What began as one couple’s act of charity to homeless children has evolved into a highly respected, nationally recognized agency. Meet people who’ve found a new chance at life because of what James and Fanny Rosecrance set into motion.
“Rosecrance represents what can happen at the intersection of people and purpose.”
That sentiment comes from President/CEO Philip W. Eaton, who has worked for and led the nationally recognized, Rockford-based behavioral health services organization for most of his life – 45 years and counting.
The phrase offers a snapshot of Rosecrance’s history; it’s the first line in his foreword for a history book the organization published this summer in honor of its 100th anniversary. Rosecrance has evolved through the years to meet changing community needs with programs and services that offer help and hope, and now, recovery.
Rosecrance traces its roots to the small community of New Milford, Ill., just south of Rockford. Dr. James Rosecrance worked there as the town doctor; Fanny, his wife, tended their home. After Fanny died, her will left an estate that included the couple’s home, which she designated to become a place for children who needed care under the direction of the Methodist church.
From a home for a handful of children, Rosecrance transformed itself into an agency that served troubled youth. From there, it led the way for the state in serving teens with substance use disorders, later expanding treatment services to help adults recover from addiction. Adding community mental health services to the mix in 2011 made Rosecrance one of the largest and most comprehensive behavioral health organizations in the Midwest.
Today, the agency employs nearly 900 people, has more than 40 locations in three states and served more than 32,000 people last year.
“Looking back, we have so much to be proud of as an organization,” Eaton says. “Looking ahead, we have so much reason for optimism. Rosecrance continues to evolve and grow in a way that is compatible with our mission. I’m grateful to all the people who have helped make Rosecrance what it is today and for the gift of having meaningful work to do.”
Here are some excerpts from “Rosecrance: A Century of Purpose” that provide a glimpse into the organization’s evolution.
James and Fanny Rosecrance were fixtures of everyday life in early New Milford. Their 1870 marriage was the first recorded by the community Methodist church.
State physician directories from the time label Dr. Rosecrance as an “eclectic,” which was a physician who received different training than regular doctors and who used more homeopathic and herbal remedies as part of his practice. Neighbors respected Dr. Rosecrance and often called on him for medical care and other needs. Rockford newspapers detailed many instances of his work, from dressing a boy’s ax wound to treating a child with diphtheria.
Dr. Rosecrance retired from practice around the turn of the century, after providing medical care for 35 years in New Milford. He fell ill in early 1901 and was confined to the house for nearly eight weeks. Yet his death on April 6, 1901, was unexpected, “as he appeared unusually bright on Friday morning and rose, dressed and ate breakfast with his family,” according to a Rockford Morning Star story. Several newspapers included coverage of this death, which was seen as a great loss for the New Milford community.
Less was written about Fanny’s death 11 years later on April 21, 1912. Her two-sentence obituary referred to her as the widow of Dr. Rosecrance and incorrectly said she moved to New Milford after her husband’s death in South Bend, Ind.
A few months after she died, Fanny’s name grabbed headlines for the important plans she had detailed in her will. She left behind an estate valued at about $22,000 (more than $700,000 in today’s dollars) for several important causes, including the Methodist church. The majority of the estate, including the Rosecrance home and the 260-acre farm, was left to start a children’s home for the “relief of homeless and dependent children” of the Rock River Conference of the Methodist Episcopal Church and other county districts of the conference.
In her will, Fanny included a name for the facility: The Rosecrance Memorial Home for Children. She and James never had children of their own, but they often opened their home to children who had nowhere else to go.
Biagio Cacciatore lived at the Rosecrance Memorial Home for Children during the 1940s. His memories of the home and his story of being reunited with his brother, Rockford Alderman Frank Beach, after 70 years apart, were featured in a 2013 issue of Rosecrance’s Reach magazine.
Cacciatore, who had stayed at other Rockford-area children’s homes, said living in the Rosecrance home was the most like living with a large family. He said the home had a large recreational area where the boys played, as well as a large dining room and kitchen. The children’s bedrooms were upstairs, and the house matron had her own quarters downstairs.
