Farewell to Zuni Presbyterian Homes

Published 11:23 am Thursday, December 8, 2016

by Merle Monahan/Contributing Writer

Former director Robert Bishop and 25 other former employees of the Zuni Presbyterian Homes gathered recently to bid farewell to the school for mildly developmentally challenged young people and adults. Each employee had worked there for a period of time at one time or another during the last 50 years.

The center, which has operated on land just outside of Zuni under several different names during the last 50 years and is currently known as Human Kind, will close in April.

“Those were wonderful years, ” said Bishop, who as superintendent/director hired each person attending the luncheon at the El Ranchero Restaurant in Franklin.Addressing each former employee by name, he noted that the group included those from administration, the residential staff, maintenance, landscaping,  the greenhouse and peanut shop, to name a few.

He said he was especially proud that his former secretary of nearly 20 years, Toni Willis, and his assistant, Paul Meitz, were able to attend.

Following the meal, the former director asked the guests if anyone wanted to speak, adding with a grin, “Now be careful what you say. We have the press here.”

The group had several funny stories, but only praise for Bishop, however, and agreed that working conditions at the center were always pleasant.

As one of the longest-serving superintendents and then, directors of the school, Bishop retired in 2006 after 23 years, although he is still active in a number of events held at the facility.

In April, for instance, he always returns for the center’s “Day in the Country,” where friends and relatives of the residents have a chance to tour the campus and visit. This annual event, organized 43 years ago, will be held for the last time in April.

“During my years there, “A Day in the Country” has always been popular,” Bishop said. “We’ve added activities for the kids, craft booths and food, of course.

“We usually have more than 2,000 people visit during the day.”

Another activity conducted at the center is its annual auction, where Bishop is the auctioneer.

“We started this as a separate event to help raise money for operating expenses,” he said. “Although it was well attended, we decided that it would draw even more people if we combined it with the Day in the Country. 

“That proved to be a good move,” he added.

Through the years, many things have been introduced at the school to help the residents learn how to work and live by themselves, or with little supervision.

Bishop, who has a degree in agriculture from Virginia Tech, said he has supervised a number of farming activities during his years at the center, from raising chickens to growing vegetables, flowers and peanuts. He noted that the greenhouse and peanut processing building have been indispensable in teaching the residents how to handle the finished product.

“The center has been a wonderful place to train these young people,” said Bishop, “and I’m happy to say we’ve had many graduates during the years.

“I’m sure I speak for all of my friends here today when I say we’re sorry to see it close.”