by June Anderson
As you drive north on Highway 47 toward St. Francis, you’ll notice a sign that says, “Volunteers of America —Bar-None — Residential Treatment Services.”
Operating as part of ISD 15, this sign marks the site of the first residential treatment program for juveniles in the state of Minnesota. It was established by the VOA in 1962.
This is the story of the two people who played a pivotal role in its founding.
It can be said that Miriam Green Nolte and Robert Nolte were born into the Volunteers of America tradition.
Their mothers, Freida Olson Nolte and Susan Gould Greene were good friends.
They had been active in the newly formed organization since their teens, tending to the needs of the destitute in the VOA Minneapolis Mission Hall on skid row.
In 1913 Freida married the Rev. Ira E. Nolte who was then pastor of the Methodist Church in St. Francis. They had three sons, Robert (Bob), Paul, and David.
Susan married Carl Greene who left the marriage before their daughter, Miriam, was born on Dec. 9, 1915.
Both the Nolte and Gould families were active in the VOA.
Bob’s parents raised their boys in the organization and Miriam’s mother, Susan Green, was the post commander until her retirement in 1956.
The early work of this human service organization, founded in 1896 by Ballington Booth, centered around ministering to homeless men, providing relief, food and assistance for the needy as well as food baskets at Thanksgiving.
Bob Nolte joined the VOA staff in 1937 as boys’ work director, Sunday school teacher, public relations and a multitude of other “working” titles.
Although they had known each other all of their lives, it was through their flood relief efforts in southern Illinois that the spark was lit that brought Miriam and Bob together in 1937. They were married on May 4, 1938.
The Volunteers of America made a commitment to serve youth.
Under the direction of Miriam Greene Nolte, who held a master’s degree in social work, the hub of the VOA’s young people’s program centered around a Sunday School program involving families from near and far in its varied activities.
In 1932 Miriam and her aunt, Lillian Gould, initiated a camping program for Minneapolis boys and girls from deprived areas and the VOA rented resorts to use as a summer camp.
“Kids from off the streets around 12th and Plymouth could spend a recreational two weeks riding horses and swimming,” said Russ Dunlop.
“The last night there was singing. Lots of it. Miriam had the blessed ability to play piano like no one I ever knew. Bob was the song leader.”
That program lasted until 1943 when the Volunteers of America purchased 43 acres on Dutch Lake near Mound for their summer camp.
It was the first site of Bar-None Ranch and the forerunner of VOA’s many future programs.
Ten years later they were seeking to expand that property when a unique opportunity presented itself.
Chester D. MacArthur, a successful insurance salesman, had some burros which he brought to the city on weekends to give children free rides.
A newspaper friend of Bob Nolte’s knew of MacArthur’s interest in setting up a boys’ ranch and arranged for the two men to meet.
Bob invited Chester out to Bar-None at the Mound location.
Chester was so impressed with their effort that he agreed to become a board member.
Shortly after, MacArthur was contacted by H.H. Sievers, a farmer in Anoka County, who wanted to sell him some burros.
MacArthur was more interested in Sievers’ 720-acre farm located just south of St. Francis which was for sale.
He persuaded Sievers to lower the asking price from $200,000 to $100,000, and his wealthy father-in-law, James R. Stewart, agreed to go 50/50 with him to purchase the acreage.
The deal was consummated and in 1954 Bar-None had a new home.
Next week: Building commences at Bar-None.
Editor’s note: June Anderson is a member volunteer of the Anoka County Historical Society. She can be reached by e-mail: [email protected].