A Life Changed: Terry Tilton
"My parents divorced when I was very young. I don’t even remember the time they were together. My mother got custody of my older sister Tracey and me. She married a hard man who was physically abusive to me, leading to court which resulted in my father obtaining custody. Tracey was 13, and I was 5 at the time.
Terry Tilton, School PictureFor the next couple of years, we moved from one motel to another. My sister got married when she was 16 years old. That left me with my dad as he kept a night shift job but continually made bad choices that ultimately led to alcoholism. I was often left to fend for myself. Looking back, I had no structure, no nurturing and zero guidance. If it would not have been for other guests at the motels where we stayed, I might not have had many meals either. I became very good at talking with others and making friends with motel guests who would take care of me. I began smoking at a very young age and spent days walking the streets, getting into lots of mischief wherever we stayed. Due to the amount of freedom I had, I did not like school. Teachers and school administration tried but I was constantly being sent home for breaking school policies. I fell behind and was on the brink of quitting school.
My sister’s husband worked for a company that did projects at the Boys’ Ranch so as he became more familiar with the Ranch, he shared information with my sister. She got in touch with me and said, “I want to take you somewhere this weekend, to a Boys’ Ranch in Gadsden.” The first perception that came to my mind was a detention center and I was not going. But my sister just continued to encourage me.
Water Sports II
They drove me to the Boys’ Ranch on a Sunday morning in early spring 1988. I remember seeing the lakes, individual homes and horses. It was quiet and no one seemed to be there. There was a man outside one of the homes, so we pulled up to talk with him. It happened to be Steve Franklin, the housedad at the Spradling Home. Pop Franklin talked with us about the Ranch and took us over to the office. As we waited in the sitting area, Pop Franklin was in one of the offices gathering what turned out to be an application for me.
Perhaps the memory that sticks with me the most is a photo that was hanging in the office. Looking at it, I said, “Who is that?” Pop Franklin responded, “You don’t know who that is?” I said, “No.” Pop said, “That is Jesus.” HeSpradling Home family picture, Paul Miller, Steve, Delinda, Brandi, Stephen, Terry Tilton, Jamie Cagle, Jim, Julian, Howard and Tommy White did not force a conversation but simply talked about Jesus a bit. I felt so relaxed and comfortable and, as we left the Ranch that morning, I knew I wanted to go back. My sister began the application process and, during that time, my dad took a job in Florida leaving me in North Alabama with my mother. She did not have custody and was not going to take me to the Ranch, so my dad drove up from Florida to take me. It was the Saturday before Easter, and I will never forget the feeling as we pulled back up to the Spradling Home; boys playing everywhere, and food being cooked for Easter Sunday celebrations. They showed my dad around, and we unpacked the small sack holding all that I had. Somehow, everything I needed was already there. For Easter that year Mom Franklin gave each of us neon tank tops and Jams shorts. We played with water guns, running all through the yard.
Years later, at Big Oak’s 45th Anniversary I walked into the remodeled Boys’ Ranch office as Brodie stood at the door welcoming everyone who walked in. I asked him about the picture of Jesus from all those years ago. Brodie made sure that the picture was located, and it now hangs in the foyer of my home as the first thing I see when I walk in the door and the last thing I see when I leave.
My first summer at the Ranch, I began tutoring 3 days a week as the staff helped me catch up educationally. Because of the tutoring, I was ready for 9th grade when school started that fall.
Everyone in my home participated in chores around the Ranch, and my housedad was beside us throughout each day. Plenty of times, Pop Franklin outworked us. One of our house chores was planting and watering all the flower beds and trees. I remember when the oak trees were planted at the front entrance of the Boys’ Ranch. Every day my job was to make sure those trees were watered for 10 minutes. Each time I visit, I see how big those trees have grown and I am just glad I was part of it. I remember the fun of helping Mom Franklin in the kitchen and I am a great cook now because of that time. Mom Franklin’s homemade beef stroganoff was and continues to be my favorite meal. Having blueberry muffins before church every Sunday morning is another one of my favorite memories.
The longer I lived at the Ranch the more I began to understand what it was like to trust adults. My Resource Parents, Jim and Patsy Burks, along with the influence of Larry Fuhrman through Westbrook Christian – they were so consistent with their presence, wisdomTerry Tilton, Julian Meloni, Jamie Cagle, Ricky Miller, Bus Stop, Boys Ranch and love for me and my house brothers. They were the perfect support team Big Oak Ranch needed in raising me. Everyone’s love and involvement was stable and true. My dad would come up for every appointed visit. My mother, who lived a lot closer, only saw me three times while I lived at Big Oak. As my mother passed, she shared that one of her greatest regrets was not visiting me more while I lived at the Ranch. Mom and Pop Franklin have stayed the course and been constant with me, helping me stay on task and understand that the focus in Christ. If anything comes up in my life and I need help or advice, mom and pop are going to hear from me, and they are going to provide the sound wisdom needed. I don’t question their love and commitment to see me thrive in my relationship with Christ.  
I know that every day, the houseparents currently serving are staying on task with the children and their homes at BOR. They meet children where they are, show a tremendous amount of patience and understanding, welcome them into the family and provide the same opportunity I was given over 30 years ago. I love knowing that others are getting the same opportunity that I had in tSpradling Home 88-90, Steve, Delinda, Stephen, Brandi, Julian & Jim Meloni, Jamie Cagle, Paul Miller, Terry Tilton, Howard & Tommy Whitehe Spradling Home. It is my home and always will be. When I visit, and see Mom and Dad Williams, I have all the respect for them. They are Mom and Dad for boys just like I was. Day in and day out! I want to be a source of encouragement for them and the current generation of boys growing up. If I can support the houseparents in the Spradling Home, pray for them, serve them as they serve my little brothers, that is where I want to be. 
 In December '22, I planned a big breakfast, and cooked for the Spradling Home. It was great fun but also completely overwhelming. Planning and preparing everything was an eye opening experience! It was a true reminder of what our houseparents are doing day in and day out. We helped with cooking and cleaning, but I took it for granted when I lived in the Spradling Home. The amount of food and the prep work that goes into each and every meal.
I remember coming home from school one afternoon with all of the paperwork for Mom and Pop Franklin to read regarding the tradeTerry Tilton, Welding at work school and welding program I wanted to enter. Mom Franklin, knowing nothing about welding, took my list and went to buy all of my welding supplies. That was a pivotal and meaningful moment, when my housemom brought home all of my welding gear. I didn’t even know how to weld but it was so exciting having my own gear. I still have my first welding hood that Mom Franklin bought for me. It’s in my office and pretty worn. People ask why I still have it. That is my first welding hood and I am so proud of it. I excelled through welding school and by my senior year, I had completed all of the curriculum for the welding program. I entered several competitions, winning for my school and on a regional level. Welding is now my career, one that has taken me all over the southeast as a Safety Manager and now an Operations Manager.  I have been blessed with the opportunity to mentor young welders, much like I was mentored by John and others at Big Oak.
Terry Tilton, Mary Graham, Steve and Delinda Franklin, September, 2023My second family is Red Clay Carolina. I serve them as Operations Manager.  Last fall I was able to bring Red Clay Carolina for a tour of the Ranch. It was an amazing day, my BOR family meeting my work family. We hope to open up an welding internship position at Red Clay Carolina working in partnership with ASCEND. How amazing would that be, mentoring a young adult as they gain education toward a career that will provide for them and their family.  After seeing the Ranch, my coworkers at Red Clay understood my passion, why I make the Ranch my priority. My circle is small. I want to make sure those people in my life understand what BOR means to me and understands the passion I have for my Big Oak Family. You really have to see the Ranch to understand the magnitude. 
When Cammy and I first started dating, I facetimed her at the Ranch to show her. Cammy noticed as we got to know each other, I talked about my Ranch family like you would talk about biological family.
Terry Tilton, Tinsley, Boys’Ranch Barn, 2022
Spending quality time with Tinsley, my youngest daughter, at the Ranch was amazing. She still talks about our trips there. Tinsley met Ranch staff, Mom and Dad Williams, their children and had so much fun. Tinsley understands that this was my home.
Thank you, Mr. John and Mrs. Tee. You opened a door for so many of us. Thank you to my sister, Tracey. You loved me enough to make sure I was safe. Thank you to my houseparents, Steve and DeLinda Franklin and the team that surrounded them. You guys introduced me to Christ and filled the Spradling Home, my home at Big Oak Ranch, with security, love, and lots of life lessons.
I know BOR feels the passion for me and my family that I feel for them. Me and my generation of brothers and sisters took away the character and work ethic. Now there are more resources and all my brothers and sisters have the most amazing opportunities through continued training for houseparents and staff, counseling services, WCS and ASCEND, I am happy for my younger brothers and sisters.
Life is full of surprises and troubles, and I have had my share. I have tried to live life without the values and work ethic that Big Oak instilled in me. But life never worked out until I went back to those roots."
Terry Tilton

