IN THE BEGINNING: The Baptist Home Grew from One Couple’s Heart

In the year of our Lord, 2012, and the ninety-ninth year of The Baptist Home, we look ahead by looking back. When The Baptist Home opened its doors to its first “inmates” (as all residents of institutions were called at the time) in May 1913, it was the culmination of a dream and a calling for Milford and Mary Riggs. He had been a Baptist pastor in Missouri since 1890 and an early pioneer in Baptist development causes in our state.

While he was serving as a development officer for the Orphans Home, the plight of elderly Baptists—especially retired Baptist ministers, their wives and widows—began to weigh heavily on his shepherd’s heart.

After a lifetime of service to congregations, many of the Baptist preachers of that day lived in extremely meager circumstances, being dependent on family, churches or county poor farms.

Without sentimentality, Dr. Riggs would write in Word and Way that “the Humane Society would cause the arrest of a man who would work his horse till he was old and worn out and then turn him out unfed and unsheltered….Our denomination ought to feel itself disgraced by a condition of this kind. We ought to make ample provision for our aged and afflicted ministers whose indigent circumstances make help necessary.”

Mary Riggs’ heart was one with Milford’s own. She shared his compassion and his vision and was a full partner in the work. While he was innovative and tireless in raising funds for The Home, she was equally indefatigable in her ministry. While he travelled the state, she cared for the residents full time, often as nurse, cook, laundress and ex officio (and unpaid) superintendent.

There is a note of great sadness at the end of the Riggs’ ministry. All their efforts could not defeat the ravages of the Great Depression. In April 1932, Dr. Riggs resigned as superintendent. He and Mary departed The Baptist Home, never to return.

But the foundation laid by Milford and Mary Riggs now supports the original work at Ironton, campuses in Chillicothe and Ozark and a ministry outreach worldwide “in the service of aging humanity.” It is a legacy entrusted to all of us by the Riggs.