Monday, 16 August 2010 10:42

To The Capitol With the McCrossan Boys

Written by  Dennis & Jean Kuehl
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It seems as though it would be an unforgettable experience to be included as a participant in the Inaugural Parade, especially when only 90 entries were accepted from the entire United States. Sixteen young men from the Sioux Falls, South Dakota-based McCrossan Boys Ranch had the opportunity to realize that dream on January 20. During the preparation for departure, David, a McCrossan resident, admitted, “We’re nervous–Pretty much excited too, at the same time!” Another boy named Zach said, “This is awesome! This is pretty much something that’s going to stick with me forever.” Both boys are involved in the day-to-day care of the horses at McCrossan Boys Ranch. They, along with 14 other boys, were selected to attend the Inaugural Parade. Since there were over 1,400 requests presented to the Inaugural Parade Committee, everyone involved in the management of McCrossan was anxious to see the boys get this experience.

Three groups of boys from the Ranch have previously experienced this opportunity. The McCrossan Boys Ranch was invited to the Inaugural parade in 1989, and since then they have applied and been accepted for parades in 1993 and 1997. During this time Walter Schaefer, former board member of the Belgian Corporation, was executive director of the Ranch. McCrossan’s have worked with at-risk boys for over 50 years and the McCrossan hitch team is only one of many opportunities for boys to work with animals. Through ranch activities such as horsemanship, 4-H, Boy Scouts and Fellowship of Christian Athletes, each boy is given the opportunity to learn and expand his horizons. McCrossan Boys Ranch has changed the lives of many young men.

Brian Roegiers, executive director of McCrossan, saw the parade as an opportunity of a lifetime for the boys at the ranch which might even be a life-changing event for some of them. So he gave the nod to apply, fully expecting that his staff and supporters would somehow find the $50,000 necessary to make the journey. Christy Menning, director of development for McCrossan, who knew this was right for the boys, completed a three-page application which requested a lot of past history of the organization and required a video showing the history of the entry and a 2008 performance appearance. She also acquired letters of recommendation from South Dakota Senators and Congressmen and provided the Secret Service with a list of attendees and their biographies for security–NO SIMPLE TASK! Troy Geis, admission and marketing coordinator for McCrossan, who recognized the positive therapy that comes from a trip like this, primarily selected the sixteen boys who would attend. He was adamant about the fact that the boys who were selected would be involved in a range of therapies. Troy used a selection process that included application, performance and, of course, maturity. He probably had more than sixteen boys in mind, but cost does play a role in this kind of venture.

How do you raise $50,000? The McCrossan Boys Ranch has an excellent support system which always seems to come through. A grandmother from Mitchell, South Dakota, persuaded local businesses to donate travel bags, cameras and even candy. One donation was accompanied by a letter that read: “I am 80 years old now and I don’t have much money, but I will do my best to always support the Ranch. Congratulations!” With advocates such as this, Christy Menning never doubted the boys would have enough money to go.

The boys are the reason that Robert and Jane Ball, who raise Belgians near Bridgewater, South Dakota, are hooked on the McCrossan Boys Ranch. In 2002, the sight of some boys using a pair of Belgians immediately caught Robert and Jane’s attention. They struck up a conversation and learned of the McCrossan mission, which prompted them to transfer the first of many Belgian mares to the Ranch. In 2003, the Balls assisted the McCrossan boys in the 64-mile wagon drive to the Prairie Village Show in Madison, South Dakota. That event sealed the relationship with McCrossans and the wagon drive has been shared annually ever since. All this time the Balls have been helping McCrossans develop ownership of a group of Belgians to be used in their programs. Of course, this relationship led to the expectation that Robert and Jane would help with the six-horse hitch needed for the parade. So beginning in November with the help of the McCrossan boys, the Balls have been preparing and driving the horses. Why do they do this? Robert and Jane both agreed that seeing staff and boys at McCrossans use a Belgian started it, but now it is the opportunity to meet these boys and enjoy watching the change in their lives through their experiences with horse activities.

Wow! Sixteen boys, six horses, a wagon, harness and all the supervisory personnel headed for the Inaugural Parade. As most of you might expect, this is no simple task, especially in January! Not only would the Balls assist in preparing and delivering the horses, but they would bring the equipment to Washington, D.C. The metallic-green show hitch wagon was recently built by Don and Connie Werner of Werner Wagon Works, Horton, Kansas. The Werners were still working on the wagon when they received word from Troy Geis that there was a good possibility that it would be in the Inaugural Parade. This news was accompanied by the request, “Make sure Don puts an extra special touch on it.” The harness has a lot of history behind it, as it was recently purchased from the Heinz Hitch through Shipshewana Harness. OK! Now we have the boys and the equipment identified, but what about traveling to Washington, D.C.?

