Chapter 10 - Other Children at the Early Ramey Homes

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Anna Sue Sperry

"I don't really know where I'd be today, if Gertrude Ramey hadn't invited me in that night so many years ago. I was about fifteen, and had no place to go. I might have become a street person.

She encouraged me, and made me know I had value. When I needed to talk, she had compassion to listen. She was loaded with love for the children she cared for, and for all of us.  She had a way of calming us down. Gertrude Ramey was a devout Christian. I understand she also reared her own siblings. She was, what I call a 'called out woman'.”

I may have been the third child to come to Gertrude Ramey. First there was Violet and Peggy and then I arrived.

I was born on Bear Creek in Boyd County, Kentucky in 1931. My mother, Mary died of quick consumption TB, when I was age 4. Our father, Lindsey Sperry, with four of us little children to raise, soon remarried. Then in 1937 he was age 45 when he died of paralysis from a stroke, probably. Imagine if you can, there we were, four little orphans, standing in the cemetery for his funeral, and we all knew, my little brothers and sisters and I realized that when his service was over, we had no place to go. We all knew that our step mother planned to leave right after the funeral, and she did. She took our little half sister, and returned to her home in another county. Relatives stepped forward though, and divided us four up. I guess they had talked about it.

By most accounts 1933  was the bleakest year of the depression. But for the four Sperry orphans in 1937 the hardest days still loomed. 

"We were living with relatives who had little of their own to eat."  Anna Sue said. We were cast from one to the other until when I was grown, I lived with my Uncle and Aunt, but things were not good there. So, one day they told me to get dressed, and they drove me to the Ramey Home in Catlettsburg, and left me there.

Soon after I arrived, Gertrude sent me to Olive Hill to attend the Aiken Hall private school for girls. I loved that place, and I relished the excursion trips we took to the Carter Caves. Often, I still think about those good times in that beautiful Park. In my whole life, my most pleasant memories are of those four wonderful years from 1944 to 1948.

Aiken Hall wasn't for everyone. Not everyone fit in and some girls went home. It wasn't a reform school. If you had problems, you might just have to leave.  I loved it though," Anna Sue smiled.

"While I lived in Olive Hill to attend school, between semesters I came home to work for Gertrude Ramey with her ever growing number of homeless children.

Peggie Burke came at age 8 in 1943," Anna Sue recalled. "She was already there when my aunt and uncle left me. 

Peggy was so malnourished and skinny when she came, but Gertrude loved her and made her feel special.  The first thing she did was to make a pretty dress for her.

Then we all went down to see Methodist preacher, Reverend A P Keyser, to have our picture taken. He was an excellent photographer.

Violet Stevens was the first Ramey Home child of record.  We might say that Violet changed the course of Gertrude Ramey's life that day in 1943, when she stepped off the Greyhound bus on the corner in Catlettsburg, because it wasn't long before Gertrude dispensed her male boarders, and began to take in children. Violet was fourteen, and it was she who saved herself because she left home with the help of a good Uncle who bought her bus ticket to Catlettsburg.

Anna Sue recounted the early history of their friendship, "Within weeks, after Peggie Burke came; after that I knocked on Gertrude's door."

.During summers between school years at Aiken Hall, Anna Sue remembers driving with America Holbrook, a social worker to deliver babies to their new adoptive parents.

"I would hold the baby while she drove, and take care of it on the long trip. Sometimes we drove far into southern Kentucky, and at night we would stay in a tourist home. America Holbrook was a professional businesswoman with a job to do. I admired her."

Anna Sue recalled the early training that influenced her life,

"Gertrude encouraged me to work outside the Home. I babysat for Drs. Jared and Sewell. They paid me well. Often there might be a dozen little babies that Gertrude cared for, so we all worked so hard. One morning we discovered a tiny baby had died during the night. We were well acquainted with tragedy from our own lives, but each time children came to Gertrude, it came with yet another sad story. Our sadness was renewed every day. When the Weidner children arrived, we were told their step father had shot their mother in the back while the children watched, and the little boy who was only nine years old, held his mother as she died."

Anna Sue spoke proudly of her life as Gertrude guided her, "After I graduated from Erie School at Aiken Hall, I did enroll in the nursing program at Marshall, but it was too difficult for me," she mused. "I had not studied the science courses in high school to prepare me for nursing. So, I returned to Gertrude to work, and to help her with the little children until I was age 20. She always gave me a place to call home, and helped me to be part of something important. Then one day, it seemed time for me to leave, so I left early one morning, quietly without saying goodbye. I did later return, but never to stay."

