Oklahoma Baptist Homes for Children

James Browning

stories from the book
by James V. Browning

God Heard My Plea

Bill Bowman

I am one of the many fortunate people who received much-needed guidance from the Baptist Child Care Program. I lived at Boys Ranch Town from the seventh grade through my senior year in high school.

As a young boy, I stood in juvenile court, awaiting sentencing for a criminal charge that had already sent two of my friends to the state reformatory for boys. I had already accepted the direction that my misdeeds were taking me. Just before the sentence was read, a man stood and asked to be heard by the courts. As I remember, he told the judge that he felt I was really a good boy, just needed a little guidance in a positive direction. He said he had spoken to some people about the possibility of getting me into a place called Boys Ranch. He told the judge that the prospects of getting me placed there looked pretty good. The judge asked if I would agree to this. If not, he had other plans for me. I told him I would.

I later learned that the man who stood in court was a local Baptist preacher where my grandparents attended church. I don’t remember his name, but I am truly grateful that the Lord placed him in the destructive path I had chosen for myself.

To make a long story a little shorter, a series of events were set in motion that led to my arrival at Boys Ranch Town. No matter how many people tried to convince me this was a good idea, I met them all with the same resistance—I didn’t want to go. I didn’t win the argument.

I didn’t want to leave my family, but looking back, I was destined to leave them anyway. At least this was a positive step, I was told. It could have been the state reformatory! My mother drove me to Boys Ranch Town, and as she drove away, I remember my younger sister crying. I felt so many different emotions—empty, lonely, afraid, and boy, did I ever feel deserted. I didn’t want anyone to see me cry, so I hid behind some bushes and cried ‘til I couldn’t cry anymore. Every day, for several days after that, I visited Mr. Boldin’s office, trying to convince him that I would be a lot better if I was at my own home. I didn’t win that argument, either. I stayed for five and a half years.

What, at first, was foreign to me, finally became a warm acceptance. It was a disciplined life-style, which I badly needed. I started to attend school and church on a regular basis. I learned how to take part and do my equal share in most phases of operations at Boys Ranch. Most important, I started to do what was expected of me.

There were group devotionals every night, except Wednesdays and Sundays—church nights. In these devotionals, there were group discussions and Bible studies. One night, in particular, one of our houseparents, Clifford Plummer, brought up the topic of choosing a wife later in life. What I determined was that if I wanted a happy marriage, I needed to look in the church for that someone. I did look to the church, found a wonderful woman and we have been married more than 28 years. She is a very special and beautiful person. That was wonderful advice! It makes me wonder where I would be if only I had paid more attention in all of the devotionals. I probably could have avoided some of the problems that I encountered later in my adult life.

As I mentioned earlier, I attended school on a regular basis, graduating from high school, and attending college into my junior year—no degree, but still some sense of accomplishment. I received a rich and rewarding education in music that has stayed with me to this day. I am a published poet, i.e., Who’s Who in American Poetry, 1989, “Our God Given Life”. I have written several songs—none that are big hits, but at times, a great relief from stress.

While at the Ranch, I was a member of the BRT Quartet for four years, traveling statewide and entertaining wherever we were invited. We visited many different churches. There are a lot of fantastic memories associated with the Quartet.

I received the citizenship award my junior and senior years, and the music award my senior year in high school, while at Boys Ranch.

Church played a key role in my development. A strong sense of Christian decency always prevailed in every situation. I realize today that each staff member chosen to work at BRT was blessed with a belief and trust in God and extremely valuable moral ethics. A lot of these were passed on to me. Namely, a belief and trust in God. I have said many prayers of gratitude for all of those staff members who had a positive role in my teen-age years at Boys Ranch. I am extremely grateful to each and every one of them. The teachings I received as a teenager at the Ranch has sustained me through some very trying times in my adult life.

