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Pinehaven a ‘kids and cattle ranch’

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ST. IGNATIUS — On an 11,020 acre ranch southwest of St. Ignatius, troubled kids are taught Christian values along with their regular elementary and secondary classes. Pinehaven founder Pastor Bob Larsson told the St. Ignatius Neighborhood Watch Chapter Nov. 15 that the children on the “kids and cattle ranch” come from all over the United States and even from foreign countries. He noted that sexual predators or violent youths are not accepted. 

The 30 to 50 children who live on the ranch, which includes a pregnant teen program, range in age from preborn to 19. Most of the youths come with behavioral problems, Larsson said.

“They haven’t learned to behave without consequences,” he said. The ranch does not deal out physical punishment, he added. The punishment for misbehavior is usually work. Included in the slide show he produced was a picture of a boy scooping manure.

“This is the kind of punishment they receive,” Larsson said. “And our cows provide an unending supply of it. Pinehaven is a working cattle ranch with about 130 head of cattle and 15 horses.

The children are taught Christian values but are not force fed religion, he said. The children and parents are told beforehand that Christianity will be taught and they sign an agreement that allows for it. He said that although the ranch is an entity included as part of the Christian Church, the schooling is “undenominational.” 

The children are usually behind in their studies when they arrive, he said. They are tested and given classes according to their needs. That education includes working on the ranch performing duties that range from cooking and gardening to milking cows and cutting firewood. 

The ranch is an entity included in the Christian Church. It is a nonprofit corporation. The ranch doesn’t ask for money but is financed through donations. Its “Good News from Pinehaven” newsletter includes letters from donors and former students and a mail-in donation form. The newsletter has a circulation of about 12,000. The ranch charges no tuition and receives no government funds.

“There is no indebtedness,” Larsson said. “If we don’t have the money, we don’t buy it. “ 

Larsson and his wife Nancy came to minister in the Mission Valley in 1951. They, along with others, founded the ranch “as a way to serve the Lord.” He recently turned over the reins of the ranch to his grandson Andy. His son John is principal of the state-accredited school.

“I’m 86 years old,” he said, adding with a smile, “but I’m still tarp as a shack.”

The impressive campus on the ranch includes a school, a gymnasium, a swimming pool, a sawmill, a milking barn, an auto repair shop, a metal working shop, a butcher shop, a large garden and group residences. The ranch has between 25 and 30 employees.

“We didn’t want it to be an institution,” Larsson said. The children live in family settings in group homes with live-in dads and mothers. House parents are hard to find, he said. Some wear out quickly, he added. Others stay for 20 years. 

While acknowledging that there are failures in the educational effort, he said there are outstanding successes as well. The sometimes uphill battle was demonstrated by one boy who, when asked what he wanted to be, said he wanted to be just like his dad. His father was in prison. On the other end of the spectrum is a graduate who went on to be a member of the famous Seal Team Six. 

Larsson said the public is welcome to visit the ranch.

“You’ll see a no trespassing sign there,” he said. “That is there for the vandals that vandalized the entrance sign.” 

He added that there are a couple of misconceptions about the ranch. 

“One is that we beat children and the other is that I am getting rich. Neither are true,” he said.

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