There isn’t much on the grounds of Laurel Lake Baptist Camp that would make anyone think “orphanage.” A dining hall, called “Manna House,” and the small, stone chapel look out over the sprawling and lush farm, where horses freely roam, eating summer grass and running the 140 acres now maintained by Kentucky Baptists.
Flowers, first planted at the farm more than 60 years ago, still maintain their perennial duty to nature. They bloom, even though not many understand their importance to the children who lived on the grounds of this camp when it had a different name and purpose.
Those children, who are now adults, are Galilean’s, of the Galilean Children’s Home (GCH), and their “Daddy,” who brought them to the home, fed, clothed and cared for them, was John Vogel. They don’t know this place as camp — they know it as home, and some of those children are coming back to their beginnings for a reunion this Saturday.
At first glance, the home seems to have saved hundreds of children from a neglected life where they would have drowned in lost opportunity and unrealized potential. It doesn’t take long to find out, however, that even the good-intentioned people who run a children’s home have secrets.
Trudie DePriest never knew her mother. She and her twin sister, Judie, were too young when their mother left them to have formed memories of her. They had no place and no one who was willing to care for them.
The sisters were barely old enough to attend school when “Daddy” Vogel found them and brought them to the GCH. It was the winter of 1947, eight years after the home had been started by Vogel.
“It was the only home we ever knew,” DePriest said. She and her sister were only about five years old at the time, but she remembers clearly that her time at the home was filled with happiness.
DePriest said that being with so many other children was just like having a “normal family.” She said they all had a “mommy, daddy, aunts, uncles and grandparents,” in the form of Vogel, his wife and parents and the employees who worked at the home. At times, she said, they didn’t know where their next meal would come from, but somehow they were always provided with food.
“We were brought up knowing Jesus and the power of prayer,” said DePriest. She credited the prayers answered for all the success at the home.
DePriest was at the home until it closed in the early 1950s, at which time she and her sister were sent to live with their abusive father. She never returned to the GCH and was out of contact with anyone who lived there until more than 30 years later, when a mini-reunion was held by a few of the women who lived at the Home as young children.
DePriest said she didn’t expect to ever go back to the actual site of the GCH, but then, she found the online news aggregator Web site, Topix. A forum discussion had been started about three graves that were moved from the grounds of the GCH when Laurel Lake was built on that part of the property in the 1960s.
DePriest said she read the discussion and found people who cared as much about her childhood home as she did. One thing led to another, over a span of about four months, and a GCH reunion was planned. DePriest couldn’t be more thrilled.
“This is the best thing to happen to me in years,” DePriest said. “I’ve met so many great people on the forum; it’s just like they were a part of us when we were little.”
There are a lot of people already planning to attend Saturday’s reunion, said DePriest, including relatives of the three people buried, and then moved from, the GCH grounds. The group is planning a memorial service for the three deceased and they will be touring the site where the home once stood, swapping stories about their time at the GCH.
For DePriest, this reunion is a way for her to reconnect with her “sisters” from the home. They haven’t talked since 2003, and she’s looking forward to seeing them again.
“It will be so fantastic,” DePriest said. She said she is also looking forward to meeting the people from the Topix forum who helped make the reunion possible.
“These people (from Topix) have walked on my heart and left footprints and I’m never going to be the same again,” DePriest said.
“NESTLED IN THE CUMBERLAND FOOTHILLS”
The Galilean Children’s Home was opened in July 1939 by John Vogel, his wife Anna, and another woman who would later become his secretary, Josephine Charbonnier.
Vogel and his wife studied at a Bible college in Chicago when they joined a mission group that was traveling to the mountains of Kentucky to do work.
“They were students going into the mountains to preach and teach,” said Vogel’s daughter, Lenore DePree. She said her parents split from their mission group and built their own one room cabin just south of Corbin.
Vogel rode horseback to homes of people living around Corbin and became an unofficial doctor, helping cure minor ills. This is where he first saw the need to help neglected children from the area, said DePriest.
