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A manís own experiences prompt him to volunteer

By Karen McCowan
The Register-Guard
Appeared in print: Wednesday, Apr 21, 2010
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In his career with the U.S. diplomatic corps, Lewis Luchs lived and worked all over the world: Madagascar. Mali. Singapore. Paris. Malaysia. Australia.

After retiring to Eugene, however, Luchs has published a memoir about the equally varied emotional landscape of his childhood.

“Children of the Manse” begins as a bleak tale of parental neglect, abandonment and life in an institution for Luchs (pronounced “Lukes”) and his three younger siblings. But it ends with hope and redemption after all four were adopted by an Ohio minister and his education professor wife.

Luchs’ childhood experiences also prompted him to volunteer for five years with the local Court Appointed Special Advocate program. He and other “CASAs” are trained to advocate for children in state protective custody because of abuse or neglect. Unlike other juvenile court players who handle dozens of cases at once, the CASA focuses on only one child or set of siblings, representing their interests in court as a judge decides whether to reunite them with their parents or place them in permanent foster or adoptive placements.

CASA of Lane County is sponsoring three local events where Luchs will discuss, sell and sign copies of the book. All proceeds will go to the agency’s work on behalf of local abused and neglected children.

Both his worst and his best experiences with the child welfare system drive Luchs’ belief in the importance of such trustworthy advocates for children who are hurting.
In an interview this week, he recalled his outrage as an adult reading an Ohio county’s whitewashed history describing the “good home atmosphere” of an institution where Luchs and his siblings spent two miserable years.

“It was run by an untrained, poorly paid staff,” he said. “My supervisor, Mrs. McKenzie, was in charge of 23 boys age 6 through 9, 24 hours a day, six days a week ... we were emotionally wounded children, being warehoused with no hugs, no addressing of our wounds.”

The children’s home had no books, no balls. Discipline included a “switching gantlet” in which younger boys had to run between two rows of older boys who whipped at them with tree branches. There was too little food, of poor quality.
“We ate a high-carbohydrate diet — I don’t think I knew what a vegetable was,” Luchs said, recalling that he was often still hungry after finishing the single serving given each child.

“We were allowed to fill up with butter­milk,” he added. “I hate the taste of buttermilk to this day.”

Still, the institution was a step up from the life the four had previously lived. Luchs recalled twice losing their father — first to prison, then to abandonment after his release. The children lived with their neglectful mother, who left them alone for days at a time. Luchs, at age 5, was left to care for the younger children.

“We four children slept on a single mattress placed on the floor,” he wrote. “There were rats in the house that came out at night ... . We could hear them in the darkness and sometimes feel the pressure of their tiny paws running on top of the blankets that covered us.”

When no adult was home to prepare meals, the children filled their empty bellies by eating raw potatoes and onions. They once tried to warm themselves by building a fire on a floor inside the wood-framed house. Police who responded apparently believed their mother’s story that a friend was supposed to be caring for them.
But Luchs also was motivated to volunteer with the CASA program by the example of the trustworthy adults he focuses on in the majority of the book.

There were the children’s eventual parents, Fred and Evelyn Luchs, who set out to adopt one little girl and ended up adopting her three older brothers as well. Family photos in Luchs’ memoir show a day-vs.-night difference in the four children’s lives.
The previously unsmiling, bedraggled quartet are later depicted playing with new puppies, taking swimming lessons, reading with their new mother, playing musical instruments, beaming in Scout uniforms. With the adoption came “love, security, nourishing food, good medical care, the opportunity to develop our minds and talents, the encouragement to become responsible and compassionate adults,” he wrote.

There was also the young social worker, Ann Minnis, who went literally hundreds of extra miles, repeatedly visiting the four children, bringing them for visits with Fred and Evelyn Luchs, building trust and smoothing the way for the eventual adoption of all the siblings.

“Think of all the time she was able to devote to this one case,” Luchs marveled this week, adding that he still considers social workers the unsung heroes of most child dependency cases.

But their heavy caseloads make it impossible to devote such time to a single case, he said — making CASAs all the more valuable.

“We were emotionally wounded children.”
— Lewis Luchs, recalling HIS childhood in an institution

Book Signings
Child abuse survivor, adoptee and court advocate Lewis Luchs will make three local appearances to sign and discuss “Children of the Manse.” The events are sponsored by the local Court Appointed Special Advocate program as part of National Child Abuse Prevention Month. All book sales will go to CASA.

Thursday: 5:30 to 6:30 p.m., CASA of Lane County, 174 Deadmond Ferry Road, Springfield.

Tuesday: 5:30 to 6:30 p.m., Tsunami Books, 3585 Willamette St.
May 1: 11 a.m. to 2 p.m., Oakway Center, Oakway and Coburg roads.


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lewis richard luchs


Lewis Richard Luchs is a retired Foreign Service officer who worked in seven capitals in Africa, Europe, and Asia and was promoted to the Senior Foreign Service in l985. 

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© Copyright 2009 Lewis Richard Luchs. All rights reserved.
No part of this website may be reproduced or transmitted in any form by any means, electronic or mechanical, including photocopying, recording or by any information storage or retrieval system without permission from the Lewis Richard Luchs, except for the inclusion of brief quotations in a review.Children of the Manse, by Lewis R Luchs. Published October, 2009. Children of the Manse entertains as it describes how four wounded children respond to intelligent and loving foster care. ISBN 978-0-578-03523-9, 9780578035239

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