Jim's story on his time at the West Texas Boys Ranch.
When I arrived at the ranch in 1959, I had no idea what to expect and had a very rough first year (mostly my fault). At that time, we lived in an old two-story Army barracks with open bays and one common toilet area on the first floor. There were 64 of us and just one set of dorm parents, Mom and Pop Vaughan. As I recall, older boys were on the top floor and younger on the first. After I left the Ranch I realized the staff there really cared about the boys, and what I had perceived as hard-nosed adults, were actually caring people in an extremely difficult situation; guiding young people toward becoming responsible adults.
"The structured life at the West Texas Boys Ranch, along with the responsibilities and rewards, had a huge impact on my future."
When I left the ranch in 1963, joining the US Navy, I found it a very easy transition, and the self-discipline I had learned kept me in line with the military structure. Although I had no intention of remaining in the service, I ended up staying and retiring in 1982. After attending college for a while I started another career with US Immigration. I started first in California, then Marfa, TX, and finally finishing the next 17 years as a Customs & Border Protection Officer, on the Canadian border in Vermont & New Hampshire, retiring in 2005.
Along the way, I never forgot “the Ranch” nor the principles instilled while there. I feel that without those, my life could have taken a very different path. If not for the Ranch staff, the Board of Directors, all the volunteers, and especially the businesses and fantastic donors, (large or small) the Ranch could not have survived or become what it is today, helping the number of young men who have passed through.
Mike Smith tells us why WTBR was essential to his success.
In 1980, at the age of 9, I was placed at the Ranch and my life was forever altered. This one event influenced my future in an extraordinary way. Through the Ranch, I was fortunate to have a place that taught me values that would make me the hard-working, determined man I am today. I learned at a young age that your work ethic and attitude will create opportunities for you not only to better yourself, but to advance in life.
In 1987, I left the ranch to live with my family in San Angelo. At the age of 16, I had to get a job to help my family while also trying to finish high school. After high school, I joined the Navy. While there, I got my priorities in order, saw the world, and served this great country. After leaving the Navy, I moved back to San Angelo where I attended Angelo State University. I received my Bachelor’s Degree in Business Management & MIS. Without the support of the Ranch, I might not have had the drive to earn my degree or even serve in the US Navy. The work ethic I learned at the Ranch is what helped me get where I am today, and I have built a reputation of being a very hard and dependable worker.
There are days in your life that you will never forget, and for me it was May 15, 2000. That was the day I graduated from college. My chance for great opportunities presented itself. The following Monday, my professional career started. I began a 17-year career with Enterprise Rent-A-Car. While working for them, I was able to live all over the country including places like Tampa and New York City. I was able to move up into upper management within that company and have a successful career. While working for Enterprise, I had another door open for me. I had the pleasure of working for the NFL on the production team for the Tampa Bay Bucs for four seasons. When I would get promoted by Enterprise and relocated to other areas of the country, I was fortunate that the NFL offered me positions with other teams. I have worked with the New York Giants and am currently working with the Dallas Cowboys. I have managed to work both jobs for 14 years.
Throughout my career, I have been blessed to work in several areas of the sports industry. I had the opportunity to work several Super Bowls, NFL Draft, The Final Four and an MLB All-star Game. I have been in the auto industry for 26 years and am currently working for a large dealer group. I am the Inventory & Remarketing Manager for the Sewell Auto Group, one of the oldest dealers in Texas. There is no doubt, I truly love working for the Sewell organization. I would like to end by saying “Thank You” to the Ranch for all the encouragement and support they gave me. It allowed me to have a second chance at a better life. I learned basic life skills, work ethic, and focus on academics that I would never have learned otherwise. Without that support, I am scared to think where I might be today. Thanks to the Ranch, I am a better man, father, and Christian.
The year was 1989 and it was a bad time in 12-year-old Forrest Breeden's life. His parents had recently divorced, and he and his twin brother often fought with each other and got into trouble.
Forrest's mother thought the West Texas Boys Ranch could help Forrest and give her time to adjust to the divorce and continue her college education.
"Sending me to the Boys Ranch was the best thing that could happen to me and to my family," Forrest says today.
Forrest stayed at the West Texas Boys Ranch for five years, then returned home to live with his mother and siblings and graduate from high school.
After high school he joined the U.S. Marine Corps Reserve. Today he is a sergeant in the Marine Corps Reserves.
