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was located between the boy and girl dormitories. The boys and girls would march into the hall from either side at the same time. Once the children were seated, they sang a song and said a prayer. Afterward, the children attended school and completed their chores. The boys did farm work outside while the girls did tasks in the laundry and kitchen. But there was also time for fun. Roller remembers a man from Dallas occasionally coming to play a movie in the auditorium for the children to watch. “We got to see all the Shirley Temple movies,” she says. “Because they were good, clean movies, nothing bad in them. We also saw a few westerns.” The highlight of the year, however, was Christmas. On Christmas Eve, the children would filter into the auditorium for a joy-filled ceremony with an appearance by Santa Claus. On the stage, several trees would be decorated with lights, tinsel and ornaments. Arranged around the stage there was, what were affectionately called, the Christmas strings. The Christmas strings contained presents for each child securely tied on without wrappings or bows, a simplified but quaint form of distributing gifts to the many children living at the Orphans Home. “Everything was attached to the strings,” Roller remembers. “We

had a little bag with an orange and an apple on one side and on the other side, a few nuts and hard candy. Tied to the bag would be a little toy. When you were older, it might be a piece of clothing.” Roller graduated from high school and moved away from the Orphans Home on her 18th birthday. As when she was 8 and first traveling to the Orphans Home, she wasn’t scared, but ready to embark on the next chapter of her life.

She entered a cadet nursing program at Parkland School of Nursing. The Navy paid for her education in exchange for service after graduation. For the next 23 years, Roller worked as a Navy nurse, stationed in places such as Japan, Vietnam and the U.S. Roller reached the rank of commander and received many prestigious awards and medals for her service. In 1959, she earned her bachelor of science degree from the University of Washington. After she retired from the Navy, Roller spent the next 10 years traveling the world as a missionary nurse for what was then called the Foreign Mission Board of the Southern Baptist Convention, serving in countries such as Ethiopia, Thailand, Zimbabwe and Rhodesia. “I like helping people,” Roller reflects on her time doing medical missions. “It was hard seeing the little kids that

needed help. More in Ethiopia than other places because that was when they had a drought and had a lot of starving people. We had a big corrugated tin building where some of the worst cases stayed while we fed them until their weight was up.” Roller’s adventurous spirit wouldn’t allow her to stay home after serving overseas. For personal travel, she visited any place she had a desire to go – Egypt, New Zealand, Australia, Alaska – never afraid to go by herself if she couldn’t find a travel companion. These days, Roller stays close to home in Amarillo, but she isn’t inactive by any means. She volunteers at her church, First Baptist Church, and at the retirement center where she lives. She spends a lot of time reading and going for walks. Occasionally, she will hear something on the news that reminds her about one of her many trips abroad. She keeps a typewritten page with the names and dates of all the places she has visited. With two columns on the sheet, her adventures completely fill the page. Roller is hard pressed to pick a favorite location though. She “just enjoyed it all.” Looking back on her time at the Buckner Orphans Home, Roller thinks it prepared her for the adventurous lifestyle she enjoyed. “[Living at the Orphans Home] did make you independent,” she says. “It was up to you to become who you were meant to be. I wouldn’t change my time there for anywhere else.” n

Helen Roller holds up photos of herself in her Navy uniform. On the left is a photo taken the day she entered service with the Navy. On the right is a photo of her 23 years later when she retired.

SUMMER 2015 ISSUE • Buckner Today 49

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