Dreams Coming True
The Christmas 1965 newsletter is not only historical itself it is the beginning of the reality of Mrs. Redfern’s dream coming true. The newsletter speaks of her dream, and the belief that others in Nebraska will share in her passion. It refers to the first boy arriving at the Ranch, and the first Ranch “family” that has been created due to his arrival. The newsletter continued the requests for financial support. So much is wrapped up in this newsletter it makes it difficult to decide where to begin with this part of history.
In an earlier section, the lack of direction and focus of the new facility was briefly touched upon. Being a true pioneer, Mrs. Redfern wasn’t afraid to forge ahead, even if there were times of wandering. She was so strong in her beliefs that she knew that her big picture would come into focus in time. Being a very new program in the State of Nebraska, there were few guidelines and rules by which the Boys Ranch should follow. In the book to follow, more of those details will be outlined, but for now we’ll just say there was some wandering around the sandhills!
One item that does need addressed now, and of course, then: What should this new Boys Ranch be named? Initially it was noted in Board minutes that it would officially be called the Snow Redfern Boys Ranch. This seemed to make much sense and moved forward with no resistance. As we get into the physical development of the campus, it becomes very evident that the Nebraska Eagles were very committed to helping Mrs. Redfern’s project by coming up with the funding to build the first modern dorm on the campus. This again will get more detail later, but the level of involvement led to some confusion about what the Boys Ranch would be named. It seems the naming rights were claimed by the State Eagles. At some point there had been some misunderstanding about what privileges went along with building that first dorm. The fact that the dorm would be called Eagle Ranch House was probably never in question. But to claim the entire Ranch as Eagle’s Boys Ranch was more than the Board of Directors had envisioned. A picture of a car with that name on the door, plus documentation of a Board discussion addressing that issue, and moving to correct the misunderstanding is all the evidence that has been uncovered so far.
“(E.L.) Neuswanger then introduced Dick Engelhaupt and asked that he explain his duties as Liaison officer. He did so and also commented that there is some misunderstanding among Eagles as to who actually owns Boys Ranch. Some feel that the Eagles own the ranch and Dick felt that this matter should be cleared up immediately by some means.”
Future planned interviews with prominent Eagle members will be very enlightening. It appears there may have been some discussion regarding ownership of the Boys Ranch, and perhaps even some negotiation, as the ending result was the name of Nebraska Boys Ranch. Ownership clearly was never in question, as the established Board of Directors, became the “owners” of the property once Mrs. Redfern established the Foundation.
When creating any business, and this was a business, the “firsts” become very significant. The first customer, the first dollar earned, the first product created, the first on and on. The anticipation of having the first boy on the campus was highly advertised. This first would mean that the Foundation was clearly “in business”. (See the articles following this narrative that the Boys Ranch was in business.) The arrival of Bobby Dutton was literally like the “first child” being born into a family. This is evidenced by the baby announcement that was used to let donors and supporters know that the first boy was officially placed at the Boys Ranch. Bobby was from North Platte, and that’s about all there is to share about his background. Again, thinking in terms of the “culture” that was to be developed at the Boys Ranch, his arrival meant that the first “family” was created. Establishing that the Ranch would follow a “family model” is extremely important. The influence of Mrs. Redfern and her vision was evidenced by this significant decision. Since the boys came from a difficult family situation, it was important that the Ranch provide them with an understanding of what a positive family environment could look like. Many decisions about what the program would look like were based on what that family should look like. Examples of this were: meals would be served in family style, grace would be said before every meal, gentlemen stand when a lady is being seated at the table, etc. Of course, the purpose of this teaching would hopefully follow the boys back home and carry over into their own lives as adults. Did this happen in every case? No, it didn’t, but if even one boy was influenced by this training, it broke the cycle for him. As time passes, there are many examples of those boys who DID use this training. Future articles will exemplify this point.
So back to Bobby Dutton and what appears to be a celebrity tour. He was showered with many gifts and attention, which had to be quite a cultural shock to such a young boy. Meeting many dignitaries from the Nebraska Eagles and the community of Alliance had to be exciting, and yet a little overwhelming for a young boy who came from obscurity to being famous. To be able to ask him about his feelings as this all happened around him would be a great story in itself. How did he deal with this notoriety, and yet focus on the personal issues that he probably faced? To sit with him and just hear the story from his point of view would be a blessing. One picture that follows is very indicative of the “culture” that would evolve. Living on a real ranch had many benefits for young men, too many to mention here. But getting a pair of cowboy boots? What young man hasn’t dreamed of having cowboy boots, and being around animals? Seeing the picture of Bobby getting his first pair of boots is a great example of a tradition that was started with him and carried through to the very last young man that was cared for at Nebraska Boys Ranch. (See the picture following this narrative.)
Traditions, such as getting a pair of cowboy boots, were extremely beneficial to the young men who lived at NBR. This was a sign of being welcomed to the campus, along with other traditions that were repetitious, thus comforting to young boys coming to live in a new and different environment. The more a young person experiences patterns in their lives, the more they feel “at home” and cared for; this is called creating a culture. The culture on the campus of Nebraska Boys Ranch was not an accident, but was created with careful planning, and carried out by very dedicated staff. Culture will be a concept that will be explored in greater depth in upcoming writings.
Following the arrival of Bobby Dutton, and the whirlwind tour by him, and many Eagle and local dignitaries, accepting of new boys to the Ranch slowed down. New challenges were being met by the Board of Directors, both financial and Nebraska regulations. Again, some of the first were coming up, such as paying tuition for the new arrivals, tuition for staff children, and meeting financial obligations. With little incoming via donations, and the little amount received for care payments, the Board had to figure out how to pay for expenses. At this time little detail on these issues will not be covered, but it is significant to understand the huge challenges the dedicated Directors faced.
Between 1965 and 1968 three more boys arrived at Nebraska Boys Ranch. Through research, and looking back at this timeline, this writer discovered something huge about himself he had never given much thought to before. Forgive the personal reflection at this time, but it is significant to understand my deep interest, and involvement in, the history of Snow Redfern Memorial Foundation/Nebraska Boys Ranch.
My teaching career (and work with youth) began in 1968 with a brief (1 semester) at Mirage Flats, Hay Springs, Nebraska. The country school was NOT small as there were 72 students, 4 teachers, a bus driver and food service provider. This was a great experience and was much appreciated by me, thus it could not be left out. However, I knew I had to be in a larger school. I applied for, and received, a teaching position down the road in Alliance, Nebraska. My first full year of teaching was the 1968-1969 school year. The significance of this time frame is that I had, in my 7th grade Social Science class, a young man named Alvin. At that time, I knew very little, actually nothing, about the existence or purpose of Nebraska Boys Ranch. Now, looking back at the history of Nebraska Boys Ranch, I discover that I had in my class one of the first four boys in placement. That means that I started working with “Boys Ranchers” as they were know as, in 1968. So, adding 7 years to the 31 that I was directly involved with the Foundation, I have served they youth and SRMF for 38 years. Guess I do have a little background with the Foundation, and thus knowledge of parts of its history. Therefore, it is very important to the current Directors of the Foundation that this history be archived, and for me to strive to complete a full book with more details than will be covered and posted on our website.
With this bit of background, we will now move into the Nebraska Boys Ranch as they began to receive more boys into placement. The program itself was wonderful and benefited several hundred youth in its service to at-risk youth. As we move forward, we can now begin to get some insight from former employees and former youth who were part of the next piece of history.