Tuesday, September 22, 2015

For Fatherless Boys


Two past owners says this old corner post and a three strand fence has stood since the 1930's accepted as the boundary of the land we have acquired for a boys ranch... which a neighbor now wants to change, in order to gain a fraction of an acre of land.

This is the ten year old house that a neighbor wants to destroy after doing a secret land survey which he says gives him possession of the end of it…possibly as little as 10 feet.  If we can save it, the ranch for fatherless boys will have a headquarters and a three-year plan will be fulfilled

         I hadn’t done much of anything important in my life until the summer of my twentieth year.  That summer I needed a job before returning to the University of Missouri for the final semester. A man name Gilbert Rader, with the University’s Extension Service, asked me if I would like to come back to Texas County, where I was born and raised, and work with young troubled boys who were already getting into trouble at the age of 12 or 13. It was a great summer and I knew then I would like to do as much of that as I could, because I saw the summer’s work change lives.

         About five years ago I met an elderly man and his wife because my daughter was his doctor.  He wanted me and my little grandsons to come and see his place.  His name was Dan Besser, and in he was a war veteran with one of the most remarkable life stories I have ever heard.  In the summer 2014 issue of the Journal of the Ozarks magazine, one of our writers interviewed him and told the story of much of his life. 
         Dan was a good person at heart, and I really liked him.  His wife Phyllis passed away in the winter of 2013 and he just fell apart.  His health was poor and I began to take him to the hospital in Springfield every couple of weeks. After one of those trips he told me he had a dream of keeping his 50 acres along Brush Creek as it was for others to enjoy.  He had built two cabins on knolls in the woods overlooking the creek and bought my grandsons a kayak because they and a half-dozen boys were celebrating a birthday there one weekend.

         I think right then that God had a plan which Dan and I were to become partners in.  Neither of us could really see what it was until he told me how his father had died before he turned six years old and he recognized how it had affected his life to not have a father.  He started hanging out in a Wheatland tavern, and they gave him all the beer he could drink. Because they thought he was funny when drunk, they turned him into an alcoholic for life!

         But something made Dan build one of those cabins with lofts, which he told me he envisioned providing weekend retreats for youngsters.  He wondered if I would help. An outdoor writer may not have the money to pull such a thing off but with the help of my daughters we used money left to us by their grandfather, who loved the outdoors as much as anyone.  Using that money we bought the land with the agreement that Dan could live there until his death.

         A couple of months later, Dan came to me and said our neighbor to the west was an evil man who lived for money.  He had recently been caught and charged with hunting over bait barrels and according to Dan he and his cohorts killed turkeys out of season while they hunted deer. Dan said the man, who I have never met, had become angry because Dan didn’t sell him the land, and I suppose he figured having neighboring land being used for dozens of under-privileged children in the fall might ruin his hunting.

         Dan told me that for a half century, the boundary of his land had been marked by two old 3-strand barbed wire fences but he had caught this neighbor to the west, with his son, tearing down the boundary fence, trying to hide any evidence of it.  But he had left much of it, including the old corner post. Dan said the neighbor had a new secret survey done which took in small sections of the road and about 10 feet or so of the cabin.   He and his lawyer demanded a hefty sum of money AND the closing of the road, and insisted on demolishment of the ten or fifteen feet of the 30-foot home Dan had built ten years before.

          Dan said not to worry, the road and barn it led to had been there for twenty years and something called “adverse possession law” would not allow the man and his lawyer to take that fraction of an acre or destroy the home which we were going to use in the wilderness retreat for boys without fathers.  He said he and his lawyer would take care of it in court.

         Before he could, Dan became very ill. For months, dementia took him away. He died last July.  Suddenly the whole thing fell on my shoulders.  I called a previous owner, Gary Rowland, who told me the fence that had been removed had been the boundary that five landowners had always agreed on for thirty or forty years and when he sold it to Dan, the boundary was indeed that fence.  He said the road and barn had been there for about twenty years, and the home had been there ten years.  Rowland said he suspected that before they had the secret survey done, the man and his lawyer may have manipulated the land boundary description.  Like me, he couldn’t imagine why a man would be so adamant about destroying a home when he could gain nothing but a few yards of brushland; especially someone who already owns more than 100 acres.

         I am convicted to make this place Dan Besser loved so much into a place where boys without fathers can come for a weekend or a week, guided by good counselors.  With the two cabins, and Dan’s three bedroom home there could be room for as many as 20 children at a time and four or five counselors.  I have already begun work on nature trails through the woods and believe I can easily have 2 miles of trails finished by mid-winter.  There is a big flat field there for softball or soccer, a beautiful gravel bar and swimming hole and I think I can soon have a dozen kayaks and canoes for the creek.    A nearby flowing spring can give us a fishing hole of cold flowing water stocked with trout for kids to catch and eat.

         I don’t have a lawyer and the case is to be decided by a judge who has the same name as a judge in western Missouri I once wrote about.  He took high officials from Conservation Department hunting on his special private reserve and talked them into giving him a quarter million dollars to improve it.  Today, that family has their property taxes paid by the MDC and they despise me for letting the world know about what they’ve done. I doubt that judge will render any impartial decisions if he is indeed part of that family.  We need a lawyer to make this dream that Dan and I had, a reality. Not one who is interested in making lots of money, but one who has an interested in seeing this project for under-priveleged children come to fruition.

         No one is going to make money out of this plan, I want this to be free for deserving kids.  But if this neighbor has his way and can indeed claim the fraction of an acre his new boundary gives him and bulldoze a few feet of the home, the whole thing is hopeless.  I hope somewhere out the among this column’s readers I can find some help.  I don’t know anything about courts and land dispute issues and adverse possession laws but I know what evil is.  We are going to need help dealing with it.
         Meanwhile if you want to see what I am talking about, and see the great potential of using this land and the structures for a type of free boys retreat, come and let me show it to you.

Write to me at Box 22,Bolivar, Mo 65613 or email me at lightninridge@ windstream.net.  The phone number is 417 777 5227.

No comments: