EDMOND — The grimace has turned to a grin.
Most days, Justin Endecott would fall out of bed, get dressed and walk across the road to his school in Dover.
That's until he came to live at Boys Ranch Town in Edmond in October 2002.
He was told that he'd be waking up — or rather waked up — at 5:30 a.m., so he could do his chores, eat and have a Bible study with the other seven boys and the houseparents in his cottage. That brought the grimace.
But recently while talking about how current residents will be doing the same beginning with the start of school this week, Endecott grinned.
Now 24 years old, he's married, has a son and serves as the horse program director at Boys Ranch Town. He grins because he said as much as he despised getting up early and completing chores, the lessons in responsibility saved him from what he thinks would have happened.
Where do you think you would be if your parents hadn't said you needed to come here?
“Honestly, if you were interviewing me at this time without me coming here, you'd probably be talking to me with a sheet of glass between us,” he said. “I'm serious about it. That's how bad my temper was in school.
“I tell guys all the time they need to get their tempers under control, because it doesn't take you to a good place. I know for a fact, that's where I'd be — jail.”
There are currently about 45 boys at the ranch. While some are in Department of Human Services custody, others come after parents, grandparents or other caregivers have completed an application and the boy has been accepted. The reasons for a child coming to the ranch vary. For some it's behavioral issues.
In their cottages and around the ranch, resident's time and activities are organized to help them learn responsibility and caring in a structured living situation, said Brent Thackerson, administrator at the ranch.
There is a level system with boys entering the ranch on Level 1 and moving up in level based on behavior, school, and cottage performance. Each level of move brings added privileges and gives boys more freedom.
Boys come to live at Boys Ranch Town between the ages of 7 and 15 and may continue to live at the ranch until high school graduation, if needed. The average length of stay is about 18 months.
The primary goal is for the boy to return to live with his family. If that's not a viable option, Boys Ranch Town can provide a home for the boys until graduation from high school, Thackerson said.
Words to remember
As the others talk about waking up at 5:30 a.m. so everything is finished before the school bus arrives, Alec Carpenter shakes his head.
Carpenter, 12, who has been at the ranch for about four weeks, said, “I'm not looking forward to that.”
“I've been up that early once or twice,” Carpenter said.
While the early morning isn't something he's excited about, Carpenter has come to enjoy riding the horses and feeding the horses and cattle.
“The kids that participate in the horse program or other small animal programs have grown so much more,” said Thackerson, who has worked on the ranch staff for more than 20 years. “They're so much more responsible.
“You can just see the kid's self-esteem and self-confidence grow from a kid who comes in and maybe didn't know anything about horses to one who can take care of horses.”
John Cook, 16, has been at the ranch for about three and a half years. He likes caring for the horses and cattle.
“It does teach you how to be more responsible,” he said.
Trent Henry, 16, has been a resident at the ranch for more than a year.
What is his favorite part of living at the ranch?
“Learning how to ride bulls,” he said. “I'd like to compete in the PBR some day.”
Goals are good.
Thackerson remembers when Endecott was in his teens. One day during a van trip, Endecott said, “Mr. Thackerson, some day I'm going to come back and be the horse program director.”
There's a lot about those days at the ranch that Endecott brought back with him, including lessons from two sets of houseparents.
Those lessons include reminders from Dee Riley.
“Mrs. Riley's saying has always stuck with me, ‘Justin, there's nobody that can change your temper but you,'” he recalled. “And she said, ‘There's only one you can ask for help and that's God.'”
“Day-to-day that's one of the things I pray for, ‘God help me with my attitude today, help me with my temper.' He does.”
And then Endecott grinned.