A Chance Encounter Leads To a Great Re-Discovery

Clinical Manager Melissa Pavlicek took a stroll through Utica's historic Forest Hill Cemetery on an early spring day. A large stone engraved "Children of the Good Shepherd" caught her attention. After some research, she discovered the relationship to The House of the Good Shepherd. The gravesite was funded by Thomas Redfield Proctor and his wife Maria Watson Williams Proctor in the late 19th century. They wished to provide a dignified final resting place for orphaned children who lived at The House of the Good Shepherd. Melissa noticed that the site required some TLC, so she jumped into action and recruited a team to help.

Staff from our Residential Programs grabbed rakes, cleaners, brushes, trash bags, and dozens of daisies and headed to the cemetery on May 27. They dusted, pulled weeds, and laid a daisy atop each little headstone as was a Proctor tradition. Between 1872 and 1934, 119 children at The House died from meningitis, pneumonia, measles, tuberculosis, and Spanish Flu - a stark contrast to this past year's worldwide health emergency. The staff reflected in silence after the final daisy was placed. We will remember these 119 young lives every year with annual visits and care. A tradition that may have faded away throughout the years has been reignited. Melissa said, "It was quite a humbling experience to see so many children's graves. Modern medicine has certainly made childhood disease less deadly."

Thomas Proctor, who donated land for The House of the Good Shepherd to expand and build a 3-story structure in 1904, is also buried in Forest Hill Cemetery. The staff memorialized the Proctors that day as well.

Kara Smith, Director of Residential Services, said, "I cannot think of a better way to wrap up Foster Care Awareness Month and head into Memorial Day weekend than working with this team to commemorate the lives of so many youths who had no families to remember them. Although it certainly has plenty of room to grow, I am so thankful the child welfare system has improved in its ways. This experience will forever be a memory of appreciation and growth."

We want to thank Gerard Waterman, Superintendent, and Frank Williams, Vice President, Board of Trustees, for the time spent with our staff and for the additional information provided.