‘I’m just Dorsey’: Beloved employee aims to keep Children’s Home legacy aliveDorsey Nobles is the facilities manager at Legacy Park. Photo by Zoe Seiler.
Decatur, GA — When the city of Decatur purchased the former United Methodist Children’s Home property, a beloved employee of the group home came with the property as part of the deal.
At least that’s what Dorsey Nobles, 59, will jokingly tell you. Nobles has worked as the facilities manager of the children’s home property — since renamed Legacy Park — as a city of Decatur employee for about six years, but he has been on the property for about 52 years between living and working there.
“The Children’s Home was one of those places [where] once you got used to the routines, the rules – they were there for your safeguard and for your protection – then if you bought in, you’re fine,” Nobles said.
He aims to help keep the legacy of the United Methodist Children’s Home alive at Legacy Park.
The city purchased 77-acre Legacy Park property in 2017. The property, located on South Columbia Drive, opened in Decatur in the 1870s as a home for children orphaned by the Civil War and transitioned into a group home over the years.
Nobles and four of his siblings moved into the United Methodist Children’s Home in 1971. Nobles was seven at the time. He lived at the home until 1982. Bev Cochran was the administrator of the Children’s Home when Nobles arrived.
“I tell people all the time, I’m not trying to be Bev Cochran. I’m just Dorsey Nobles,” he said. “I’m just Dorsey, trying to carry on the legacy of the Children’s Home.”
Nobles is the youngest of his siblings. As young kids, they lived in the Techwood Homes housing project with their father and grandmother. Their father was an alcoholic.
“He was mean as a snake,” Nobles said. “He would hit on us. He would treat us horribly. We ate one meal a day.”
Nobles’ grandmother got tired of how her grandkids were being treated, but she didn’t want the siblings to be separated. She couldn’t afford to take care of them.
“There are not too many foster homes that [would] take five kids,” Nobles said. “So she found the Children’s Home.”
The home was a close-knit community.
“It was also kind of nice to know that you had 79 to 80 other children that were like your brothers and sisters,” Nobles said. “Everybody has a story on why they were at the Children’s Home, but it became like your family, especially in your cottage.”
The cottages, many of which are still at Legacy Park, were divided up by age groups. Each cottage had a houseparent that became like parents to the kids, Nobles said.
“They signed your permission slips to go on field trips. They told you yes or no, just like your parents would,” he said.
Nobles graduated from Avondale High School in 1983. He served in the Navy from 1983-1989, worked for Norfolk Southern for a little bit, and came to work for the Children’s Home in 1990.
He had talked to Cochran seeking a 9-to-5 job. Cochran hired Nobles to work in the maintenance department soon after that conversation, doing a similar job to what he did in the work program as a teenager. He lived on the property while he was working for the Children’s Home.
Cochran had made Nobles promise he’d work at the home for at least two years. That two years turned into 27 years. He saw many changes during that time, especially changes in staff.
“A lot of kids came through when I was at the Children’s Home. Making a personal connection with them was what I wanted to do, to a limit,” Nobles said. “Once they found out that I was a former student, it made a connection with them, and they felt like they could talk to somebody who knew what they were going through.”
He worked for the Children’s Home for many years because he loved the idea of helping another child, as the Children’s Home had helped him.
When the city purchased the property, the Children’s Home administration was talking to its staff about the transition. Nobles was nervous during that process but was told that the city wanted to talk to Nobles. He was the only Children’s Home employee to be hired by the city, mostly because he knew the property so well.
Nobles began working for the city of Decatur in August 2017 in the public works department. As the facilities manager, he handles buildings and maintenance at the park.
“Better known as you break it, we fix it,” Nobles said. “If they have any type of facility issue ranging from stopped up toilets to broken knobs, changing valences, changing lights. I’m also the on-call, 24-hour person at Legacy, and that’s 365 days a year.”
“Anything facility-wise, it’s Dorsey,” he added.
The city allowed Nobles and his wife to continue living on the property. Visitors to Legacy Park can see Nobles out and about at the park 24/7.
Assistant Public Works Director Felix Floyd said the city couldn’t pass up the opportunity to capture Nobles’ knowledge of the grounds when they hired him in 2017.
“Dorsey has a wealth of knowledge as it relates to Legacy Park. He always has the Park on his mind, even when he is not at work. He has its best interest at heart,” Floyd said. “Spending as much time as he’s spent at the property, we would not have ever found anyone that could be a better fit.”
Deputy City Manager David Junger added that Nobles is an asset to the city.
“Dorsey has a unique perspective and legacy for the property,” Junger said. “Dorsey has a true passion for taking care of the property at Legacy Park. Dorsey also takes tremendous pride in representing the alumni of the United Methodist Children’s Home, and its history.”
While Nobles is employed by the city, he works closely with Legacy Decatur Executive Director Madeleine Henner. Legacy Decatur is the nonprofit that manages the property, and its board includes city officials. Nobles takes his role as facilities manager seriously and his job doesn’t end when his shift ends, she said.
“You can often find him making rounds into the night to ensure that all of the buildings are locked, and everything is as it should be,” Henner said. “Even on Christmas Day, when he got word that pipes burst in several buildings, Dorsey and [Assistant Public Works Director] Felix Floyd donned their work gear to protect the buildings from further damage.”
Nobles adds a personal touch to each interaction with park visitors and the nonprofits at Legacy Park.
“For our tenants, we have a mail room, but Dorsey personally delivers mail to each office, giving time for quick check-ins,” Henner said. “At Legacy Park events or just passing by a walker, Dorsey is frequently seen helping someone carry items to their car, telling a joke, and generally trying to make people’s day a little brighter.”
Nobles’ relationship with Cochran, the former administrator, is the foundation of his devotion to the property and its legacy.
“Mr. Cochran was everything to me,” Nobles said.
He added that he believes the city hired him as an honor to Cochran. Mr. C, as Nobles says, picked him and trusted him. Cochran’s family trusted Nobles as well.
“The city did the same thing, in a little bit of a different fashion. But [they] trusted this guy to tell [them] what was really going on over there,” Nobles said. “That’s quite an honor.”
Cochran told Nobles that as long as he’s still at Legacy Park, Cochran’s presence is still there. Cochran died in 2016. Some of the Children’s Home alumni live vicariously through Nobles, and have told Nobles as long as he’s there, a piece of the Children’s Home is still on the property.
“That stays with me every day,” Nobles said. “It’s a hard thing to shoulder every day.”
He feels obligated to make sure the kids of the Children’s Home are remembered.
“As long as I’m sitting in this chair, as long as I’m breathing, as long as I have a little influence, they will never be forgotten about, ever,” Nobles said.
Want Decaturish delivered to your inbox every day? Sign up for our free newsletter by clicking here.
If you appreciate our work on this story, please become a paying supporter. For as little as $6 a month, you can help us keep you in the loop about your community.