The History of Lakeside for Children

Lakeside for Children traces its origins to a June evening in 1907 when William S. Dewing, an English-born Kalamazoo businessman with a great concern for children, assembled 24 of Kalamazoo’s leading citizens in his residence.

For several years, Dewing and James Balch thought the community needed a sanctuary for homeless boys. Their social conscience was shared by William L. Brownell, who pleaded the case in such convincing fashion that the 24 men were galvanized into action. They decided to form an organization “for the care, education, and bringing up of boys.”

Lake Farm for Boys was established on September 30, 1907.

The first board of directors included Dewing, Balch, Dallas Boudeman, C.G. Kleinstuck, Samuel Folz, Albert Crowley, E.C. Parsons, I.A. Ransom, George Waite, E.B. Desenberg, Francis Milham, F.M. Hodge, and other Kalamazoo “movers and shakers.” Balch served as president of the home’s board for its first 45 years until his death in 1952.

The board wanted the home to be located in a rural setting so the youngsters had close contact with farming, hard work, and nature, yet, be near enough to the city to take advantage of its educational and religious assets.

In the spring of 1908, 55 acres of farmland were purchased on the shores of Whites Lake just south of downtown. By autumn, a cottage for boys had been built to accompany an existing farmhouse. Individual and corporate philanthropy made the land purchase and construction possible.

The board arranged for an open house to show off the new community asset. On October 6, 1908, some 500 inquisitive souls took the Kalamazoo trolley to the end of the line on Oakland Drive and Parkview Avenue. From there, they were transported to Lake Farm by carriage, wagon, or buggy, compliments of Dewing.

Newspaper accounts of the grand opening said that the new home was “the first of its kind in Michigan” for destitute and homeless boys and was one of the few in the whole nation.

After staff was hired and more construction completed, the first boy arrived on the grounds August 20, 1909. Within a few months, nine boys from Kalamazoo, ages six through 16, were living at Lake Farm for Boys.

From Orphanage to Residential Treatment Center

The population of boys on campus slowly grew after 1908 and by 1942 numbered 42, ranging in age from six to 16. The average stay was three years. Some were orphans, but others were abused and neglected, or simply came from poor families that could not care for them.

Meanwhile, the campus expanded to meet their needs. A board of directors made up of local citizens purchased more acreage, erected buildings, and hired staff. The land holdings peaked at 150 acres in 1952, the year that longtime board president James Balch died.

Through the years, private gifts and a trickle of aid from the State of Michigan helped offset expenses, as did the sale of eggs, milk, and crops raised on the campus farm. An annual “letter campaign” begun in 1925 and donations from local benefactors paid for campus improvements and operational expenses.

Board meeting minutes from that era list the first donation from the Kalamazoo Rotary club to a local charitable agency, “the gift of a Ford V8 station wagon from Mrs. Donald Gilmore,” the gift of a new administration building from Mrs. Harold Upjohn, sleds donated by the Kalamazoo Sled Company, “1,500 quarts of fruit and vegetables” and a good crop of alfalfa, corn, wheat, timothy, and orchard grass.

But, stated one report, “the most important crop is BOYS.”

In 1944, an agreement was reached for Lake Farm for Boys residents to attend Kalamazoo Public Schools so they would have a better opportunity to grow socially, physically, and mentally.

That same year, Clarence “Pops” Dooley became the Lake Farm director, overseeing a staff of five: groundskeeper, matron, farmer, seamstress, and cook. By the time Dooley retired in 1972, he’d led the institution through a transition from a farming operation and home for orphaned boys to a residential treatment facility for boys – and girls – with mental health and behavior problems and kids who had been abused and neglected.

Lakeside for Boys and Girls

Girls became part of Lake Farm in 1963 when another institution dedicated to helping children in need – Dewing Hall for Girls – merged with Lake Farm for Boys. Dewing Hall’s history actually predates Lake Farm.

In the early 1870s, Mrs. William G. (Jane) Dewing and Miss Eliza Fisher Goodspeed began organizing activities, classes, and schooling for young girls who could not attend traditional classrooms because of family difficulties. After operating in houses at W. Main, Douglas Ave., and Potter St., their program for girls was blessed with a three-story brick building in the 800 block of South Westnedge Ave. in 1877 that became known as the Kalamazoo Children’s Home. (The structure was razed in 1972.)

The name “Children’s Home” was changed to Dewing Hall in 1957 to honor its founders, who not only had established the orphanage but had also contributed to its support for many years. By then, Dewing Hall had become a licensed residential treatment unit that was home to 16 adolescent girls. As the facility aged, prominent community leaders (including Kalamazoo businessman, philanthropist, and longtime Lakeside for Children board member Burton Upjohn), worked tirelessly on a relocation of the Children’s Home or a merger with Lake Farm.

On April 8, 1964, one year after that merger was completed, Lake Farm for Boys became Lakeside Inc.

Upjohn also led a major capital improvement campaign beginning in 1963 that led to the addition of a small gym, an educational building, and several more cottage style residence halls where students still live today. Additional upgrades were made possible by single benefactors and by other organized capital campaigns in 1972 and 1982.

