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From homeless to hopeful

Masie and Larry Bross run Whiz Kids and City Care, respectively. Their efforts to help Oklahoma City's poor and indigent stem from their own tough times.
by Ken Raymond Published: May 15, 2012

Larry Bross doesn't like to talk about his family's hard times.

He's a proud man, justifiably so, and his office at City Care is filled with better memories: photos from his days as a Sooner, awards honoring his nonprofit work and notes and maps tied to projects both planned and under development.

He'd rather talk about those things. Not the bad years. Not the homelessness.

Not that stuff.

The troubles, though, are a significant part of the story. If every move had been successful, Bross and his wife, Masie Bross, wouldn't have had to grow. If they hadn't felt embarrassment, they wouldn't understand why people who need assistance don't always ask for it.

If they hadn't known tough times, well, maybe they wouldn't be helping so many homeless people today.

From prosperity to loss

Larry Bross, now 64, was an all-sport athlete at El Reno High. His father owned a full-service grocery store in town, but Bross wasn't fond of that kind of work.

He tried his hand at shining shoes before his entrepreneurial spirit saw a better opportunity in haying. As a teenager, he hired a crew of workers and went to work in the hay fields, his muscles growing stronger with each rectangular bale he threw.

His strength, athleticism and work ethic enabled him to walk on to the University of Oklahoma football team, backing up two-time All-American Granville Liggins. Larry wasn't the biggest guy on the team, but that was OK.

“We wanted to be quick,” he said. “We weren't big enough to overpower anybody. That worked out well for us until we came up against a team that was big and fast.”

He met Masie in their sophomore year at OU. She was pretty and positive, a former cheerleader at Woodward High and the daughter of Phil Ferguson, a wealthy rancher, banker and U.S. congressman. (Ferguson launched two unsuccessful gubernatorial bids in the 1950s, once as a Democrat and once as a Republican.)

Masie admired Larry's tenacity and brashness. On their first date, he got her to ride on the back of his motorcycle. They remember it for different reasons.

“I was absolutely scared to death,” she recalled.

“She squeezed me so tight,” he said.

They married in 1969. Masie left college for a job at Kerr-McGee. Larry earned a degree in business management and marketing.

After graduation, they moved to her father's ranch in Woodward, staying for years and producing three children: twins Lance and Shasta, now 40, and Luke, 31.

After a tornado destroyed their home, the family moved to Edmond. Larry started an oil field services company, and everything seemed to be running smoothly.

“We bought a house (with) three times more value than the house we'd left in Woodward,” Masie said. “We put our kids in Christian schools. And the oil field bubble burst.

“Penn Square Bank went under (in 1982). Oil companies out the kazoo were filing bankruptcy. We lost our home. In the next seven years, we lived in six different rent houses, and at one point we were homeless and lived with some friends.”

Helping the hopeless

The oil bust left others in much worse shape than Masie and Larry.

That was obvious by the crowd that gathered each morning for a free breakfast at City Church, not far from downtown Oklahoma City.

Larry didn't go there to eat. He went to the church for the men's Bible study classes, which coincided with breakfast. But he found it hard to concentrate on the scriptural lessons; he couldn't look away from the impoverished diners — men, women and children.

“Being able to relate to them from our experiences of losing everything — our business, our home, being homeless — he just felt drawn to them,” Masie said. “He could understand everything about them except the hopelessness they felt.”

His family was enduring a rough patch, but they were staying in the top floor of a friend's posh home. He had a college degree, a solid resume, business contacts and others willing to help. Worst case scenario, he could do as Masie did and rely on his resume to land temporary jobs.

But these people ...

“When you're homeless and in that homeless line,” Masie said, her voice thick with emotion, “you're hopeless. You don't have anything. ... And he noticed that difference.”

He volunteered to help with the breakfast and soon was put in charge of it. He and Masie were amazed by how many people showed up. Looking back over about three months of records, they found that the church had served more than 2,000 meals. The figure was shocking.

“Where did this homeless population come from?” Masie said. “How can we be so clueless? How can we be in Edmond, minutes from this place, and be so clueless?”

The problem, they learned, had its roots in poverty and education. Impoverished children needed at least two things to become successful adults: a good education and a relationship with a stable, caring adult.

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by Ken Raymond
Book Editor
Ken Raymond is the book editor. He joined The Oklahoman in 1999. He has won dozens of state, regional and national writing awards. Three times he has been named the state's "overall best" writer by the Society of Professional Journalists. In...
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