The Olympia Washington Kiwanis members and their friends have cost the Washington State taxpayers over $50 million dollars (so far), because of their willful ignorance of long term, merciless and well known, child abuse that occurred at the Olympia Kiwanis Boys Ranch.

October 2006 note: This Olympia Kiwanis stuff is old news. I've left this information on the web, because I like the thought that someone will say to one of these Kiwanis friends or members: "Grandma, (Grandpa), are you still friends with those Olympia Kiwanians?"

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By Brad Shannon The Olympian Nov. 19, 1995
Ranch did lot of good, leaders say.
O.K. Boys, Ranch: A former board member says the tales of abuse conflict with the happy faces he remembers.

Darrell Hedges looks back on his years of service as an Olympia Kiwanis Boys Ranch board member in disturbed wonder. The reports of rampant sexual and physical abuse of teen-agers in the group home conflict with the radiant faces of boys Hedges remembers seeing at open houses in the mid-1980s. "It made you feel good.  You made a contribution," Hedges said, recalling that some in the home had never had birthday cakes until the wives of Kiwanis members bake them for the youths. He said he and other ranch board members would ket periodic reports from the staff on the progress of kids who had grown up and moved on successfully. "That made any of us feel good,"  Hedges said. Now 82 and legally blind but still able "to hit a golf ball 200 yards," Hedges said he is sickened by the abuse allegations and says he would never deny they occurred. " I think it boils down to human nature,"  his wife, Barbara, said.  "If  we knew what was happening four doors away to children or eldery adults, we would just die. I think that is what happened to Kiwanis"  members who never suspecte such abuse was occurring.
Physical abuse
To date, the state and insurers for the ranch and Kiwanis have paid $9.5 million to settle claims made by 16 boys who said they were abused sexually and beaten while living at the ranch since the mid-1980s. A state audit in 1988-89 uncovered widespread problems, but the group home was allowed to stay open until September 1994.
On  Monday, state Attorney General Christine Gregoire filed multiple counts of second-degree criminal mistreatment against former ranch director Tom Van Woerden;  assistant director Collette Queener,  and social worker Laura Rambo. Gregoire said they failed to protect the boys from excessive force used by staff members or from sexual assaults by other residents. The three will be arraigned Nov. 27. Van Woerden's lawyer says the charges are atrocious and won't  hold up in court.
But Hedges said there is more to the O.K.  Boys Ranch story than the criminal charges and expensive legal claims. He said that for years the ranch gave a last-chance home to boys who came from abusive families or otherwise could not be cared for at home or in foster arrangements.
"I always thought it was one of the greatest things that a civic group would take on a project like that" Hedges said.
"We received international acknowledgment when we opened it in 1972," said Virgil Clarkson , a longtime ranch board member.
"The Kiwanis in Chehalis sort of copied us. Other groups used us as an example of how to do something like that."
Thurston County Clerk Betty Gould was a legal secretary who recalls helping to draw up the ranch's articles of incorporation in 1969.
"It was a beautiful dream," Gould said of the project, which had the support of former Superior Court Judges Hewitt Henry, former Olympian High Principal Les Metzger , local state legislators and a number of leaders in city or county government.
Even Patrick Sutherland, the eventual county prosecutor who later refused to file criminal charges against Van Woerden and the others, was on the zoning board that granted the ranch its conditional-use permit. Sutherland was Kiwanis Club vice president when he rejected filing the charges.
Many future community leaders worked at the ranch in its early years, or crossed paths with it.
Corinne Newman, the county Juvenile Court administrator, was on the first committee that screened boys for admission.
Lacey Mayor Jon Halvorson was a social worker assigned briefly in 1973-74 to have monthly contacts with families whose kids were at the ranch.
"I had no idea it had gotten so bad," he said Friday. "I know a lot of people in the Kiwanis. It's amazing that so many people who were so influential in the community could have been kept in the dark for so long. It boggles my mind. It seems strange to me that they didn't do some investigation on their own."
Tom Ball, the Thurston County probation director, served with his first wife as the ranch's second live in houseparents in 1971. He said they had two years' experience in a home in Kitsap County, but otherwise had no training.
"The primary reason I was hired was that I had been a drill sergeant in the Marine Corps," he said.
Ball said the luster of the ranch's vision and its early founders and volunteers rubbed off on the group home, giving It a special aura that lasted for years.
State records show that others involved in the ranch included Jennifer Belcher, now state lands commissioner. Belcher, listed by the ranch as a consultant in the early 1980s, could not be reached for comment.
Barb Roder, an Olympia School Board member who was in Spokane on Friday expecting to be elected president of the state school board association was a longtime ranch bookkeeper.
Although Secretary of State incorporation records' list Roder as either secretary or treasurer of the ranch's board of directors most years since 1974, Roder denies she sat on the board.
She insisted Friday in a telephone call from Spokane that she was listed on the documents so she could write checks to pay ranch bills. She said she never served on the board and "never attended a board meeting in my life."
She also said she never had an inkling that there was any problem with abuse at the ranch.
To Ball, the ranch was a good thing when it started. He said he left after just a few years and turned his back on it, mainly out of burnout.
Times have changed since then, he said explaining that in his day "kids who were dependent incorrigibles weren't allowed in there."
Ball declined to comment on the ranch's recent history, instead saying he remembers making a difference in his era.
He occasionally runs into one young man who was among the early ranch success stories. "He's got three children. He's got his own business. He's 39 now."
In Ball's mind, that's what they were shooting for.