Without a doubt, the two most influential people in my life, still to this day, are Ellen and Charles Boldin. I deeply respect and admire them both, and I will always cherish their friendship. Mr. Boldin is a man who could have been a CEO or corporate president, had he chosen a different career, but he chose to devote his entire life to helping boys develop into productive citizens. Putting it simply, Mrs. Boldin is an angel on earth. They both have a special place reserved in Heaven. I love them both, and I am forever grateful that the Lord placed them in my path.

Life at Boys Ranch was security to me. It was good clean fun, hard work, all the good food that you could eat, a clean and healthy environment, and new clothes in Spring and Fall. I always looked forward to taking my turn shopping for new clothes.

Christmas was always exciting! No one was ever left out. Mr. Johnson, considered by many as the founder of Boys Ranch Town, would send a brand-new crisp $2 bill to every boy at Christmas. Also, many toys, candy and new clothes were passed out to the boys.

  • Continued...

    Each boy had a church who sponsored him. Mine was Central Baptist Church in Lawton. Each summer, everyone looked forward to spending vacation time with members of their church sponsor.

    I mentioned earlier, “all the good food you could eat.” Some of my most cherished memories are about Mrs. Hefner, our cook at Howard Cottage. She was truly a personality of her own, a Christian lady and a wonderful cook.

    Many, many thanks to those people who choose to give so unselfishly, and devote that part of their lives that is so important in caring and nurturing wayward and homeless children. If there were more people who would do the same and touch even one child, there would be a lot less evil, violence and hate in this world.

    I am very thankful and forever grateful that someone special touched my life.

    In my professional career, I have worked the better part of my life in the oil and gas industry, specializing in the service of bottom-hole equipment. With the experience I gained over the years, I entered into a partnership with a friend and we opened our own business. It far exceeded our expectations. The success of the original company allowed us to purchase a construction company and operate three crews on a full-time schedule. Also, we were able to open another store in western Oklahoma. I sold my part of this business to my partner, and entered into another partnership with two other men in a similar business. Hopefully, this will be my last business venture until I retire. A lot of my positive work ethics and discipline were founded at Boys Ranch.

    I mentioned earlier about “problems I had encountered in my adult life.” There have been more than just a few. In my 20s, I chose to experiment with drugs and alcohol, as many around me were doing. I became addicted in the process of experimenting. I could tell you many horror stories I experienced during this time in my life, but they are not unlike others who became addicted. I went through treatment for alcoholism and drug addiction in December, 1981, and I have been clean and sober since that time. It was 16 years on Dec. 13, 1997. I have given thanks to God every day. As I laid in the hospital bed 16 years ago, not expecting to live, I remember in a brief moment of clarity, asking God to “please help me.” I was saying that prayer to the same loving God I had learned so much about at Boys Ranch Town. He heard my plea for help, and I am truly, truly grateful.

    My life completely turned and went in a different direction from that day forward. I have not missed a day in 16 years of asking for help and guidance in the morning and giving thanks at night. I should also mention that I am very grateful for all the prayers and support from those who were close to me during those trying times. My wife, Sherry, my mother-in-law, Geraldine Foster and my friends, Ellen and Charles Boldin. Without their prayers, I would not be here today. Mrs. Boldin has continued to be a source of spiritual guidance throughout my life. 

    My wife, Sherry, and I are members of Wilmont Place Baptist Church in Oklahoma City. Our plans are to find a church home in Edmond.

    Our son, Brent, is married to another Sherry, and living in Latta. They have one daughter and are expecting another child.

    I have said the words “grateful” and “thankful” many times while writing this story. Those words really do describe just how I feel about Boys Ranch Town and all the staff who took part in the positive direction of my life. In short, they saved my life in so many different ways.

    Many times, I have looked back and wondered where I would be today, had I not been placed at Boys Ranch Town. I have been afforded so many opportunities from that five and a half year stop-over in my life. It is easy to image a much darker and different direction—even death at an early age!

    Many, many thanks to those people who choose to give so unselfishly, and devote that part of their lives that is so important in caring and nurturing wayward and homeless children.

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