Dakota Boys and Girls Ranch turned 70 years old in August. In 1952, a small church congregation outside of Mapleton, ND recognized the challenges faced by the children that had been “half-orphaned” by World War II. (Like most states, North Dakota had many casualties and lasting disabilities among its male population.) Young boys were being asked to help support their families by going out on their own, taking the “burden” off of the surviving parent and siblings. This small congregation of Christ-centered folks started recruiting “host families,” what we would now call foster families, to make room in their lives for these children. They wanted to ensure that children had a childhood.
Over time, Louis and Ida Caroline Butt of Tolley, ND heard of the effort. Childless and on a large ranch, they opened their home to six boys… then added on and made space for another four. They raised the children with all the love and kindness of family. The boys went to school in the Tolley one-room schoolhouse, attended church at the German Lutheran Church, and helped with chores in the house and on the ranch.
When more children needed a safe place to live than homes could be found, the delegate board of the endeavor (as yet unnamed) decided it was important to expand. Mr. and Mrs. Butt donated their ranch to make that possible and Dakota Boys and Girls Ranch came into being.
During our Anniversary week, the staff on our Western Plains – Bismarck, ND campus asked me to talk about the beginnings of Dakota Boys and Girls Ranch to the kids who are with us on that campus. They wanted the kids to know that this place is built on Christ’s love for children, and that our whole existence is about “helping at-risk children and their families succeed in the name of Christ.”
How do I get these precious, hurting, amazing kids to care about why the Ranch is here, I wondered? Whenever I talk to groups, I try to find a way to open that resonates with the listeners.
I decided to start by asking the kids if they knew anyone over 70 years old. I expected to hear that “My auntie is 73.” Or “One of my teachers was 75.” Then, I could say, “Just imagine, when this place started your auntie and your teacher were just tiny little people. They were just toddlers! They were only [hand two feet off the ground] this tall! Isn’t that interesting?” And then I’d be off with the rest of the story…
So, I asked.
And the answer was, “My grandma’s 103.”
Well, that threw a wrench in the whole thing! What do I say now? “Just imagine, when this place started your grandma was only 33”? Hardly has the same impact!
I stumbled on, and they were quite attentive and polite.
These kids always, always keep me on my toes. Please keep them and our staff in your prayers.
In His love,
Joy Ryan, President/CEO
Dakota Boys and Girls Ranch
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