Local children's home founded as war memorial

By Megan R. Harrell

Star Staff

   Hollywood's embrace of World War II has piqued the nation's interest in the war's heroes. Movies such as Saving Private Ryan and Pearl Harbor have given Americans a glimpse of what veterans survived on both domestic and foreign soil. However, before Hollywood's films immortalized war heroes and on the tail winds of WW II, monuments were erected across the nation to pay homage to hometown heroes that never returned from war. Elizabethton, Tennessee was no different.
   Lloyd H. Morrell enlisted in WW II holding on to the dream that he would return to Elizabethton and make a home with his fiancee on a hill not far from his parents' home on Allen Street. However, Morrell never did return from the war. His parents donated the land that was to be their son's home for the site of the East Tennessee Christian Home on Allen Street.
   East Tennessee Christian Home Executive Director Leon Dutka recently discovered the origin of the children's home. Looking through old documents and newspaper clippings, he uncovered the history behind the ministry that began over 50 years ago.
   Mr. and Mrs. S.M. Morrell donated the five acres of land with the understanding that the home would be built as a memorial of those who lost their lives in WW II. S.M. Morrell supervised much of the construction of the home. The Morrells stated that they wanted a home for needy children to honor their son that would outlast granite.
   The Christian Home received some political endorsements when it opened. Former Elizabethton Mayor J.C. Bowers declared an East Tennessee Christian Home Day to promote the public's interest in the memorial. Former Governor Gordon Browning laid the home's corner stone after the building's construction.
   Today, the history of the children's home is all but lost. Few in the community remember the home as a WW II memorial and Dutka would like to go about reviving the East Tennessee Christian Home's history. "Our main objective would be to at least upgrade the facility so that WW II veterans can say that it is something that they are proud of," Dutka said. "We would like to see the community embrace the home as a WW II memorial."
   Dutka had hoped the city of Elizabethton would build a monument at the home. However, the plans for the erection of a new war memorial located at the intersection of Elk and Pine Streets have been drawn for quite some time. Deacon Bowers, Chairman of the Veteran Affairs Committee, stated that the city's war memorial project had progressed too far to change venues.
   The hill where Morrell intended to build his home offers a broad view of Elizabethton. North American Rayon, Elizabethton High School and Wal-Mart are all visibly seen from the site. Dutka would like to see a WW II monument erected on the hill that now serves as a picnic area. "You can just imagine that young man standing here and dreaming that this is where his home would be," Dutka said.
   State Senator Rusty Crowe suggested one of the home's buildings be turned into a WW II museum. He stated that it could be an opportunity for the community to donate old relics and memorabilia, and would be a place to honor local veterans.
   Dutka stated that the home's purpose was intended to be two fold, to help needy children and honor WW II veterans. He asserted that the latter is not being done. No definite plans have been made for constructing a WW II memorial at the East Tennessee Christian Home. Although workers at the home would be happy to erect a sign recognizing the home's memorial origins.