Oxford Orphanage

Mr. Donald L. Sizemore, Sr

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Mr. Sizemore, when did you come to Oxford?

You mean to the Home, to work? June 1st, 1964.

What brought you here?

I had been interested in the Orphanage football team at the time, the Coach was a close friend of mine, and I was on the campus a lot and associated with a lot of the students. It sort of just evolved.

Were you interested in coaching when you first came here?

No, as a house parent.

Did you begin here as a house parent, then?


Did you work with any particular age of children?

Teenage boys for two years, and then I became the Admissions Director.

Tell me about your current position as Director of Admissions. Tell me what you're responsible for.

Basically, I make pre-placement interviews for children for whom applications have been made here, through a Masonic Lodge or some other agency, then I make an in-home visit with the family, and gather information that we require like school records, medical records, shot records, birth certificates, social security numbers, those types of things. I sit down with whoever is legally responsible for the child and fill out a family background informational booklet, then I come back and meet with our admissions committee here on campus. We review each child or family of children, and if everything looks good, we call the family and the Masonic Lodge that is sponsoring them, and set an admission date.

How long does this process usually take?

Normally, about two weeks.

What do you like best about your job? What do you like best about being at Oxford?

I was born and raised in Oxford. I've never lived anywhere else, so I feel at home here, and I can not imagine not living on this campus and not working here. I enjoy the children, I enjoy the staff, I enjoy the Superintendent [laughs]...

Do you a lot of interaction with the children, still?

When I'm here, quite a bit.

How often do you travel? Are you gone several days out of the week?

Some days, three, four, days a week, some days, only one day or two days, whatever is necessary.

Is there a certain time of year where you tend to get more applications in?

Right before and after the opening of a new school year, and immediately after the Christmas vacation, during January, maybe early February.

What is the most difficult thing about your job?

I don't think there's anything difficult about my job.

What kinds of changes have you observed since you first came to the Home?

Our usual population is smaller, for any number of reasons. The children attend school off campus in the public school system rather than in a private school here on campus. Our work program for the children has decreased sharply because of them being away at school. More children need and are going to mental health clinics and various psychologists. I suppose the biggest change I've ever seen is the number of children on Ritalin. Fifteen years ago, nobody, I don't even know if there was any Ritalin then, but fifteen years ago, I don't know of any child on any kind of medication unless it was for a heart murmur, or something of that nature. Now, probably a third of the children we receive are taking or have taken Ritalin. I think it probably the most drastic change that I know of.

Do you think that's made working with some of these children more difficult? Has it changed at all the Orphanage's approach to working with the children?

No, I don't really think these children are any different to work with than the children 30 years ago. You have to handle them in different ways. We have almost completely abolished corporal punishment, which was standard, the accepted mode, in all child caring institutions back then. It was quick and effective, and in most cases, just. But now, for corporal punishment there's paperwork involved and witnesses, and it really loses its meaning by the time you get around to it. When we place children on restriction or on work details, you've got to punish an adult to stay with them and watch them and see that they do it. The discipline now is completely different from what it was when I first came here. I'm not saying that either one is better than the other, but it's certainly different. I think the children responded more to corporal punishment, because one incident of corporal punishment took care of them for a couple of years. Mr. Reagan, who was our Assistant Superintendent here for 40 years, used to have a little saying that "If you promise a child a dollar for doing something, give him a dollar, and if you promise a child a spanking for doing something, give him a durned good one." That was his motto, and it worked.

What do you think are some common thoughts that have about Orphanages these days? When people that you talk to, you tell them that you work for the Masonic Home for Children, what kind of image do you think they think of, and how is that maybe true, or not true?

From one extreme to another. Some people perceive a child care institution as being a detention center, or a connected with the state penal system in some way, which we definitely are not, and others think of little runny-nosed kids running around in ragged clothes wanting another bowl of soup, which we are not. It's hard to explain this place to anybody, you have to live here to really know it. And I'm sure all child caring institutions are similar; there are about 25 in the state of North Carolina, and all of them operate basically on the same principle, with some differences.

Do you do any work with any of the other Orphanages in North Carolina?

No ma'am. Not other than transferring a children, if a child were transferring here or transferring there, but nothing extensive.

Who were some important people that you've come in contact with over the years, that you think have been special to this place? People that have had a big influence on the Home, in a good way.

