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Parents, brothers keep boy’s dream alive

Timothy Hill Children’s Ranch opened 25 years ago.

RIVERHEAD, N.Y. — Take a tour of the Timothy Hill Children’s Ranch, and you’ll see houses for abused and neglected boys.

You’ll see a 10,000-square-foot greenhouse, a counseling center, a rock-climbing wall, barns, horses, goats and a pond.

You’ll see a log cabin and a tree house out in the woods where the boys enjoy camping and making “Hobo Stew,” a concoction of venison, onions, potatoes, peppers and garlic — all cooked on an open fire.


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You’ll see the fruits of one boy’s dream.

“This ranch was Timothy’s dream, and I sometimes have said I think it was probably God’s dream before it was Timothy’s dream,” said Jerry Hill, Timothy’s father.

Fern and Jerry Hill during a 2006 visit to Oklahoma.

Fern and Jerry Hill during a 2006 visit to Oklahoma.

A life cut short

Timothy’s dream was born after he and his family moved from Tennessee to New York to work with a small Church of Christ on Long Island.

His parents, Jerry and Fern Hill, had always felt a calling to help boys and girls in need, often opening their own home to care for foster children.

Timothy’s dream built on that passion.

“He thought that every child ought to have land to work on and animals to work with.”

“He thought that every child ought to have land to work on and animals to work with,” Fern Hill said.

By age 13, Timothy was captain of his school’s cross country team and almost an Eagle Scout. He led singing at church and taught a Bible class for 4- and 5-year-olds. He worked on a farm and delivered newspapers as he saved money to fulfill his dream of building a ranch for homeless children.

Tragically, Timothy’s life was cut short on May 11, 1972, when a truck struck his bicycle and killed him.

But his parents kept his dream alive.

As she dealt with her grief, Fern Hill wrote “Graduation to Glory,” which reflected on God’s work in Timothy’s life. While writing it, she decided to use the proceeds from the book — which sold tens of thousands of copies — to make Timothy’s ranch a reality.

“We didn’t have any big donors, and everybody told us you can’t build a ranch on nickels and dimes,” Fern Hill said.

But this was no ordinary dream.

“When young people dream big dreams that have God in the middle of them, anything can happen,” Jerry Hill said.

James Hill stands outside barn at the Timothy Hill Children's Ranch in Riverhead, N.Y.

James Hill stands outside barn at the Timothy Hill Children’s Ranch in Riverhead, N.Y.

A family passion

Twenty-five years ago, the first residence for boys opened at Timothy’s ranch. Six-year-old James Hill, who was not born when his brother died, cut the ribbon on the ranch’s first building.

“This whole area that we’re walking on now was nothing but brush,” James Hill, now 31, said as he contemplated the ranch’s growth over the years.

Now, it’s a working ranch where 30 boys ages 10-21 tend to animals, raise produce in the greenhouse and help with building projects when they’re not in school.

James Hill played football at Harding and Abilene Christian universities before two seasons in the NFL as a tight end for the Seattle Seahawks. But when an injury ended his football career, he returned to the ranch as development director. Thaddaeus Hill, who was 3 months old when his brother Timothy died, serves as executive director. Jerry and Fern Hill, both 71, remain active in fund-raising.

“We’re doing more than just telling people the good news of Jesus Christ. We’re out there where kids are hurting and families are in crisis, and we’re making a difference.’”

Rubbing a horse’s face as he stood near a barn with the sign “Hill & Sons Livery Stable,” James Hill said, “This is actually Timothy’s dream being fulfilled right here. He just thought it was a shame that none of the kids up here had ever ridden a horse.”

Even now, 34 years after Timothy’s death, Jerry and Fern Hill said they find it amazing how many lives one boy’s dream has touched.

Students from Christian universities —including Abilene Christian and Freed-Hardeman — catch the dream on spring break visits each year. And small, struggling churches in the Northeast support the dream with their time and money.

“It gives them kind of a point of identity,” Jerry Hill said. “They’re able to say, ‘We’re doing more than just telling people the good news of Jesus Christ. We’re out there where kids are hurting and families are in crisis, and we’re making a difference.’”

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Filed under: Fern Hill Jerry Hill National Partners People Timothy Hill Children's Ranch

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