During his stay at the Ranch, Forrest learned rudimentary welding skills from the farm and ranch manager and decided he wanted to pursue welding as a career.
Members of the Ranch staff helped Forrest enroll in welding classes at Western Texas College in Snyder; Ranch scholarship funds helped pay for the schooling. Later, Forrest attended Howard College on a scholarship from the West Texas Boys Ranch Foundation. He received his associates degree from Western Texas College in 1998.
Today, Forrest owns his own welding business, Bulldog Welding, and specializes in pipeline, structural repair, custom fabrication, and race car chassis welding.
"I am what I am today because of the Boys Ranch," Forrest says. "They taught me how to set goals in life. They helped my entire family cope with a difficult time. They helped me further my education. They will always be in my heart and in my family's heart."
Then, Forrest married Brenda Martinez-Chavez. There never was a doubt where to hold the reception.
"I told Brenda I always wanted to have the reception at the Ranch," Forrest says. The couple married at Sacred Heart Catholic Church.
Forrest's fondest memories of the Ranch are all the opportunities it offered him. "There was horseback riding, swimming and deer hunts. I never would have gotten the opportunity to experience those things if I had not gone to the Ranch. They also gave me the opportunity to learn discipline and self-respect."
Chris Barker shares his story on how the West Texas Boys Ranch changed his life:
The amount of time I spent at West Texas Boys Ranch did more than teach me how to make a bed and feed a cow. West Texas Boys Ranch was a home, a school, a church, and a community. I was a resident for 7 years; these were the most important years of my life. They were the most important because of my age and how impressionable I was at the time.
I was already partially broken due to an abusive father and a mother that was not able to handle a hyper kid. My Mom recognized the need for a more structured upbringing in my life and checked out a military school in San Antonio, and then Cal Farley’s. She knew I would not thrive in such environments, and that I needed something closer to a family. I am not for sure how she found W.T.B.R. I am glad she did though.
My first impression of W.T.B.R was Clinton Stone. He looked at me with warm eyes and an open heart. After the initial meeting and the sad goodbyes with my mom, Mr. Stone took me across the circle to the mess hall. On the way to the mess hall, Mr. Stone made a sound only a boy could enjoy and then blamed it on “those darn bullfrogs”. He made me fill comfortable and relaxed. We had a glass of chocolate milk (first time seeing milk in a bag) and spoke about what to expect from the boys. The guys were at school when I was first there. This man was a driving force through out my entire career at W.T.B.R. He was there to speak to me about my first kiss and first date. Every speech contest or play I was in; he was there to cheer me on and encourage me. When he knew I was hurting he was there to hold me close.
I made many friends in my time at W.T.B.R. Most of them I would have considered brothers. Kit Hernandez, Kirby Cope, Forrest Crawford, Brandon Borden, Brandon Fitzgibbon, Jeff Bishop and Donny Page. Some of these are from my earlier years, some from later, and some from my entire time. These were the guys that made life feel like it was more than me waiting to leave. We lived and treated each other like brothers. We took up for each other at school and would fight off anyone that teased another Boys Rancher. That included Robert E. Lee and Central High School.
I learned how to dance, clean, run a check book, cook, bake ,how to teach others, how to lead others, how to ride a horse, welding, mechanics, plumbing and lawn care. These are just a few of the things I was taught during my time there. Most importantly, this is the land where I found Jesus, My Lord and Savior. I was 12 years old and alone with another boy for Christmas, and we decided to camp for 2 nights by the creek. It was here he and I prayed and gave our lives over to Jesus. I was baptized and declared myself a Christian that next weekend at Church. The small chapel at the bottom of the circle was where I declared my love for Jesus, gave my first sermon, and directed my first one act play.
I am not sure what would have happened to me if it were not for West Texas Boys Ranch (The Farm). I would like to think I would have been okay and would have been a productive citizen, however, I truly believe I would have been abusive and not under control of my own actions. I owe massive love to The Stones, The McCree's, The Jorgenson’s, and The Ethridge’s. Also to Beverly Cowen and everyone at the office during my stay there. It was Brandon and myself that kept breaking into the office and getting the keys to the Delta 88 and taking the car on Friday and Saturday nights…. Love y’all!
The number of stories I have from my time at The Farm is enough to fill volumes. Fill free to ask me and I will be glad to share.
