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Orphan keeps her life moving

Gwen StephensonGarfield County Director of Senior Programs
Submitted photo
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Kay Bolles, 83, of Parachute, is one of five orphans who traveled by train from the eastern United States to the rural West still alive in Colorado. She was only one year and four months old when she arrived in Bartlesville, Okla., to be adopted by her foster “momma and daddy.” She doesn’t know where she came from and only recently discovered her birth parents’ names.Bolles was one of tens of thousands of neglected and orphaned children, who over a 75-year period, were taken from large cities in the East and sent by trains to farming communities to start their lives with new families. “The Orphan Trains,” a controversial effort to rescue poor and homeless children, started in the 1850s when thousands of children wandered the streets of eastern cities in search of money, food and shelter. Charles Loring Brace, a young minister, was appalled by the children’s plight, and founded the Children’s Aid Society. Through this organization, he arranged the train trips, raised the money, and obtained the legal permissions needed for the children to travel west.Between 1854 and 1929, more than 100,000 children were sent by “Orphan Trains” to their new homes. Rev. Brace knew the need for labor in the growing farming communities, and he believed that farmers would welcome the extra help and would care for homeless children as their own. His program would turn out to be the precursor of modern foster care.

Bolles thinks back and says, “My foster mother was very tough, she was always angry I wasn’t a boy. But, my foster father was a good man. He taught me how to do many things outdoors on the farm. I could do just about anything.” She explains, “Since I was so young when I was sent out to Oklahoma on the train, I didn’t know I had been adopted. The kids at school teased me that I had been an orphan and I always wondered. Finally, when I was older, my mother admitted to me that I wasn’t their biological child and told me the story. I was actually relieved to find out I wasn’t their child.”By high school, Bolles “was sick of my foster mom telling me I wouldn’t amount to anything.” She ran away from home at 16 after she graduated from high school.She decided to return home at Christmas and met a young Air Force soldier, James Doyle, on the bus. She was afraid of confronting her parents and he came with her to the house. They were married seven days later on New Years Day. They remained together for 23 years and had four children together.

Bolles later married an Air Force officer named Andrew Dean who eventually died from an accident during the Korean War. She married Byron Bolles in 1973. He was a Medic in the Korean War and later worked in several hospitals in Denver. While living in the Denver area, she worked for Metropolitan State University and then the State of Colorado for over 20 years. The Bolles moved to Parachute in 1983. In 1996, when her husband Byron passed away, she began riding the Traveler van. “I was able to go to lunches in Rifle and Parachute and make it to important appointments,” she said.



This year she wanted to give back to the service that gave her independence.”I had been very frugal with my money all of my life, because as an orphan you have look out for yourself. So, I decided the Traveler had meant so much to me and that if I contributed money to buy a van, maybe the program could expand and serve more people in the Parachute area.” Bolles gave a substantial amount of money to the Traveler Program, operated by the Colorado Mountain College Senior Program of Garfield County, to purchase a specialized van. The Toyota Sienna will provide thousands of rides through door-to-door transportation to people 60 or older and people with disabilities in western Garfield County. The van has been dedicated to the children of the “Orphan Trains.” “It has been a lot of fun giving; I’ve been able to do this and to help others is special ways,” she said. “I think I have made something out of my life after all.”


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