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Fort Worth Masonic School Closes After 105 Years

Declining enrollment and financial problems caused by dropping donations and $6.9 million spent to settle a sex-abuse lawsuit cited

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Fort Worth Masonic School Closes After 105 Years

School Graduates Final 17 Students

June 6, 2005

FORT WORTH, Texas -- The Masonic Home and School of Texas graduated its final 17 students this weekend, marking the end of the facility's 105-year effort to care for orphans and other needy children.

The Texas Masons voted to close the facility in 2003 and ratified the vote last year. They blamed declining enrollment and financial problems caused by dropping donations and $6.9 million spent to settle a sex-abuse lawsuit in 1999.

"It's a sad day," said Johnny Wright, the school's executive director. "It's a resource for children that's being lost."

A dozen of Sunday's graduates are juniors who accelerated their studies so they could graduate from the school they called home. The roughly 50 students that remained at the school will return to their families or be placed in other children's homes throughout the state.

Since the home and school opened its doors in 1889, it has graduated more than 1,100 students and served countless others, including Paul Underwood of Johnson City.

Underwood, 54, said the school gave him a solid upbringing and strong values. He and his two brothers were placed there in 1962 after their father died. Underwood said his mother had to work three jobs to support her children, leaving them unsupervised.

"She didn't want to let us go but believed it was our ticket out of poverty," he said.

School officials said the board of directors has not decided what will be done with the 200-acre property, which includes a swimming pool, two gymnasiums and a student union building with a bowling alley.

Diane Thornton, the school's superintendent, said the closing is personal for her. Her dad grew up there in the 1930s after his parents died.

"He took great pride in growing up here. ... He's just sick about it closing," she said.

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