Century of service to kids at area orphanage

EDITOR’S NOTE: A two-part series looks at U.P. Kids, formerly the Good Will Farm. Part one details the history of the former orphanage.


Houghton Daily

Mining Gazette

HOUGHTON – What began as a way to serve children thrown into hardship by mining accidents has become a more than century-old institution in the Copper Country.

U.P. Kids, formerly Good Will Farm, was founded by the Rev. F. A. Holtzhausen in 1899.

Many fathers were dying in the copper mines, leaving their children homeless or their wives too poor to support their families.

“In those days, people were getting killed on a regular basis,” said Mark Lambert, executive director of U.P. Kids. “We used to get clumps of kids – three or five from the same family.”

The orphanage initially was on a farm, located near the present-day site of the Portage Lake Golf Course. When that structure burned down in 1917, children were dispersed into individual private homes throughout the area.

In 1921, Good Will Farm moved into its longest-tenured home yet, in Houghton near Michigan Technological University. Until the 1970s, it would have 40 to 50 children at a time.

“We’ve got pictures that show 12 baby carriages all lined up with babies,” Lambert said. “There’d be young kids, and then teenagers. We used to use both floors above the main floor and fill it up.”

Good Will Farm transitioned in 1971 to a residential treatment living center for children. It was the result of a nationwide trend that saw orphanages closing or changing their missions after the introduction of child welfare programs in the 1950s, Lambert said.

“Before that, there was never money for children,” he said. “That’s why you had orphanages, and why most of them began through some church or denomination.”

Orphanages, which had often been overcrowded and underfunded, would become more strictly regulated, and aimed more at finding permanent homes for children through adoption.

With the change, the population started dropping. When Lambert started 16 years ago, the Good Will Farm averaged about 14 children. The average was down to about nine kids a decade ago; for the past two years, it’s been closer to seven.

“There’s a serious downturn,” Lambert said. “It’s motivated by funds, costs, and there’s a lot more services now – some services we even provide, services to help kids before they get that far.”

In 2012, Good Will Farm re-branded itself as U.P. Kids. The old name, apt in the 1890s, was causing confusion on every level.

There hadn’t been a farm in the picture since 1917. And in the past 30 years, people assumed it was affiliated with Goodwill Industries.

“Most importantly, Good Will Farm doesn’t tell anybody what we do,” Lambert said. “U.P. Kids does. It’s pretty clear what our services are. Couldn’t be better.”

The agency also moved its headquarters to the former Mattila building in downtown Houghton, across from the Portage Lake District Library.

In the past year, U.P. Kids has receivied big contracts for its growing foster care and adoption support programs. It recently downscaled its residential quarters, moving the children to a smaller building once used to house female residents.

“It only makes sense for us to get smaller, more home-like,” Lambert said.