As we celebrate the 59th birthday of Children’s Care Hospital & School, its name since 1994, Dr. Morrison, 92, offers an invaluable look at how the organization began and has evolved.
When Children’s Care was built on Sioux Falls’ outskirts, it was reachable only by a gravel road. The building, surrounded by cornfields, had room for 32 boarding students and 25 to 30 day students.
South Dakota parents whose children had been left in wheelchairs or with leg braces by polio had been demanding that someone provide care. But when CCHS opened its doors, only seven children were enrolled.
“We learned a very big lesson there,” Morrison says. “Parents, as much as they needed care for their child, were reluctant to have their child cared for outside of their homes.”
Morrison set out to educate state residents about the purpose of the organization. It wasn’t a place to hide away a child, but instead it would offer children a place to achieve their full potential.
Children’s Care began adapting to its students’ needs immediately. The original plan was follow the public school schedule, but after a three-month summer vacation, students came back with broken wheelchairs and braces and lagging in their studies. Morrison realized that shorter, more frequent breaks would be better for the students.
He also understood that children with polio weren’t the only ones who would thrive in the nurturing environment he and others at Children’s Care had created.
Morrison enrolled students with cerebral palsy, spina bifida or disabilities sustained in accidents. “We had a board of directors that was proud of what was going on, being a part of a program for all kinds of children, and they backed the staff 100 percent,” he says. “It was easy.”
What wasn’t always easy was raising the funds necessary to operate Children’s Care. Morrison would travel to Pierre when the state Legislature was open. Instead of paying for a hotel room, he slept in chairs or on the floor of someone’s home.
“It was not easy raising money in those days, but you always came back to a staff that were doing a good job, to kids that were learning, accomplishing things and getting ahead,” Morrison says.
In the 1940s, polio epidemics were sweeping the nation. By the end of that decade, it was estimated that more than 2,000 children in eastern South Dakota were recovering from polio.
A three-year fundraising effort took place; when it ended, more than $550,000 had been pledged with no federal or state funds. Morrison continued to raise money after his arrival in 1951. He would ask clubs such as Rotary or Sertoma to pledge a dollar a month.
“A club would send us $12 a year,” he says. “Can you imagine? We thought that was the biggest thing in the world. But you get about 15 clubs together, and they paid for one teacher.”
Morrison retired in 1984 after pioneering new services and proposing many of South Dakota’s special education laws. He often returns to the school he helped found, marveling at the changes that have occurred in almost 60 years. One thing that hasn’t changed is the philosophy that built “Crippled Children’s”: “When it comes to kids, there’s always a way to get the job done.”