Orphans inspired Rock family to donate their home, farm

Editor’s note: This series will run weekly throughout 2016 to highlight Bartlett’s history in honor of its 150th anniversary this year.

Bartlett-Sesq-logo-SMALL-WEJohn and Mamie Rock were married in 1897 and lived the rest of their lives on their farm just east of Stage Road at Shelby Center. They had no children of their own, but loved children, especially orphans, and helped many throughout their lives. They adopted a girl who lost her mother when she was nine years old and who died at 17.

Later they served as foster parents to another girl. Their interest in homeless children strengthened and that love rooted deeply as they grew older. They discussed this love for children often and finally decided to give, not to will, their home and 125-acre farm to be used for a Baptist Orphanage so these children would have new opportunities. The gift was accepted, and in 1947 the deed was made.

Initial efforts to organize a tri-state orphanage were led by a group known as the Baptist Memorial Orphanage of Memphis. When their efforts were unsuccessful, the leaders requested that the Tennessee Baptist Orphans Home assume responsibility for the property. Their request was accepted and in 1949 the Memphis group turned over the title to the land and cash and bonds that had been accrued. The money was put to immediate use for the construction of two dormitories. The first building was named in honor of the benefactors, John and Mamie Rock. It was named the West Tennessee Baptist Orphans Home and dedicated on June 11, 1950, with an estimated 4,000 people attending.

The Rev. E.R. Webster, the first superintendent of the Memphis campus, moved into the Rock Building with his wife and two daughters. His wife served as matron of the dormitory, which had beds for 24 children. The second building, also dedicated in June 1950, was named in honor of A.E. Jennings, the former administrator of Baptist Memorial Hospital, who had been instrumental in the initial planning for the home.

Fifty years earlier, in 1891, Mrs. Roger Eastman of Nashville saw the need to help homeless children and acted on it. The result was the formation of the Tennessee Baptist Orphans Home. It was first housed in the Hotel Delaware in West Nashville and in 1911 was moved to a farm in Brentwood. In 1950 the Memphis (Bartlett) campus became the second location. A third location was opened in Chattanooga in 1954. By the 1950s most of the children in residence were from homes in crisis, not orphans, so in 1953 Board members decided to rename the ministry to more accurately reflect its work—Tennessee Baptist Children’s Home (TBCH).

John and Mamie Rock continued to live in their home on the property and found great joy in watching the ministry grow. Mr. Rock enjoyed fishing and would take off for several days on a fishing trip; he also enjoyed driving his car around the neighborhood. Mrs. Rock loved flowers and spent many pleasurable hours in her garden tending the flowers and then giving them to friends and neighbors. John Rock died in 1955 at the age of 90, and Mamie Rock died in 1960 at the age of 86.

The Children’s Home continued to grow, and in 1953 the Shelby Building was opened, which included the Home’s regional offices, a library, a 16-bed infirmary and living quarters for 24 preschool children. Later the infirmary was converted to housing for preschool boys. Two additional buildings, the Ellis and Creasman Buildings, were dedicated in 1958, each accommodating 16 girls, a housemother and a dietitian. In 1961 the Mark Harris Gymnasium was dedicated, which included a basketball floor, auditorium, kitchen area and craft room. A swimming pool was added behind the gym in 1964, and in the 1980s an addition provided more space for meetings, activities and offices.

In 1974 three new family cottages were dedicated as the ministry changed from caring for children in a dormitory setting to providing care in home-like cottages. One of these dormitories was the Rock Building, leaving no designation or memorial in honor of Mr. & Mrs. Rock. In May 1986 five Baptist men from five churches came to the Children’s Home and planted a rose garden with 402 rose bushes, 24 different varieties, as a living and lasting memorial to John and Mamie Rock. It was named the Rock Memorial Rose Garden, and in the middle is a stone monument telling of the gift of love given by the Rocks.

In the early 1990s TBCH opened a 250-acre Boys Ranch in Millington that operates today at full capacity with a waiting list. It is a fully functioning cattle ranch. A statewide Foster Care Program was started in 2014, and there are Foster homes across the State. TBCH has five residential campuses in addition to the foster care. The residential campuses are in Memphis (Bartlett), Millington, Brentwood, Oakdale and Chattanooga, and they care for over 240 children annually statewide. TBCH has never accepted government money and is solely funded by gifts from churches, individual and businesses.

A special Mother’s Day Offering was initiated in 1963 at all Baptist churches in Tennessee to help provide funding to care for the children living in TBCH homes. This annual offering continues today and provides support for 36 percent of the ministry’s budget. All children attend church each week. The Memphis (Bartlett) campus encompasses 74 acres located in the center of Bartlett and is led by Vice President Darren Andrus. Children at this campus attend Bartlett schools.

In a 1953 article in the Shelby County News written by Miss Mabel Richmond describes the Rocks (who were still living at that time): “Mr. and Mrs. Rock have lived simply, quietly, happily during this long period of years, unconscious of being anything but just everyday people. They would be the last to acknowledge that they had done great things, or that they are unusual people. But a short story cannot record all of the good Mr. and Mrs. Rock have done. Three things have set them apart as great. Grief and disappointments came into their lives, but their faith carried them through each sorrow. Their unselfish spirit and desire to help others made them forget their own troubles. They are noted for their loyalty to their church, friends, and neighbors. The good they did was never publicized by them, so the world will never know all they have done. ‘In quietness and confidence has been their strength.’ ”

Written by Suzanne Griffith Coleman, special to the Express.