Skip to main content

MN's surviving orphan train riders can't make the trip, but their journey still inspires

  • Author:
  • Updated:

The orphan trains stopped running more than 80 years ago, but their legacy rolls on.

A reunion in Little Falls on Saturday will be the 55th such Midwestern gathering of the Orphan Train Riders of New York.

Many historians consider the orphan trains a forerunner of the modern foster care system. For 75 years – ending in 1929 – they carried abandoned or orphaned children from tenements in New York City to families waiting for them in the Midwest.

Thousands of orphans arrived at Minnesota train stations over the years, many with their names or a number sewn into their clothing to help their new families identify them.

The Pioneer Press reports there are still four orphan train riders living in Minnesota, ranging in age from 98 to 103. None is able to make the trip to Little Falls this weekend but the newspaper spoke with one of them, 100-year-old Sophia Kaminsky Hillesheim-Kral, at a nursing home in Sleepy Eye.

Hillesheim-Kral's foster mother died in the flu epidemic of 1918. That led to her being placed with a widow in Springfield, Minnesota, who proved to be abusive. But Hillesheim-Kral tells the newspaper the kindnesses of neighboring families in southern Minnesota left an indelible impression.

Hilleshieim-Kral's daughter has written two books about the experiences of orphan train riders, the Pioneer Press says.

Several years ago, the Minnesota Women's Press profiled another of the orphan train riders, who was a 96-year-old nun living in a Little Falls convent at the time.

Saturday's reunion event in Little Falls will include dozens of descendants of riders, along with students and researchers, an organizer tells the Pioneer Press.

The National Orphan Train Complex in Concordia, Kansas, is a museum and research center with much more on the legacy of the orphan trains.

Next Up


80 mph winds, large hail possible with severe storms in MN

A severe thunderstorm watch is in effect for much of the state until 3 a.m. Saturday.


30 people evacuated as flooding hammers small town

It's assumed that at least eight inches of rain fell in Randall, with more heavy rain expected Friday night into Saturday morning.

Intersection in Rochester.

Boy dies in motorcycle crash in Rochester

Police are investigating as of Friday afternoon.

Tab2FileL (13)

Numerous severe storms likely in Minnesota Friday night

Watch the video for the full details with meteorologist Sven Sundgaard.

court room

Teen pleads guilty in shooting death of 15-year-old girl in Columbia Heights

Damico Jamal-Tokyo High will receive a sentence in juvenile court, along with an adult prison sentence.

Screen Shot 2022-04-25 at 11.00.01 AM

Walz wants to use surplus money to send direct payments to Minnesotans

It's a renewed effort from a previous proposal from Walz and Lt. Gov. Peggy Flanagan's supplemental budget in January.

Ron Johnson

Jan. 6 committee says aide for WI senator tried to give fake elector info to Pence

The attempt was discovered through text messages in the ongoing public hearing held by the Jan. 6 select committee.

Stock U of M sign

Minnesota State colleges, U of M boosting tuition again

The Minnesota State system's Board of Trustee's approved the increase Wednesday.


Minnesota's COVID-19 update for Friday, June 24

The next daily update will be provided Monday, June 27.

Pro choice rally

Walz, Jensen react to historic Supreme Court reversal of Roe v. Wade

After voting to overturn Roe, conservative Justice Clarence Thomas has hinted contraception and same-sex marriage protections should follow.

16362 County Rd 81, Maple Grove, Minnesota - October 2021 (4)

2-year-old killed in crash on County Road 81 in Maple Grove

The crash occurred Thursday evening on County Road 81.

police tape

BCA issues new details about St. Michael standoff, shooting

New details say a St. Cloud police officer struck the suspect with gunfire.


Cat survives 245-mile trip trapped in an engine compartment

Tuffy the cat was found under the hood of a car towed from South Dakota. The Postbulletin says a northwest Rochester man bought the car in Sioux Falls, but didn't find the freezing and frightened kitty until a couple days after he got back to Minnesota. Tuffy is now recovering at Paws and Claws Humane Society.

Riders stranded again on State Fair swings

The Stratosphere Swing Tower stopped again in mid-air Friday morning. It was the second time in two days for the ride. The 200-foot-tall attraction, making its debut this year at the Minnesota State Fair, also stranded riders Thursday for about 20 minutes. KSTP reports that the same ride also stalled out at the Wisconsin State Fair.