Boys Ranch Taught Me to Be a Rebel

Posted: January 16, 2013 in Cal Farley's Boys Ranch, Responsibility

Boys Ranch taught me to be a rebel.

I grew up on a ranch.  Not just any ranch, but at that time I grew up with 300-400 brothers–it was literally a boys ranch.  An environment full of opportunity and possibility.  I moved to Boys Ranch with my family at the age of four and lived there for 14 years graduating in 1992.  Cal Farley’s Boys Ranch is located 36 miles north of Amarillo, Texas.

I am thankful my parents moved our family to Boys Ranch because it taught me to be rebellious.

Let me explain….

I am in the process of teaching our students and encouraging them to do the same thing that I did–REBEL.  Rebel against a teenage culture of low expectations.  Rebelling against a culture that says it’s all about me.  Rebelling against a culture that says to, “Just Do It”.  Rebelling against a culture that says, “Obey your Thirst”.

How did that happen at Boys Ranch?  Wasn’t it an atmosphere that if you rebelled you got the belt?  Sure it was, but let me explain how I rebelled and how the Ranch taught me to Rebel.

I started working when I was 6 years old in the Dining Hall.  I could barely carry a pitcher of water or tea.  Some today would call it child abuse making a kid work, but at the age of 6, I had a responsibility to not only care for my needs, but to care for other peoples needs.  It taught me to not be selfish.

I’ll be honest.  There were times (actually a lot) that I hated it.  Especially when Gabby(our boss) would keep us late because of a few goof offs and we would have to line up on the wall and just be silent.  (What a great man Gabby is!)   But, it taught me to do my work well and be focused.

I then graduated from table waiting to being on the Custodial Crew.  I remember making $12 a month working every day of the week.  I remember having to sweep most mornings around the pool and sweeping all of the bat droppings.  For those of you who grew up at the Ranch, you will remember that it was an olympic style pool, so it was large and so here I was every morning, I swept around the pool–that got old quick.

But….it taught me to not give up and just because I didn’t enjoy it-it didn’t give me the excuse to quit.  It taught me endurance and perseverance.

My next job was working at the processing plant with my dad.   The processing plant was where we would pasteurize the milk and then package the milk into pint sized cartons.   I’ve got to be honest, I got the shaft when it came to this job.  Most jobs at the ranch, you could choose to work before school or after school, but because I worked with my dad, my dad made me work both before school and after school.  He would drop me off at the maintenance building at 5:30 to get the milk truck and then he would go and pick all of the guys up on our crew.  So I would get to work 30 minutes earlier than everyone else.  Then after school at 4:00, I would have to go back to work at the processing plant to clean up with the crew.  Talk about not fair!!

I loved this job because I learned to drive.  I drove a big milk truck and after cleaning it out, there was a stretch of road by the hog barns that I would put the pedal to the metal and just fly.  I also loved it because it taught me leadership.  After I learned from the other guys(Thomas Reihl, Jason Granger and Trey McCallie) how to clean out the truck, they passed the keys on to me after they graduated.  I also learned how to clean the machine and package the milk.  Once I knew the inner workings of the machines, I helped lead the crew in what needed to happen.

My dad trusted me as I grew into my leadership.

Even though I had to get up at 5:30 a.m. every morning and then go back to work after school, there was a pride about my work that I was taught.  I was taught to be excellent in my work.  The feeling of working hard and seeing the results of that hard work was my reward.  I was taught that life was not always fair (having to work both times).  Plus, I got a good paycheck, especially during the summer!

My next job was working as a chaplain’s assistant at the Chapel under the leadership of Steve Singleterry and Al Jordan.  It was here that I learned to walk with Christ and serve Him.  After I got saved at 16 (on a choir trip to Oklahoma), Steve started giving me opportunities to lead Bible studies, lead music and preach.  It was here, that God started to reveal my purpose: I WAS SAVED TO SERVE HIM.

Even though I was a child and “teenager” in each of these circumstances, there was an expectation to me more than just a typical teenager.  Responsibility was given and based upon my response to that responsibility determined the direction I would take and how much more opportunity would be given(a life lesson that everyone needs to learn).

