Hagerstown man says orphanage saved his life

June 30, 2005


Donald R. Gossard Sr. doesn't hold it against his father that he and four of his brothers were sent to an orphanage in 1936 after their mother died.

It probably saved their lives, ensuring that their physical needs would be taken care of during the lean Depression years, Gossard said.

"If we wouldn't have went there, we would have died," said Gossard, who was 8 years old at the time.

When his mother, Stella, died at age 34 of a mastoid infection, life for the 10 Gossard children - seven boys and three girls - was turned upside down.


Their father, Earl Gossard, made $7.50 a week working at Landis Tool Co. in Waynesboro, Pa., Gossard said. The family was living near Greencastle, Pa.

Five of the Gossard boys were sent to the Milton Wright Home near Greencastle. It was a Christian home sponsored by Milton Wright - a bishop of the United Brethren in Christ Church and father of airplane inventors Wilbur and Orville - and King Street United Brethren Church in Chambersburg, Pa.

Another brother, thought to have tuberculosis, was sent to a sanitarium in Mont Alto, Pa., and then joined the U.S. Army.

The two oldest sisters were sent to live with a family on their Chambersburg farm and one brother was raised on a farm near Waynesboro. The youngest sister, Bonnie, who was only 2 months old when their mother died, was adopted by a family in Lancaster, Pa.

Gossard tears up as he recalls the 1981 reunion with Bonnie, who he hadn't seen for 44 years.

The Milton Wright Home was one of the better places for abandoned children to live, Gossard said. He remembers that there were more than 60 children who lived at the home, but the numbers almost doubled by the time he left because the Hoovers took in Japanese children whose parents were sent to internment camps during World War II.

"We had the love of Rev. Clarence and Rev. Ada Hoover. They were like parents to us," he said. " ... If it wouldn't have been for them, I don't know how we'd have turned out."

In 1944, Gossard left the home and moved to Hagerstown. He joined the U.S. Army in 1945 when he was only 17, lying about his age.

"It didn't matter to me," he said. "It was one place or other taking orders."

His father was forced to enlist in the Army in 1942 for not paying support for his children. All seven Gossard boys served in the military, four of them and their father serving at the same time.

Earl Gossard received a plaque from President Truman as a result. Their combined years of military service totaled 103, Donald Gossard said.

Gossard got in touch with his father after Donald left the Army in 1949, returning to Hagerstown, and stayed in contact with him until his death in 1979.

Donald Gossard met his wife, Agnes Carter, in 1950 or 1951 and she asked him to go to church with her. They got married in 1952 and celebrated their 46th anniversary before her death in 1998.

The couple raised their children on Madison Avenue in Hagerstown's West End. Donald moved to Mount Tabor Road near Clear Spring in 1996.

Agnes, who was from Virginia, also was from a large family, one of 11 children. The Gossards had seven children - five sons and two daughters.

Gossard said while he thinks his father made the best decision he could for his children, growing up in an orphanage changed his childhood.

"I just feel like I missed my boyhood, not much time to play," Gossard said. "I made sure my children had time to play."

Gossard said he considers all of the children at the Milton Wright Home his brothers and sisters and still keeps in touch with two of the men he grew up with.

"I get emotional when I think of all of them. Most are dead now," Gossard said. "It's like losing a brother or sister."

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