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Life at Mills Homes makes difference

Irene Fulbright Martin’s interview ended before completely telling her story. She graciously agreed to another phone call soon. The next day, worried she might miss the call, Irene left a phone message stating she would not “be around” for the next few days, but would return Sunday evening. She said she was traveling to her sister Bertie’s house in Thomasville – the two Mills Home alums would attend Homecoming together August 5 and 6.

“I try to go home as often as I am able,” the 89-year-old Lincoln County native says. She and her sister arrived at Mills Home in 1938.

Martin remembers the road trip from her family’s home in Vale, a short distance south of Hickory. “Sallie McCracken picked us up. We rode in the backseat of the car, and I remember looking out the window as she drove along NC Highway 64 and thinking ‘...this is the longest stretch of road I’ve ever been on.’”

The sisters were taken to the infirmary at Mills Home. Every child in those days was quarantined for a short time before joining the other children. Eight-year-old Irene and her six-year-old sister became homesick waiting for their time at the infirmary to end.

“Me and Bertie were in a room by ourselves,” she recalls. “We got lonely so I determined we were going to go home.”

Martin says she took the small suitcase they had brought with them and packed their few belongings. She helped her sister put on her coat, then she put on hers. Tucking the suitcase under her arm to hide it beneath the coat, the sisters waited for the opportune moment. A short walk up toward the Mills Home arch brought them to the street. Not knowing which way to turn, Irene reasoned that to the right was the best way to reach home.

“We didn’t get too far and a policeman pulled up and parked his car ahead of us,” she says. “I wasn’t scared. I thought ‘how perfect!’”

The older sibling reached into her coat pocket and took out two perfectly round oranges. Irene offered the oranges as payment if the officer would “drive us home to our momma.”

“He knew exactly where we had come from,” she laughs remembering the look on the police officer’s face. “He gave us a lift – right back to Mills Home.”

Martin says they were placed in a cottage and they were “never lonely again.”

“Living at Mills Homes was the best thing to happen to me and Bertie,” she affirms. “It was at Mills Home that I accepted Christ.”

Martin returned home to help her mother when she was 14 years old. A year later during a baseball game in a grassy field she met her future husband Carl. The couple had two sons and were blessed with five grandchildren and one great grandchild.

Today, Martin is an active member at Corinth Baptist Church in Vale where she remains connected to Baptist Children’s Homes. Recently, she and a group known as the “Ramblers” delivered food items gathered during their church’s Vacation Bible School to Broyhill Home in Clyde. She is proud of her church’s involvement.

“I’m thankful for my church,” she says. “My mother attended here. I have relatives going way back who are buried in the cemetery.”

Martin has served in almost every position at her church including a short stint as music director. “I taught Sunday school for 57 years. The Lord blessed. It is all Him. I’ve just been available.”

After Homecoming, Martin concluded her story: “Visiting with Bertie at Homecoming, remembering our days at Mills Home, and knowing how the Lord used it all to make us who we are today is just wonderful.”

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