Kevin Hancock was a troubled teenager when the state sent him to live at Timothy Hill Children’s Ranch in Riverhead.
“I had a wonderful household, but when you have two parents that have to work every day, the streets raise you,” Mr. Hancock recalled Monday at a small 30th anniversary luncheon at the Middle Road ranch.
“I loved it,” he said of his experience in Riverhead.
Having been raised in Brooklyn and Roosevelt, he’d never seen animals or worked on a farm, as he did at the ranch. And while attending Riverhead schools, he became involved in sports, which he said he’d never done before. He excelled at football and wrestling. “If it wasn’t for the ranch, there’s no telling what I’d be doing,” Mr. Hancock said. “I could be in a gang or something.”
He’s not alone. Over the last three decades, some 700 kids have since called the shelter home, according to Thaddaeus “Thud” Hill, brother of Timothy Hill and now the organization’s executive director.
“It’s been a wonderful experience,” said Jerry Hill, who co-founded the ranch in 1980 with his wife Fern to honor the memory of their son. “When we first started, we had a big dream. We didn’t know how much work was going to be involved in it. If I had known how difficult it was going to be, I might have been too discouraged to even start.”
So who was Timothy Hill? When he was just 12, Timothy Hill was on the phone with real estate agents looking for land on which to build his dream, a ranch where troubled youth could live, feel safe and work on a farm. “He knew the price of land in different parts of the country,” said his father, Jerry. “He read books on it. He did research in the library and he called near every real estate agent he could think of.”
Timothy died in 1972 at the age of 13, when he was hit by a car while riding his bike to school, but his parents, Jerry and Fern Hill, carried out his dream. And now, it was announced on Monday, they are looking to expand. Thud Hill said the ranch, which currently houses only boys, is looking for about 10 acres for a separate ranch for girls.
Timothy Hill Ranch is licensed by the state and houses boys who are troubled, abused or neglected or come from troubled families. Most of them stay at the ranch for about a year to 18 months, though some have stayed as long as six years, Thud Hill said. He added that in recent years, the goal has shifted from treating just the child to aiding both the child and his family.
“For a long time, it was kind of a philosophy where you’re supposed to just fix the kid,” he said. “That philosophy has changed and people said, ‘He didn’t get this way by himself and we should do something about the parents, too.’ ”
“One of goals is to reunite the families and not just to warehouse the kids,” said Cliff Clark, vice president of the ranch’s board. “We provide counseling for the family and the child to get them back into a safe family environment.”
Often the family will go beyond what services are provided at the ranch.
As for Mr. Hancock, after his time at the ranch was up, he began getting into trouble again. He called Thud Hill, who actually agreed to let Mr. Hancock live with his family.
“He took me into his home,” Mr. Hancock said, noting that he then got his life straightened out, went to a small college in West Virginia, got married and had kids himself. He has since moved back to Riverhead, where he works at PC Richard & Sons.
Mr. Clark said other former residents first came to the ranch because they were getting into trouble — like Tobias Brown, who later excelled at football at Riverhead High School and got a football scholarship to a Division II college.
Mr. Brown has also returned to Riverhead and is now a director at the ranch, Mr. Clark said.
The Timothy Hill Children’s Ranch property was previously owned by a group of 15 investors who bought it thinking that the Long Island Expressway would be extended through that area and on to the North Fork. But when the LIE extension was stopped, the group defaulted on a loan, according to Hill family members.
Friends of the Hill family in Tennessee then signed the note to help Timothy’s dad, Jerry, purchase the land. Jerry Hill then went to Manhattan to meet with a vice president at Chemical Bank, which agreed to sell him the land for what was owed on it. The Hills bought the 106-acre property for a little over $200,000, and were able to pay if off in about three years.
Timothy Hill Children’s Ranch was incorporated as a nonprofit organization in 1976, the land was purchased in 1978 and in 1980, it opened its doors. About 40 acres were later sold to an adjacent golf course. The ranch now operates on about 70 acres.
Source: Hill family members.