When juvenile offenders come to Rawhide, the facility in New London Wisconsin, they are takers, at least that’s how its founder, John Gillespie described it.
Often, police deliver them in handcuffs. But while the boys are there, they learn to work on community projects and receive praise. The result is, after staying for 90 days, only one in 10 re-offend.
John spoke about how the Rawhide Ranch was founded and his book, “Our 351 Sons,” at the July 25 Waunakee Rotary meeting.
A UW-Madison graduate with a degree in land planning, John was designing subdivisions and golf courses and teaching Bible school at a local church when one initial experience led he and his wife, Jan, to foster young boys.
During one Sunday Bible school, a boy was brought in, and John was told his family didn’t attend church but he wanted to visit the class. That boy, Jerry, returned next Sunday and asked if he could come over to John and Jan’s house afterwards. He said his mother wouldn’t mind.
John left a note on the family’s door with his phone number, explaining that Jerry was coming over.
Jerry’s mother did call.
“She said where do you live? I’ll bring him out some clothes,” John said.
When she arrived with two suitcases, it became clear Jerry was to stay a while. She eventually told the Gillespies that she was remarried and her new husband had given her 30 days to find another place for one of her three children to live.
“Jerry had gone over to the church to find somebody to live with,” John said.
He was there nearly three years when a detective showed up at the Gillespies’ door and said in order for Jerry to stay, the couple would need a foster care license.
John had become friends with a state senator, and the couple visited him the following day. After talking to the State Director of Health and Human Services, they were able to obtain the foster care license.
A few years later, when Jan was expecting their second son, the couple needed a larger home. John had been hired by a gentleman to design a subdivision, and the gentleman was trying to sell his large, 27-bedroom home on the Wolf River. John and Jan thought they could make it a boys’ home, and the owner agreed to cut the price by more than half for that use.
But the couple had no idea how to raise funds or start a nonprofit. They needed help. They’d heard that Bart Starr, the Green Bay quarterback, was looking for a nonprofit to involve himself in when he retired. Upon Jan’s urging, John called him cold. Bart and Cherry Starr invited them over, the Gillespies pitched the idea, and the Starrs agreed to help. That was in the early 1960s.
Over the next 35 years, the couple had 10 boys at Rawhide at any given time. They never had a boy seriously threaten them, though sometimes yelling occurred, and usually, it would be Jan, “nose-to-nose with another boy,” John said,
“Several times, one or more boys would talk to me and say, ‘We’re really scared of your wife.’ And I would have a pat answer and say, ‘Yeah. Me, too.’” John said.
Jerry is now in his 70s and served in the Vietnam War. He likes to say that he was one of the founders of Rawhide.
“Our 351 Sons” is a collection of 157 funny and spiritual anecdotes about Rawhide with 120 photographs. Gillespie said since it was published eight or nine months ago, it has sold 5,000 copies on Amazon.
Other news:
–Neil Kruschek was honored as a Paul Harris Fellow. Congratulations, Neil!

–WaunaFest is coming up and volunteers are needed, especially Sunday. Talk to Jim Kattner if you can help out.
Guests: Jean Hurley, guest of Dave May; Karli Pagliughi and Andrew Hovde, guests of Phil Willems; Jim Slattery, guest of Bob Klostermann; Jim Miller, guest of Troy Salisbury; Andrew Brum, guest of Pat Durden.
Corporate Associates: Caitlin Stene, in place of Todd Schmidt.
Visiting Rotarians: None.
Birthdays: Aug. 3, Drew Lawrence; Aug. 4, Jon Townley.
Anniversaries: Aug. 4, Rich and Carolyn Harris; Aug. 5, Jim and Kathy Ableidinger.
Greeters: Aug. 1, Sara Whitley and Phil Willems; Aug. 8, Rich Wipperfurth and Jim Ableidinger; Aug. 15, Peggy Acker Farber and Leonard Allen.