THEN AND NOW
By Eunice Sullivan Gray
Today we read so much about the Orphan Trains of the early 1900s that brought many children out of New York City and placed them in Texas homes. Over two thousand came to Texas before Federal child Welfare laws were passed in 1929. One child from the Orphan Train came to Sanger. Let me tell you about Mike Francese.
A little 9 year old boy with shining black eyes and black hair and a big grin won the hearts of Hazen and Sue Armstrong back in 1919. He was lined up with 8 others from the Orphan Train from New York City They pointed to Michael Joseph Francese and he became theirs.
Dr. Wallace Kimbrough had been to the Davis -Boarding House on East McKinney St. in Denton, where the post office is today, to see about a sick baby from the Orphan Train. When Hazen, his nephew, came by his office, Dr. Kimbrough suggested he go and get one of the orphans to raise. He had raised an orphan or two himself and had given him happiness.
That afternoon Mike got in the buggy with the Armstrong’s and rode to his new home west of Bolivar. A trip in the country was a new adventure for him. Mike was born in Italy. His father came to America, got a job, but before he could send for his family, the boys’ mother died. Later the two boys came to America. Their father married again and they did not like their new mother, so they ran away. The police picked them up after they had spent several days on the streets. They were placed in an orphanage and that led to their trip to Texas on the Orphan Train.
Alphonso, the older brother, was chosen by the Reuben Ruckers of Knum and went home to live with them. The boys visited often.
Mike had trouble with the black mud of this area. He would be most distressed when he bogged down. Soon he learned to scrape his shoes or boots and walk on grass as much as possible.
One day, Hazen remembers, Mike came in with his hat full of plums. They grew wild down on the creek. Sue made delicious Jelly and told him to gather more. “I can’t climb a tree, the police will get me.” He was assured he could gather his own plums, so he learned to climb trees. Once he could not find his cap and announced to the family, ‘Somebody has snitched me cap’. That was his problem at the orphanage, perhaps, but not here, he was
assured, He found his cap.
Helping with chores, learning to ride and help with the livestock, going to school and church, and going to the picture show on Saturday night, Mike became a Texan. Mary Emma and Jack were born to the Armstrongs and that made life more interesting for Mike, a little sister and brother. Bolivar School consolidated with Sanger, so Mike rode horseback to Sanger, to school. He was a friendly, happy boy. He loved music and loved to dance. He and one of his girl friends won dancing contest, so I have been told.
Hazen said only once did a lady come from the Orphanage to see if Mike was well and happy. She stayed only thirty minutes.
After high school, Mike announced one day he wanted to go to Fort Worth and get a job. He started work at the Texas Hotel. He became interested in bookkeeping and went to college at night and studied accounting. His brother, Alphonso, was working at the Baker Hotel in Mineral Wells.
Later Mike moved to Wichita Falls where he worked for the Kemp Hotel as a bookkeeper, finally establishing his own accounting firm. Mary Emma decided to study nursing and was accepted in nursing school at Wichita Falls. In only a few weeks, she took pneumonia and died. Mike remained close to the Armstrong family. Later he married the nurse who had taken care of Mary Emma, and had a family. The Armstrongs have lost touch with the Francese family but have heard that Mike died a few years ago after a successful career.
Hazen Armstrong, 80 years young, living in his home on Bolivar remembers Mike Francese with affection, and that fateful day he took him home to be his little boy, and the happy years that followed. It is said, in as much as ye have done it unto one of the least of these, ye have done it unto me.