The Grand Masters of Masonry in North Carolina have all been prominent businessmen, and prominent educators in some field, and they have definitely had a strong influence on the campus and the staff here. Our annual St. John's Day celebration, instead of the professional entertainers that we have each year, now normally country music people, because that appeals to the masses more than anything else, we used to have political figures, Jesse Helms, Chubb Sewell from down in Moore County, and various people like that, and they were always enjoyable.

Tell me about St. John's Day. What happens on St. John's Day?

St. John's Day is a Masonic celebration, too involved to go into, but the three Shrine temples in North Carolina, Oasis in the western part of the state, the Amran Temple in the middle of the state, and the Sudan Temple in the eastern part of the state, come here for a parade. The parade comes through downtown Oxford and usually lasts for about an hour, an hour and a half. The crowd is basically Masonic and Shrine, but not all. A lot of the general public comes, too. There's usually some professional entertainment, and free chicken dinner for everybody. The crowds usually run from 10,000 to 14,000, and that's a lot for this little town. But it's just a day of relaxation and fellowship. We don't get a lot of relaxtion out of it, it's a lot of work!

Does the Orphanage sponsor the celebration?


So you provide all of the food and entertainment?

The food, the hardest thing to provide is enough bathroom facilities, and enough ice for iced tea because it's usually hot.

When is this usually held?

It's the closest Saturday to June 24th.

You mentioned the vocational programs at Oxford. What kind of vocational programs go on today? I know you said there's fewer than there used to be when the schooling was done on campus, but what goes on today?

We have the graphic art department, we call it the Printing Department. We train, probably, 14 to 18 boys and girls, teenagers. They learn computer operating, and do some printing. They do all the printing for the Masons of North Carolina, a lot for the Shriners, and some commerical work, too, with some of the big corporations here in town. We have a Maintenance Department which includes our plumbing, electrical and woodworking departments, and they're headed up by Mike Norwood, who was a graduate here. His assistant Gene Grimes was also a graduate. They have all boys in their department, and make all the electrical repairs on the campus, with the air conditioners, heating in the cottages, replacing light bulbs, they take care of all the plumbing needs on the campus, and anything that needs to be done -- carpentry, woodworking. The girls are used some in the Print Shop, they usually make better printers than boys because they take a little more pride in their work, a little more patience with it. They're trained in homemaking skills, some do office work, assist the ladies in our Main Office.

Do some work in the cafeteria also?

Yes, quite a few. They all get a chance to work in the cafeteria. Even if a girl comes here in the 11th or 12th grade and is only here for a few months, they've got to pull their time in the cafeteria or they'll never make their spot here because every other girl here had to pull their time, and they say if you come, you've got to do yours, too.

Do you think the programs are helpful to the children? Do you see that it helps them in their daily life, or their lives after they leave here?

I certainly do, because I come in contact with quite a few of them across the state, and other places that I happen to be travelling, and they will never hesitate to tell you what they learned here, the values that they got out of life here, and a lot of times the vocational training that helped them make a living, and in most cases they are very supportive. Each October, 2nd weekend in October, we have a Homecoming weekend here, and there are usually 1,200 to 1,500 back every Homecoming weekend. There's everything from minimum wage workers to doctors or lawyers or whatever. A lot of them are very successful.

What do you see as the future of the Orphanage, as the century gets ready to turn? What kind of changes do you anticipate, maybe, coming over the next several years?

I don't know of any long-range changes right now that our Board of Directors has in mind. I know they would like our Student Population increased. It has gone down considerably through the years for various reasons, but our population depends in a large part on the general economy. When the economy goes down, our population goes up, and vice versa. I think that is one of our major concerns now, because we have facilities for so many more chidren than we have at the present. But our population fluctuates all the time. It could run anywhere from 125 to 165 over a matter of two or three months, during the school year.

Is there anything that we haven't covered that you'd like to add about the Orphanage or say in closing?

There are probably a thousand things we haven't covered. Every day here is a brand new day. Never is a day just like yesterday. Any time you feel like today is just like yesterday, you've missed something, somebody pulled something on you. But our kids here are good children. A lot of them are probably one year behind in school because of their background of neglect and so forth. Before they came here, they probably either failed a year or didn't go to school enough one year to get credit, and a lot of our children are 19, rather than 18, when they graduate, which is the usual age. We enrolled a little girl two weeks ago who is 12 years old and the best we could determine, she had been to 29 schools. You don't make a lot of academic progress that way. Hopefully she'll stay here and get settled in.