On Saturday August 31, the Eden Westside Baptist Church hosted a reunion of the Pell City chapter of the Alabama Sherriff’s Boys Ranch for those who attended the program during the early to mid-80s.
According to one former “Mom” at the ranch, Andra Thompson, the working ranch offered opportunities for stability and community for young men who were struggling with difficult circumstances during their formative years. Thompson once cared for as many as seven 12-year-old boys in her household.
Operating under the maxim, “Better to build boys than to repair men,” the ranch was not meant for children who were already in serious trouble, but to provide help to those who might be heading down that path. Each house had two parents licensed to care for up to twelve boys. Thompson said that after each day of school the boys would eat a snack and head out to do their chores, which involved caring for ranch animals such as horses, pigs and a lot of rabbits. “We had about 1,000 rabbits,” said Thompson. Part of ranch life was preparing the animal products to be sold to local businesses. “We had no by-products,” said Thompson, “Everything was used. It was a very productive business.”
The money raised from conducting community services such as recycling scrap metal often funded vacations and trips for the families. Thompson said that for her family they would pick an historic or educational destination within Alabama every summer, such as the Huntsville Space and Rocket Center and Gulf Shores to visit Fort Morgan. Before her serious car crash in 1984, country singer Barbara Mandrell would also perform a concert each year with proceeds from the event going to the Alabama Boys and Girls Ranches. That year the Statler Brothers and Glen Campbell performed in her place.
Mickey Pinson and his wife Irene Pinson, members of Eden Westside Baptist Church, volunteered to help with the reunion. While they were not involved directly with the ranch program, they remembered when their three boys played sports together at Pell City High School. “They were a great group of boys,” Mickey said, “They were not troublemakers, but in troubled family situations.”
He also coached a few, remarking it was a diverse group of boys, and they were always well-behaved and respectful, “It was a good opportunity for this group of boys who had been in similar situations to come together. It helped them to know there were others in a similar situation.” Irene added, “I felt it gave the children a sense of community, that they weren’t alone.” Mickey also commended the responsibility which each set of parents took up to impact so many.
In addition to food, the event also had a memory table full of pictures of the boys during their time at the ranch, as well as a special table set aside for those boys, parents and influential community members who have since passed away.
The St. Clair County Boys Ranch in Pell City closed this past June.