The Founding of Flat Rock
In March 1864, Rev. L. Scheuerman, pastor of the Fremont Mission and a fiery speaker, made a plea to the people of the church to take up the cause of the children orphaned by the Civil War. He urged the people to donate land for an orphanage. The call was answered by George and Susan Weiker of Bellevue who gave farmland in Sandusky County and part of another farm they owned in Michigan.
In May 1865, a committee was appointed to look over the donated lands and report their findings. Committee members included John Orwig and George, John Stull, Rev. Scheuerman, and Lorenz Huber. They decided to rent the farm out for a year until further plans could be made. Later that year, a building was purchased in Tiffin, Ohio, and in July 1866, a home was opened with eight children. Four more children from Pittsburgh soon joined the home.
Rev. J. G. Zinser was chosen to be the first Superintendent and his wife served as Matron In-Charge. Teacher Anna Eversole was hired at the rate of $3.00 per week and Matron Christena Endel at the rate of $2.00 per week. It wasn’t long before a seamstress was needed and Minnie Pfeiffer, daughter of Rev. Pfeiffer was hired. Elijah Crouse became her assistant sewing buttons on suits. Miss Pfeiffer later married Rev. W. H. Hammer, son of the second Superintendent of the home, Rev. Carl Hammer.
Life at Flat Rock in the Early Days
The building in Tiffin was quickly outgrown and leaders wanted to avoid raising the children in the city. It was decided a farm would be better and more helpful in providing food and training for the children. In 1867, a farm of 170 acres was purchased near Flat Rock, Ohio, 20 miles from Tiffin. The proceeds from the sale of the land in Sandusky County helped pay for this new land.
A two-story, 50′ by 85′, brick building was built in 1868 for $12,000. The new superintendent, Rev. Carl Hammer, dedicated the building the first Sunday in May 1868. The home was known as the Ebenezer Orphan Institute of the Evangelical Association, dedicated to “God, Benevolence, Education, and Charity.”
Many orphan aid societies were formed throughout the country following the immediate outpouring of support from the church. In time, the home achieved a firm financial base. Through farm-income, as well as generous contributions, the building was enlarged and improvements were made. Additional land was donated and large parcels of good farmland were purchased.
The Ebenezer Church, a two-story brick structure, was built across the street from the home and dedicated in November 1871. All services were conducted in English, but occasionally, at prayer meetings, the prayers were offered in German. This church still operates today as Flat Rock Ebenezer United Methodist Church and continues to be incredibly active in our mission.
Over time, the Main Building, as it stood, was inadequate to house the 150 children and workers. Thus, the east wing was added in 1873. However, that too was soon overcrowded. So, the third story with hip roof, tower, and bell were added in 1888 under Daniel Strawmans watch. The girls were housed in the four front rooms on the third floor, and the boys in the four rear rooms. This meant 65 girls slept in four rooms with three and four beds in a row, sometimes four or five occupying one bed. Space in the boys’ quarters was even more congested. In May 1912, the Girls’ Cottage, now widely recognized as the yellow Bishop-Horn building, was dedicated. Mrs. Hammer and Rev. W. Yost attended the dedication. They had both attended the first dedication in 1868.
In 1921, two new Boys’ Cottages (Oak Manor and Buckeye Manor) and the School Building (known as The Newby Building) were built and dedicated. Land was added to the original 170 acres growing to a 500-acre farm. The children and staff maintained a herd of Holstein Cattle and worked in the milking parlor and dairy barn. Not only did the farm contribute good working habits and knowledge of animal husbandry, but the dining room, kitchen, and laundry taught caretaking skills.
A National Role for Flat Rock in the Care of Children
Flat Rock Children’s Home, in its various forms, served as the national orphanage for the Evangelical Association and the Evangelical United Brethren Church for many years. Dr. James Nelson, a historian of the Evangelical United Brethren denomination, remarked that he remembered gathering pennies from the children of the Sunday School to send to the orphans at Flat Rock while living in Kansas as a child.
In 1968, Flat Rock Homes became affiliated with the East Ohio Conference of the United Methodist Church, following a merger of the Evangelical United Brethren Church and the Methodist Church. That relationship between Flat Rock Homes and The United Methodist Church is now defined as “a covenant relationship with the East Ohio Conference of the United Methodist Church.” Flat Rock Homes, Flat Rock Care Center, and Flat Rock Community Services continue to be members of the United Methodist Association (UMA), which serves as the accreditation source for the United Methodist Church’s Health and Welfare Agencies.
Evolving to Meet New Needs
The infamous blizzard of 1978 destroyed the main building on the campus of Flat Rock Children’s Home. Many people suggested closing the agency. Instead, it sparked a change. The visionary leaders of the church felt certain that God’s work through Flat Rock was not done and the transition was made from an orphanage to a home to serve individuals with intellectual and developmental disabilities. The Rev. Dr. Donald Bable took the helm as President/CEO of Flat Rock Children’s Home and Mr. Ralph Newby, became President of the Board of Trustees. They worked closely with Bishop James S. Thomas, Presiding Bishop of the East Ohio Conference, to lead the Flat Rock Children’s Home through this critical time in history.