He began taking children who were not cared for, or whose parents were unable to care for them, into his home. Eventually, people began bringing their own children to him, because they felt he could better care for them, said DePriest.
The home was operated as a self-sufficient farm. There were cows and goats and a garden with fresh vegetables, said DePriest. And there were the flowers that still bloom today. They were planted by Vogel’s stepfather, William Ipema, who was buried at the home.
“He was our grandpa,” DePriest said. Ipema and his wife, Vogel’s mother, lived and worked at the home and became very important in the lives of the children, said DePriest.
There was a three-room school on the property where the children went to school, and there was hardly ever a need for discipline. “Daddy” Vogul, DePriest said, was a stern man who expected the best from everyone.
Vogel raised money to supply all the needs of the home that couldn’t be provided through self-sufficiency. People in the community helped build new buildings on the property, sometimes working for $10 a day, said Depree. There were also many visitors at the home who donated money to Vogel and his efforts.
He also began a girls’ choir that he took across the country to sing and raise money. They were called the Galilean Singers. Where ever the group went, they would perform, and “Daddy” Vogel would preach and gather donations.
“Looking back on it now, they were the money-makers for the home,” said DePriest. The choir became famous, and thousands of people came to tour the home after hearing about the singers, DePriest said. Those people often donated money to the GCH as a result.
In October 1948, the Saturday Evening Post sent reporter John Maloney to write a story about the home.
“(The directors of the GCH) have never solicited a dime from any person or organization, and it was founded on nothing but faith,” writes Maloney. After the article was published, the home became even more famous, and the visitors more frequent.
“Visitors came by the scuds to tour the home,” DePriest said. She said when visitors were coming, all the children were dressed in their finest clothes so they could be shown off to potential investors.
The children also had annual doctor and dentist visits, and only went to Corbin to the doctor if they were very ill, DePriest said.
DePriest said all of the children at the home were extremely polite and always practiced good manners.
“We did not know to not be polite,” DePriest said.
Life at the home was as “normal” as any other family, DePriest said. They took vacations, all the children had “parents” and “siblings” to play with and all children were provided for.
Vogel claimed “the Lord will provide,” and He always did, said DePriest. The children were always dressed nice and had food to eat, even if it wasn’t a lot.
At one point, the home housed over 80 children, but everything was “harmonious” among them, DePriest said. Sibling rivalry was rare because all the children had to work together in order to keep the GCH in good working condition.
DePriest has few complaints about her time at the home with “Daddy.” But she wasn’t even 10 years old when the home closed, she admits.
“It was a wonderful place, as long as God was in it,” DePriest said.
“HE LOST SIGHT OF GOD”
Lenore DePree, John Vogel’s daughter, remembers the secrets that ruined the Galilean Children’s Home. She remembers her father as controlling and very insecure.
She does not try to forget the sexual abuse of many of the girls at the home committed by her father. She acknowledges it freely.
“There are a lot of people who really had their hearts set on this place,” DePree said. “But just because you stick your head in the sand, that doesn’t mean it didn’t happen.”
Depending on who you ask, the abuse was either real or fictional, but for DePree, and even DePriest, the abuse happened — the reasons behind it, however, are more of a gray area.
“My father was a good-hearted person. He was very brilliant and talented, but not emotionally strong,” DePree said. She said he was insecure and didn’t want people to leave him, and when one of the girls wanted to leave, Vogel began his abusive tendencies.
“He was going to be boyfriend, daddy and everything to them,” DePree said. She said Vogel didn’t want any of the children at the home to “have romances,” so when the boys turned 14, they were sent away to boarding school.
DePree said the abuse was a long-term occurrence. One girl was allegedly abused by Vogel from the time she was 14 until allegations of rape leaked into the community when the girl was 20.
“There was an effort to cover everything up, and eventually my father got caught up in the lies,” DePree said.
“There were well-intentioned people that came to the home and worked; they poured their hearts out for the kids,” DePree said. She said her father started out with good intentions, but eventually couldn’t deal with his mental instability.
“He couldn’t let people grow up and go away,” DePree said.
