Pictured from L to R at the farm they owned in Olney, Maryland, 1943: Brothers Lloyd and Robert; father Harold; Dog Peggy; Ken; brother Bradley. Four of the five children returned here in 1983 to figure out a life-time care plan for their mother.

Ken Sherman, currently 86 years old, was a thirteen-year-old boy when he went to live with his sister and two brothers at Bethlehem Lutheran Children’s Home in Staten Island, New York. It was 1949.

To this day, he’s not sure whether their placement was court-ordered or not. All he knows is that he had walked into the Lutheran church at Gramercy Park — Gustavus Adolphus — to attend Sunday school. The teacher there was involved with the Lutheran children’s society. Says Ken, “She observed the problem of the children not having an acceptable home life without some divine intervention.

It was a difficult time for Ken’s family. Their mother Editta, the future celebrity portraitist and doyenne of Carnegie Hall Studios, had just started a photography business. Their father (who had worked for the Dictaphone company during WWII) tried to manage the care of the children but struggled as diabetes took over his life and cost him his sight.

Ken spent four years, from age 13 to 17, at the Staten Island children’s home, which housed about 60 children. His sister, who was the youngest of the siblings, was there for seven years.

“The children’s home became parents to us,” says Ken. “It offered us the opportunity without great distress of growing up like children do, through schooling and social friendship with other children.”

Ken attended grammar school (for the first six months, virtually a ten-minute walk) and played on the high school football team. He had a B average. His senior year in high school, he worked in a co-op program at Oppenheim Collins & Co. on 34th Street, as a stock boy in the women’s sweater department. 

Every Sunday, the children were bused to church. “I was active in the youth group at St. John’s Lutheran, where I learned leadership skills” says Ken. After he graduated high school, he went back to live with his mother. His siblings remained in the children’s home and he visited them on Sundays.

Ken later attended The City College of New York and studied chemical engineering. After two and a half years of struggle with his studies, he was encouraged to study for the Lutheran ministry.

He went on to theological studies at Concordia Seminary in Springfield, Illinois and Valparaiso, Indiana before taking a parish in Buffalo, New York. Ken was a Lutheran Pastor for five years, working with two inner-city congregations of German and African-American heritage. During the Vietnam War era, he said he had a special calling to serve a decade-long “peace ministry.“ Ken was the founding director of The Western New York Peace Center. After the war ended, he went to work for Ralph Nader’s New York Public Interest Research Group (NYPIRG) and developed an energy co-op with Sunrise Insulation company.

Ken named Lutheran Social Services of New York (LSSNY) as one of the ten charities in his will. He attended a recent virtual town hall and heard about the latest news at the agency. He is delighted that the agency has expanded to encompass multiple purposes such as housing and food services in addition to foster care.

Today is May 30th, the anniversary of the 1888 dedication date of the original LSSNY asylum. The mission was to “’care for and educate orphans and half-orphans to be Christians and useful members of society.’ Thus began the Lutheran presence in what would become, over time, an organized effort to address child welfare in New York, and would result in the creation of Lutheran Social Services of New York.”

Read more about the history of LSSNY