Most of those served by Flat Rock today have multiple diagnoses with ID/DD being a primary diagnosis with physical, emotional, or psychological disabilities being secondary. Flat Rock Care Center provides a unique ministry to individuals with ID/DD. Parents from across the state of Ohio come seeking service for their loved ones.
Birth of the Flat Rock Community Services Program
In 1992, the Flat Rock Community Services Program was created when one of the residents who had lived on campus for more than a decade was ready to transition into the community. In collaboration with Seneca County, Flat Rock Homes provided funds to move the individual into the community of Tiffin, and staff was hired to provide services to support him in this setting.
In response to the pressing need, Flat Rock’s ministry was expanded to additional counties and additional adults with ID/DD. By January 2005, the Community Services program was serving 46 adults in community settings. This program continues to thrive by serving more adults in need of healthy, community group living. The Flat Rock Community Services program doesn’t end with group living. Flat Rock Community Services has added Adult Day Programs to help support and train individuals for jobs in the community.
Flat Rock Takes on a New Image: “Field of Dreams” Building Project
In November 2001, another critical moment in the history of the agency was to be faced. The buildings that had been built in the early 1900s were rapidly deteriorating. Their steps, large rooms, dormitory-style bedrooms, and showers were no longer feasible settings for the ministry being done within them. Knowing that the physical structures on the campus were becoming less and less suitable for the people being served, the Board of Directors, under the leadership of Board President, Rev. Dr. Kenneth Ehrman, and the new President/CEO, Nancy S. Hull, decided to move forward with a building project that would replace all existing buildings on the campus.
Strategic plans had been developed for the rebuilding of the campus during the 22-year tenure of Rev. Dr. Don Bable, but funds were not available at that time. During the three-year tenure (1998-2001) of Jacquie Talbott, Esq. as President/CEO, a new strategic planning process was begun. With Rev. Hull’s leadership, a Building Committee was named. Martell and Associates of Toledo were hired as the architects and Ed Downey was brought on as an Owners Representative to begin the project.
The Building Committee of the Board included Board members Harry Askin, Tim Cullen, Dan Jones, and Joe McDonald. Staff members included President/CEO, Rev. Nancy S. Hull, Vice President for Operations, Richard Peitz, Program Director, Rebecca Brandt, Administrative Assistant to the President/CEO, Gail Kerlin, and Maintenance Director Tim Thompson. Janotta and Herner Inc. of Monroeville were contracted as the Design/Build Construction firm for the project and in October 2002 ground was broken.
A capital campaign to raise $2.3 million was commenced in January 2002. At the same time, the Capital Campaign Committee was created. Flat Rock was also able to take advantage of state and federal funds that were available to complete the funding for the project. The new 6.2 million dollar facility replaced all five of the existing living areas, as well as replacing the Newby and Bishop-Horn administrative areas. The committee was comprised of Rev. Dr. Kenneth Ehrman, Board Members, and lay volunteers and was chaired by James Ehrman, a lawyer from Cleveland, Ohio. Dr. William McFadden was hired as the Capital Campaign counsel. Board members included Mel Miller, Stan Manbeck, Harry Askin, Joe McDonald, Dan Jones, Leslie Stoneham, and Mickey Muffett. Other volunteers included Ernie Sheetz, David Douglass, Esq., Jan Harlamert, Dr. Donald Bable, and Dr. Phil Gillis among others.
Construction of the new 50,000-square-foot, handicap accessible facility, took 18 months to complete. The first gathering in the new building took place on a chilly Saturday afternoon in October 2003 when former residents of the orphanage returned for a Homecoming in the yet to be completed gymnasium. This event honored the heritage and history of Flat Rock Children’s Home as the vision for the future began to emerge.
Administrative staff moved into the new building on February 26, 2004, and after Licensure and regulatory agency requirements were met, residents were moved into their new homes on May 19, 2004. A Consecration Service for the new facility was held on April 17, 2004, with over 550 people from across the state in attendance in the new gymnasium. Bishop Jonathan Keaton presided. Dr. Lance Herrick, from the Wisconsin Conference, represented the United Methodist Association. Dr. Kenneth Ehrman was also on the program and Rev. Nancy S. Hull preached.
A Plan for the Future
Continuing the legacy of the transforming power of care for individuals with ID/DD, the new Flat Rock Care Center facility consists of six individual homes connected by a large inner hallway to nursing, dietary, the therapeutic center, gymnasium, and a new administration center. It is a state-of-the-art facility for the care and treatment of individuals with intellectual, developmental, and behavioral challenges. As a result of the improvements to the facility, every resident who moved from the old facilities has shown dramatic improvement in all levels of health, development, and well-being.