A Cow for Every Cottage
Although he was the first superintendent of the Connie Maxwell Orphanage, the Rev. J.L. Vass often seems overshadowed by others in Connie Maxwell Children's Home's history. His story wasn't nearly so dramatic as that of Connie and her parents and he didn't serve nearly as long as the two superintendents who followed him. Yet Vass had the extremely difficult task of literally getting the ministry off the ground.
Vass had served on the original committee that reviewed possible sites for the orphanage and was one of two original members of that committee to continue serving once Greenwood was selected as the location. According to Hope and Healing: The First Hundred Years of Connie Maxwell History by Dr. Alan Keith-Lucas, Vass demurred on the committee's initial attempts to get him to serve as the first superintendent. Perhaps he knew that feeling the emotional tug of God's calling that led Baptists to desire to meet the needs of children was much different than doing the hard work of getting facilities built, staff hired and children accepted. Additionally, Vass was already serving as the pastor of the Swift Creek Church in Darlington County and accepting this brand new position would entail both a change in profession and a significant move. The nation was also in the midst of a severe economic depression at the time -- one only to be surpassed by The Great Depression of the 1930s -- and Vass must have known that he would have his work cut out for him to continually raise funds for the orphanage's operation. The board continued to prevail upon Vass to take the position, however, and he finally accepted in December 1891, just five months before he would be receiving the first child into the first cottage.
He was right in anticipating the challenges of the position, however. Vass's years were marked by success as he saw the orphanage build five cottages and other buildings and care for some 235 children during his tenure. But he also had to contend with the at times testy John Maxwell, various staffing issues and the criticisms that come to any person in leadership. By necessity, much of his time had to be spent on the road raising funds for the ministry which made it difficult to do the hands-on administrative work the orphanage also needed. After eight and a half years, he had had enough and went back to the pastorate, which was said to have been his first love, for the remaining years of his life.
Vass died in 1906 and was highly praised in the Baptist state convention minutes of that year.
"He was one of the truest and best men we ever knew," wrote the editor of The Baptist Courier. "...We can truly say he was one of the sweetest-spirited men we were ever associated with. He was frank, prudent unpretentious always; he was scrupulously honest, and free of deception; he was energetic and industrious almost to a fault; he was as free from bitterness and malice as it is possible for weak human nature to be. It was his wish to be charitable, and he honestly tried to be, even under the most trying circumstances...Self-control was with him a matter of religion and he had learned the lesson of self-mastery in a most remarkable degree."
The excerpt of the rough cut above is the section about Vass. If there's anyone who has additional pertinent information about this important figure in Connie Maxwell history, I'd love to receive it. Any additional photographs of Vass or of the orphanage from the 1890's would be especially helpful. Due to the scarcity of photos, a number of the photographs seen in this section are also being used in other sections of the documentary which I would rather not do.
By the way, the section has the title "A Cow for Every Cottage" because one of the early determinations of Vass and the first Board of Trustees was that every cottage would be self sustaining. Part of the plan was to ensure that each cottage had its own cow to provide milk for the children.