Meanwhile, a student population that had dipped to as low as 30 in 1968, began to rise, reaching 51 in 1987, and 65 in 1998. The number of employees also increased during that time, with many holding academic degrees and certifications more closely aligned with new state requirements for the treatment and care of the changing campus population.

To keep pace, a $6.8 million capital campaign started in 1999 to fund new administrative, treatment, instructional, and residential spaces, as well as The Todd Cultural Center where students can perform and view theatrical and musical programs. These buildings were completed in 2003.

While the number of buildings on campus grew, the campus itself grew smaller. No longer operating as a working farm, Lakeside sold off more than 80 acres of farmland it owned south and west of the campus. The agency also sold a few acres of land to its longtime next-door neighbor, The Kalamazoo Country Club. Lakeside today sits on a little more than 48 acres.

The Modern Lakeside Era

In October 2005, the organization took on its current name, Lakeside for Children. Two years later, the board narrowed the cohort of children it serves to 12- to 18-year-olds who have been abused or neglected, have been removed from their homes for their safety, and, in many cases, have been adjudicated by the juvenile justice system due to their own offenses.

That same year, the Lakeside board contracted with Sequel Youth Services to operate all campus programs. Sequel is a privately-owned company that develops and operates programs across the country for children and adults with behavioral, emotional, or physical challenges. Its mission is to prepare its clients to lead responsible and fulfilling lives by providing mentoring, education, living skills, and support within a safe, structured, dynamic environment.

Lakeside Academy is Sequel’s staff-secure residential program operating on the campus of Lakeside for Children. Staff members help students focus on the confrontation and redirection of negative behavior while recognizing desired, positive behavior.

Lakeside, which is accredited by the Joint Commission as a behavioral health institution, is licensed by the State of Michigan for 124 beds. Fifteen beds are reserved for girls and a couple are always kept open to accommodate boys or girls who might have nowhere else to go on short notice. About 50 percent of students come from Michigan with a few from Kalamazoo and Southwest Michigan. Others come from nearly a dozen states including California, Washington, Indiana, and Tennessee.

Throughout their Lakeside stay – from 30 days to more than 18 months, with an average of about 180 days – students are challenged to analyze failures and experience successes in nearly every area of life.

Since 2013, they have attended school year-round on the Lakeside campus in a charter school authorized by Kalamazoo Regional Educational Services Agency, or KRESA. The school has an independent school board and teachers who teach to State of Michigan mandated educational policies.

Students typically arrive on campus behind their school-age peers in reading, math, and other scholastic measures. Lakeside Charter School helps them recover lost school credits that will transfer to their home school district, and put them on a path to graduate high school or receive a GED. Several Lakeside students earn their high school diploma or GED every semester. Numerous students now go on to community colleges and universities in Michigan and elsewhere.

Parallel to this, Lakeside Academy helps them receive the counseling, role modeling, and other support they need to develop the life skills and self-discipline necessary to lead a successful life. Once they realize they are in a safe supportive environment with a positive peer culture, they blossom and mature.

Lakeside and the Community

Community involvement is central to a Lakeside student’s successful stay.

Students volunteer in many ways in the community throughout the year. They staff water a table in the Winchell Neighborhood during the annual Kalamazoo Marathon, help Oshtemo Rotary Club members set up and break down their annual Family Fun Days event, and volunteer to work with nearby Oakwood Neighborhood Association residents in the Building Blocks program, to name only a few activities.

Lakeside students also go to the movies, the mall, Lake Michigan, and countless other locations, just like other teenagers. The only difference is that they are always accompanied by Lakeside staff members.

Lakeside boys – the Titans – now participate in soccer, basketball, and track and field competitions sanctioned by the Michigan High School Athletic Association. Plans are afoot for Lakeside girls to participate in sanctioned volleyball and/or track and field competitions.

Community support is also central to Lakeside’s continued success. The addition of the Lakeside Health & Wellness Center that opened in April 2017 is a recent example. The Center houses three interactive classrooms and an all-purpose room, a locker room, and a gymnasium with a regulation high school court that can accommodate basketball, volleyball, badminton, wrestling and countless other sports, recreational, and wellness activities.

The $2.3 million building was constructed and appointed through a successful fundraising campaign supported by individual, family, foundation, and corporate donors, nearly all drawn from the Kalamazoo area.

Lakeside leaders, its Sequel partners, and employees are passionate about providing excellent programs and facilities that make permanent, positive changes in the lives of the boys and girls they serve. We couldn’t have done this for 110 years without the support of equally passionate community supporters.

This combined passion has led to Lakeside for Children attracting attention in Michigan and beyond for the quality of its programs. There is consistently a waiting list of students to be admitted and administrators frequently host groups from human services departments and courts across the country who are interested in adding Lakeside to their lists of preferred service providers.

What started as an orphanage for boys more than a century ago, is now a nationally recognized residential treatment facility that promotes maturity, clear thinking, and individual growth for teen boys and girls with chronic behavioral issues.

Providing Opportunities for Success