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The Story Behind “He Ain’t Heavy…”

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Father Boes

The Story Behind “He Ain’t Heavy…”

“He ain’t heavy, Father… he’s m’ brother.”

That iconic phrase has symbolized the spirit of Boys Town for decades. But many people don’t know how it originated.

Back in 1918, a boy named Howard Loomis was abandoned by his mother at Father Flanagan’s Home for Boys, which had just opened a year earlier. Howard had polio and wore heavy leg braces. Walking was very difficult for him, especially when he had to go up or down steps.

Soon, several of the Home’s older boys were carrying Howard up and down the stairs.

One day, Father Flanagan asked Reuben Granger, one of those older boys, if carrying Howard was hard.

Reuben replied, “He ain’t heavy, Father… he’s m’ brother.

But the story doesn’t end there.

In 1943, Father Flanagan was paging through a copy of Ideal magazine when he saw an image of an older boy carrying a younger boy on his back. The caption read, “He ain’t heavy, mister… he’s my brother.”

Immediately, the priest was reminded of a photo of Reuben carrying Howard at a Boys Town picnic many years before. Father Flanagan wrote to the magazine and requested permission to use the image and quote. The magazine agreed, and Boys Town adopted them both as its new brand.

Seventy years later, the saying is still the best description of what our boys and girls learn at Boys Town about the importance of caring for each other and having someone care about them.

This past weekend, the Village of Boys Town excitedly welcomed back hundreds of our alumni for their Biennial Boys Town Alumni Convention. For many, this celebration has become a “family” reunion where they renew old friendships and relive their life-changing days at Boys Town.

As I watched these women and men share laughter and memories, I couldn’t help but think of how many children will always have a place to call home because of Father Flanagan’s dream. They truly are brothers and sisters who continue to lift each other up, and that is something worth celebrating.

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