Twice a year, my husband and I go to Rodeheaver Boys Ranch in Palatka, Florida to attend a great bluegrass festival. The ranch is beautiful and situated on 790 acres. Created to build the self-esteem and confidence of boys who come from difficult living situations, the ranch provides guidance and the opportunity to build the necessary character foundation for them to eventually live a full and productive life. Their motto is: “It is better to build boys than to mend men.” I love that saying.
It is so heartwarming to watch the boys go about their assigned tasks, talking and laughing with guests and other boys. They truly appear well taken care of and happy.
We have met some of the husband and wife teams who staff the cottages where the boys live in a safe and loving environment. Jeff King, Development Director and his wife, Donna, live at the ranch. Over the last few years, Richard and I have gotten to know them, and we feel blessed to call them friends.
I think if you could look up the name Donna King in the dictionary, it would surely say “strong woman.” In May, 2011, her mother became ill, and Donna spent time back home in Tennessee to be with her mother during her final days. Donna is a registered nurse, and she keeps her license active in Florida and Tennessee.
Six months after her mother passed, Donna was diagnosed with breast cancer and had a double mastectomy with removal of several lymph nodes. She underwent chemo therapy and is still facing more surgery.
Through it all, Donna has traveled to other bluegrass venues to sell raffle tickets for a once-a-year drawing for a guitar to help raise money for Rodeheaver Boys Ranch. She also assembles a basket filled with things that represent the ranch (cookbooks, crafts, jellies and jams). Each basket is different and is raffled off at each festival.
When I met up with Donna in Summersville, West Virginia for the annual summer bluegrass festival, she handed several of us a box, which held three embroidered linen napkins. She told us that one represented the tears she’d cried for the loss of her mother. The second was for the pain of the cancer. And, the third was for the tears of joy she’d shed for the support she received from so many people. I thought this was one of the most touching sentiments I’d ever seen, and it spoke volumes of Donna’s appreciation.
Yes, I am blessed to call Donna my friend.
Check out the ranch’s web site www.RBR.org. And, check my web site after the first of the year for contests. One of the prizes I’ll be offering is a piece of wall art handmade by Donna.
Dolores J. Wilson