"I've had a good life,"  Anna Sue's voice murmured, "At seventy-four, I work at  Heritage Farm Museums near Huntington, West Virginia.  I love to work. I've always had a job. I regularly read my bible and attend church because early on, I learned to lean on the Lord.  Of my family, only my brother and I are living."

She continued, "I have just read the book, A Purpose-Driven Life, by Rick Warren. It has helped me to understand who I am, and to find peace, although I know so little about my background. For all those children who were brought to the Ramey Home, who did not know who their real families were, I recommend, A purpose-driven Life. Then they will know who they are, that is my prescription for life."

"I don't really remember my mother, but some things tie us together still. Just little things. For example,  I collect green depression glass. One day, a relative said, ""Your mother loved that green glass too.""    Who can explain it?"  Anna Sue asked.

Betty Jayne Sullivan

Legend:  Betty Jayne Sullivan was seventeen months old when she was found on a houseboat. Her birth parents were: John Sullivan and Annabelle Forrest.

"I had brothers and sisters.  As the older one and when I was born, there was no welfare, so I guess she didn't want me. Later when my brothers and sisters were born, they were placed in the Ramey Home too, but given back to our mother because, I guess she could get welfare by the 1960s.

One day she came and got my brothers and sisters, but she didn't ask for me. It is possible that Gertrude would not release me. They all just disappeared, but I did not know they were my brother and sisters.

My brother and sisters: Linda, Larry, Melvin and Cathy were all in the Ramey Home, when I was there, but I never knew they were my brothers and sisters. Gertrude did not tell me. I still talk to Linda when she calls me; the others live in Florida."

"Gertrude Ramey told me my parents were dead. I believed her. Then one day, a woman came with some clothing for the Home. She kept looking at me; she asked my name. She said, "I thought so, I know your parents." 

"I don't", I said to her. The woman went on to tell me my parents lived in Avondale, and their names were John Sullivan and Annabelle. All that time, I thought they were dead. Still, they never came to see me. No one ever did."

"It was constant; constant," Bettye Jane said. "Once, Minnie and I were in the kitchen at the long table. Above us on the next floor the children were playing. They were just playing. We could hear their happy voices. Minnie stepped to the stair well and called for Hallie Ann. Hallie Ann Fannin came down.

"What are you doing up there?" Minnie demanded. "I can hear your voice above all others."

"Nothing," Hallie Ann said. "Minnie seized Hallie Ann's hair with one hand, and slapped her eight times across the face. I counted them.  I was so upset, after witnessing this abuse, I  told Gertrude what had happened."

"She did nothing," Betty Jane remembered in response to my question.

"I lived at the Ramey Home for forty five years. I was age eighteen months when I was brought in, they said.  I had a distended stomach from malnutrition. By age eight, I began to realize that I was in a kind of prison. I had to grow up fast. I worked from morning to night. We all did. You had to be there to understand what I am saying."

"Hallie Ann told me she took dance lessons at June Conn; did you go to attend any of those things?" I asked.

"I got to go to my senior Prom. I went alone. If it weren't  for school and church, I might not have gone anyplace. I did make friends at school. I talked to them, and that was it. At school, though, we were treated different. Hardly anyone wanted to get close or invite us to things that went on in their homes.  We felt shy. We were dressed like orphans, too. We had two outfits to wear. Gertrude did not want us to have much of wardrobe. She kept it all simple," Bettye Jane reflected.

"I did get tap lessons a few times, but there were no other outlets for us. My family was the other children at Ramey Home."  

"Once when I was about seven, I came home from school to tell Gertrude that I had a boy friend. I was so excited. I had found a friend of my own outside the Home. She said: "Next, you will want to be sleeping with him."

"I did not even know what she meant, I was in the second grade. She was negative."

 "If it hadn't been for the certain fate of prison, and hell, I would have taken their lives. I am speaking of Minnie, and Gertrude Ramey. They terrorized me, and all the children. Gertrude kept one little girl named Sandy, crying all the time by making fun of her. Sandy would say that she liked boys. That provoked Gertrude to say accusing, and hurtful things to Sandy.

