Introduction: Part I of the history of Gailor Hall/Memphis Boys Town essentially ended with the departure of Gaillor Hall Founder, Reverend (Father) Vernon Webster Lane in 1949. Part II will continue from that point up to when Memphis Boys Town ceased to exist when it was integrated into Youth Villages. The information for the compilation of this history was derived from various publications and former residents at the Summer Avenue and Ellendale locations, Gary Peterson and Jerry Cardin. Mr. Patrick Lawler, the current CEO of Youth Villages and Mr. Michael Warr who was the last President of Memphis Boys Town also provided information.
Walter Boyce Barnes
Walter Louis Barnes
James Wendell Frazier
Bryan Griffin Jr.
William (Billy) Frank Jones
Karl Gary Peterson
John Ray Ryan
The founder of Gailor Hall, Father Lane, was the Executive Director for 10 years and 6 months. After he left in 1949 there was a succession of Executive Directors, several with short tenures. Reverend (Father) David E. Watts, an Episcopal Minister, succeeded Father Lane but only held the position for about a year. Father Watts was the last church affiliated Executive Director. All subsequent Executive Directors were laymen. Father Watts was succeeded by Mr. Harlan Jefferey on July 31, 1950. Mr. Jeffery was a rather young man for such a responsible position. At the time he was hired he was a recent graduate of Purdue University so he was probably in his early to mid 20s. Research has not revealed how long Mr. Jefferey was there, but we know Mr. Joe Stockton was named Executive Director in 1954 and there was a Mr. Price between Jefferey and Stockton. Mr. Stockton served until February 1961 when he was replaced by Mr. Addison W. Harris. Mr. Jack L. Bouchillon replaced Mr. Harris sometime before September 1963. His was another short tenure lasting only until June, 1964 when Mr. Stuart Eugene (Gene) Carkeet came on board. Mr. Carkeet finally brought stability to the position serving until 1977 or 1978. After Mr. Carkeet were Mr. Jim Coburn and Mr. Howard Moore. Mr. Moore was in the position when Memphis Boys Town merged into Youth Villages. Some of the men serving as Executive Directors were not of “sterling” character and that probably led to their dismissals or “resignations”.
An institution housing 48 to 50 boys of varying ages needs rules and regulations to assure good order and discipline. When an individual violates those rules and regulations there needs to be a consequence in some form of punishment. At the time of Memphis Boys Town corporal punishment was an accepted form of punishment. One of the Executive Director’s methods pushed the limits. He kept a leather belt in a freezer in his office. When a boy was deemed to be in need of punishment he was sent to the basement of the “big house” to remain for a lengthy time awaiting and contemplating his punishment. The Executive Director would arrive, with the frozen leather belt and administer a beating to the boy’s ass with only his underwear on. This type of punishment is brutal and sadistic. In today’s environment that type of punishment would lead to criminal charges if found out. But as one former resident who was subjected to this treatment put it “starting at the age of eight I didn’t know any better and accepted those whippings on a regular basis”. Another former resident stated “I think his maximum number of licks was 15. His minimum was usually 4 unless you flicked or moved around. If you moved you got another couple of licks. On my first encounter I got 6 licks for a minor infraction and I was 10 years old. He didn’t hold back. He swung pretty hard on every lick. You would have bruises on your backside from every stroke”. The punishment on some occasions was for such mundane things as not being able to eat vegetables the boys didn’t like. This same man, who had his wife and child there with him, was found to be having an affair with another female employee and was dismissed but probably was allowed to “resign”. Another Executive Director was discovered to have a proclivity for “loving” young boys and “resigned”. This man had served on the Board of Directors and as a house parent before being named Executive Director. One could question if the Board of Directors performed due diligence before these men were appointed. They finally “got it right” when they hired Gene Carkeet as he served the institution for 14 or 15 years and is held in high esteem by former residents. He was the only man to serve longer than the founder, Father Lane.
When the original Charter of Incorporation for Gailor Hall was filed with the state of Tennessee in 1941 the home was to “operate under the auspices or sponsorship of the Protestant Episcopal Church but not subject to its direction”. In April, 1952 an amendment to the charter was filed to change the name of the institution from Gailor Hall Inc. to Memphis Boys Town, Inc. and in August, 1953 an amendment to the charter was filed stating “the said home shall be operated as a non-sectarian home for boys”. This amendment was the final action to separate Memphis Boys Town from the Episcopal Church and from then on the boys attended churches of their choice in the local neighborhoods.
