Ranch Hands

Staff Writer
Columbus Monthly

A young boy who was receiving services there escorted her around the property. Lach found the youngster to be "delightful" company.

After the tour, Lach turned to the director.

"What could that child possible have done to end up here?" she asked.

His response convinced her she needed to volunteer for the non-profit agency.

"It's not what he's done," the director said. "It's what's been done to him."

"It took my heart," Lach recalled.

After that meeting, she joined a long line of Central Ohio women dedicated to helping the Buckeye Ranch deliver a broad spectrum of services to children with emotional, behavioral or mental issues.

The 73-year-old currently serves as chairwoman of the Ranch's company board of directors.

Buckeye Ranch, which celebrates its 50th anniversary this year, was started by a group of volunteers known as the Women's Juvenile Service Board. In the late 1950s, at the urging of a local judge, the women began raising money to build a residential home for disadvantaged boys, said Carol Head, one of the original volunteers.

The women made buckeye corsages to sell at Ohio State Football games, hosted charity balls and sold Christmas cards to earn the money to build Buckeye Ranch, the 87-year-old said. She recalled selling corsages with Woody Hayes' wife, Anne, while riding a train headed to Michigan for a football game.

"It was a very active group," said Head, who lives in Westerville. "We were inspired."

When the facility opened in 1961, it housed 10 boys. Today, the organization serves 1,650 children-boys and girls-every day, on and off campus.

It helps in a variety of ways. The 145-acre Grove City campus still offers residential services for as many as 88 children aged 10 to 18. The ranch also has a foster care program for children who are ready to leave residential treatment but are not able to be reunited with their families. Foster care also is available to children who do not require residential care but cannot live at home.

The ranch provides specialized care to kids who are deaf or hearing impaired and who have emotional or behavioral problems.

In recent years, the organization has begun to serve children in the communities where they live. Some clients attend an off-campus day-treatment program, where they receive specialized education and mental health services. Others receive counseling at their home, school or other familiar place.

Over the years, Buckeye Ranch has done an excellent job of changing its programming to meet the needs of children, said Eric Fenner, executive director of Franklin County Children Services. When children services asked for non-residential services, the ranch responded by finding ways to offer its quality programs throughout the county, he said.

"I want to really thank them for their willingness to be as flexible as they are," he said. "You want your strong partners to be adaptable to the changes you're going through."

The size and scope of the ranch's present-day offerings amazes Head, who still serves on one of the agency's sustaining boards.

Although the ranch has grown extensively during the last five decades, it still relies on the generosity of the many women who volunteer for the organization's service board and its affiliates, said Nick Rees, president and CEO of the ranch. The women, who range in age from 30 to 87, recently raised more than $285,000 for a capital campaign. The money will help fund improvements to the Grove City campus, technology upgrades for staff and the purchase and renovation of a building on West Broad Street that will house a family center. The women also volunteer at events, provide toiletries and school supplies to students, and donate money for Christmas gifts for kids at the ranch.

"They have given of their time, talent and treasure for over 50 years, and that devotion has impacted the lives of thousands of children and families throughout Central Ohio," Rees said. "Their foresight, leadership and commitment is the foundation on which the Buckeye Ranch was built."


Buckeye Ranch has two fundraisers on the horizon

The Buckeye Ranch is partnering with Dine Originals Columbus to present the Taste of Dine Originals, a fundraiser to support programs and services. The May 12 event at the Grange Insurance Audubon Center, 505 W. Whittier St., starts at 6 p.m. and will feature food from more than 50 locally owned and operated restaurants. Tickets cost $100 and are available at

The Buckeye Ranch Bash, a fundraiser geared to local corporations, is scheduled for June 25 at Columbus Crew Stadium. Attendees will enjoy a party, silent auction and Kenny Chesney concert.


Meet three people whose lives were changed by Buckeye Ranch


Attending classes at a Buckeye Ranch day-treatment program gave Eric Cooke the desire to succeed.

Before joining the program, Cooke had little interest in school, his future or social interactions. He was getting into trouble at school and had issues with anxiety.

"It made me feel like I could do something with my life," he said. "Graduating wasn't even on my agenda (before that)."

The teachers took a personal interest in his success, said Cooke, now 20. They also encouraged him to pursue art. The talented painter often relied on art to express himself. Cooke spent three years in the program, returned to public school and graduated.

"(The program) showed me what I needed to do," he said. "Without it, I think I would have stayed at home and done nothing with my life."

Today he has a job and an apartment. He intends to return to school and study interior design.


Dan Whittier credits the Buckeye Ranch for the successes in his life. The staff taught him valuable lessons that put him on the right path, said the retired Columbus police officer.

"That's where I learned a lot about responsibility-meeting somebody else's expectations," said Whittier, who was sent to the Grove City facility because his parents couldn't care for him.

He lived in a cottage with other boys for about three years. The youngsters were cared for by "Mom" and "Pop," ranch employees who treated them as their own. Whittier, now 57, said he thrived there because the house parents created a loving environment.

"I felt good there," the Blacklick resident said. One of his best memories was when "Pop" allowed him to use the ranch's tractor to cut the grass. Whittier has never forgotten the show of trust.

"It meant a lot," he said. "I recognized it as something I wanted to take through life. I wanted people to trust and respect me."


For the first time "in forever," Tiffany (who asked that her last name not be used to protect her identity) is on the honor roll.

The student at the Buckeye Ranch's residential program in Grove City said she has a renewed interest in school.

"I have the motivation to succeed," she said. "I want to move on with my life."

The 16-year-old, who has struggled with depression, moved to the ranch in December.

"I was self harming," she said. "I didn't feel worthy of myself."

She said the small classes, therapy sessions and the structure at the ranch are helping her get well.

"I feel better about myself," Tiffany said. "I'm more confident in myself."