In 1884, a dream was born! It was in that year an Assumption area farmer, Philip Kemmerer sat down and wrote out his own will – his gift to the children of the future! He wrote that his 400-acre farm and assets were to be given to the Presbyterian Churches of Central Illinois to create a home "for the orphans and friendless poor of all denominations." And, thus, one man’s dream and vision was born.
Nine years after the death of Philip Kemmerer, the doors of Kemmerer Orphan’s Home opened wide to welcome homeless children, thus putting a plan of action together to fulfill one man’s dream and vision to help the helpless!
In the early years of this century, Kemmerer Orphan’s Home served as a safe haven for many orphaned children of Illinois and also as a large adoption agency. Clearly, it was the Church’s responsibility, in those days, to care for the needy, the poor, and the orphaned. Most of the children were pre-school and grade school age and all lived on the second floor of the old main building. There were caring couples, who served as superintendents in those days. They also served as nurses, cooks, launderers, teachers, gardeners, fixer-uppers, and "finders" of cash and in-kind gifts for the home, as well as caretakers for the 30 children entrusted to their care.
As modern medicine began to help childbearing couples live longer, the role and responsibility of the Church's children’s homes began to shift away from caring primarily for orphans, to that of children of divorce, children born out-of-wedlock, or those of financially stressed families. During this time, the cost of caring for children continued to rise and soon the Church could no longer afford the sole responsibility of financing the cost of care for the needy. Governmental assistance, through taxation, began to assist Churches with caring for the needy, the poor, the hurting – it became a shared task. As was typical of many Church homes throughout the country, Kemmerer changed its name from Kemmerer Orphans’ Home to Kemmerer Children’s Home. The type of care at this point was long term. Children usually stayed at the home through their entire school years, often 5-10 years. The emphasis of the home at that time was to provide food, shelter and nurt uring. Up until the early 1950’s, all the children lived in a centralized institutional environment in the 3-story main building located at the center of campus.
The Kemmerer Village Board of Directors began a new and radical program of decentralization to offer the 40 children the opportunity to live in small family-like, ranch-style cottages with 10-12 fellow children, rather than being all housed in two large dormitories on the second floor of the main building. During the next 20 years, a gymnasium and ranch-style cottages were constructed on the 20-acre campus. Caring, live-in houseparents served in each cottage. During this time, County Courts, who shared the welfare responsibilities of the needy, referred the majority of children to Kemmerer.
The decade of the 80s was a period of much change. Kemmerer Village once again experienced a change in the type of children needing its care. No longer were the children orphans or children who were simply products of family breakdowns and needing long-term custodial care. These children came with many and varied hurts - victims of physical abuse, desertion, sexual abuse, neglect, and family and community violence. These children now brought with them challenging behavior problems, school problems, low self-esteem, anger, suicidal tendencies, and a lack of respect or trust in adults. No longer could these children successfully learn in a regular community educational setting. Thus, in 1983 a new on-grounds' special education program was designed by Kemmerer Village and the Assumption School District. In 1989, the Fergusson Educational Center opened, expanding the number of classrooms for on-campus students and providing the school with a building for its sole use. A fifth cottage opened on campus that same year, allowing the Village to now serve 52 children in the residential program. Additional on-campus support services to these "special needs' children" included extensive therapy counseling, psychiatric services, medical care, recreational therapy services, as well as Christian education. The children remained actively involved in the church life of various Presbyterian churches in the area. Additional community based programs of life skills; supervised independent living, aftercare counseling, aftercare advocacy, and therapeutic foster care were added, bringing the number of children served within the communities to 45. The Village now had nearly 100 children entrusted to its care.
In February the Margaret J. Dick Campus Center, at the south end of the campus, opened for use. The centerpiece of the building is the Village's first on-campus Chapel. Along with the addition of a chapel, Kemmerer Village hired our first Chaplain. Christian education is now available to all of our children, without leaving the campus, and the children now have their "own church." The west end of the Campus Center houses a new cafeteria which serves as both a dining and training facility, which can seat 150 people. The east end of the building now is the home of the administrative offices for both the residential and community services programs and the business department.
In September, Tate Cottage was opened to become the sixth residential cottage on-campus, to house our expanding residential client population which had grown to 56 clients.
Two newly constructed resident cottages, Allemang and Carnahan, were completed and opened on the west side of campus. There were now eight cottages housing our residential clients. Rather than using the additional cottages to increase Kemmerer Village’s overall residential population, the new cottages allowed us to lower the average number of clients in a cottage from ten to seven. We were also able to increase the number of direct care staff at this time in order to provide our residential clients with even more individual attention and care.
Construction of an indoor riding arena and new stable area for our horses and Equine Therapy program was completed in August. The 11,000 square foot facility is adjoined to our existing barn and stables and allows for our children to enjoy the animals year-round. Not only does our facilities allow Kemmerer Village to provide a one of a kind non-traditional therapy to our residents but it also gave us the opportunity to participate in a joint venture with the United Cerebral Palsy Association on a “Saddle Up” program to allow children with disabilities to ride horses under our PATH-Safety Certified equine therapist.
2014 marks the 100th anniversary of the doors opening to the first child. As part of our 100th year anniversary Kemmerer Village hosted a 5-K run/walk in July and we hope to continue having a 5-K run/walk in the future. Currently we are busy making preparations for our 100th Anniversary Open House to be held on Sunday, October 5th. Additionally, Kemmerer Village will also host a reunion for our former residents on Saturday, October 4th before the Open House. We hope you will find the opportunity to visit with us during these celebrations of our 100th Anniversary.
Today, Kemmerer Village daily serves upwards of 120 children through our Residential Treatment and Foster Care programs.