Published in Spring 2011 | In December 1950, 7-year-old Janice Roebuck arrived at Methodist Orphanage (MO) in Raleigh along with her sisters Minnie and Alice and brother Steve. A younger brother, John, was placed a few miles away at the N.C. School for the Blind. The five Roebuck children were the youngest of nine and their father, a Bertie County tenant farmer, was unable to keep them after their mother died.
Janice remembers she wept almost constantly those first few weeks at MO until, finally, teacher Mary Ferree made her an offer: “If you’ll just stop crying, I’ll buy you a drink.” The drink was a Nehi orange, Janice remembers, and the teacher was a steadfast source of encouragement and compassion for the next 12 years. There were supportive others on staff, as well, Janice says. Teacher Helen Madison instilled in her a love for reading, and Mabel “Muh” Brown, “the closest thing to a substitute parent any MO kid had,” loaned her books from the campus soda shop. “I read every Nancy Drew and Hardy Boys book we had,” she says.
But orphanage life was more than books and sodas, with fully scheduled, task-filled days cleaning bedrooms, scrubbing bathrooms, collecting kindling, stoking and banking boiler fires, ironing clothes, and fixing and serving breakfast for hundreds. The work ethic she developed was the “heart of the gift” she received from MO.
In 8th grade, Janice was inducted into the National Junior Honor Society and, with that success, she says, “I made up my mind that I was going to college.” This meant additional academic work, and soon she was saving her lunch allowance for a summer-school geometry class to prepare for advanced math in high school.
The planning paid off when Janice graduated in 1962 and enrolled at N.C. Wesleyan College. A scholarship from the Women’s Society of Christian Service (today’s United Methodist Women) helped pay the way and introduced her to Janis Gravely and Marilyn Spencer, two caring members at First United Methodist Church in Rocky Mount. She found another ally in N.C. Wesleyan President Tom Collins, who made sure she had a steady stream of campus work-study jobs.
“Remember,” she laughs, “I knew how to work; I knew how to study. Living in a dorm, rising early for my shift in the dining hall before classes—that was not hard for me.”
The summer before college Janice had worked “barning” tobacco in Rocky Mount, and it was on that job she met Charlie Meyer, a high school football star about to start classes at UNC-Chapel Hill. The pair built a friendship that grew over time and, after graduation, they married and landed teaching jobs in Rocky Mount.
Janice taught several years in the Nash County schools and then left for home and her new job as mother. She returned to teaching briefly before welcoming children two, three and four, this time staying home 12 years to raise her family. Charlie found a new career in information technology and worked for Hardee’s, BB&T and Nash General Hospital. In 1985, Janice went back to the classroom and worked 24 years as a high school math teacher.
Janice and Charlie are now retired and enjoying the “dream home” they built outside of Rocky Mount. Three of their children live nearby, the fourth is in Boone, and they dote on seven grandchildren. Janice stays involved with the MO/MHC Alumni Association and says the four Roebuck children were well served by MO. “They [staff] taught us how to work, and they taught us the difference between right and wrong,” she says. “That prepared us for life.” — Peter MacBeth