place now entering a new chapter. Earlier this fall, a non-profit group signed a 50-year lease on the building, hoping to give it a second chance.
"The history here is just one of service and love given to those who need it most and we would just love to see it restored to that mission," Sandy DeCoursey said.
Sandy DeCoursey is the Chairwoman of the new St. Joseph Center of Arkansas, Inc. They're still developing ideas for the facility and welcome the public's input. A recent open house with some former nuns drew more than five hundred guests.
"I think it's wonderful. There's too much good that's come out of this place," Walker said.
Walker says the chapel's stained glass alone is one reason for keeping this place alive.
"They're absolutely beautiful," Walker said.
Greb just wants to see this site used again and promises to stay on that four-runner if it is.
"As long as I can keep going, I'll be here," Greb said.
The 63-acre orphanage site is listed on the National Register of Historic Places and still holds some religious retreats today.
The new group working to restore it is currently asking for proposals on what to do with the place. You can check out their website if you want to take part in this effort.