(405) 425-5070
Tipton’s executive director, Joe Waugh, gives a visitor a tour of the home’s museum.
Photo by Cheryl Mann Bacon

Tipton Children’s Home celebrates 100 years

In a tiny Oklahoma town, kids served by the ministry find support, family — and pigs.

Getting your Trinity Audio player ready...

TIPTON, Okla. — The road to Tipton is narrow, straight and flat, cutting through emerald green fields of hard red winter wheat.

The forlorn little town looks like many others across the Southwest — a string of long-forsaken storefronts that leave anyone passing through to wonder where the 700 or so residents shop or do business.

Related: In a Mexican resort city, Christians care for homeless ‘angels’

Just north of town, the campus of Tipton Children’s Home and the half-mile circle encompassing its facilities seem pleasantly out of place. Imposing white columns on the once-grand, classical-style structure glisten against the dusty red brick of the 100-year-old building that once housed children but now holds administrative offices.

Since it opened in June 1924, the home about 135 miles southwest of Oklahoma City has served more than 5,000 children. Executive director Joe Waugh expects at least a couple hundred of them — more he hopes — will gather here March 30 to reconnect, remember and celebrate.

Former residents and friends will gather March 30 at Tipton Children’s Home to celebrate its 100th anniversary.

Former residents and friends will gather March 30 at Tipton Children’s Home to celebrate its 100th anniversary.

Reunions happen every Easter weekend, but a centennial will be special.

Waugh grew up at the home where his mom and dad were houseparents from 1966 to 1979. In the home’s museum, mostly a collection of photographs and framed clippings, he points to a small boy on the front row of a large black-and-white group picture.

“That’s me, and that’s me the next year in the same clothes –– I didn’t grow much,” he said, laughing as he gestured to the photo beside it.

Today, a group picture would be much smaller. Just 32 kids live at Tipton, eight in each of four residential cottages.

Tipton is the oldest west of the Mississippi among the three dozen or so children’s homes associated with Churches of Christ nationwide. Boles Children’s Home in Quinlan, Texas — now known as Arms of Hope — opened in November of the same year.

Children and staff from a predecessor home in Canadian, Texas, moved to Tipton in June 1924 when Tipton Church of Christ elders took on responsibility for what was then called an orphanage. The Tipton elders still serve as the home’s board of directors, but in recent decades, the children who live here are seldom orphans.

‘No fault of their own’

“One thing that makes us unique among Churches of Christ,” Waugh said, “is we are still 100 percent funded by donations.”

About 200 congregations regularly support the home that receives no federal or state aid. The Department of Human Services in Oklahoma licenses the home, but every child at Tipton arrives through a private placement.

“Our kids don’t need bars on the windows or that sort of thing,” Waugh said of the children who arrive “through no fault of their own.”

“There’s not a child here — not one — whose mom and dad are at home. It comes back to the home, broken families.”

“There’s not a child here — not one — whose mom and dad are at home,” he said. “It comes back to the home, broken families.”

Joy Gbolokai, 15, came to Tipton three years ago from North Dakota. Her dad had friends whose daughter used to be at Tipton.

“Her grandma let my dad know about this place,” she said. “He asked me in 2020 if I’d like to come. I said, ‘Yeah, sure.’”

Joy Gbolokai has excelled in sports, academics and FFA while at Tipton.

Joy Gbolokai has excelled in sports, academics and FFA while at Tipton.

She came with two cousins and said at first it was “really scary” because “I’m a family girl.” But with five kids at home, she decided, “If there was less in the house, it would be easier to take care of the kids.”

Two of her siblings went to live with an aunt, and the two youngest brothers remain at home. The petite high school freshman came to Tipton and found a place to thrive.

She’s involved in volleyball, basketball and track –– she’s “really fast,” her friends say –– as well as the Tipton High School gifted and talented program. And like almost all the kids at Tipton, she shows pigs through Future Farmers of America.

Tipton residents are encouraged to be involved.

Bethany Mefford, 17, is a high school junior who came to Tipton from Duncan, Okla., at 13.

“Middle school gets kind of hard with girls,” Bethany said softly. “My parents thought if I went somewhere smaller and school-based, I’d be a better fit. It was hard at first, but I knew it was needed.”

Bethany also is active in sports, as a cheerleader and in FFA, showing two pigs in area competitions.

Showing pigs is a big deal at Tipton.

