Baptist Home, a foothold for alumni's family and future
His parents, who were both alcoholics, divorced when he was 3-years-old. His single mother was diagnosed with cirrhosis of the liver when he was 14. From then on, Tom Ripley was pretty much on his own, quitting school and running with the wrong crowd in a rough area of Dallas, Texas. Theft became a way of life, a way to survive.
“We would steal gas and pretty much anything that wasn’t tied down,” recalls Ripley, adding, “We would sell what we stole ... at salvage yards.”
When he was 16, Ripley’s mother would succumb to the chronic liver disease, a tragic occurrence that he believes actually saved his life.
If not for his mother’s death, Ripley and his two siblings, Dub and Pat, would likely have never found “a home” at the Baptist Home for Children in Monticello. In fact, Ripley believes he would have “ended up in jail by age 21.”
“I came from a place where I had no life, to a place that gave me a life,” shared Ripley, who lived at the Baptist Home from 1964-1967. “It changed my life forever.”
Now, more than 45 years later, Tom Ripley still recalls good times at the Home. “I’m sure there were kids at the Home who weren’t happy to be there. But as for me, I thought, ‘who couldn’t be happy here,’” shared Ripley.
After all, he said, “We had a swimming pool, a tennis court and I had never been on a tennis court before the Home. We had a gym that was open most of the time. We had horses to ride. There was always plenty to do and kids to play with.”
The Baptist Home was also a place of security and comfort, Ripley noted as he fought back tears.
“I didn’t have to wake up facing a fight to live … I felt safe there,” he said. “When I went to sleep I wasn’t afraid, and when I woke up I had no fear of what the day held.”
A look back
One of his favorite memories, Ripley recalled, was mealtime at the Home. “One of the first things I noticed at meal time in the dining hall was a milk dispenser on the wall, with all the cold milk you wanted to drink,” he said with a big grin. “Now this may seem odd to some, but to me it was wonderful.
“All we had before the Home was Pet milk, which we added water to, or powdered milk. I was in heaven.”
During his three years at the Home, Ripley attended First Baptist Church of Monticello. He was a starting tackle on the Monticello High School football team, and was on the track team where he excelled in the shot put.
For the first time in his life, Ripley made the honor roll and was elected to the student council.
“Since I was happy and safe in my surroundings, I got involved in school,” he said, adding, “This was something I had never done in Dallas. As a matter of fact, I took every opportunity to skip school until I dropped out. Yet, in Monticello, for the first time in my life, I felt like I had a purpose and direction in life.”
Ripley made life-long friends while living at the Home. Still today, he keeps in contact with many of these friends. “They were more like family than friends, really,” he shared.
The staff at the Baptist Home was very helpful and caring, he said. “The farm manager, Bennett Hayes … was like a father figure to all of us, boys and girls alike.” Recalling his high school football “Senior Night,” Ripley said that Hayes stood in as a father figure for him on the playing field. “I was never so proud of anyone more than he when he stepped behind me on the field,” he said.
Following high school graduation, Ripley joined the Army and served in the Vietnam War. Later, he attended Arkansas State University in Jonesboro, and met his wife, Virgie, through a mutual Home friend. “I really felt like God led me to her. She was already saved and active in church. Later that year I was saved during a revival ...”
The duo has been married for 41 years. They have two adult daughters and four grandchildren. They are longtime active members of First Baptist Church of Lonoke. Ripley is a retired truck driver.
Ripley credits the Home, First Baptist Church of Monticello, and his “loving wife” for all that he has accomplished in his life and especially for his salvation.
“Because of the Home, I learned how to function in life and how to coexist among my peers,” he said. “Without the foothold they gave me there; without the seed that was planted in me at the First Baptist Church in Monticello; and without my family’s prayers and a God fearing wife, I might not have found my way to Christ.
“I certainly wasn’t headed that way before I came to the Home.”