In a striking recognition that hardship knows no gender or race, Boys Town soon will have a new symbol at its entrance, a statue of an older boy carrying a littler girl on his back. The young man is black, the girl is white.
Noted Omaha sculptor Matthew Placzek is creating the bronze version that will be installed on the campus next year when the organization celebrates its 100th anniversary.
Boys Town historian Tom Lynch said he believes that the change would have been embraced by Father Edward J. Flanagan, who founded Boys Town and designated a statue of two brothers as the facility’s symbol.
“He envisioned that Boys Town would keep changing over the decades,” Lynch said, adding that the symbol of Boys Town has changed over the years. The image of a boy carrying a girl already has been incorporated on stationery and elsewhere, Lynch said. The campus is retaining its slogan, “He ain’t heavy, Father ... he’s m’ brother.”
Boys Town was founded in 1917 as an orphanage for boys and has grown into a pioneering nonprofit organization dedicated to helping troubled youth. About 400 boys and girls live on the Omaha campus, which is one of about a dozen facilities across the country.
Its first symbol was of a single little boy with outstretched arms. When that plaster of Paris statue disintegrated in Nebraska’s weather in the early 1940s, Lynch said Father Flanagan opted for a different image as a successor statue, one brother carrying another. The version of the two boys underwent additional changes in the 1970s, when a new statue was unveiled with the littler boy looking forward instead of having his head slumped over and the two boys wearing updated clothing.
The statue from the ’40s is now in the organization’s visitors center. And when the newest statue is installed, the two boys from the ’70s will be moved to the Boys Town Hall of History museum.
This newest version acknowledges the importance of girls on the campus, Lynch said.
Boys Town has been admitting girls since 1979. From 2000 to 2007, the organization was named Girls and Boys Town, but that was dropped because it created too much confusion with Boys & Girls Clubs, he said.
Placzek’s work can be seen in public spaces throughout Omaha — from the carnival characters outside the CenturyLink Center to the playful children with umbrellas at Children’s Hospital & Medical Center.
With this piece, Placzek said he worked from photographs taken of young people assuming the iconic pose.
The young man — on the cusp of adulthood — is styled after a former Boys Town mayor, Anthony Cornelius. The girl is a composite of several girls.
Placzek said he sought to honor Boys Town’s role in the lives of children and as an institution in Omaha.
While the final version will be 7 feet tall and will weigh about 700 pounds, it projects a sense of humanity. With their eyes clearly looking forward and their combined pose a strong one, the two characters in the statue reflect the optimism that grows out of people helping one another.
“I felt a certain responsibility to portray it in a way they can be proud of,” Placzek said.