Thursday, May 02, 2013
 
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The Darlene Wick story

Lincoln Odd Fellows' much-loved last matron retires

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[May 02, 2013]  On Saturday there was a retirement party at Friendship Manor for Darlene Wick. For two hours, friends came to express their fondest regards to her for a lifetime of dedicated service to Lincoln through her work for the Independent Order of Odd Fellows. She is retiring from the IOOF Management Corp., the part of the Odd Fellows that manages Friendship Manor as well as other Odd Fellows living centers in Illinois. But two hours is hardly enough time to acknowledge all of Darlene Wick's accomplishments and the lives she has touched.

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 organization.

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 schools.

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 forever.

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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 organizations.

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]

 

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