WICHITA, Kansas — The Judge Riddel Boys Ranch will close its doors on July 18, as staff work to phase out the only 13 remaining boys at the ranch.
The boys ranch, which has successfully put troubled Sedgwick County youth back on the right path since the commission opened the facility in 1961, has lost its battle to fund it any longer.
“We’re in the process of shutting down. We’re in the process of releasing kids, finishing up their programs, finding homes for the horses, packing up 53 years of photos and documents, and getting the closure of the ranch,” said Glenda R. Martens, the facility manager at the Judge Riddel Boys Ranch.
“We cannot continue to keep the ranch open,” said Sedgwick Co. Commissioner Dave Unruh in May. “We have been clear in what our position is going to be, and now we’re at the point where we don’t have those financial resources and in the prioritization of our budget, we’re not gonna be able to continue with that program.”
KSN took a tour of the facility Wednesday, as staff continue packing it up, only two weeks before it shuts down, possibly for good.
As many as 6,000 boys have come through the ranch since it opened.
In 1998, Nate Davis spent six months at the Boys Ranch. He was only 13-years-old at the time, but had already had several felonies on his record.
Davis credits the ranch for turning his life around.
“The Boys Ranch was definitely a big piece. Without, you know, the piece that they gave me, I don’t know that I’d be the person I am today,” said Davis.
Today, Davis works with City Life in downtown Wichita. He is a mentor and a family man.
The Judge Riddel Boys Ranch offered several unique programs. Some include horse therapy, continuing education courses, independent living instruction, money management, and the opportunity to apply for a position in the job readiness training program. This program allows boys to earn money to pay back restitution and court costs.
These programs make the ranch unique and also more expensive.
“There’s no one here that’s happy about this prospect, but the financial reality of county budgets and the taxing system we have, demands that we make a hard choice,” said Commissioner Unruh.
Ranch staff argue, however, that there is a difference between being efficient and effective.
“To be successful, you have to have those effective programs in place,” said Martens.
KSN confirmed with Kansas State Republican Senator Michael O’Donnell, for Wichita, that at least two outside groups have expressed interest in possibly taking over the facility, and running it with the same purpose.
“For us to be thinking, in six months, maybe this place would be open… We just don’t want to go there right now. We’re just focusing on what we need to be doing,” explained Martens. “Looking at the future and knowing that some of the kids won’t have a place like this to come is sad.”
“It’s hard for me to adjust my thinking to the fact that it is closing and that this is a done deal,” said Davis.
Those boys who would typically have gone to the boys ranch will now be sent to different Youth Residential Centers across the state.