By Natalie Kammerer
Father Flanagan’s Boys Town was never segregated, but they also couldn’t help every boy in need. It was because of the persistent need in their community, and what Anna Partridge described as her “duty to humanity” that she and her husband, Gaines Partridge, began to take in as many boys in need of a home as they could.
Photographs of Anna and Gaines Partridge, Sr. Image source: FindAGrave.com
By the late 1930s, Mr. and Mrs. Partridge had already raised three children of their own: Helen, Lyndell, and Gaines Jr. (Dr. Gaines Partridge, Jr. would go on to become a highly respected educator and student advocate, spending much of his career at Loma Linda University in California. In 1961, he became the second Black Nebraskan to earn a PhD.)
Luckily for dozens of North Omaha boys in the late 1930s through the 1950s, the Partridges didn’t like the idea of empty nesting. So they partnered with the Douglas County juvenile probation officers and the Child Welfare Society to provide a home for boys who had been orphaned, abandoned, or otherwise in need of a stable environment. First, they welcomed a few boys into their home at 2863 Miami Street. But the small house was crowded, and they wanted more room so that they could help more kids. When they didn’t find anything in the Omaha area, they tried Pennsylvania. Only after they’d found land they liked and made a down payment were they notified of a “restrictive clause” that excluded them from the neighborhood.
Soon the Magnolia, Alabama natives were headed back to Omaha, where they found a rundown 65-acre farm on Route 2, Florence Station, near the Washington-Douglas County line. Gaines continued his work as a plumber while Anna took care of getting as many as 12 boys fed, taken to and from school and overseeing their chores. The older children attended Howard Kennedy and Tech High in town, while the youngest were students at District 58 School in Nashville, NE. There, they were active in the 4-H program. The Partridges rented out the majority of the land, but kept enough for each boy to have a garden plot of his own. Each was also responsible for at least one pet. The boys also had other jobs, such as helping in the kitchen and maintaining the property. After their work was done, they had free range to play in the large, hilly yard shaded by oak trees.
Six Oakview boys sit on a bench in the yard with a rabbit and one of the farm dogs. Image source: Omaha World-Herald, 4 September 1949.
Two young boys help Mrs. Anna Partridge prepare lunch in the kitchen. Image source: Omaha World-Herald, 4 September 1949.
Religion also played an important role in the Partridge’s lives. They were both very active members of the Sharon Seventh Day Adventist Church and encouraged all the boys to attend whatever church they preferred. Weekends were often spent in town attending various church activities, visiting relatives, and a seeing a movie.
Though Oakview received some money to help feed and clothe the boys, the farm was expensive – many of the outbuildings had been neglected for years, and any additions that could be made to the house meant that more children could find a home there. The farm, which became popularly known as the “Oakview Home” received support, praise, and a little funding from the community. In addition to individual donations, the Memo Charity Club hosted an annual “Experience Rally” to raise funds for the Oakview Home. In 1951, Anna Partridge was named “Woman of the Year” by the Zeta Phi Beta sorority. For the occasion, some of her colleagues in law enforcement testified to the Oakview Home’s impact:
“…[she] provides a wonderful home to seven or eight youngsters ranging in age from 12 to 18 in addition to caring for two of her grandsons. The Juvenile Court has found that Mrs. Partridge is a real mother to the youngsters under her care. … The children under Mrs. Partridge’s care learn to know love, understanding, companionship, and a proper religious life, all combined with kindly but firm discipline. … Whatever recognition and honor Mrs. Partridge has or may receive as a result of her work and unselfish devotion to the youngsters whose privilege it is to live in her home, is richly deserved.” Lawrence Krell, Probation Officer
Two boys work together to prepare the farm’s chicken coop for winter weather. Image source: Omaha World-Herald, 4 September 1949.
But before she was able to realize her vision of building an additional dormitory space that would allow them to welcome girls to the home, the Oakview Home was forced to close in the late 1950s due to lack of funding. In 1960, a short-lived effort was made to establish a Board of Directors and revive the Home’s work. Mr. and Mrs. Partridge continued to live on the farm until their deaths in 1964 and 1970.
“Mrs. [Anna] Partridge and the Oakview Home for Boys have been almost a God send to the underprivileged boys who have been allowed to attend the Home. The wonderful work that Mrs. Partridge does is unequalled in Nebraska. I cannot be too high in praise for Mrs. Partridge and her Home. Many specific cases could be cited showing the almost miraculous changes that have taken place in boys who have had the guidance of Mrs. Partridge.” Richard E. Collins, Chief Probation Officer.