Former Children’s Home Superintendent celebrates 100th birthday

Meg Hibbert
Contributing writer

Photo by Meg Hibbert
R. Franklin Hough is surrounded by his children as they celebrate his 100th birthday on Nov. 21 at the Virginia Veterans Care Center, where he now resides. From left, they are: Jay, Frank, and Andy Hough and daughter Amelia Hough Gerner.

For 28 years, R. Franklin Hough Jr. was “Dad” to hundreds of kids, giving his love and discipline to children at the Virginia Baptist Children’s Home in Salem.

Last week the “kids” gave back to him on his 100th birthday. Scores of them sent birthday cards to the Virginia Veterans Care Center where Army veteran Hough now lives. Several came to share cake, ice cream and memories with Hough, his four children, granddaughters, great-granddaughters, and friends.

He held court from his wheelchair in the center’s chapel, smiling and singing “Happy Birthday” several times as new visitors came in.

His guests talked, laughed and shared stories about Hough and his wife Jane, who lived in the first cottage on the right on the campus of what is now Hopetree Family Services.

When alumni held their reunion this summer, they presented a plaque naming the cottage “The Hough House.”

“In fact, only a Hough lived in the cottage for 60 years, because my grandfather, Raymond F. Hough, Sr. – we called him Poppy – was superintendent before our father,” youngest son Andy Hough explained.

Their parents had 200 kids at any one time, Andy recalled.

Visitors remembered Hough as “a strict man but also very kind,” as former business manager Martin Halstead said.

Cards from some of the “Kids” as alumni call themselves, related how much they think of him.

“One of them thanked the four of us for sharing our father,” son Andy said. “I never considered it sharing. It was just how it was.”

And brother Jay added, “He was good to people and good to dogs.” The Hough children are Frank, Jay, Andy and daughter Amelia Hough Gerner.

Andy, the youngest, added, “Dad was the one who came home in the afternoon after dealing with the other ‘kids’ and he did have something left for us, for me.”

Hundreds of Kids sent in birthday wishes on the Virginia Baptist Children’s Home alumni Facebook site. Mailed cards reflected love and humor. Roger Stump, who remembered the paddling discipline, wrote a card saying “I wanted to include a picture of my backside so you would know who I was,” referring to paddling he got for frequent transgressions, “but my wife didn’t like the idea.”

Photographs of Franklin Hough as a young man in uniform, pictures of him and friends hunting quail with some of his favorite hunting dogs, scrapbooks of kids and family snapshots and the book he wrote, “Brief History of My Eighty-Three Years on the Spaceship or Things I Remember Most” were displayed at the party.

He was a father figure to so many of the children in the early days of the children’s home. Debbie Huffman Bass remembered when Franklin Hough gave her away.

“He walked me down the aisle when Jesse and I got married on June 5, 1976,” she said. And she added, “We respected him.” She and her sister and brothers came to the Children’s Home in 1966 after the deaths of their parents.

In those days, most of the children at the Children’s Home were true orphans, in comparison to those in more recent times who are in foster care with the goal of returning to their families.

One of the orphans at the party, Larry Stargell, stated, “If it weren’t for Mr. Franklin, I wouldn’t be here. That man made a lot of difference to a lot of kids,” he said, explaining he arrived at the Children’s Home after his mother was murdered. The Buckingham resident was at the party with his wife, Kathy.

Longtime friend Carlos Hart sat between Hough and Halstead, reminiscing about days when they took bird-hunting trips to Georgia and Texas.

When Franklin Hough retired, the Houghs moved their a few blocks away to a home on Market Street, where their children have fond memories of Christmas celebrations, in particular.

The granddaughters do, too.

“I remember being at the Children’s Home all the time, at the Christmas dinners,” said granddaughter Samantha Hough. “Granddad would wear his red Christmas sweater, and would cook Christmas morning breakfast.”

Granddaughter Amy Isley recalled the Christmas gatherings, and “being out in the boat with him at Smith Mountain Lake.”

Granddaughters Lucy Leary and Morgan Meadows made a video call during the party to sing Happy Birthday to their granddad.

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