I learned rebellion at the Ranch.  I became a man at the ranch.  I moved from being just a child to a young adult with real responsibility that taught me that it wasn’t just about me, but there was a great purpose on this earth than just trying to get by.

Now, living at the Ranch, wasn’t all work.  I had a lot of fun!  Band, Basketball, intramural wrestling, track, softball, BMA Camp, Junior Staff Trips, Dances, Boys State, Hiking in Colorado, Ski Trips, Trips to New Mexico on our Summer Trips–there was definitely a balance of fun.

And I am not going to lie…there were difficult times that I encountered at the Ranch, but I see God’s hand in all of it of how he delivered me from a messy life.

But fun wasn’t really the end goal.  The goal was for me to find myself and to find my purpose.  The people that worked at the Ranch, of which I am forever grateful, challenged me and saw in me more than just a shy, blond haired geek named Mikey.  They saw something in me that I couldn’t see myself.

To name a few: Chris and Brenda Weems, Tom and Lori Novak (Lori was my 3rd Grade Teacher), Melba Brown (my 1st grade teacher), Carroll and Wanda Powell, Mickey Spoon, Sonny Dickerson, Dennis and April Moore, Mr. Hickerson, Ms. Mikalunas, Bob Pyle, Ken Sawin, Buddy and Dianne Sparks, Benny and Wilma Allison, Steve and Dianne Singleterry, Al and Belinda Jordan, Garland and Shirley Rattan (my UIL Spelling Teacher), Lefty and Jolene Adams, Paul and Susan Jones, Bob and Jody Granger, Jack and Ruth McCallie, Steve and Mariella Crist.

Most of all–thank you to my parents, Dean and TeAta Lehew.  They were my role models and my encouragers even through the difficult times.  They were willing to be obedient by calling us as a whole family to come alongside, minister and encourage other young men and women!

These people saw in me more than what I could see.  I am forever grateful.  More than an atmosphere, God used these great people to help be be a Rebel.  They saved me from an ordinary life and helped give me direction and purpose.

I write all of this as I prepare to teach on people in the Bible who rebelled against their culture: Mary, David, Daniel, Josiah, Paul, and Jesus.  They didn’t allow the culture to tell them who they were.  They allowed God, in all of his awesomeness, to save them from an ordinary life and used them to change the World.

That’s my prayer for our students–that they would change the world.  They don’t have to live like every other teenager chasing after everything that comes there way.  They don’t have to indulge in temporary pleasures.  They don’t have to be angry.  They don’t have to hate their parents.  They don’t have to play video games all day to find like they are worth something.

They aren’t useless…they are full of WORTH and they don’t have to believe the lies of this world, but THEY CAN CHANGE THE WORLD!

*For those that I grew up with that may be reading this and you didn’t have a great experience, I am praying for your healing.  I have talked with many over the years who still have struggles. If there is any way that I can pray for you or you need to talk with someone just to get it off your chest, please know I am willing to listen.  You can reach me at  I know in the eyes of some that being a “staff germ” wasn’t the same as living as Boys Rancher and I totally get that and I cannot even imagine the hurt that some may have gone through.  With this post, I am only speaking of my circumstances and how God used it to shape me who I am today.  I, too, did not have a choice  of going to the Ranch and it sure was difficult to compete sometimes against 24 other boys for the attention of my parents, so to a degree it wasn’t all rosy for us staff kids as well.
I say all of this to say, that for some that read this, it may invoke anger because your experience was not like this.  I must say, I didn’t post any negative stuff that happened and I will not.  I am just trying to celebrate and remember the good things that happened.
  1. Cory Johnson says:

    Probably not what every boy learned there, but God obviously had a purpose and your obedience to Him has led you to where you are. Well said. Cory

  2. Stephen Minton says:

    I can say as a fellow classmate, you sir were no germ. You were always goodness and light and you became a grounding soul and joy to be around. I was a rebel before I came to the ranch and it taught me to be responsible, work hard, and to be respectful. Though it wasn’t my choice to be there, I dont regret it one bit. Awesome post.

