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This weekend, Mooseheart will celebrate 100 years of helping young people in need

In 1906 James J. Davis turned struggling Loyal Order Moose around by related his idemembership large enough support City Children.

In 1906 James J. Davis turned the struggling Loyal Order of Moose around by related his idea of a membership large enough to support a City of Children. In less than seven years later Davis had grown the fraternal order to more than 400,000 members. | Photo courtesy~Mooseheart

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Mooseheart Centennial
Celebration Schedule

Saturday, July 27

All events are open to the public

9 a.m.: Centennial Challenge 100-min walk/run, at the Stadium

11 a.m.: Rededication ceremony, featuring remarks from former House Speaker Dennis Hastert, at Centennial Plaza

Noon: School construction dedication of Mooseheart School

Noon: Centennial carnival, petting zoo, pony rides, and bus tours of campus, Fieldhouse parking lot

1-4 p.m.: International Moose Bags Tournament, at the Fieldhouse

4-6:30 p.m.: Rick K and the Allnighters live music, at the Fieldhouse

7-9:30 p.m.: American English, at the Fieldhouse

9:30 p.m.: Fireworks, at the Fieldhouse

The carnival will run 5 to 10 p.m. Friday, noon to 9:30 p.m. Saturday and noon to 6 p.m. Sunday.

For more information, go to

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Updated: August 27, 2013 6:05AM

At first, it was a matter of membership.

A little more than 100 years ago, membership in the Loyal Order of the Moose fraternal organization was dwindling. Only 250 or so working men called themselves Moose, and they participated in the organization largely as a social club, and as a pool for buying insurance.

Then came James J. Davis.

“He thought, ‘Why couldn’t a fraternal organization be formed around the idea of creating a community and school for children and widows if the man dies or becomes disabled?’ ” said Kurt Wehrmeister, communications director for Moose International, and one of the authors of a recent book on Mooseheart’s history.

And so, Mooseheart was built, on a site near Batavia.

On July 27, 1913, after much recruiting and fundraising, Moose members, special guests — including Vice President James Marshall — and 11 children gathered to break ground and found a home and school for children in need.

It didn’t look like much then — a couple of deserted farm properties and some dirt roads. And even Marshall, according to some accounts, had his reservations that anything hopeful could arise from the 1,000 or so acres of corn fields along the Fox River.

But succeed it did. Over the past century, the Mooseheart campus has been home to more than 12,000 children in need of help to make their futures brighter.

Davis had envisioned Mooseheart to be a better alternative to the urban orphanages of the time, which were bleak places. No child has ever been adopted from Mooseheart, Wehrmeister said. Rather they have all had guardians. At first, it was often widowed mothers living on campus with their children.

By the 1960s, the mission had changed slightly, and Mooseheart opened its doors to children outside of the Moose organization.

“Until then, by far the children came from traditional mother, father, junior and sis families, where dad had died prematurely. With no income the widows and children came here,” Wehrmeister said.

He said that children now often find themselves at Mooseheart after a divorce or because they are living in a single-parent home with little support, or they come from a family with issues that might keep them from being able to provide a secure home for a child.

“We still do the same things, give them an education, training them in vocations and give them a decent place to live. But since the ’60s, the children have changed. Most of the kids now at Mooseheart have never known traditional families,” he said.

Some stay at Mooseheart for only a few months, while others are admitted as toddlers and stay all the way through graduation from Mooseheart School, from which 31 students graduated this May.

Late last year, a Maternity Home was also opened in partnership with the church-based Maternity Homes of the Fox Valley on the Mooseheart campus to give a home, schooling and safe haven to pregnant teens and their babies.

For the past 100 years, children have come to Mooseheart from all over North America, but more recently, “kind of by accident,” according to Wehrmeister, it has started accepting children born all over the world.

“For instance, the Abdulahi family,” Wehrmeister said. “Their father escaped a conflict, ended up in a blue collar position in Cedar Rapids, and had a hard time looking after the children. Someone from the Cedar Rapids Moose told him this option is available and Mr. Abdulahi took a look at it and sent three of his children. The youngest, Oumaru, graduated this year. He won the state title in the high jump, and he is an extremely bright young man going to Marquette this fall. That’s the kind of thing we’ve tried to make possible.”

On Saturday, exactly 100 years after its 1913 opening celebration, Mooseheart Child City and School will open its doors to the community to celebrate a century of helping young people. The festivities will include a fun run, live entertainment, a carnival and fireworks.

The events will include remarks from former U.S. House Speaker Dennis Hastert honoring founder James J. Davis and first Superintendent Rodney Brandon.

The celebration will also look to the future. The event will include a groundbreaking for the renovation of Mooseheart School. The building, constructed in 1954, houses classes for students in kindergarten through high school. A $10 million campaign to renovate and expand the school is underway.

“The bottom line is Mooseheart would not exist if it wasn’t for the ongoing support and generosity of the men and women of the Moose,” said Mooseheart Executive Director Gary Urwiler. “We are looking forward to celebrating the grand occasion [Saturday] with our Moose members and Mooseheart students, and kicking off the next 100 years of service to children of need.”

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