After 57 years, Judie Jacobus is set to visit Ottawa — a small town where her father, John Jacobus, grew up — to meet long-lost relatives.
But first, she’ll make a stop June 3 in Concordia at the National Orphan Train Complex, 300 Washington St., where, she said, she will cut the ribbon on a new train car exhibit named after her father. John Jacobus arrived in Ottawa at 2 years old with 11 other children from New York City on a similar train, she said, which was part of a network of “orphan trains.”
“It’s very special to me because I’m an only child and I was very close to my father, especially in his last years,” Judie Jacobus said. “When they provided an opportunity for a naming, I thought that would be a good tribute to my dad.”
John Jacobus came to Ottawa on an orphan train after he was abandoned by his biological parents, according to Herald archives.
He was born in 1912 in Brooklyn, New York, and was handed over to a children’s hospital and eventually to the Children’s Aid Society, which ultimately placed him in a home in Franklin County, according to Herald archives.
About 250,000 abandoned, homeless or orphaned children were placed in homes across the United States as a part of the Orphan Train Movement between 1854 and 1929, according to Herald archives. Some were to live with families as other children did and some were simply bought to use as farmhands.
By April 1915, Jacobus was in Ottawa and was “pre-selected” to live with a particular Ottawa family — Charles and Edna Jacobus, who lived in the 800 block of Princeton Street with a greenhouse on their property. The house no longer stands, Judie Jacobus said.
“There were a couple of Jacobus families in town way back when and they were always identified as either ‘the doctor’ or ‘the greenhouse’ and my family was the greenhouse,” she said.
“The house on Princeton Street was two stories, I believe, and he used to tell me about sliding down the bannisters and going out and working in the greenhouse.”
John Jacobus graduated from Ottawa University in 1934 with a double major in science and mathematics before moving to Arizona and later serving in the U.S. Army.
While in Ottawa, Judie Jacobus said, her father enjoyed such adventures as concerts at the band shell inside Forest Park, 320 N. Locust St., Ottawa, being baptized by a “Pastor Elliot” whom John Jacobus recalled only having one arm, delivering ice on a horse-drawn cart for a local ice house and being a Boy Scout, a program with which he won a trip to the Ozarks, she said.
He retired to California, where Judie Jacobus now lives, and died in 2011 at the age of 99 after a battle with colon cancer, according to Herald archives.
Following several days in June at the Concordia museum — where her father is memorialized on a special brick along with her and her mother and window shades with photos depicting his childhood — Judie Jacobus is set to travel to Ottawa to meet up with a long-lost relative with whom she reconnected after a September 2011 Herald story on John Jacobus was published, she said.
“It will mean a lot to me to meet her — because she is my Grandmother Jacobus’ brother’s granddaughter, I believe — because everybody has a longing to know about their background and their family,” Judie Jacobus said. “It’s a relative that I didn’t know I had and I feel privileged to meet her.”
She also plans to make stops across town to see where her father spent 22 years of his life, including a visit to Ottawa’s First Baptist Church, 410 S. Hickory St., where her dad attended services so long ago, she said.
“I had the great good fortune to have the dad I did. I got a lot of opportunities that other people might not have had,” Judie Jacobus said. “He and my mother and I traveled extensively to many places in the world but his heart was always in Ottawa.
“He enjoyed that town very much.”
Kate Shelton is a Herald staff writer. Email her at email@example.com Follow her on Twitter at @kshelton323