’Stepping up to lead’

Ernest Wdah, 15, shows pigs, too, “a cross barrow, a Hamp gilt and a Berk gilt,” he said. And the sophomore has already made an impact at Tipton High School, where principal Travis White is also the head football coach, and Joe Waugh’s nephew.

“We won state again in football, and Ernie has been a very significant part of our success in FFA and back-to-back state football championships,” White said. But the coach was most impressed with Ernie at a community Thanksgiving dinner last year when he saw the young man leading a prayer at his table.

“There he was, stepping up to lead,” White said.

Tipton Children’s Home resident Bethany Mefford shows a pig in an FFA competition.

Tipton Children’s Home resident Bethany Mefford shows a pig in an FFA competition.

Ernie’s parents decided to bring him to Tipton after a school shooting at his Iowa middle school.

“They didn’t feel I was safe there,” Ernie said. Three other siblings have already graduated from high school, and he was the only one still at home.

White said the home kids are among the very best students in the tiny school district that has only about 75 in the high school and where FFA attracts as much attention to the Tipton Tigers as football.

“So many of the home kids are FFA officers, and so they’re taking on leadership roles,” the principal said. “Last year we had an FFA quiz bowl team and I think three home kids were on that, and they were second in state, just a phenomenal run.”

The team they lost to, Owasso, is a Tulsa area high school with almost 3,000 students.

Related: ‘The God who sees me’

“That was a really big highlight that definitely shined a good light on our school,” White said.

Tipton once was a town of about 3,000, but with only 700 or so remaining, the school is its lifeline. And the home is a lifeline for the school, socially and financially.

“If we were out 30 kids from the district, K-12, that would be a very significant chunk of our yearly budget,” White explained, because state funding is allocated based on headcount.

‘A bond and trust’

Most of the kids leave Tipton when they graduate, but Waugh said the home’s job is not done then.

“We try to help them through college,” he said. “Their senior year we try to get them a car. They have bank accounts and cell phones, which we monitor, and help them with whatever they need now.”

In Oklahoma, kids can check themselves out at age 18, but Tipton staff tries to stay connected, and can even provide an apartment on the campus for those going to college nearby.

“Kids from 18 to 22 make life changing decisions. They need more care than they’ve ever needed.”

“Kids from 18 to 22 make life changing decisions,” the director said. “They need more care than they’ve ever needed.”

Some go to junior college in Altus. Others have gone to Oklahoma Christian University, the University of Oklahoma and Oklahoma State University. Some started their own businesses. Some just leave and lose touch, and the staff doesn’t know what happens until they show up for the reunion one year.

Waugh would like to have 750 for the centennial, which would be a big jump, but whoever comes will be welcome. They’ll no doubt see changes as well as things frozen in time, he said.

Tipton’s executive director, Joe Waugh, gives a visitor a tour of the home’s museum.

Tipton’s executive director, Joe Waugh, gives a visitor a tour of the home’s museum.

Speakers representing several different eras of Tipton kids will speak before lunch. Inflatables for the kids, an evening hot dog roast and lots of just visiting are planned. Most former residents the staff knows about are in Texas and Oklahoma, but alums have gone many places, joined the military, moved far away.

“God has blessed us, and he continues to bless this work and sustains it. Churches see it as a Bible mission and that’s why it’s important that we keep going,” Waugh said.

Wherever the Tipton kids come from and wherever they go, Waugh said the home’s main goal is “to get kids to Christ, be baptized believers and faithful members of the church.”

That requires building relationships that last.

Ernie understands that: “There’s a bond and trust. Even after we leave, we’re still representing the home — they want you to be happy in what you do in life.”

CHERYL MANN BACON is a Christian Chronicle contributing editor who served for 20 years as chair of the Department of Journalism and Mass Communication at Abilene Christian University. Contact [email protected].

Filed under: children's homes Children's ministry Christian nonprofits National News Partners Tipton Children's Homes Top Stories

Don’t miss out on more stories like this.

Subscribe today to receive more inspiring articles like this one delivered straight to your inbox twice a month.

Did you enjoy this article?

Your donation helps us not only keep our quality of journalism high, but helps us continue to reach more people in the Churches of Christ community.

Personal Info

Dedicate this Donation

In Honor/Memory of Details

Card Notification Details

Credit Card Info
This is a secure SSL encrypted payment.
Billing Details

Donation Total: $3 One Time