  3. Cathy Johnson says:

    Great article. You Lehew boys had really great parents too!!!

  4. Wayne Beardsley says:

    Awesome take on being a rebel, the good way… Ever heard of Steve Voss? He has a song called Thank God for the Renegades… kinda fits us boys, OK some of us anyway.

  5. D. Graves says:

    Mike, I liked your delivery because i can relate because in my own wak I too had to endure this life and it did teach me responsibility even though at the time I had no clue what I was doing. I did rebel but for the wrong reasons and I say this because I was able to see that once in the world my actions of my past were not tolerated and the belt or physical labors were no match to loss of freedoms of being put in jail. So as I rebeled I was learning something far bigger than I could imagine. Thanks for your story because your kids can learn a lot if they just rebel and take a chance. Our gracious God has many plans and we are proof that it works when we try just a little.

    • jody williams says:

      Thanks Mike, me and Bobby were tight out at the Ranch, I, like alot of ex’s was very spiteful of the ranch after leaving. About 15 yrs ago i finally came to terms with being out there, realizing what a priveledge i had by being there, the lifelong friends i will always have, morals that can only be taught by what we had. There are some who blame BR for their problems in life or reasons that they might have problems in life, i think they need to look inside and take from the ranch the good and great things that we were all taught. Thank you for all of your prayers and hope to meet the ADULT MIKE one day, would be a priveledge!!!!!!!

      • mikelehew says:

        One of these days we will meet again!! Thanks for your story–knowing it wasn’t easy for everyone, but understanding what we did have! Just like you and Bobby growing up together, Alan and I grew up throughout all of our years at the Ranch–great memories!

    • mikelehew says:

      Thanks for sharing your story Dirk….I remember the times at Veigel–the Ranch definitely gave us the opportunity to succeed.

      • D. Graves says:

        When your parents moved up to Veigel in the fall of 1984 it was during a rough patch for me and Greg Gardner since we’d gotten busted on a pre-runoff drama event! So your dad didn’t break it off as maybe he should of and was really cool to us. I remember Chris Aaron and Scott Martin got snagged for smoking and your dad gave’m 10 and 3 weeks book and work them like dogs and Greg and I were the ones who received 50 days and we were eating popcorn and watching TV in the big room in the corner!

        Your dad used to come over to Veigel a lot before he became our dorm parent and for me I had no issues with him and we seemed to do well given some parts of my past prior to him moving up. many people have different accounts on events at BR as do I and like Jody it took me some years to realize what I’d been given and once I saw that it was a blessing and could really digest it I came away with a better outlook. Lookit some bad stuff happened to me and God says we can forgive but that doesn’t mean I totally forget. I believe in time I will forget more and the good with overshadow those wrongs.

        It is refreshing to just stop and put a few lines down about our past and we all can really laugh and have fun because as children we had a much better ability to adapt than I believe we do as adults.

        How about his spit can in a coke can? I can’t remember who in my dorm snagged it and downed it until they realized it was spit!!!!!! he never did that again!

      • mikelehew says:

        Hey Dirk! I think that was me who drank his can of “diet coke”. I will never forget that experience. Nobody ever wanted to ride in the back of a pickup my dad was driving because you might get sprayed! Great memories!

  6. Mike Pacino says:

    Mike, Sandy and I only got to watch you and your brother Stephen grow up from 1989 until you left. You and your entire family (I really loved your mom and dad) were exemplary role models for Ranchers and staff alike. It is good to read of your wonderful childhood!

  7. Britt Hammond says:

    MIke, Enjoyed reading the piece. Many a day I would awake only to be forget life won’t be so hard. Looking back God was INVOLVED no question about it. Many thanks and to say, not that it matters that much but Anderson was the stud dorm on campus for sure. All of the others wanted to be as cool but just never could reach that place of “coolness”. Thank you brother!

    • mikelehew says:

      Anderson was our last home to live in before moving by the processing plant, so we were associated with them for a long time as well as Bridwell, Veigel, Frying Pan and MF–great times!