When Gailor Hall and the subsequent Memphis Boys Town relocated to 4093 Summer Avenue in 1943 all of the boys and staff were housed in the 3 story main building. The staff was only 2 people, Father Lane and Grandma Brown, the house mother. Father Lane’s mother, Grandma Lane also lived there. In 1949 when Father Watts was named Executive Director a house was constructed on the property as a home for him and his family and all future Executive Directors and their families. By October, 1951 the upper floor of a garage behind the “big house” had been remodeled to provide a dormitory for boys 16 and older. The younger boys remained housed in the “big house”. In or about 1953 a cottage known as the Sertoma Cottage was constructed. The name obviously was in tribute to the Sertoma Club of Memphis which had since 1940 been a benefactor of the Home. When this cottage was constructed it housed boys 12 to 18, while the younger boys remained in the “big house”. At this time (possibly sooner) “house parents” were employed to live in the cottage and the “big house” to supervise the day to day activities of the boys. The remodeled garage then became office space for the Executive Director. In 1958 another cottage was constructed identical to the Sertoma Cottage. This was known as the Brooks Cottage. The cottage most likely was named in honor of Mrs. J.C. Brooks, who had given money to Gailor Hall in 1942 to pay off the mortgage at 1055 Poplar. She subsequently had given additional money which was eventually used as “seed” money to construct the Chapel in 1946. After the Brooks Cottage was constructed the boys were housed according to age groups with the younger boys in the “big house”, middle group in the Brooks Cottage and older boys in the Sertoma Cottage. Each group was supervised by “house parents”. Each group consisted of 16 boys for a total of 48 boys at Memphis Boys Town. All meals were served in the dining halls in the “big house”. From time to time the total number of boys would vary from about 46 to 50 but the goal was to always be a total of 48. There were other various and sundry buildings on the campus. St. Andrews Chapel that was dedicated in 1946 remained there until the end, but was used less and less over the years when the boys began attending the church of their choice in the local neighborhoods. There was also a shop building with wood working tools. There were several sheds where farm implements, motorized equipment and equipment for the annual Sertoma Labor Day Weekend Carnival were stored. There was also a swimming pool. A swimming pool had been built in 1945 and named in honor of Reverend Marshall Wingfield. That pool did not have a filtration system. Chlorine was dumped in the pool periodically and users walked through a pan of alcohol when going in and coming from the pool. It also had diving boards. The pool was condemned by the health department. In the summer of 1963 the old pool was filled in with debris and dirt and a new, modern pool with a filtration system was built.
When Gailor Hall moved to the Summer Avenue location in 1943 most of the residents attended White Station School which consisted of grades one through eight. In the early 1950s the older boys began attending Treadwell Junior High and Senior High Schools. At least one other boy in that era was enrolled at Christian Brothers High School. In the late 1950s Grahamwood Elementary and Kingsbury Junior and Senior High Schools were constructed and from then until Boys Town moved from the Summer Avenue campus the residents attended those schools. In all eras the boys were active in the school extracurriculars, particularly athletics.
With the move to the Summer Avenue campus, farming, livestock and poultry programs were initiated. These programs eventually contributed a significant amount of foods and finances for administration of the home. Many of the residents learned how to grow crops and breed and tend livestock (cattle and hogs) and poultry. Older boys learned how to operate mechanized machinery such as tractors. Crops, eggs and stock in excess of the needs to feed the residents were sold.
As early as 1948 (perhaps sooner) a fund raising carnival type event began to be held on the Campus. The 1948 event was named “Gailor Hall Country Fair” and was held on September 19th in conjunction with “National Dog Week”. The carnival became an annual event. In 1954 the Sertoma Club assumed the responsibility for putting on the carnival, staging it on the Saturday of Labor Day weekend. For many years it was a one day event but eventually morphed into a two day Saturday and Sunday event. It grew from a few booths to an enormous undertaking and became a major source of funding not only for Boys Town but also for other Sertoma Club charities. The event began to attract enough attendance to necessitate police and sheriff department assistance to control the traffic. Also in 1954 the boys began an annual Christmas Tree Sale. The proceeds from this endeavor were allotted to the boys for their “spending” money.
Clothing for the residents came from diverse sources. Much of the clothing was donated by benevolent citizens and organizations of Memphis and Shelby County, especially at Christmas when some of the local Department Stores would give new clothes to the residents. Most of the donated clothing was of high quality. The donated clothing was passed out to the residents and became their personal property. Some of the residents purchased some of their clothing. The residents had “play/work” clothes and “school” clothes. They took care of their clothes. The residents readily and frequently “loaned” items of clothing to each other. They kept their shoes polished and kept a clean, neat appearance. They were proud to represent Gailor Hall and Memphis Boys Town with their manners and appearance at school and in public. The area around the Summer Avenue Campus consisted of families of modest means and the residents of Boys Town were often better dressed than many of the other public school students.