Well, here are some of the COLD realities of participating in an Inaugural Parade. The McCrossan boys who were attending rode a bus, but with a long-range weather forecast of cold and wintry conditions, Robert and Jane Ball decided to leave early on January 11 for Hazleton, Iowa, to do the final reset of the shoes. Their arrival was greeted with heavy snow and cold conditions, so the horses had to be shuttled from Andy Helmuth's barn (on blacktop) to brother William Helmuth’s (on gravel) by their smaller trailer. Robert does not like to admit that he buried the pick-up in a ditch full of snow and was pulled out by a pair of Belgian horses. At the barn, they reset the shoes with borium so they would meet the parade requirements. From there, Robert and Jane slowly moved east, stopping at the farm of Chris Jess in Arthur, Illinois. The next part of their drive was to a lay-over at Bob and Tami McAdams' in Millersport, Ohio. On January 18, they had a reasonable drive into the Show Place Arena, Upper Marlboro, Maryland, which was the assembly place for all equestrian units in the parade. Robert noted that their average speed from South Dakota to Maryland was 38 miles per hour due to adverse weather.

While the weather did not improve, at least they had a comfortable place to prepare for the parade. January 19 was used to prepare the horses and equipment for the parade. The six Belgians were driven one last time to verify to the Secret Service that the horses were safe. Agreeing to participate also meant accepting some conditions, including the ultimate penalty of death for animals that misbehave. Obviously, everyone agreed that driving them one more time before the big parade was a good idea!

The Inaugural Parade was scheduled for a 2 p.m. start. To be sure they were ready, the McCrossan contingent left their retreat at 2:00 a.m. for a final security and vet check to begin at 4:30 a.m. When they were cleared for the parade, they prepared and then loaded for departure at 9:30 a.m. with a police escort to the final checkpoint. While en route Robert confessed, “I am overwhelmed, you cannot believe all the people!” At 10:30 a.m., they entered a secured area where everything and everyone received the final security clearance. Robert said that the check was like getting ready to board an airplane. At 11:30 the hitch was all set to go, so the support vehicles were moved to the end of the parade. Due to a delay in the parade, each entry was held in this area until 4:00 p.m., at which time they moved to the parade route. During the parade, Robert realized that the noise was so great that his outrider (Jane) had to start the horses. The McCrossan entry passed the new president’s viewing stand at 6:10 p.m. Finally, they were walking past President Obama, who, with his wife, Michelle, seemed to catch the eyes of these delighted boys who had so diligently prepared for this day.

Christy Menning was very pleased with the outcome of all her efforts to get everyone there, noting, “That acknowledgement from the President made it all worthwhile.”

“No one could comprehend the people and noise that would be present at this event,” recalled Robert. “Considering the extended time the horses had to stand through noise and blowing trash, I was proud of their perseverance throughout the long day.”

Troy Geis said you could feel the energy everywhere you went. Feeling a great deal of pride towards the McCrossan representatives, he concluded, “The boys were great!”

South Dakota Senator Tom Daschle, a guest mentor at the McCrossan Boys Ranch Banquet Auction last April, addressed the boys with the following advice: “Life is filled with obstacles, but when you work hard and take advantage of opportunities, you can go anywhere!” Participating in the Inaugural Parade certainly qualifies as one of life’s most unique opportunities. Another prominant figure, South Dakota Senator Tim Johnson greeted the group upon their arrival in Maryland with: “I applaud the Sioux Falls-based team’s hard work and preparation to take part in this historic event.” When admission and marketing coordinator Geis was asked if he would ever do this again, his response was, “In a minute!”

In the end, Robert and Jane Ball, who have become like grandparents to these kids, saw the cold of the day melt away when First Lady Michelle Obama definitely gave them “a thumbs-up.” Blake, a McCrossan youth who saw this, made no bones about it: “I felt all warm in my heart and excited to be there.” It definitely was a day to be remembered and cherished by many Americans, but especially for the young men involved in the McCrossan Boys Ranch from South Dakota.

The Balls wish to recognize some people for their help: “John Honacker and Lori Trede drove the other truck and trailer and followed us through all that stressful weather; Mark Hinker modified our trailer to fit the McCrossan’s wagon; Curt and DaNette Bauer and family let us use their barn and arena to drive horses all those cold days; Roger and George Leitheiser and their families for donating all the hay for the trip; Our business employees who gave many extra hours so we could prepare. Without these people, we couldn’t have gotten the horses fit and ready to go. We especially thank the McCrossan Boys Ranch for this opportunity.

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