stories from the book
by James V. Browning
A Commitment to Boys
A vision in my mind is fixed forever. It is a morning in early summer, 1957. I have been away from home for much of the morning. As I return, I see a light blue 1957 Chevrolet station wagon in front of the house. James Browning has come to inquire into our situation.
The summer of 1957 was decision time for our household. My mother was very ill, and the prognosis was that there would be many months of recovery. My father was 83 years old and unable to care for me and my twin brothers. I was 14; they were 11.
Albert Moore, a local Baptist preacher, initiated the process through which we were placed at Boys Ranch Town. We lived at the Ranch for two years.
Perhaps the most telling indicator of the influence of those two years is that within a year after leaving, I had surrendered to the call to preach and within the following six months, the Lord had called me to be pastor of Big Creek Baptist Church in LeFlore County.
When Judson Cook, reporting on my ordination in a November 1960 edition of the Baptist Messenger, identified me as “Boys Ranch Town’s first son in the ministry,” I felt as important as if I had won the Nobel Prize.
The Lord has been good to me. I can make that assertion today at the age of 55 in spite of many soul-wrenching experiences along the way.
At the age of 28, I was diagnosed with thyroid cancer. Over the next two years, I underwent two surgeries, three hospitalizations, chemotherapy, a week of complete isolation after being administered radioactive iodine, and countless hours undergoing testing.
When I was 32, my wife of 10 years determined that she no longer could be in the ministry and wanted a divorce. It took much longer than two years to get over that.
There have been other crises and difficulties, some major, some minor, “fightings and fears, within, without,” but there have also been joys, accomplishments and satisfactions. My son, Matthew, has indeed been a “gift of God.” For the last 16 years, the Lord has provided a wonderful and faithful companion, Verla, and we have been blessed with two excellent sons, Dylan and Sterling.
Among the other good things which God has given are the extension of my life, fairly good health and productive work. It was my privilege to serve from 1991-1996 as director of a community corrections program for a four-county district in eastern Kansas. This was an entirely new program and involved a great responsibility for supervising, within the community, felons who previously would have gone to prison. It was enormously gratifying at the end of my tenure to receive the assessment that we had successfully implemented and enabled the program.
I attribute many of the positive qualities that God has grown in my life to the short time I lived at Boys Ranch Town, and especially to Charles and Ellen Boldin, and Cliff and Maxine Plummer.
For one thing, it was a redemptive intervention. I remember well how disturbing it was at first, how homesick I felt, and even though my home life has been less than ideal, to say the least, how often I wanted to be back home. In retrospect, I can easily conceptualize my taking a ruinous path into early adulthood except for the two years of Christian nurture and tendency-setting which I received at the Ranch. There was a definite steadying of the boat in choppy waters which helped prepare for raging storms ahead.
When we moved to the Ranch, there was only one residential cottage—the Johnson. The Boldins and the Plummers had their very cramped quarters and the cottage at capacity for boys. I immediately felt a sense of family I had not known. There was caring and communication. I think I was frightened by it, and perhaps I rejected it at first.
On some level, I probably was unable to accept it. Even now, just past the top of the hill, I am still coming to terms with that milieu of commitment and caring. I have probably unconsciusly been a cynic much of the time, but the farther away I get from those days, the clearer it is that what was there was no sham and no pretense. It was real! It was not commitment to social work; it was commitment to boys.
If I should ever establish a Child Care Hall of Fame, it surely would contain prominent places for Charles Boldin, Ellen Boldin, Cliff Plummer and Maxine Plummer.
But my need to give honor where honor is due extends far into my adult life. Although I left the Ranch against the advice of those who cared, they continued to care for me into the future. Mr. Boldin was always reaching out to me, even up to his retirement, and no one has ever gone out of his way to be helpful to me more than Judson Cook.
In whatever time remains for me in this life, I pray that I may more fully live out the creed of commitment, caring and community which I found at Boys Ranch Town in 1957.