      • greg wiggins says:

        Seems like another life , been along time but glad to see your doing well mike. Remember your parents well and glad i had the chance to meet them and have them be a big part of my life

      • mikelehew says:

        Yes, it has Greg! Thanks for your reply–hope all is well with you

  8. Alan Dillingham says:

    Wonderful piece fo writing, Mike! Thanks for taking the time to send such an inspirational letter to all of us! It was my family’s privilege to know your family and to be inspired by your parents. Love to all!!

    • mikelehew says:

      Thanks Alan! And I should have added you and Mrs. Dillingham to that list of influential people and the fact that you still are!! Thank you for your investment!

  9. Kala Simpson says:

    Rod and I (Kala Simpson), Cali and K.C., loved living at Boys Ranch. It wasn’t a job (as house parents), it was a family. Not just with our own guys, but with all those we came to know and love on the ranch. A house full of teenagers was quite a challenge, but, it was more so a great opportunity. Facebook has reconnected us with some of our guys; in fact a few will be coming over tomorrow evening for supper. Mike, I remember you well. A young man of integrity. I would love to see Tiata again. Your article and your life are an inspiration. Thanks Mikey

  10. Aaron Nichols says:

    I actually miss Boys Ranch. I remember you. I was in Willis home from ’87-’90. I saw a post with your last name and the gears just started turning in the brain. Lol

  11. Ramiro Rangel says:

    I had the honor and privileged to be a part of the Lehew’s through your brother and my close friend Bobby. What I always experienced when I was around your family was that it so welcoming and such an awesome feeling to be around. When I got married and went back to the Ranch one year for the Rodeo, I made sure that my wife meant the people who had influenced my life. Your parents was the nicest people anyone could meet and have in thier lives. It obviously shows the values and morals your parents had instilled in you and your brothers when you guys were growing up. The things I see you doing, I can only commend you on such a great and I’m sure your mom is very proud of and your dad is smiling from up above. You are such an inspiration for anyone to follow you. Please, if and when you talk to Bobby let him know that I said hi.

    • mikelehew says:

      Thanks Ramiro! Boys Ranch IS family! Bobby is like a hermit now a days or like a groundhog on Groundhog Day-he comes out every few times a year :). Just kidding-he is doing great and has an awesome family!

  12. Elizabeth says:

    You forgot to mention prom! Hahaha! Just kidding. Great post!

    • mikelehew says:

      LOL!!! Those were fun times. Elizabeth, I always tell my students the only way we were able to find a girl to go to the prom with was by being in extracurricular activities-it would have made for a very boring prom if not for those opportunities to meet friends-band, FFA, choir, etc!! 🙂

  13. John Stanley says:

    I really enjoyed reading this, Mike. It brought back quite a few memories, some good, some bad. Like you, I also learned to be a rebel, only I choose the wrong path.
    As you might remember, I was a stubborn, hard headed kid that pushed back every chance I got. Even with your dad, who I still have great respect for by the way, I did all I could to rebel. My choices made life hard for me at times, however, it also prepared me for life outside the ranch. I was out less than two years when I joined the military. I breezed through Army basic and advanced training from the lessons I learned at the ranch. Two weeks after AIT, I found myself on a plane full of other soldiers I had only just met, headed for Operation Desert Storm. Like you, I found Christ at 16. My faith in Christ was one thing that gave me comfort during rough times over there. After 9/11, I re-enlisted in the Army and quickly deployed back to the Middle East to Operation Iraqi Freedom. Unfortunately, coming home from this deployment was hard and still causes me problems today, 13 years later.
    My rebellious mindset hasn’t always worked to my benefit. Not long after graduation, I was deeply involved with a drug addiction. It was a pretty dark time of my life, one that I was lucky to get through. I also tend to be a very selfish person due to the tendency of having to always lookout for myself first as a rancher.
    I say all of this to also say that while I hated the majority of my time at Boys Ranch, I will be the first to admit that it was the best place for me at that time of my life. I was on a course of self destruction. I learned life skills that have helped me get through many of the hard times in my life.
    I have great respect for you, Mike. I enjoy seeing your Facebook posts and the positive messages that you give. Keep it up.
    By the way, you’ll always be “Mikey” to me. ☺️

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