Tuesday, January 27, 2015

Heather's Corner: Russell Ranch School for Boys: An Oro Valley Legend for Those Who Attended

Nestled behind a few trees, just north of the entrance to the Catalina State Park, on Oracle Rd. lies Cielo Tierra Ranch. Now a sleepy ranch with attached boarding stables, it was once a prestigious boarding school for boys, grades 7 through 10, and therefore holds a special place in Oro Valley history.

The ranch school movement began in the western United States in the early 1900's as a way to provide education for those families living in remote rural areas. However, it wasn't long before they gathered attention from Easterners, who could afford to, that would send their children to boarding school to receive an education based on experiencing nature, the west, and gaining independence, was all the rage. Arizona led the way for national ranch schools, most of which were in the Tucson area, until the movement declined in the 1960's and most were closed.

Rev. Robert Russell, a Presbyterian clergyman from Larchmont, New York, opened Russell Ranch School in 1938. A graduate of Princeton Theological Seminary, he remained the school's headmaster until it closed in 1950. The school has been described as having a main ranch house, a library, craft room, boy's dormitory, several classrooms, and a large corral with horseback riding every day.

Many dignified men have recounted their time spent at the school through interviews and books, including colonels, authors, and at one time, a Rockefeller was said to have attended. Award winning author of 16 books, John Duncklee, describes his time in a memoir, I bit the Silverspoon:
"One of my greatest joys at Russell Ranch School, besides riding my horse, were the Saturdays when the early morning light began flooding the western side of the mountains. With my roommate still snoring, I would open the window and sneak out into the pasture through the barbed wire fence. With the heavy growth of mesquite trees to hide me, I walked toward the mountains, crossed the Cañada del Oro and headed for Ram's Canyon, which is a major drainage from the foothills."
I share with you, that I too, have spent some time on that ranch though it is a bit different now. The dorm rooms have been converted to casitas, the once library holds storage, and there is a pool to use on the hottest of summer days. I assure you, the sense of history remains strong, and those who have spent time on the ranch, have shared in the folklore of stories from the mischievous boys at the school to the" hippie compound" it became in the 1970's.

If any of you have stories to share about Russell Ranch School, we'd love to hear from you!
Heather Nenadovich has lived in Oro Valley a total of five years. She has a B.A. in Psychology from the University of Arizona. Her husband is Canadian so she is a hockey fan by default and so are her two very clever children. When not being a mommy, she enjoys hiking in Catalina State Park, hand building pottery, and gardening. Her favorite things about living in Oro Valley are the towns recognition of art and culture, their commitment to preserving nature and the Christmas parade. (Also anything from GMG Chinese Bistro.)

1 comment:

Richard Furash, MBA said...

Interesting story. A definite period-piece since it sounds like the western-style boarding schools were for boys only. I'm curious. Do you know if there were any schools where girls could experience nature and the west?