The boys would dress up and go to church every Sunday morning. Cacciatore remembered an itchy wool suit that he hated wearing. The children attended school, did their homework and completed chores that included sweeping the sidewalks, hanging and folding laundry, and mowing the grass. Cacciatore also recalled the boys being invited to the Camp Grant Army facility about two miles away for dinners and holiday meals. One of the “Army guys” gave him a ride in a jeep.
As the 1940s drew to a close, Rosecrance looked to Rockford for its next chapter.
In 1949, the Rockford district of the Methodist church paid $17,000 for a 17-acre tract at the northeast corner of Guilford and Alpine roads in Rockford as a new site for the “Methodist home for dependent boys.” Officials planned to build two cottages for 24 boys. Boys and staff moved to Rockford in October 1953.
Relocating to Rockford gave Rosecrance the space and broader community support it needed to take programming to the next level.
Sam Greenberg, a Rosecrance social worker who served a short time as the home’s superintendent, said the average stay for children was two years, and some returned to their own homes “after much careful counseling with the boy and his parents.”
He shared the story of Jim B., who was referred to Rosecrance because of neglect. Jim was living with his mother and stepfather and was forced to sleep in a car during the winter because his stepfather didn’t want him to sleep in the house. The boy had lived in 14 homes during the previous six years.
“He had never been in school long enough to really learn the basic concepts of education. Upon arrival at our agency, he spoke very poorly and seemed confused. Through much dedicated work and time, he not only has a better concept of himself, but also is very talented in drawing and acting. He has decided that there are some good adults in this world that truly care about him and his abilities.”
Gary Osterberg of Machesney Park called the time he spent at Rosecrance his “formidable years.” He came to Rosecrance as a preteen in 1968.
“I was a troubled kid who had no place to go, so Rosecrance became my home,” he said.
Joe Ruvolo of Machesney Park was roommates with Osterberg at one point during their stay at Rosecrance. He, too, said Rosecrance “probably saved my life.”
“It was good for us,” Ruvolo said. “It had structure. We were lucky because most of the house parents back then, they cared about us. They were really nice. I got to have some really great experiences while I was there, so it was good for me.”
Rosecrance continued to see more complex client cases. Adolescents admitted for behavioral and mental health problems were also struggling with serious substance abuse issues.
On June 1, 1982, the Rockford campus started its Chemical Dependency Treatment Program. It was the first addiction treatment program in northern Illinois designed to serve adolescents (ages 12 to 18). The program had the capacity to serve 23 clients – 12 boys and 11 girls – and included three distinct phases: evaluation, primary treatment and aftercare.
Chad and Amy C. were two of Rosecrance’s early addiction treatment clients. They met at an Alcoholics Anonymous meeting in the basement of Rosecrance and quickly became friends while attending the same high school in Rockford. They married in 1987 and have two children.
Both credit Rosecrance for giving them the necessary foundation to be successful in recovery as adults. They still get together regularly and keep in touch via social media with many of the people who were at Rosecrance when they were there. “There was a good core group of young people who got in the program around that time who really wanted (to get sober),” Amy explained. “That set up the people who followed with a decent shot at success.”
The Alpine campus had been expanded several times in its nearly 50-year history, but lack of space and aging facilities were big issues that needed to be addressed. Rockford philanthropists John Anderson and John McDonough stepped up in 2002 to chair the capital campaign to raise money for a new adolescent treatment center, which would increase the bed capacity from 45 to 72.
Joe M.’s parents were desperate to get him into treatment in early 2000, and Rosecrance came to his aid. Joe was first a client at the Alpine campus as a teenager. He later completed treatment as a young adult at the Harrison Campus.
“They told my dad he could bring me in immediately. That’s one thing he liked so much about Rosecrance. I had been using heroin already, and my dad caught me and said I needed to go. Rosecrance had a bed available and was able to get me in right away. But at that time in my life, I wasn’t ready. I wasn’t really paying attention.”
After several stints in long-term and short-term treatment, Joe found success in Rosecrance’s criminal-justice program. He’s been sober for more than a decade.
“It was hard getting over the guilt and the shame that go along with being back (in treatment) again,” Joe explained. “I really did believe in the program, the 12 steps and all of that. So I guess I still had some hope that recovery was possible. That helped because I knew I could stay clean. I remember telling my parents, ‘This is it.’ … I look at the life I have now, and I can’t see giving up everything I’ve got to go back to that.”