Late 1940’s to 1965
Probably the first major historical marker occurred on December 1, 1951, with the Articles of Incorporation being established, and thus creating the Snow Redfern Memorial Foundation. But prior to that event, the groundwork needed to be put down, for this major project to be successful. Even then, there were many random “events” that occurred, appearing as roadblocks to their efforts. With little to no knowledge about establishing a facility for boys, and with not many examples to use as their model, there was a lot of confusion and lack of clear direction. But you need start someplace, and with Mrs. Redfern being a very wise person, she began surrounding herself with individuals she knew well and trusted. Their listening to her dream, and she listening to their suggestions, some direction began to take shape.
The original intent of the Foundation is described in the Articles: “to establish and maintain a home and facilities for the rearing and training of orphaned, homeless, neglected or underprivileged boys, in order that they may be raised and educated in a healthy and morally wholesome environment and trained in the theory and practice of farming, ranching, stock raising and in other useful arts and vocations, and develop into industrious and respectable citizens”. For over 50 years, this focus was held fast by many industrious Director’s. As years passed, some of the terminology and interpretations changed, such as the word “orphaned” as over the years that mostly disappeared from the Child Welfare circles. Another “issue” stood out in researching the evolution of the boy’s home. It was made very clear in the beginning, some of the youth that the Foundation did not believe it would be suited to serve, were those who were “handicapped or disfigured, or mentally ill”. Clearly those criteria would be difficult to uphold in the later years of the existence of the boy’s home. Through the years, being willing and able to adjust to the changes in society, and expectations of governing bodies, was a strength of the Foundation. This is a trait of which the Foundation can be very proud.
Prior to the Incorporation of the Foundation Mrs. Redfern had as her advisors, or trustees: John W. (Bill) Dill, a nephew of Mrs. Redfern, Delbert L. (Del) Walker a rancher near the Snow Ranch, E. J. (Jack) Ressegieu, another area rancher, and Jack S. Manion a local banker and rancher. There is quite a gap between the late 40’s and 1951, but during that time, it was this brain trust that made many decisions on how to create a home for boys. Bill Dill, as mentioned is a nephew, was raised on the Snow Ranch starting in 1937, so it is no wonder that he was so invested in this worthy project! In the 1960’s it was obvious that more Directors were needed to carry out the planning, so the trustees (by now called the Board of Directors) expanded to eight. Upon the advice of Franklin Robbie (see next paragraph), people of professions were added to the Board. Senator George Gerdes, a noteworthy political figure, Dr. O. L. Seng a physician, another local successful businessman in R. Keith Nelson. For good measure, an attorney from Scottsbluff, Floyd Wright was added. As is the case even today, the Board was very diversified, as far as skills go, and very successful. One glaring omission, however, was the lack of women. Again, given the times, it was only suggested that men serve on the Board. Fortunately, in our current times, several women serve very effectively on the Board of Directors.
Mrs. Redfern and her trustees sought out expertise in many ways. The consultant for the Child Welfare League of America, Sam Berman, was brought in from New York, New York. Also, Amy Hanson, the consultant for the Nebraska Department of Public Welfare was brought in from Lincoln, Nebraska. A newspaper clipping shows them discussing the future is at the end of this article. As mentioned in the previous paragraph, Franklin Robbie, Executive Director for the Yellowstone Boys Ranch was hired for his expertise in running a program that Mrs. Redfern wished to emulate. Mr. Robbie and his son Wes served as consultants to Snow Redfern Memorial Foundation for 30 plus years. It is evident from the experts and successful people that Mrs. Redfern surrounded herself with, this program was going to be something very special. And it was!
As planning moved forward, what started as an idea was not only starting to take shape, at times it had to feel beyond Mrs. Redfern’s wildest dreams. Perhaps if may have even felt out of control. Senator Gerdes utilized resources that were available because of his prestigious position, contacted the University of Nebraska architectural school to assist with drawings of what the campus might look like. The school graciously assigned some students and interns to design what possibly could be the campus of the boy’s home. A newspaper clipping from June 1964, has a drawing of a dormitory building, and the layout of the arrangement of all the buildings to be constructed. If indeed this plan had come to fruition there would have been 10 buildings to provide shelter for these boys, with 15 boys per building, plus one supervisor. Obviously, this plan was indeed ambitious, as housing 150 boys at any given time would have been monumental! It is no wonder the community of Alliance was going to be on board with this project, considering the economic impact it would have on so many aspects of creating and maintaining such a large facility. It is indeed a blessing that this large facility was not created, as once the dormitories were completed (three of them) at times it was difficult to maintain the licensed capacity of 28! Move forward to today’s situation, with group home facilities in Nebraska (and nationwide) not being utilized, this huge campus would be only a ghost town in the Sandhills. This will be covered in a later article.
However, realistically, the Board of Directors knew that the Foundation would have to crawl before it could run. Getting down to the task of opening its doors became a reality. So many questions were raised. Where would we find people who were willing to commit to a job that was difficult to define? Why would these same people be willing to raise someone else’s boys? And maybe the biggest challenge would be where would these staff and first boys live?
There were two houses on the property that had the potential to meet the starting needs of the home. One was the baled hay house across the meadow, and the other was the “soddy” that was on the area that would be defined as the “campus”. To explain their construction: the baled hay house was hay bales and stucco. It was very warm in winter and cool in summer. The soddy was the favorite choice of home building materials. If you have ever wondered why sod was used so prevalently across Nebraska and other remote areas of the west, just look around and appreciate the vast open spaces. Yes, the vast open spaces were because there were so few trees! So, what better to use, than sod bricks formed with the available soil, mixed with vast amounts of available grass, to form sod bricks! Both of these houses had been the homes of the Snow-Redfern Families and had been updated with stucco siding, etc. Eventually the soddy was selected as the first home for the staff and boys.
It was then obvious this was only the start, and discussion turned to how and where to find the funds to build the first new dormitory. In the beginning fundraising was by word of mouth and a few newspaper articles about the needs the Snow Redfern Memorial Foundation was facing. One of the first newsletters from 1965 shows some of the efforts to solicit support, and the results of those efforts. It is in this letter that the Nebraska Fraternity of Eagles are first mentioned as possible major donors to assist in building the first dorm. Over many years the Nebraska Eagles, and even the International Eagles, became major participants in the development of the Boys Ranch. The fact that they had such a major impact will require a special section to not only their initial efforts, but other support systems that evolved over the coming years. Look for that soon.
So, this Part II brings us up to the time when preparation of the first building (soddy) is prepared for youth, the first staff are hired. Next, we will look at the arrival of the first boy, Bobby Dutton, and what a major event that became. As well, we will look at 3 other boys who arrived soon after Bobby. This writer did not realize how far back his connection was to the beginning, but he started teaching in the Alliance Junior High School (now the Middle School) in 1968, and one of his students was one of these first 4 boys, Alvin Syrovotka! Wow, I’ve been tied to this program for a long time!!!