Honoring our Heroes
“A hero is someone who has given his or her life to something bigger than oneself.” - Joseph Campbell
America has lost many icons this past year; the most notable has been Senator John McCain. A decorated military veteran and long-standing United States Senator, he was known for his straight talk and willingness to work with others even when their personal opinions differed. Senator McCain’s passing became a national event, with parades and his body lying in state both in the Arizona State Capitol and the Capitol of the United States. During the ceremonies, eulogies were given by statesmen, former U.S. presidents, vice presidents and many others. Our country’s flag flew at half-staff for the week-long period of mourning before he was buried at Annapolis. It was truly a hero’s memorial service.
Here at the Youth Ranches, we too have mourned the loss of our own heroes. While neither were televised or gained national or statewide notoriety nor were our flags flown at half-staff, their passing was to us just as memorable. You see, this past year we lost two of our former Cottage Pops. These men played a very important role in the lives of many boys and girls who called the Youth Ranches home. Both Allen “Pop” Barnett and A.C. “Pop” Davis were long-term cottage parents with the Youth Ranches. Over their years of service, hundreds of boys and girls came to know, love and respect both of these men. They represented the very best of what it meant to be a father, husband and role model.
On two separate occasions, current and former staff, along with former Ranchers — many with their own families — came together at our Boys Ranch Chapel to honor these men and their own families. They came to say farewell and thank you for making a difference in the lives of so many. While there were no parades or long processions, there were speeches, and better yet, testimonies from the men who were once boys living and learning under the watchful eyes of these two outstanding role models. There were also tears, smiles and laughter as stories were told by staff, family members and alumni. I heard more than once an outpouring of love and devotion that our alumni held for both of these heroes. While Pop Davis’ wife, Sandy, had previously passed, Pop Barnett’s wife, Francis, was there in attendance, and the men who were once boys in her cottage embraced her and repeatedly referred to her as "Mom".
For me, this was a very special moment to say goodbye or “see you later”. I knew and respected these two men because I saw their unconditional love for children. They, along with their wives, dedicated themselves to helping the boys and girls who call the Youth Ranches home, and they did it with passion! Not all heroes are nationally known figures. Some are ordinary people doing extraordinary things, like providing love and compassion to a hurting child.
Thank you to all of our Sheriffs, donors and supporters for allowing us the opportunity to serve so many children who are in desperate need of love and support. You, too, are our heroes because without your unconditional love for our children and generosity, we could not exist!
P.S. As I finished writing this article, Hurricane Michael was bearing down on Florida’s Panhandle Region. Our brave Law Enforcement Officers and Emergency Responders were preparing to meet the needs of their communities both during and later in the aftermath. Hurricane Michael would make landfall as a Category 4 Hurricane and leave in its path devastation and broken lives. Many children who live at the Youth Ranches came from these areas and remained safe and secure in their cottages all because of the generosity of our donors and supporters. When we look for heroes, we need not look too far to find them all around us. You are all our heroes and we remain grateful for each of you!