Building Boys, Not Mending Men

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Rodeheaver Boys Ranch continues mission 70 years later

  • Residents from Rodeheaver Boys Ranch, which is celebrating its 70th anniversary this year, backpack through mountains.
    Residents from Rodeheaver Boys Ranch, which is celebrating its 70th anniversary this year, backpack through mountains.
  • Positively Putnam FL
    Positively Putnam FL
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Hundreds of at-risk boys have found a home at Rodeheaver Boys Ranch since it was founded in Palatka 70 years ago with a mission of providing spiritual, educational and vocational training.

That mission continues today.

“We provide a home for them,” said Don Holmes, president of the Rodeheaver Boys Ranch board of directors.

The ranch was planning to celebrate 70 years of existence during its April 26 barbecue, but the celebration was canceled due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

“We did not hold our annual meeting,” Holmes said. “We thought it was in the best interest of the boys and the public not to have it this year.”

Despite coronavirus concerns, the ranch is still admitting new residents to its 800-acre facility. 

Holmes said the ranch houses up to 50 boys, who live at the ranch due to parental death, desertion, divorce or disability. He said the boys live there voluntarily and the ranch is a wholesome substitute for foster care.

According to Ken Johnson, former executive director at the ranch, boys can be admitted to the ranch from ages 7 to 14. He said they receive an education, church services and structured social development while they live at the location.

“They go to (public) school just like everybody else,” Johnson said. “Plus, we have a full-time tutor there.”

Johnson served as executive director at the ranch for more than two decades. He retired in November and Brad Hall stepped in as the new executive director.

Hall said the boys also receive vocational training. He said they are currently completing their schoolwork online due to COVID-19 and are still receiving additional education from the ranch’s staff.

According to Hall, the boys are taught how to farm while at the ranch. He said they also learn how to fix old cars, which the ranch sells to raise funds.

“The three main components of the ranch from the beginning have been educational training, vocational training and spiritual training,” Hall said.

Holmes said Rodeheaver Boys Ranch doesn’t get any government funding and operates solely on fundraising and donations. He said events such as the ranch’s Benefit Bass Tournament and Bluegrass Festival, which attracts hundreds of people from outside the county, are instrumental in keeping the ranch going.

“We operate without government assistance of any kind,” Holmes said. “It’s all donations and whatever we can generate through the events we have each year. We have a lot of people who contribute to the ranch.”

Not only does the ranch receive out-of-county visitors, it has also received out-of-county media coverage.

Susan D. Brandenburg, a biographer from Jacksonville, wrote a book about the ranch in 2013 called “Rodeheaver Boys Ranch: It Is Better to Build Boys Than to Mend Men.”

Rodeheaver Boys Ranch was founded in 1950 by Homer Rodeheaver, who was a pioneer of gospel music, Brandenburg. She said Rodeheaver’s mother died when he was a child, creating a lifelong desire to help other boys who experienced the unexpected loss of a parent.

Brandenburg said the ranch is in the best shape it has ever been and Rodeheaver would be proud to see his vision continuing 70 years later.

“His motto was ‘It is better to build boys than to mend men.” And that statement has been upheld throughout all the years of the ranch,” Brandenburg said.

For more information about the ranch, visit rbr.org or call 328-1281.