Dear Readers: I asked my readers who had been in an orphanage to share their experiences with me. Did I get letters! Read on:

Dear Abby: It was a hot day in August 1946 when I learned that my mom was sending me to a children's home. I was 10, scared to death, and puzzled as to why she was keeping my younger brother and sister. She told me I was a troublemaker and too hard to handle. I panicked and ran away, but was captured hours later, and a very nice caseworker took me to Cleveland.

Feeling unwanted, I withdrew, developed a severe stuttering problem and cried constantly. Seven years later, with the kindness and compassion of a thoughtful staff, I had developed a sense of values and an inner strength. My assigned "Big Brother" and his family greatly helped me develop these assets.

I left the home at 17 to make my mark and take on the world. I educated myself, overcame my stuttering, became a successful corporate CEO, and now enjoy multimillionaire status. I retired at 52. Thank you, Bellefaire and the Big Brothers organization!

- Irwin Kahn, Franklin, Ohio

Dear Abby: When I was 7, my mother left me in the middle of the night. She never even said goodbye. I lived with my grandparents for a while, where I was molested by my father and my uncle. Then I was sent to an orphanage until I was 15. I learned to cook, sew and get along with other people. I went to a private Catholic school; the sisters loaned me money to get through nursing school. I shudder to think what my life would have been like if I had stayed with my father and grandparents.

- Lucky Girl from New York

Dear Abby: My father died when I was 3 years old, and I was placed in an orphanage in Philadelphia. It was surrounded by a stone wall 10 feet high. My two-year stint in the Navy was a breeze compared to that orphanage, but I have no regrets. It taught me how to cope.

- Richard Winters, Fresno, Calif.

Dear Abby: Newt Gingrich is not a nut living in a Boys Town fantasy. When I was 4 years old, I was placed in an orphanage in New Orleans along with my sister who was 6, and my brother, 8. When I look back on those years, it wasn't so bad. We were in a safe place and never mistreated.

I'm 64 now and feel lucky. It sure beats what's happening to some kids today.

- Mildred K., Mississippi

Dear Abby: My mother died at the age of 32. I was 6, the youngest of four. Our father was an alcoholic. My teacher had reported my poor school attendance to the juvenile authorities, who visited my home and found that I was neglected - there was little food, and the house was filthy. I was immediately placed in the Iowa State Soldiers' Orphanage in Davenport, Iowa, where I lived for 10 years.

There were 950 boys and girls living on campus, segregated, of course. We all dressed in uniforms and were served three healthy meals a day. There was no evidence of love, but I was lucky to have a clean, safe place to live.

- Another Orphan

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Dear Abby: My father must have had a premonition, because he told my mother that if anything happened to him, she should place their five children in the Masonic home in Indiana. At age 40, he died suddenly. I was 6 years old and lived in the Masonic home until I graduated from high school.

I received an excellent education, had piano and organ lessons, plus all kinds of musical exposure - including marching band, orchestra, jazz band - everyone played something. I met my high school sweetheart there, and in June, we will celebrate our 50th wedding anniversary. We have four children, all college-educated.

Abby, orphanages funded by private charities do not cost the taxpayer one dime.

- Gladys Leibson, Lebanon, Ohio

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