DePriest, who doesn’t remember much about the abuse, still believes it happened. She said she thinks “Daddy” Vogel was corrupted by his ever-increasing level of power and his inability to remain focused on his goal of providing a safe environment for children.
“He lost sight of God, and that’s when things went downhill,” DePriest said. She said once the power began to control him, the children’s home suffered.
Allegations of rape surfaced in the 1050s. One of the girls from the home, known only as Juanita, told authorities about her rape by her “Daddy” Vogel. An indictment followed, but all charges against Vogel were dropped at the request of Juanita.
In a statement to the court, Juanita said she wanted to drop the charges against Vogel because she and her husband felt a trial would mean further embarrassment for her.
“John Vogel is guilty of all the charges which I made against him,” Juanita wrote. “We just pray that what has happened to me won’t happen to any other little girl.”
Vogel was acquitted, but he could not save his Home. Shortly after the indictment, he received so much harassment from the community and lost so many donations, he could no longer afford to operate in Corbin.
He, along with his longtime secretary and the woman he had an affair with and later married for a short time, Josephine Charbonnier, moved the home to Florida, even though they left many of the children in Corbin, or placed them in the care of their closest relatives. DePriest said Vogel wanted to go somewhere where no one knew his name.
But people of Florida knew who he was, and Vogel was unable to save the GCH because of a lack of donations.
Vogel died shortly after the closure of the home. It was reported that his death was caused by a heart attack. DePree thinks it was something more than that.
“I think the mental became the physical, and it killed him. He knew what he was doing was wrong, but he didn’t have the strength to stop it,” DePree said.
DePree came back to Corbin one time before her father died to introduce him to her husband. It was about a year after she left the home. He took them for dinner in Somerset, but was rude and mean to them. She mentioned something about the community.
“Those are the people trying to kill me,” Vogel said. He didn’t speak another word the rest of the night, DePree said.
DePree told her husband that he would “never be subjected to that treatment again,” and she never went back, not even to attend her father’s funeral.
“All the good and evil in the world has been attributed to my dad, and it’s probably all true,” DePree said. “He was a kind man, but he was also under-handed.”
She said for all the bad that happened at the home, there was a lot of good, too. Children who would otherwise not be cared for, were taken in and given a place to stay. But, there were just too many internal problems for the home to remain, and those problems all stemmed from her dad.
“He demanded strict morality from all of us, but didn’t practice that himself,” DePree said.
A NEW BEGINNING
The Baptist camp that inhabits the land once owned by Vogel has much in common with the Galilean Children’s Home. They still use some of the old structures, there are still horses on the property and children come to the camp to enjoy summers filled with friends, food and fun.
Children are still laughing there and filling the hills around Corbin with music. They are being cared for and are still learning about God and his blessings. They don’t know the past of the camp they attend — they don’t need to know.
That’s something Pat Callahan, director of the Laurel Lake Baptist Camp, said is diminished by the work they are currently doing at the camp.
“This (the camp) started off as a children’s home. They built it for the ministry, and it’s still a ministry; it’s still serving this area and still serving children in a way — a different way,” Callahan said.
The camp sits on 140 acres that used to be part of a larger tract that was the GCH’s property. The camp is open year-round for retreats, and open in the summer for camp from June to August.
The original Vogel home was razed when the Baptists bought the property in 1981 — it was too run-down to salvage. However, the original three-room school, the “Manna House” dining hall, a few of the dormitories and the bell tower remain, along with the mission of telling children that “God will provide.”
“This property was set aside for ministries, and we’re still doing that,” Callahan said. “The mission is still alive.”
Callahan was more than willing to help the GCH children by providing them with access to the home’s former site. He said it only made sense that they should meet there.
DePriest couldn’t be happier about returning to her childhood home, and perhaps finding closure about what happened there.
“Hopefully this (the reunion) is going to slap over all that happened there (at the GCH),” DePriest said. “This whole process has had a healing effect — not a Band-aid, but more like a healing cloth that has poured over me and blessed me so much.”