She came to Lincoln in July of 1967 with her husband, Robert, and
4-year-old daughter Constance. Darlene and Robert had met in
Rockford, where they both worked for the same company. They married
in 1953. Robert was already deeply involved in the IOOF, and Darlene
soon joined him in what turned out to be a lifetime commitment to
The Independent Order of Odd Fellows is a
service organization that was founded in England. It was the first
charitable organization founded by the middle class to help others
in the same station in life. That seems to be the origin of the Odd
in Odd Fellows, because until it was founded, charitable
organizations were the domain of the wealthy classes.
The IOOF came to the United States in the second decade of the
19th century. The Lincoln branch was started in the second half of
the 19th century. Its original building, now home to the Lincoln Art
Institute, still stands next to the post office. The three
interlocking rings that are the IOOF symbol are still visible at the
top of the fašade of the building.
Perhaps the Lincoln chapter is best known for the children's home
that was located on Wyatt Avenue. The semicircular drive contained
buildings for a gym, dormitories for the children, a school and a
home for the administrator.
Robert Wick was on the board of the children's home while he and
Darlene lived in Rockford. When the position of administrator and
matron opened, Darlene and Robert decided to accept the position and
moved with their daughter to Lincoln on July 15, 1967.
The IOOF Children's Home was a place of refuge for kids who had
no parents and for children whose parents were not able to care for
them. The matron was the surrogate mother.
"A matron was responsible for working directly with the
children," Darlene said.
She made sure they were properly attired, looked after their
hygiene and made sure they had the necessary doctor visits. She also
made sure that they all attended school, and she monitored their
progress. At one time, the children were educated on-site, but
during Darlene's tenure as matron, they attended Lincoln public
She also arranged for her charges to become members of the Boy
Scouts and Girl Scouts and to attend the church of their choice. The
IOOF also helped those who wanted to go to college after graduating
from Lincoln High School.
One thing that Wick did while matron was to take a photograph of
each child. This proved to be a marvelous idea. When her charges
became adults, they often returned to Lincoln with their own
children to show their kids where they grew up. Darlene would then
give them a photo she had taken of them when they lived at the home.
Her former kids were always thrilled with the memento of their
childhood on Wyatt Avenue. And their children were able to see where
their parents had grown up and the woman who had such a profound
impact on their lives. The daughter of one of the returning children
was thrilled to receive a photo of her dad as a child.
When asked about memories of the children she cared for, Darlene
Wick smiled and said, "I have a few."
One child graduated from Lincoln High, attended college and
became the band director in Cedar Rapids, Iowa, for 26 years.
Darlene recalled that one Thanksgiving, when she and Robert
planned to travel back to Rockford for the holiday, they noted that
some of the children did not have a family to spend the day with.
She and Robert got busy and loaded all of the kids on the Odd
Fellows bus and made sure that each one had a family to spend the
holiday with. They contacted friends and friends of friends along
the way to Rockford and dropped the children off with a family who
volunteered to take them. At the end of the day, they reversed
course and picked up the kids on the way back to Lincoln. Each child
had a Thanksgiving family and a warm memory to take with them
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On one occasion, one of the former children at the home stopped
by with his 7-year-old son. While he was telling his son what a
wonderful time he had with Darlene and with the other children at
the Odd Fellows home, Darlene nudged him and quietly said: "But you
ran away three times." He grinned at her sheepishly and said, "Yes,
but don't tell my son!"
One young man at the home told Darlene that he was going to run
away. She quickly replied that if he did, "I'm going to call the
authorities and they will bring you back." He decided not to go. The
next day he asked her if she really would have called the
authorities. She said, "No, you are 18 and can make your own
decisions now. I was just bluffing." He said "I'm glad you did." He
was thankful he had someone who cared about him.
Times change and the rise of foster care reduced the need for the
residential children's home. But the elimination of the residential
program certainly did not slow down Darlene Wick's commitment to the
IOOF. She had joined the Rebekahs while still living in Rockford,
and in fact is still a member of that chapter. Rebekahs are the
women's auxiliary to the Odd Fellows. Back in the day, women could
not join the Odd Fellows, like many service organizations of long
ago. That changed, and women and men can now belong to both
The Rebekahs have always been a charitable organization in their
own right. They donate food to the local food pantry and help raise
money for Lincoln Youth Football. They also plant trees. Darlene
said their motto is "Plant a tree for he who comes after me."
Wick has been involved with the Odd Fellows Rebekah Scholarship,
an Odd Fellows program that gives scholarships to Illinois residents
for postsecondary education. She became secretary of the scholarship
program in 1985 and still sits on the committee that selects the
recipients. Thirty-four scholarships were distributed last year.
She is also the editor of the award-winning newsletter of
Illinois Odd Fellows.
She is responsible for rescuing all of the records of the Odd
Fellows residential children's program dating from the 19th century.
Those records have been an invaluable source of information to
families doing genealogical research.
The Independent Order of Odd Fellows has an insignia of three
interlocking rings with the letters F, L and T emblazoned within the
rings. The letters stand for friendship, love and truth. Darlene
Wick has lived this Odd Fellows motto for over 60 years and has
touched the lives of countless people. She still has a passionate
commitment to the IOOF, and when she speaks of the IOOF, her
dedication becomes apparent.
She resides at Friendship Manor, whose construction might
arguably be Robert Wick's crowning achievement in Lincoln. The
thought of her late husband providing for her brought a smile, and a
moment of quiet reflection.
[By CURT FOX]