Helen Myers, a five-year member of Advent Christian Village at Dowling Park (ACV), has been helping people for a long time — and doing a fine job of it. Even two years ago, at 90 years of age, she was asked if she would be willing to work some hours in a customer service role at ACV. She gladly accepted and still spends several mornings a week at the front desk of Carter House, greeting members and guests with a big smile. Some of her regulars even gift her with sugary snacks to thank her for her friendliness.
Helen grew up on a dairy farm in Wisconsin. After high school, she attended one year of college at the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee, planning to earn a degree in nursing, but love and World War II changed her plans. She married Jim Brettingen, who went off to fight in Germany, and she trained and worked at a machine shop as a Rosie the Riveter. Four years later, Jim returned and the two enjoyed the rest of their 45 years of wedded bliss together.
In 1964, Helen and Jim traveled south to visit family and friends. Their friends worked at the Florida Sheriffs Boys Ranch in Live Oak, Florida (not far from ACV). Their friends convinced Jim to apply for a job with the Ranch and not long after that Helen, Jim, and their two daughters, ages 14 and eight, moved to Live Oak. Jim became one of the directors at the Ranch and Helen worked part time, filling in where needed. She says she clothed the boys, took them to dentist appointments … “I did everything,” she mused. The boys generally called her “Mom,” because that’s what she was to them.
Helen has a lot of fond memories about working for the Florida Sheriffs Boys Ranch. The Ranch’s purpose was to provide a stable environment of safety and education for pre-teen and teen males. It was a home away from home for dependent and neglected boys. Today, the Ranch is part of the Florida Sheriffs Youth Ranches. The mission remains the same, but they now serve boys and girls in several locations across Florida.
Helen remembers a boy who is now a man living in Live Oak. She said, “Bill was getting on the bus for school, and he was carrying his socks instead of wearing them.” She explains that was the style in that day — shoes with no socks — but it was the policy of the Ranch that when the boys left for school, they needed to be wearing both shoes and socks. Helen made him put the socks on before he could get on the bus and he didn’t like it. Later that evening, in the dining room, Bill called Helen over to join him at his table. She said with a smile, “I thought you were mad at me,” and he responded, “That was then, and this is now.”
Helen worked for the Boys Ranch over a period of 30 years with two sabbaticals within that time. Helen and Jim also spent a couple years in Bartow, Florida, in the 70s, helping to get that Youth Ranch location up and running. Helen says she retired three times from the Ranch, the last time in 1994. For the most part, Helen worked as a mom for the boys. After Jim’s death in 1990, she worked a few years in accounts receivable. Her final retirement came shortly before she married Bob Myers, a friend she and Jim had known for years.
There is a 30 foot star at the Boys Ranch — the shape of the Ranch’s logo. The current star is actually the second version. The first was designed and built by Jim Brettingen for the Ranch’s 30th anniversary in 1987. Jim’s version was built out of wood as it was only supposed to last a year. It ended up lasting about five years, but termites eventually made it their lunch, and it had to be dismantled. Years later, a lieutenant with the St. Johns County Sheriff’s Office told Helen they wanted to have a 30 foot replica of the star built out of metal on the same location as the original. He told her they wanted to dedicate it in Jim’s memory and Helen’s honor. Helen was honored, and the star is now a permanent beacon of hope at the Boys Ranch. On that same hill, Jim’s ashes are buried, and Helen plans for her ashes to be buried there as well.
During the years she worked at the Ranch, Helen was aware of Advent Christian Village because ACV had a similar ministry to children. The Weavers, the couple in charge of the Ranch, and the Carters, who were in charge of ACV, were friends and colleagues. At that time, Helen decided when it was time to move to a retirement community, she wanted to come to ACV. She did that in 2012. Even though she had not worked there in over 15 years, on moving day, six Sheriffs Ranch directors and four boys came to her rescue, once again proving the lasting impact she made while working at the Ranch.