'The Legion actually saved my life'

Growing up in an unstable home where child abuse was commonplace, Barbra Mahorney Alusi and her siblings went to live in The American Legion Children’s Home in Ponca City, Okla., in 1957 at age 9. Alusi spent nine years in an American Legion-sponsored facility that from the 1920s until 2010 provided a safe and nurturing home for at-risk children of veterans, as well as children placed in the custody of Oklahoma’s Department of Human Services. Legion posts across the country still donate to what is now known as the Marland Children’s Home.

Sponsored by Stillwater Auxiliary Unit 129, Alusi said she was invited in the unit’s members’ home and treated “like a princess” while a resident at the home. “Being with each of them gave me a sense of importance, making me feel they truly loved and adored me,” Alusi said. “I owe my life to this great organization. Without them, I would have died in my family environment.”

Alusi has written multiple books on the home and her time there; one of those books, “Our Home,” has inspired her to help produce a documentary of the same name. A screening of the documentary will take place at 7 p.m. April 21 at at the Poncan Theater, 104 E. Grand, Ponca City. The cost is $12 per person.

Alusi spoke with The American Legion about her time at the home and how it inspired her to share those experiences in print and film.

The American Legion: What was your reaction when you first moved into the Children’s Home?

Barbra Alusi: Have you ever slept in a bed with bed bugs? Not just the little funny ones that are in the hotel that they say you can’t see but they bite you anyway. These were bugs that were actually in the mattress so much that I remember being sick right before I went to the home. I was trying to kill them to get away from me. It was the most disgusting thing in the world. (At the home) you got your own bed. There were no bed bugs. There was just the freedom of being able to sleep the entire night. Being free to sleep the entire night was unbelievable. And being safe and not hearing the violence – I just blossomed.

Q: What are some of the memories you have of your time at the home?

A: Of course being with the girls. And we had to do all of our chores, but we did all of our chores together. And if you were in trouble, you were always in trouble with a bunch of other people, so you were never lonesome. Just interacting with the girls was fantastic. I loved them to pieces.

Q: Obviously your experiences at the home led you to write multiple books about the home. What made you decide to expand from print materials to creating a documentary about the home?

A: It just came to me to go ahead (and produce the documentary). This is a story. It’s not about me. It’s about how God has used me to be able to tell the Legion “thank you.”

Q: What are your hopes for the documentary after the initial screening?

A: We’ll be going to different festivals all throughout Oklahoma. I’m hoping we’ll have DVDs of it. But I’m hoping to have a full-length movie (made). It’s real to me. There will be a full-length movie. I just know there will be.

Q: What does its involvement in this home for so many years say about an organization like The American Legion?

A: Not only did they provide us a home, they also gave a sense of self-respect and self-worth. Their devotion enabled their young charges to become nurses, doctors, lawyers, teachers and great parents to the next generation. Because of the Legionnaires and Auxiliary's dedication, children like myself had a home for 82 years. The Legion actually saved my life.

Every time I ever saw a Legionnaire, my heart would just blossom. It was full because that, to me, meant love.