Lives of Service – Milton McFalls
Milton McFalls ’68 has served the Children’s Fresh Air Home for more than 40 years. He’s now overseeing its renovations.
MILTON MCFALLS ‘68 - A BREATH OF FRESH AIR
A four-story house stands proudly on the corner of Beach and 11th in North Wildwood, N.J.—albeit with a few missing siding panels. Inside, you’ll find no carpet, no drywall, nothing but wiring, plumbing and a maze of 2-by-4s.
If the framework is the skeleton of the Children’s Fresh Air Home, then Milton McFalls ’68 is the heart.
McFalls is the immediate past president and a 40-year member of the more-than-a-century-old organization’s board. The current home, built in 1923, was designed specifically for hosting children, boys and girls who might not otherwise experience the ocean. From a large shower/locker room on the ground level to an infirmary, bunkrooms and counselors’ quarters on the upper levels, it had the makings of a summer camp nestled inside a beach house. A typical season would see four 12-day sessions, about 40 kids at a time.
McFalls said the home “weathered quite a few storms over the years,” literally, as in wear and tear caused by seashore elements—and also figuratively. Its age, coupled with new health and building codes adopted over the years, means upgrades, repairs, new equipment and raising the structure’s foundation 18 inches are needed for compliance.
The house has sat empty since 2006.
Closing the home killed me; it was the hardest job I’ve ever had to do, but we have not stopped our mission of giving kids a vacation.
While the Fresh Air Home embarked on a capital campaign, and volunteers began gutting the building, McFalls and company found a different way to bring kids to the beach each summer, while still using the three-acre property–land he fought hard to keep. The “If Just for a Day” program buses children, mostly eight to 14 years old, from the Philadelphia area to North Wildwood to enjoy a day at the beach. So while no one is permitted to enter the home, there is plenty of grassy space to pop up tents and host picnics—food is catered instead of cooked inside the home, and visitors use portable toilets—all donated.
By the end of an outing this summer, one little girl called McFalls “Pop-Pop.” With grandchildren of his own, this was a welcome greeting.
“I’m Pop-Pop to everyone,” he said with a smile.
Most participating children have never seen the ocean; McFalls recalls one young girl, wide-eyed at the sight of the Atlantic, asking him how much chlorine was inside.
“They are apprehensive when they arrive and then, they don’t want to leave. And they go home with more than they come with,” said McFalls of the longer summer retreats. The kids ate three meals a day and were given clothes and books—a necessary souvenir. The rewards he received were intangible: hearing about more ‘first’ experiences, such as sleeping in a bed with two sheets or learning how to use silverware. McFalls estimates the home’s mission has impacted 20,000 people—children and young-adult counselors.
The Fresh Air Home plans to break ground on the elevated foundation this spring; other renovations will follow. When the residence reopens, it will be with expanded space (including a 10-foot addition) and extended opportunities—renting it out for church and school retreats will keep the home occupied three seasons a year and generate revenue.
McFalls said four decades on the organization’s board allowed him to lead by example. “Volunteering is just what I do; it’s what my boys do, too,” he said. “When I joined (the board) I was the young guy—I was 28. Now I’m the old guy. That’s why it’s my legacy; I can’t leave this world until it’s built.”
Children’s Fresh Air Home