Below is an e-mail I received from a former Olympia, Washington resident.

To: Louis Bloom
Sent: Wednesday, July 28, 1999 11:34 AM
Subject: OKBR
Just came across your pages and felt the urge to respond... In the early 80's (81-83) I was at the OKBR frequently as a young kid walking to/from school, I became friends with some of the boys. At one point a small boy confided to me that he was being raped by another boy in the home. The abusing boy talked about it openly!
Days later I walked the victim to OPD where we both gave statements. Later that evening I began to receive these incredibly threatening phone calls from a woman employee of the ranch who's name I believe was Paulette at my home. She kept calling over and over screaming at me calling me names. It was horrible. I thought I was helping someone. Nothing came of it. Then all these years later, it all comes out ... one of the boys that I had known there left as a young adult and still couldn't get it together, he eventually killed himself. As an adult now I don't often think back to those times but it still saddens me. All those boys that needed a safe nurturing place to be, and how many of them were better off for having been taken there? It's not about money. It cost these boys their lives, their souls, their trust. Those people who knew, who didn't care, they should feel such shame. Just my opinion.

From: louis a bloom
Sent: Wednesday, July 28, 1999 7:30 PM
Subject: Re: OKBR
thanks for your e-mail. from what i've read, dshs, the olympia police department, and other "authorities" didn't consider child on child rape to be against the law. it was considered "normal experimentation". The "paulette" you mention, may have been Collette Queener who was an assistant director at the OKBR. Collette, OKBR Director Tom Van Woerdan, and OKBR counselor Laura Rambo Russell were ineptly charged by Wa. St. with "criminal mistreatment for failing to stop abuse". The charges were dismissed by Thurston County Judge Daniel Berschauer on technicalities. The lawyer who represented Collette Queener said, (Nov. 14, 1996 Olympian), that it was a "witch hunt", and that " a more innocent person (than Queener) you could not have for a client. She's an ex-nun ..... I don't see how you could view her in an evil or negative light."
I congratulate you for doing the right thing, when all those adults looked the other way. I repeat on most pages that the " OKBR has cost the Washington State taxpayers over $35 million dollars (so far)", because I think most people don't care about the kids involved, but they may care that it has cost them (taxpayers) money.
louis bloom

There were many obvious and long-term warnings about the 1970-94 child abusing Olympia Kiwanis Boys Ranch.

  • DSHS knew since at least 1977.
  • The OKBR staff certainly knew.
  • The abused kids told staff, schools, counselors, police, caseworkers, therapists, ect.., about their abuse at the OKBR, but nobody investigated.
  • Olympia Police Chief Wurner came to an Olympia Kiwanis meeting in 1986 and told the Kiwanis about the troubles at the OKBR. Chief Wurner was ignored. Maybe he should have done more, but he probably wanted to keep his job.
  • It was well know by the Thurston County courts. These kids were constantly in and out of the Thurston County legal system.
  • The OKBR was written about in the Kiwanis Komments newsletters, and the Kiwanis Board Ranch minutes.
  • All the OKBR Board Members had a legal oversight of the OKBR.
  • Were all Olympia Kiwanis Attorneys & Judges and/or Politicians uninformed?
  • It's amazing how blissfully ignorant some people were about the OKBR. You can read about their guiltlessness in some of their Washington State Patrol and Office of Special Investigation statements.
  • Here's Wa St Patrol Olympia Kiwanis member lists of 1987, 1990, 1994
  • Here is a 49 page index of 5,223 pages of documents that the WSP collected about the OKBR. Anybody can order any of those public documents by following the instructions on that page.
  • The OKBR sent kids for weekend visits to child abusers who donated land to the Kiwanis. The Kiwanians sold the land in 1993 for $125,000.
  • Can the Olympian Newspaper claim ignorance?