Saturday, May 20, 2006
Special to The Plain Dealer
Paul Lammermeier had a typical little-kid dream. He wanted to be a railroad engineer when he grew up. His grandfather, Art Lammermeier, lived next to the New York Central’s Rockport Yards on West 150th St. in Cleveland and often took him around the yards.
Lammermeier, 66, has traveled a long way from home (and not by train). In 1988, he left the United States for Lima , Peru , where he began two homes for teenage boys, Casa Javier 10 years ago and Casa Ignacio recently. The boys are either orphans or abandoned by their families because of neglect, poverty or family violence. Nineteen boys have come through the homes. Eight have graduated from high school, and four have finished college, majoring in engineering, economics, philosophy and computer technology, and are working full time.
Lammermeier returned to Ohio this year and visited St. Ignatius High School , where he spent time with the students and fellow alumni, whom he counts on for financial help.
Q: What led you to Peru ?
A: In the 1960s, at Kent State University , I studied African-American history. I’m not a flaming liberal, and I’m sure not an extremist, but that changed me. It was an important part of the development of my social conscience. After that, I realized I could not be detached from what was happening around me. That, and going to Peru on mission trips.
Q: Mission trips . . .
A: In the mid ’70s to late ’80s, I taught history at St. Xavier High School in Cincinnati . I also supervised our students’ community service projects, and as part of that was involved in mission trips to Lima . The only way to describe what happened to me is to say I felt a calling. In 1988, I left Cincinnati , alone, and got a job in Lima , teaching English and history at a Jesuit school.
Q: How did you move from being a teacher to creating two homes?
A: I saw the need. There were so many boys on the streets and in orphanages, just crying out for a safe environment, to live in an education-centered way, where they could be prepared for college. I knew about Paul Sheridan’s successful Boys Hope group home in St. Louis . That became the model for Casa Javier. Seven boys live there. Three boys live at Casa Ignacio.
Q: What’s life like for the boys?
A: They have chores, follow rules and enjoy loving relationships, much as with any parent and child.
I emphasize education, and I have an agreement with the local Jesuit schools that my boys can attend tuition-free if they can hack it academically. Of course, the staff and I do a lot of helping with homework and supervising their studies.
I also emphasize the development of moral and religious values. This is difficult at times, because the boys do not come until they are at least 13, at which time about 70 percent of their formation is finished. Not all the boys have lasted. Six have abandoned the house, unable to follow the rules or adjust to the new life.
Q: You remind me of Dr. Paul Farmer in Haiti or Dr. Tom Dooley in Africa .
A: My work is not so spectacular. I just work with individuals, that’s all.
Q: You must face difficulties.
A: The biggest challenge is staffing and selecting the right kids for the homes.
Q: Not money?
A: Mother Teresa said if your needs are from God, they will be fulfilled. I have never lost sleep over finances.
I am proud of the Paul Lammermeier Foundation, which my former students started in Cincinnati in 1995. It costs about $30,000 a year to run one home, and with no outside funding, PLF has put together almost $1 million for us. Almost half of the donations are in endowment — 25 percent for purchasing the homes. The money also comes in from PLF’s fund raising, especially the phone-a- thons in Cincinnati and Cleveland in October and November.
Q: Your role in the foundation was . . .
A: Hey, what can one gringo do? All I ever did was inform the people in the States about what I saw. I wrote a lot of letters.
Q: Do you miss anything about the States?
A: Not really. It does take longer to do things in South America . Ten minutes to renew my driver’s license in the States. In Peru , it takes weeks.
Jo Gibson is a free-lance writer in Fairview Park . Send comments about this story to firstname.lastname@example.org.