Gazette opinion: Robbie built better care for troubled kids

2014-03-28T00:00:00Z Gazette opinion: Robbie built better care for troubled kids The Billings Gazette
March 28, 2014 12:00 am

Yellowstone Boys and Girls Ranch serves 600 seriously emotionally disturbed children and youth in Montana every day. Most receive YBGR care in their home community, some are in residential treatment on the beautiful 400-acre ranch campus west of Billings.

This regional children’s mental health care provider sprang from the vision of Franklin Robbie, a Christian minister who grew up in Minnesota. Robbie died on March 21, at age 95.

His was a life of service that brought him, his wife, Merle Robbie, and their young children to Montana in 1948. While organizing Youth for Christ rallies, the young pastor was invited to boys’ reform schools in Miles City and Worland, Wyo. It was there he saw the need for a better way to care for troubled boys.

From a start with fewer than 10 boys and ranch parents who lived with these youngsters, the ranch grew and adapted to changing demands. The private, nonprofit organization became state licensed and nationally accredited for residential mental health treatment. The ranch branched out to serve girls, too. YBGR has adapted to countless changes in state policy over the years and weathered many financial challenges.

Franklin Robbie was not only faithful to his mission, he ensured that it would be sustainable. The Yellowstone Boys and Girls Ranch Foundation established an endowment. Over the years, the foundation raised donations to construct housing and all other buildings on the ranch campus, which also has horses, cattle and vegetable gardens.

Franklin Robbie “retired” long ago but continued to stay in touch with the ranch and to inspire its work.

Speaking at a celebration of the ranch’s 50th anniversary in 2006, Robbie recalled his first visit to the Miles City boys’ school.

“We knew we couldn’t help them all,” Robbie said. “Those younger boys were the burden on our hearts. We thought, ‘Let’s intercept those younger boys so they don’t have what we called ‘the reform-school experience.’ ”

The ranch’s community-based services today help to “intercept” children with serious emotional disturbance by working with their parents to treat them while keeping them in school and at home.

The ranch still follows Robbie’s motto: “It sure makes a difference when you know somebody cares.”

Franklin Robbie’s legacy is in young lives made better because he cared.

A celebration of his life will be held at 10:30 a.m. Saturday at Faith Chapel.

Copyright 2014 The Billings Gazette. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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