By Sarah Elisabeth Sawyer
Overnight, we pivoted from a supporting board that worked tirelessly to raise funds for Denison’s nonprofit hospital, to the board of a completely new organization—the Texoma Health Foundation, a foundation that would maintain the legacy and assets of the nonprofit hospital. One of the greatest legacies THF inherited was Reba’s Ranch House.
In 2007, members of the original TMC Foundation board of directors were chosen to become the founding board of directors for the new THF, and they would go on to pen a new chapter for the ranch house.
Entrusted with creating a new business holding charitable dollars dedicated to the community, THF needed a board of directors that consisted of people with business knowledge, plus hearts filled with love of community. There were a number of candidates among the souls who had dedicated much of their lives to building the original ranch house.
But when the first two nominees for chairman of the new board were unable to take on the role, it fell to Herman Ringler, a member of the TMC Foundation.
“I’ll do it,” he said. A resident of Denison since he was six years old, Herman spent his life on Main Street. His retail clothing business, inherited from his parents, keeps him in the thick of community life and involvement.
“At the time of the sale, we didn’t know what would happen to Reba’s Ranch House, but we knew if we received it, we would keep it at any cost,” Kay Skelton said. She was a member of the Reba Development Committee that oversaw the fundraising efforts for many precious years.
“I have yet to find another foundation like ours that inherited a hospital hospitality house, and it is so special,” says Michelle Lemming, THF CEO & President. “We often say that the Ranch House is the heart of THF. It is a reflection of what we strive to be as an organization – reflecting care for others, and service to community. It is who we are.”
The house first opened in 1992 as part of massive fundraising efforts and benefit concerts by Reba McEntire. The hard work of the Reba Development Committee, the Reba Golf Committee, and community members built Reba’s Ranch House that sheltered thousands of caregivers for fifteen years. With the selling of the hospital, it was time for the ranch house to move into a new phase for the next fifteen years, and beyond.
Kay would later become the second chair of the home-grown organization. As visionaries, Herman and Kay had served on several local committees together, including the Denison Education Foundation. They knew one of the first orders of business was selecting an executive officer.
“We didn’t even know what we were looking for,” Herman said with a chuckle. “When we hired Michelle [Lemming], we did not realize how big her brain was in reference to finances. Even though the ranch house is a labor of love and a source of comfort, THF is the business.”
With the sell of the hospital and the forming of THF, Reba’s Ranch House was at the threshold of old and new. Herman, Kay and board members spent hours devoted to weighing whether the board should preserve and invest in the original Reba’s Ranch House, a beautiful and welcoming home, with so much history and memories, or if they should build a new and expanded ranch house more central to THF’s service area. They decided on the latter following a generous offer by Tom and Peggy Johnson to gift a piece of land to THF that would be perfect for a new house.
“I remember very well walking into the new Reba’s Ranch House and thinking, ‘How could it be more perfect than this?’” Kay said. “Having hired Michelle, it was more perfect, and she just continues to grow it.”
Kay recalled, “We know that Reba could have said at the time of the sell of the hospital, ‘It’s been really great and I’ve enjoyed it, thank you very much.’ But she chose to go forward with us and we are so proud to get to run Reba’s first and only named charity.”
Reba has a permanent seat on the board, and created the Reba McEntire Fund at THF.
Reba’s Ranch House continues as the queen of country music’s only named charity while it rests in the care of the Texoma Health Foundation and its compassionate board members and staff.
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