I want to be clear on life after “The Farm”. Just like everything else, you get out what you put in. Some boys went to college, some to the military and others went right into the work force. This decision is not an easy one and should not be made overnight. Just know that whatever you are doing, do it with honesty and integrity. Always tell the truth, that way you don’t have to remember anything. Give to others when you have more than you need. These were a few of the things I learned before I went out on my own.
Soon as I left, I was already working at Paproni’s Pizza and getting into A.S.U. I quit my job and went to live in Dallas for the Summer. I came back and was asked if I wanted to open another Paproni’s Pizza in Midland, I said yes. This started a career in Food Service for the next 10 years. I moved to Dallas to start a family and became a Manager for Subway, then multi-unit manager then a District Manager. After the Franchisee sold his 24 locations, I became a Store Manager for Kroger. This lasted for 6 years. I made great money, but never saw my wife and newborn baby, so I left and started my own company called Chris Cleans Dallas. This was a full-service house cleaning, concierge, and cooking company. It went okay, though not very stable in the Summertime.
During these different jobs, I learned how to manage people, learned how to order, do inventory, customer service, employee relationships, merchandising, P&L, EBITDA, and cash control. None of these attributes would have come so easily if it wasn’t for W.T.B.R. teaching me how to do basic chores, accounting and speech classes.
Today I am the Warehouse Supervisor for Mesquite Independent School District with an inventory around 250 million dollars. I must thank all my past accomplishments and mistakes I made, for the life I have now.
I am an active member and volunteer at Shiloh Terrace Baptist Church and a proud Christian husband and father of three beautiful girls. My wife is a teacher for M.I.S.D. and P.T.A. President at her campus. My kids are active in sports, church, dance and online gaming. We have conversations about what it is like to live by donations and the goodwill of others. Having to eat the same cereal over and over till it is gone. Using the same shampoo or toothpaste. Clothes were donated, shoes were donated, school supplies and Christmas gifts…all donated. We talk about living within our means and giving back to the world whenever we can. We give food directly to homeless people along with water and toiletries.
I was asked to give a testimonial about what I have done and how I got to where I am. Of course, I wanted to tell you more. I want to tell the boys to have a great attitude towards everything you put your mind to. Love in Christ will lead your emotions and decision making if you allow him to do so. Find a connection with everyone you are in contact with and love them for that one reason. Christ will give you patience through time. Christ will give you calm in time. Christ will give you the blessings you deserve…in time. His time.
What is a young child to do if he loses his parents?
That is exactly what happened to Kirby Cope, an alumnus of West Texas Boys Ranch. This is Kirby's story in his own words:
If I remember correctly, it was November 1977, a few months after my father was buried and after seeing my mother struggle with the grief of his death.
Because of my age at the time (I was 8 years old, and there were 7 children at home), it is hard for me to remember exactly how I arrived at West Texas Boys Ranch. People from the Ranch offered to help my mother with the younger children. I remember being left that day at the Ranch, scared, but thoroughly accepted by the staff. Structure, discipline, consistency and love became a way of life for me. I'm thankful that God strategically placed people in my life trained to know and understand.
Living at the Ranch over the next ten years, my wishes were to have a home like other boys and girls had. There have been many trials and tribulations for me, but through the foundation so firmly planted beneath my feet and the caring people at the Ranch, I've overcome. I stand today wanting to give back.
Please accept my gratitude and appreciation for what West Texas Boys Ranch has done for me. West Texas Boys Ranch saved my life twice - both physically and spiritually. What a blessing the Boys Ranch has played in my life.
Kirby, now married with children of his own, is the owner of two private businesses that he and his wife operate in east Texas. Kirby is living his dream, thank God, because people gave to provide for his care. Now, he is doing that for this generation of children at West Texas Boys Ranch by serving as a newly-elected member of the board of directors.
So what is a child to do when he cannot turn to his parents for guidence? Hope and pray that people will directly come to his aid.
Whether a child comes to us through the death or illness of a parent or, as is most often the case nowadays, due to neglect by parents because of the destruction of the family, West Texas Boys Ranch is here to help. 70 years after its founding, West Texas Boys Ranch still answers the calls of children in need by providing a Christian home environment for boys from all across Texas and beyond. We are able to do so because people like you still care. We do not receive federal or state funding - all of the needs for the care of our boys are met through people like you.
Make a difference in the life of a child today by making a tax-deductible contribution toward their support. When they grow to be healthy, caring, responsible parents, they'll thank you!