Tucked into the dry South Dakota landscape, just beyond the buffalo, sits a cluster of simple buildings known as the Sky Ranch for Boys — a residential treatment facility for troubled male youth that owes its existence to support from the beverage alcohol industry. Sky Ranch will commemorate its 50th anniversary this June.
Industry support of Sky Ranch came about in the 1960s when Father Don Murray sought help for the troubled boys he was caring for at his rectory in Buffalo, S.D. Members of the local beverage alcohol industry were the first and only people to answer his call.
“They came up with the idea to build a special facility to give kids an opportunity for a fresh start. They pulled together and the rest is history,” says the Sky Ranch Foundation’s administrator and treasurer, Duncan Cameron. “Now, 50 years later, we have a 3,000-acre ranch with more than a dozen buildings. And the amazing thing is that the industry members who compete come together for Sky Ranch to do something very useful.”
Though the Sky Ranch Foundation doesn’t run the day-to-day program, it does make the facility’s operations possible through fundraising efforts and generous donations. To date, the industry has raised millions for Sky Ranch, covering the cost of everything from basic education courses to group therapy sessions that help get troubled boys back on the right track.
At the Ranch’s special education facility, the boys study English, math and science, while sessions with the staff counselors and therapists offer outlets to strengthen their learning and behavior skills. Participating in athletics and working with horses keep the boys physically active, and trademark initiatives such as a flight training program help boys discover their talents and reward good behavior.
Monetary contributions are not the only way the industry supports Sky Ranch. Industry leaders including Foundation president Ralph Aguera of Brown-Forman and Foundation chairman Mike Donohoe of Future Brands also volunteer as mentors, corresponding with individual boys to offer moral support and advice during their time at the ranch.
“We are helping young men turn their lives around. Most of these kids come from lousy parents who came from lousy parents, and what we are trying to do in some way is break that cycle and develop some fine young men for the future,” Aguera says.
Industry support will no doubt continue beyond the ranch’s 50th anniversary because leaders including Aguera and Donohoe understand the value of the industry’s giving tradition. “The alcohol beverage industry supports a lot of worthy causes, but this is the only charity where we really own this [cause],” Cameron says. “This is our tradition but it is also our responsibility. We have a commitment to history and our own reputation to make sure this program continues to do well.”