ORIGINALLY WRITTEN DON RATZLAFF
A little more than two years ago, Ann Page found the most amazing thing among the rolling prairie hills north of Canton.
The place to launch her life’s mission.
“For over 25 years I always wanted to have a ranch or farm and work with children and help them discover their dreams, deal with issues in life and work with families,” said Page, founder and president of Santa Fe Ranch, located about seven miles north of Canton on Rainbow Road.
Though the ranch is still in its modest beginning stages-the vision is far bigger than the current facility-Page has made strides toward fulfilling that mission, which is to provide a safe, enjoyable place where children, youth and families can build personal character by becoming close to nature.
“It’s amazing, when you take people out of their current paradigm or mindset, how new ideas and fresh ways of looking at life can occur,” said Page, a career educator. “That’s true for children and adults.”
While the casual observer driving by Santa Fe Ranch will see an old but well-maintained farm home, a few outbuildings and some horse corrals, Page sees a lot more.
“It’s always been my dream to have a ranch, a school, a retreat kind of facility where children and families would learn to be more self-sufficient,” she said.
Page also envisions a residential school and day school there someday, where people, especially children, can learn about everything from outdoor recreation, to wildlife and environmental preservation, to pioneer living-through formal curriculum but also informal interaction.
“It’s a big plan,” she said. “It’s bigger than I am. But I think all of my education and experiences have been preparing me for this day and time to help bring this about.”
The journey that led Page to Santa Fe Ranch began in a most unlikely place: a lower-middle class upbringing on-not coincidently, she said-South Santa Fe Street in Wichita.
“My father had an eighth-grade education and my mother finished high school,” Page said. “My parents gave me good standards and values, but they were not educated people.”
Page said she was not encouraged by family to go on to college, but she did anyway because other adult mentors in her life inspired her to develop her potential.
That has been her modus operandi ever since.
“There’s an old saying that if I’ve helped one person, I’ve changed the world,” she said. “That’s really true. It’s about one person at a time and never losing sight that it’s really about those one-on-one relationships.”
Page went on to earn a bachelor’s degree in education from the University of Arizona, a master’s in elementary education and administration, and finally a doctorate in educational leadership from Vanderbilt.
Even from her youth, Page has been involved with children. She started as a volunteer math tutor during her high school years, worked later with Head Start, taught for 10 years in elementary-school classrooms and taught high school Spanish for a time.
Page was teaching education
classes at Middle Tennessee State University when she decided to resign her position in December 1998 for the sake of her dream.
While Page’s sense of mission was clear, her sense of where it should
happen was not. It was after visiting family in Kansas that she got an e-mail from a Lindsborg real estate agent about an old horse and cattle ranch near Canton that was for sale.
“I thought, no way-I think I want to move to Wyoming,” Page said.
A visit to the site only strengthened her resistance. The rolling hills were beautiful, she said, but the house was a near disaster.
“It was really in ill repair,” she said.
Page said she and a couple of friends traveling with her were prepared to look elsewhere when she got the sign-literally-that this ranch was the place for her.
“The sign said, ‘The Old Santa Fe Trail Crossed Here,'” Page recalled. “One of my friends turned to me and said, ‘You know, Ann, we’ve been thinking and dreaming of Santa Fe. Maybe this is it.’
“I said, ‘No, that place is a dump.’ But when I came back to the house that night, I was thinking and praying about that place and I just felt it was the right thing to do. So we started working out the details and ended up here.”
It took more money than she anticipated to get the house livable, but Page said she has come a long way during the past two years.
“I’ve tried to struggle along and people have been very kind and generous to help me here and there,” Page said. “I’ve tried to work with many of the local people at the grass-roots level to let them know that I have a purpose here and a commitment.
“It’s not about inviting someone here who is messed up that I think I can ‘fix,'” she added. “It’s about making a commitment to a people for a long-term goal.
“For the past two years, I’ve seen it happen. I’ve gained some wonderful friends among children who say, ‘When I’m a big man, I’m going to work on the ranch and I’m going to help other children and teach them to ride the horse.’ That’s a good feeling.”
Horses and the other animals at Santa Fe Ranch have been a key connecting point with children.
“When children are working with animals-whether it’s goats, chickens, ducks, dogs, horses or other animals, large and small-they have an opportunity to form a relationship,” Page said.
“You’d be amazed how children are forced to figure out the rules and mores of socializing when they’re playing a game with animals or when they’re being taught to listen and follow directions to ride the horse or groom the horse. You’d be surprised how many actual academic skills-mathematic and scientific-can be involved in that, not to mention the social aspects.”
Page’s efforts to make Santa Fe Ranch a welcoming place where children-and people of all ages and family stages, for that matter-feel needed and useful are paying off.
“We have had all ages and sizes and shapes of children come here,” she said. “They come from within a mile’s radius and from various towns a lot further away, such as Wichita, Mulvane and Junction City. We’ve also had Boy Scouts, Girls Scouts and 4-H groups come here-and even a church group from Colorado.”
Santa Fe Ranch has also been a temporary haven for homeless teenagers and families.
“We have an open-door policy which is mostly tailored to individuals and families or groups that come,” she said. “It could be one child for an hour with the horse, or it could be a family who wants to come for a whole day for a picnic or just to hang out.”
Her operation cannot survive on good intentions alone, Page admitted. People who use the services of the ranch are encouraged to donate to the cause. But that won’t provide nearly enough resources to enable the vision to grow to its intended scope.
“We need donations of cash and things to help us,” she said. “It costs money for the electricity and for the horses, office supplies and food. But we also understand that people want to give of their things and their time, too. That’s always great. We could always use more volunteers.”
Page has posted the ranch’s most urgent needs on its Web site (www.santaferanch.org). Recently, the ranch, which has a governing board, was granted non-profit status by the Internal Revenue Service, so donations are tax deductible.
Page said she’s pleased with the progress that’s been made during the past two years, but she’s also impatient.
“I want more things to happen faster,” she said. “I think there’s a real need. One of the county commissioners in McPherson County told me, ‘We need this so much in Kansas-in this area and in the way you are trying to do it.’
“I want people to know that I’ve been here two years and I’ve had no reason to come or to stay except that there’s a grander power than I, and there is a commitment here that I think will be ongoing.”
The notion is catching on.
“More people are wanting to help and they have faith that this can happen. And more children are coming. That’s my heart’s desire-to be out there with a bunch of children, learning and having fun together and being able to teach them how to become better people.
“That’s really exciting.”