Every second of every day was hell.  Weekends were 'bows,' days.  We were dressed up in our best clothes with bows in our hair, and told to behave.  Nobody saw  any abuse then. That is when Dr. French came to visit the Ramey Home.

"I remember the Fannin children from even before they came to the Ramey Home.  It was usual, in the Ashland community, at Christmas and on other holidays, for people to send candy to us; they sent so much we had too much. One day, Jim Stambaugh, Gertrude's maintenance man, loaded up some candy, and drove some of us to Avondale. Avondale was the slum of Ashland. We stopped in front of a shack. A young boy stood outside. He wore only pants, with no shirt, and I think, and no shoes. He was eating out of an old terrapin shell. I couldn't take my eyes off that shell once I recognized what it was. I think he was eating cereal with his hands. It was very cold. We stared at each other. I have never forgotten him. He was one of the Fannin boys who later came to the Ramey Home.

"Minnie Suttles had influence over Gertrude. At some point, I think Gertrude became evil like Minnie. She favored what Minnie did to us, because she let it happen. Early on, when I was growing up, we had never heard of the shaken-baby syndrome, and how it can damage, or kill a baby. But, Gertrude and Minnie shook all of us, that way. They shook all of the babies, even the twins: Bonnie and Connie." Bettye Jane's voice tapered off. "You had to be there, girl," she reminded me. 

"Minnie Suttles and her sister, Mavis came there as little girls, just like I did, and Minnie never really left: like I never left.  Mavis married and moved out, but Minnie kept coming back to work for Gertrude and to live with us."

"Gertrude disappointed me, and everyone.  Come weekends, it was like vacation. Those were the 'bow' times. Nobody ever said anything," she murmured.

Bettye Jane Sullivan b. May 5, 1945 arrived at the Ramey Home on Winchester Avenue circa at age eighteen months. Left the third Ramey Home location on McCullough Drive in 1991 at age 46, after Gertrude died. Records indicate she lived with her mother at Avondale, and that her older brother, Eddie Sullivan was also taken to the Ramey Home while it was in Catlettsburg circa 1944. She was not elder in her family. Her birth certificate indicates she was the fourth child born to AnnaBelle Forrest-Sullivan.

Thomas 'Tommy' Smith

Thomas 'Tommy' Smith. His birth mother was Beulah Daniels although he never knew her. Thomas Smith:  b. January 29, 1937 and died at age 55 in November 1993.

"I found Tommy in a box in the lower hallway of the Ramey Home at Catlettsburg. He was about three years old." ~Violet Stevens~

Thomas 'Tommy' Smith was crippled with polio in his arms, but Miss Ramey sent him to vocational school where he learned to cook. He was Chef for the Henry Clay hotel and also was Department Manager for Heck's depart store. He was a volunteer police officer rising to a Lieutenant rank in the auxiliary.

Tommy married Loretta Vance. For many years, Tommy and Loretta lived at 3131 Greenup Avenue in Ashland. When their children, Bill and Theresa, 'Tina' were still small, their mother left her husband and her children. Tommy took them to the Ramey Home where he had grown up, and for six years, the children lived at the Ramey Home.

"Dad was working and could not care for us, so he brought us to Miss Ramey. He returned often to help with the boys including me." Loretta Vance-Smith eventually returned from Lexington to her family. Presently, she is on dialysis. Her daughter, Tina takes care of her.

Bill Smith b. 1962.   "My father told me Miss Ramey was very good to him. She taught him respect. And for me, Miss Ramey taught me to eat what was prepared for supper or go to bed without food. My sister Tina is three years younger than I am.  Miss Ramey was very strict, and kept the girls in the main house, and the boys over at the cottage. At the Ramey Home, I was a close friend with Roger Ray."

 "Minnie Suttles never struck me, but once when I disobeyed her orders because I thought she was wrong, she took me into a little room and corrected me in a very loud irate voice, and took my possessions, which she never returned. I had a stroke in March 2005 and have a few other health problems," Bill said.

Little is know about Beulah Daniels, who may have deposited her son, Tommy Smith in the lower hallway of the Ramey Home in Catlettsburg. According to records, she is the birth mother to Thomas Smith. The 1920 census for Boyd County lists:

Beulah Daniels is eight, and her sister Bessie is nine. Her parents were Ernest Daniel thirty-one and Katherine Link-Daniel, thirty. Mont Daniel, sixty-seven was father to Ernest.

NEXT - Chapter 11 - Cooks at the Ramey's Children's Home