At the beginning of 1963 the “big house” that housed 16 younger boys and a set of house parents was more than 50 years old and being considered for condemnation by Memphis City officials. The Board of Directors engaged an architect to assess the cost of demolishing the old building and constructing a new building to house the 16 boys, house parents, administration offices and cold storage and commissary facilities. The estimate came in at $340,000.00. After further consideration it was determined that because the campus had become surrounded by commercial establishments it was an unsuitable site. In addition, the Brooks and Sertoma Cottages were determined to need fire proofing and other considerable upgrades. These circumstances led the Board to consider moving Boys Town to a new location. In September, 1963 the Board approved selling the Summer Avenue location and in July, 1964 a contract was approved to sell the property for approximately $500,000.00 to be paid over a five year period. Subsequently a site consisting of 53 acres with a house for the Executive Director was located in Ellendale and purchased. The Board decided to construct cottage-type homes of fire-proof construction each to house 12 boys with an apartment for house parents. In addition each cottage would have cooking facilities and a recreation area. Initially four cottages were constructed to house the 48 boys currently residing at the Summer Avenue campus, with long range plans for an additional six cottages in hopes of accommodating the long list of boys in need of and seeking admission to Boys Town. In the summer of 1966 after twenty three years on Summer Avenue Memphis Boys Town relocated to the new Ellendale Campus located at 7410 Memphis-Arlington Road.
After the move to Ellendale activities at the new location were much the same as at the Summer Avenue location. The farming, livestock and poultry operations were continued. The new location had approximately 10 more acres of land than the old location to allow for more land to be cultivated. The facilities were much more modern. The four cottages where the boys were housed each contained its own kitchen and dining facilities so the boys had their meals in their cottages rather than a central dining area as was the case at the former location. In the ensuing years additional buildings were constructed for administration and various reasons. More supplies and equipment were donated and purchased. Various tractors, pickup trucks, vans and buses were donated. A bus which had been converted to a motor home was donated which allowed the boys to go on extended trips for such events as the St. Louis Cardinals baseball games and the Indianapolis 500 race. The boys attended Ellendale elementary school and Bartlett High School. Although the Board of Directors had anticipated the construction of 10 cottages there never were more than the original four when Memphis Boys Town ceased to exist.
From it’s founding in March, 1939 as Gailor Hall and its continuation as Memphis Boys Town until the mid to late 1970s this fine institution never, ever solicited or received taxpayer funding from any governmental level. It was always funded by the revenue it produced from its own farming, livestock and poultry operations, fund raising endeavors such as the annual carnivals, the generous donations of money and goods from the citizens and charities such as the Sertoma Club, Community Chest and Shelby United Neighbors. In the first few years when it was known as Gailor Hall, Mason Jars were placed in businesses for people to drop in their change. Because they refrained from accepting public funds the Board of Directors could be selective in the types of boys they allowed as residents of Gailor Hall and Memphis Boys Town. The boys mostly came from “broken” homes caused by death or divorce or simply because the parents were too poor or incompetent to provide a satisfactory home environment. In 1967 of the 48 residents only 4 were orphans. All the rest had families but needed care their families could not provide. The residents were not delinquent or incorrigible. Some were referred by Juvenile Court but even in those cases whatever offenses the boys may have committed were not serious enough to warrant incarceration in a penal institution. In the very beginning Father Lane accepted boys from age 4 years to 14 years. In later years age limits ranged from a low of 7 years of age and a high of 17. Once admitted a boy could remain until he graduated from high school. However, many returned to their homes once a stable home environment was established. Over the years the institution existed, a rather small percentage actually remained there until high school graduation. Those who did were provided assistance in the form of financial aid for college or trade school. Some of the graduates elected to go into the armed forces. Others went directly to work. Over the years many former residents, both short term and long term, remained loyal to the institution often returning for visits to encourage the current residents. As early as 1968 some former residents were exploring a way to form an alumni association. On August 21, 1972 fifteen former residents signed the article of incorporation for the Memphis Boys Town Alumni Association, Inc. “to promote enthusiastically the support and maintenance of Memphis Boys Town and to promote and encourage an esprit de corps among former boys town residents”.
Sometime in the mid to late 1970s the funding for Boys Town began declining. Membership in the Sertoma Club that had sponsored the annual fund raising carnivals was dwindling and they no longer had the manpower to put on the carnivals. In addition the Tennessee gambling laws became more stringent which prevented some of the fund raising events at the carnivals. The farming and livestock and poultry programs were ceased. Boys Town was forced to accept incorrigible kids from the Tennessee Department of Children Services which prevented the formerly selective policies. The staff was not capable of coping with the problems wrought by the wayward youth. There were physical assaults on the staff members and the younger boys by the older boys. All of these problems convinced the Board of Directors that Boys Town could not continue and led to seeking a merger with Dogwood Village.
The Boards of Directors of Memphis Boys Town, Inc., Dogwood Village of Memphis-Shelby County, Inc. and Youth Villages, Inc. developed a plan to merge the three institutions into one with the one retaining the title of Youth Villages, Inc. The Boards approved the plan on January 20, 1987 with the merger to be effective February 1, 1987. On that date Memphis Boys Town ceased to exist after almost 48 years providing a safe haven and learning experience for many needy boys of Memphis and Shelby County.
Following is a list of the names of boys who were residents of Gailor Hall and/or Memphis Boys Town at some time. Some of the names were recalled from memory so the spelling may be in error. By no means is this a complete list, as there were hundreds, if not thousands, of boys there over the years. The names are listed alphabetically without regard as to when they were there.