Updated: August 8, 2013 at 2:40 pm
On Tuesday morning, in a parking lot on Bijou Street at Cascade Avenue, officials of the Myron Stratton Home gathered at the site of a new mural celebrating the 100th anniversary of the home for Colorado Springs' poor and needy.
Standing at the edge of the parking lot, as board members and dignitaries chatted, was Brenda Emilio.
She nodded as Bob Baker, president and chairman of the home's board of trustees, praised the founder of the home, Winfield Scott Stratton, a carpenter who struck gold in Victor, becoming the first millionaire of the Cripple Creek Mining District in 1894.
Stratton used his wealth to become one of the region's most generous residents, giving gifts to the community that included a trolley system and then endowing the home, named for his father, in his will. The home opened in 1913, after legal battles over his $6 million estate following his death in 1902.
"He was a common man who became a millionaire who became a philanthropist," Baker said of Stratton. "It was no surprise philanthropy was at the top of his mind when he drew up his last will and testament."
Brenda nodded as Baker described the values captured in the mural, which shows a silhouette of a man walking hand-in-hand with two children under the words "The Myron Stratton Home - A Century of Sanctuary."
"This mural captures the essence of the home," Baker said. "It's a place of caring. Of compassion. Of nurturing. It's a wonderful legacy this man left us."
Again, Brenda nodded, knowingly.
"Here we are after 100 years," Baker said. "In those years, thousands of people have walked through the doors at the Myron Stratton Home. Many are fine citizens of our community."
Brenda smiled. She is one of those citizens.
"My mother passed away when I was 5," Brenda, 51, told me after the ceremony. She explained that her father was unable to raise his four children. "I had two brothers and a sister. We were going to be split up between relatives. So we voted to go to the home together."
The year was 1968. In those days, children lived in boys and girls dormitories, and the elderly lived in cottages on the sprawling, wooded campus south of town.
"I lived there 11 years," Brenda said. "I spent my whole childhood there."
I wondered what it was like.
"We had it made," she said. "We had a swimming pool. And an ice skating rink. A gymnasium. A theater."
And the kids of the Stratton Home had a camaraderie that remains decades later.
"We have all kind of stuck together," Brenda said. "All of us 'home' kids looked out for each other."
At the time, there were 76 children living at the home and they attended Chamberlain Elementary, Gorman Junior High and Palmer High School.
"We didn't like being called an orphanage," Brenda said, describing things that might get the 'home' kids teased at school.
Life was strict at the home but not oppressive, she said.
"We were well-fed and well taken care of," Brenda said.
There was not much time for television or deviation from the routines of life.
And she remembers being homesick at times.
But she credits the home with instilling in her a strong work ethic. And she had such fond memories that she went back to visit. And to work. And, eventually, she hopes to return in her retirement to live again.
"I went back to visit and I was picking apples from a tree when someone said I had to leave," she said. "I said: 'I don't have to leave. This is my home.' And so I decided to come back."
She got a job in building maintenance and she's been there eight years now.
Of course, the home has changed dramatically since she grew up there. The home doesn't raise orphaned children anymore.
The dormitories now house community groups helping the needy: Peak Vista Community Health Centers, which provides medical care; Partners in Housing, which providing apartments on-campus for 12 homeless families with children; and TESSA, which offers help and emergency shelter to women and children victims of domestic violence.
But the cottages still shelter elderly poor. And the cafeteria feeds everyone, including employees. There's a new workout facility for residents as well as assorted activities and games.
"They take very good care of the elderly," she said.
Brenda appreciates Stratton and his generosity.
"We have a statue of him on the grounds," she said. "I used to put flowers on his statue when I was young. I think about him whenever I see it."
And she is grateful to the home for taking her in all those years ago. How much does she love the place?
"I want to live there when I get older," she said.
It all comes back to how she felt when she was shooed away for picking apples:
"It's my home."
History of the Myron Stratton Home
In his will, Winfield Scott Stratton called for creation of: "a free home for poor persons who are without means of support and who are physically unable by reason of old age, youth, sickness or other infirmity to earn a livelihood." He directed the home be named for his father, Myron Stratton.
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