President of Dakota Boys & Girls Ranch nears retirement

By Jill Schramm, Associated Press | Posted - Sep. 1, 2015 at 3:01 p.m.



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MINOT, N.D. (AP) — Although his career path took a couple of unexpected curves early on, Gene Kaseman concludes the destination turned out well. It also turned out well for Dakota Boys and Girls Ranch, where Kaseman is phasing out a career that will have spanned 44 years.

A banquet to honor Kaseman as he retires as president will be held Sept. 11 in the Holiday Inn Riverside. A social begins at 5:30 p.m., followed by a dinner at 6:30 p.m. There will be a program, music and dancing. RSVPs are required for the dinner by Sept. 1.

Kaseman currently is part time with the ranch as chief executive officer, a position in which he is helping to transition leadership to the new CEO, Joy Ryan. His duties will gradually come to an end in the fall of 2016, the Minot Daily News (http://bit.ly/1LJcIKJ ) reported.

Kaseman joined the ranch in 1972 as an agricultural instructor. The ranch was a small operation then, with about 18 staff and 36 boys, he said. Today the ranch has a staff of about 550 and last year served 321 youth in residential treatment at campuses in Minot, Fargo and Bismarck. Including youth served in day programs and off campus, the lives of around 1,000 young people were touched by the ranch in the past year.

Kaseman said he was on his way to California when he detoured to the ranch. However, the detour actually started after Kaseman enrolled at North Dakota State University in Fargo.

Kaseman had been set on an agricultural economics degree with a solid science background that would help land him a job with a large agribusiness company.

"At that time, there was a desperate shortage of vocational agriculture instructors. I had one instructor who really said I should be a teacher," he said.

So he enrolled in some education courses and took a student teaching job in Stanley. Having grown up in south-central North Dakota, cities in northwestern North Dakota had never been on his radar, he said.

"I had to get a road map and find out where Stanley was," he said.

He was teaching in St. Thomas in northeastern North Dakota when his brother in California tried to lure him to that state with talk about it being a good place to work and buy a home. Kaseman was about to take the bait when a teaching position opened at what then was Dakota Boys Ranch.

"So I took the position with the ranch with the intent of one year or two and then get out of town," Kaseman said. Captivated by every new project that arose in the process of making the ranch into what it is today, he never left.

"There was always something to change," he explained. "Forty-three years went by pretty quick."

Kaseman said he still wonders how it would have worked out in California or the agribusiness industry, but not with any regret.

"It was a good choice," he said of the ranch. "I probably did some things that a lot of people don't have opportunity to do serving children and families, and quite a few of them."

He finds reward in working for an organization through which he was able to impact people's lives, including the lives of employees. He still has occasional contact with some former youth, most of whom have successfully gone on to jobs and families of their own.

Kaseman also looks back on an organization that has made some dramatic strides.

He remembers driving on a gravel road onto the ranch, which had no entry sign. There were only two main buildings.

The former director was a good fundraiser, he recalled, and by the time he stepped into the presidency in 1986, the ranch had come through a tremendous growth spurt. Cottages were built and a professional landscape architect had been hired to help with the grounds.

Kaseman also broadened his background in his initial years with the ranch by gaining experience in grant writing, obtaining a master's degree, and becoming a certified development officer to assist with fundraising.

When Kaseman had arrived in the early 1970s, the ranch was taking in boys with juvenile delinquency issues. About 90 percent came from places like Chicago, St. Louis, Indiana and Iowa.

"The philosophy was if you had delinquents, you wanted to get them two to three states away," Kaseman said.

In the early 1980s, the ranch turned its focus to youth with behavioral issues, including trauma from abuse, drug addiction and educational concerns. Until that time, these youth were untreated or sent to institutions for mental health patients.

Although the ranch can claim to have served youth from 36 states during its 63-year history, it is serving many youth from within the state, enabling parents to get involved in treatment. The ranch has its own school system and medical and mental health providers.

"Now we have clinics that provide treatment for the community," Kaseman said. "We actually provide community-based services."

A spiritual component also has been a major part of ranch life since its founding by the Lutheran Church.

"We have a really strong spiritual life program and we put a lot of emphasis on that. We have a full-time chaplain and full-time spiritual life workers. That makes our program quite unique," Kaseman said.

It also has led to lawsuits from groups less friendly to faith-based programs. Kaseman said the ranch's careful accounting system has allowed it to show no government money goes for spiritual activities, and those activities are voluntary, although nearly all youth participate.

Having a faith-based foundation is critical for establishing moral boundaries and in promoting the concept of forgiveness, Kaseman said.

"You have to have something like that if you are going to be effective," he said.

The average age of youth served has fallen from 16 to 18 years old to 14 to 16 years old. It's not uncommon to serve youth as young as 10, and the school is set up for kindergarten through high school, acknowledging that youth might come to the ranch at any age.

Kaseman said there was an initial reluctance to take girls because of uncertainty over how the ranch might accommodate mixed sexes. The ranch operated an experimental co-ed program in Fargo for several years before deciding to open all programs to girls, much to the delight of referral agencies that had been hoping for such a move.

Last year, there were 197 boys and 126 girls in the ranch's residential programs. A typical stay is nine months to a year.

The ranch has 26 horses available for ranch-based and community-based equine therapy. Through the contributions of Honda, the ranch offers a motorcycle program and plans to expand that program to youth at Minot Air Force Base. With its garden and three greenhouses, the ranch offers a horticulture program as part of its school curriculum. It also has an award-winning wildlife program.

Years ago, the ranch was known for raising and selling corn. That program became less practical as school start dates moved up to conflict with harvest, but the greenhouses have made raising other vegetables possible. A large bee and honey operation also went by the wayside for logistical reasons.

These days, the foundation provides about 20 percent of the ranch's operational support, maintains the facilities and also has a college scholarship fund for ranch students. The ranch operates eight thrift stores. The ranch has a robust fundraising division using direct mail, special events and deferred giving plans.

Kaseman has traveled extensively around the country in his fundraising role as president. It's one of the aspects he's enjoyed about his job.

As he enters retirement, he hopes to have more time for leisure activities and family. He and his wife, Linda, a former executive director of the Minot Housing Authority, have a son and daughter and six grandchildren.

Kaseman said he wants to experiment with some new activities before determining where retirement should take him. Life has led him down some unexpected paths already, so he's preparing for what could well be that next curve in the road.

___

Information from: Minot Daily News, http://www.minotdailynews.com

This is an AP Member Exchange shared by the Minot Daily News

Copyright © The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

Jill Schramm

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