Thursday, April 29, 2021

Throwback Thursday: April 29, 2011




Mary Ellen Blatchford, an 89-year-old York resident keeps her hands busy every day reading, emailing on the computer, but most of all crocheting.

Every year for the last 30 years she has made over 300 crocheted bunnies for her daughter and grandchildren and now great-grandchildren. Her family figures she has made over 12,000 bunnies so far and continues to give them all away. This year and for the past 10 years Exeter-Milligan fourth graders have helped her accomplish this goal.

These days Blatchford gets a little assistance putting on the pom pom tails and squiggly eyes. For the last ten years, her daughter, Beth Vavra, has brought a few of the Exeter-Milligan fourth graders to York to help with the embellishments.

Vavra, works as an aide at the Milligan campus and enjoys bringing the girls to meet and help her mother, “We come after school and glue the magnets on the back and then go eat supper while they dry. When we come back we turn them over and glue on the eyes and the pom poms. They get to pick out two to take home and they usually fight about which color pom pom should go on which color bunny. The fourth grade girls look forward to the outing every year.”



Over 250,000 children rode on the “Orphan Trains” that traveled all across the United States for 75 years. It stopped in Exeter, Neb. And records and family history list at least three members of the Exeter community who became residents after debarking a train from New York.

Audience members at the presentation were able to share the stories of their family’s members who had been on the Orphan Train and were brought to Exeter.  Two came together, Thelma Bernhardt and Victoria Geyger, arrived in Exeter in September of 1901.  They were claimed through New York City Foundling Home’s program through the Catholic churches.

Bernhardt became a member of the Michaely family, became a teacher and married John Leif and eventually raised her six children near Exeter. Her family members still live in the Exeter area.

Geyger was taken in by the Barkmeier family, which included seven boys and one girl.  Despite health setbacks and struggles she eventually found her calling as a sister with the Dominican Sisters of St. Catharine of Siena in Kentucky. She taught school all over the States.  Geyger, later known as Sister Mary Raphael Geyger, also has a number of relatives still living in the Exeter area.

The third Orphan Train rider, Henrietta Maynard Weins, was adopted by the Maynard family.  They were an older couple and she was just five years old. They had no children of their own but had raised a niece and nephew.  Weins had a wonderful childhood with them and went on to graduate from college and teach for a time.  She eventually found her birth mother discovering that she herself had been born in Germany and come over on a ship with her young widowed mother. Eventually Weins’ mother lost her sister who had been caring for Henrietta and placed her in what she thought was a  “Children’s Nursery for Working Mothers.”  She never did see her little girl again despite an extensive search.

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