SI Vault
Leigh Montville
November 20, 1989
Rumeal Robinson arrived at Michigan from a home stamped with caring
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November 20, 1989

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Rumeal Robinson arrived at Michigan from a home stamped with caring

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He shakes his head. Did all of this really happen?


The house is called the Ford Hotel, 11 rooms just off the quiet street. Donald gave it that name when he sat down for breakfast one morning and found himself next to yet another kid he didn't know. What is this, the Ford Hotel? The name stuck. The Ford Hotel. Kids always welcome.

In 1952 Louis came out of the Navy, bought the place for $7,900 and married a woman with four kids. The marriage was fine and easy, but then the kids grew up and the woman died of cancer in 1969. Four years later, Louis married Helen. She had two kids.

Two, of course, was not enough. Helen also liked kids. "She thinks the same way that I do," says Louis. "The door always has been open here. If a kid has a problem, if he needs a place to stay for a while, this is a place to come. We've had a lot of kids stay here for a while, calm down, find that their parents aren't such ogres after all, and go home. If you don't mind sleeping with someone else's foot in your face, you can stay here. We don't have a lot of rules. I don't believe in rules. I believe in talking, in love. Kids are a lot more intelligent than most adults realize. You can talk with kids. You don't have to agree with them, but you have to listen."

Rumeal was one of the first kids to arrive with a problem. He was quiet, shy, confused and only 12 years old. He arrived because Helen found him.

Helen is an active woman, a civic tornado, coaching teams, helping in organizations and working as a security guard at Rindge and Latin High. She heard reports about a child who was sleeping at night in the hallways of a local apartment complex. The kid had left home and was living on school lunches and whatever other meals he could find. He sounded like a character out of a Dickens novel.

Tipped off that he played basketball after school at Martin Luther King Grammar School, Helen appeared one afternoon in the middle of a game. There he was. She was surprised to find that she recognized him. He had played for one of her flag-football teams, but whenever she had looked at the team photo, he was the one kid whose name she didn't know. Who was this kid? She waited until there was a break between games and followed him to the water fountain.

"Hey, I know you," she said.

"I know you, too," the kid said.

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