Notes and stories from family and friends regarding the man Terry is today:

“After Terry signed up for welding at the trade school, he came home with a list of supplies needed to complete the courses. He shared this extensive list with Mom Franklin that afternoon and she assured him they would get everything. Later Mom Franklin visited the local welding supply shop and shared the list with the gentleman behind the counter. The shop owner began to pull items from his shelves and laid them on the counter in front of Mom Franklin. Her eyes filled with worry as she saw the price tags begin to add up. She had a small budget available to spend on the supplies and did not want Terry to return to class unprepared. Mom Franklin pulled the money from her wallet and kindly asked the gentleman how much it was. He smiled and responded ‘well how much do you have there?’ Mom Franklin laid the bills on the counter, and he replied ‘that is exactly what you need’.”

“Terry’s passion for Big Oak is very sincere. He knows all the functioning parts and departments, understands the drive and commitment held by the houseparent and staff. Terry understands the direction BOR is heading in and wants to see more children given chances and opportunity. Terry wants to know how things are going at Big Oak. thriving and growing. It is great to hear the stories he tells me about his childhood at the Ranch and joy and light in Terry’s face and eyes when he talks about Big Oak Ranch family. It absolutely comes out of his pores. When Terry spends time with his BOR family, you can tell that he feels reenergized. Terry walks in the door at the Spradling Home and says, Mom and Dad, I am home. Like it’s not corny. He really feels that way, and they see his sincerity.”

“Terry’s desire to pour into the Big Oak family is clear, visible and tangible. He ministers to Mom and Pop Franklin; hospital visits, time spent with them, and keeping others from our BOR family updated, sharing prayer request, as Steve and Delinda have faced many health issues over the last two years. Terry talks openly about his faith, continued walk in seeking a relationship with Christ and struggles of the process. Terry seeks guidance and wisdom that he can depend on from his houseparents and Ranch family. He seeks the path of peace and knows it only comes from Christ above. He is thankful for the road of repentance and feels the grace and mercy that only comes from Christ.”