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House Speaker Gingrich Visits Boys Town

October 23, 1995

BOYS TOWN, Neb. (AP) _ Nearly a year after he pointed to Boys Town as an example of how orphanages could provide answers to welfare problems, House Speaker Newt Gingrich on Monday visited the home for troubled youth.

The Georgia Republican patted some of the young residents on the head and held the Academy Award won by Spencer Tracy for his portrayal of Father Flanagan in the 1938 movie ``Boys Town.″

Boys Town Director Father Val Peter and the 556 residents welcomed Gingrich to the campus in west Omaha. Peter thanked Gingrich for putting the Boys Town mission on the ``front page of every newspaper in America.″

In December 1994, Gingrich cited Boys Town as evidence that orphanages could provide caring homes for children of abuse or severe neglect. Hillary Rodham Clinton and other critics attacked the comment as suggesting that welfare mothers should give up their children.

One of the Boys Town residents, Jody Wickwire, asked Gingrich if he thought Mrs. Clinton would visit Boys Town if the speaker asked. Gingrich said he thought she might if Wickwire asked.

Gingrich said Monday that critics distorted the intent of his 1994 comments. He said Boys Town and other such homes across the nation should be promoted and supported to provide troubled parents alternatives for unwanted children.

``I said, in a worst case, an orphanage is better than killing the children,″ Gingrich recalled of his comments in 1994. He said his point was to make known to a desperate mother or father the existence of facilities like Boys Town.

``If they knew there was some alternative that was acceptable, socially acceptable, there was an alternative to child abuse, an alternative to killing your child, an alternative to abandoning your child, it seems to me that is infinitely more preferable to what the welfare state has fostered,″ Gingrich said.

Tyrce Ellebb of Chicago, a youngster elected by his peers as Boys Town mayor, was glad Gingrich could see the campus firsthand.

``It is special to Boys Town that he came to see us and see what Boys Town is like and see that Boys Town kids are special, too,″ Ellebb said. ``A lot has changed since the movie. The only thing that hasn’t changed is all the love we still share for each other.″

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