Anoka County history: Bar-None – vision becomes reality

by June Anderson 

This is the third in a series of four articles about Bar-None Boys’ Ranch.

The weekend ranching program at Bar-None began as a joint effort with the Hennepin County Department of Court Services.

It was an alternative program for first offender juveniles.

In 1960 planning began for residential treatment of kids on a full-time basis.

Based on the new innovative concept of group homes, the kids would live with staff in homes where they would eat morning and evening meals as a family and go to school during the day.

At this time there were no certified special education teachers for emotionally disturbed youngsters.

The goal was to uncomplicate the world for these children whose lives were under constant stress in their day-to-day existence.

Married couples would be hired as house parents to live with the boys.

The man would double as a teacher in a six to one ratio with the boys.

Staff would be called by their first names.

Because most of these youngsters had experienced failure in regular schools, the classroom would be non-traditional with learning incidental and non-threatening.

The 1961 summer camp became “Summer Clinic” to determine which children would be appropriate for the residential program.

One little boy knew that he would be kept because “nobody else wants me.”

The residential treatment program started with 11 boys, increasing to forty-eight, ages seven to 16.

Fees were paid by the public agencies that referred them.

In the classroom of incidental learning, one of the staff taught an impromptu anatomy lesson when he and his students came upon a not-too-badly mutilated raccoon road kill.

The teacher dissected the animal with his penknife, pointing out the various organs as he explained their functions and how they worked.

A lesson that gained national attention was a raft trip down the Mississippi to the Gulf of Mexico.

The boys designed a 12- by 30-foot raft and Russ Dunlop supervised its construction using some of the lumber from the old Navy barracks for decking along with oil drums for pontoons.

The boys learned a lot of math making up the trip schedule, planning for food and gasoline, use of space, etc.

On June 21, 1961, The Unsinkable, powered by two 40 horsepower motors, left St. Paul followed by a contingent of newspaper reporters.

Come nightfall the boys stopped at river towns along the way.

They were often met by the supplier and manufacturer of the outboard motors who discretely repaired or replaced their high profile engines which the Bar-None sailors used for steering and navigating, mostly around Cargill barges.

Building continued at Bar-None.

Classes were now held in the Old West style buildings which, along with a gym, had been constructed along the boardwalk of a western town street.

Most of the boys who came to Bar-None were from one to six years behind in school.

For every year spent at the ranch they gained an average of two years academically.

Some of them were ready for a traditional school setting but could not be returned home.

They were sent to St. Francis but the district declined to admit them because it felt it wasn’t equipped or staffed to handle Bar-None boys.

Bob Nolte took the matter to the Attorney General, Robert Mattson, who ruled that the school district must provide a public education for all the boys at the ranch.

This ruling, passed on Oct. 20, 1965 and known as the Bar-None Ruling, meant that, by law, every institution in the state would have public education provided for its residents.

While most of the boys remained at Bar-None (Crossroads since 1994) for their schooling, the teachers were, and still are, employed by St. Francis ISD 15.

In return the school district bills the children’s home school districts for their tuition.

Next week: Back to the Noltes

Editor’s note: June Anderson is a member volunteer of the Anoka County Historical Society. e-mail:[email protected].

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