On a recent Sunday at Mansfield United Methodist Church, a woman approached me in between worship services and handed me an old photograph. It was a simple picture of a beautiful young woman in early 1900’s dress, standing alone in an open field with just trees and a fence behind her. As I curiously studied the image, the woman, Karen, said, "I don’t know what our family would be if it weren’t for Cunningham Children’s Home."
As a service to our faithful United Methodist Churches in the Illinois Great Rivers Conference, our Advancement team offers to bring a Sunday morning message to their congregations. Churches often invite us to speak for their annual United Methodist Women Sunday service or when their pastor is unavailable. Frequently, members share stories with us about how they’ve witnessed God at work when visiting or volunteering at Cunningham. But this story was more than that; this story was very personal.
Karen explained that the photograph was of her grandmother, Leo Clare Corson, when she was 16 years old. The photo was taken in 1913 shortly before she met her husband.
Leo Clare was born in 1897, the daughter of a young, unmarried pioneer woman and a man who was a member of the Cree Indian Tribe. Having been born out of wedlock and of mixed race, Leo Clare brought great shame and embarrassment to the family. Her young mother tried desperately to care for her child, but her own father would have none of it and after a few months forced her to give the child away. On January 5, 1899, the mother brought her precious baby to Cunningham Children’s Home. The records at Cunningham state: "Legally given to the home—no one responsible."
Leo Clare was cared for with love and devotion by the United Methodist Women (UMW) involved with Cunningham at the time. Then one day, as Karen tells the story, a man visiting the orphanage spotted a toddler playing in the yard and knew instantly that she was to be his child. Casper Wack followed through on that instinct, completed the necessary paperwork, gathered up Leo Clare and took her home to Mansfield.
Leo Clare grew up, married Alder Wolf and lived a wonderful life on a farm near Mansfield. And her family grew. With joyful tears in her eyes, Karen talked fondly of her grandmother; how she cooked and cared for her family and how she made clothes on the dining room table from dress patterns cut out of newspaper.
Karen said that she doesn’t know what would have happened to her grandmother if the UMW at Cunningham hadn’t been there to love her completely and unconditionally. She said, "I have a very warm spot in my heart for Cunningham."
Nearly 125 years later, UMW continue to love the lost and hurting children at Cunningham Children’s Home and we are so thankful. One has to wonder how the love today will still be touching families 100 years from now.
If your church or UMW is interested in having a Sunday morning message from Cunningham Children’s Home, contact Brooke Buzard, Associate Director of Advancement, at (217) 337-9073 or at firstname.lastname@example.org.