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A Legacy Remembered At The 35th Annual Timothy Hill Children’s Ranch Benefit

Originally Posted: June 08, 2009

Douglas MacKaye Harrington

Founders Jerry and Vern Hill with their son and Timothy's brother Thaddaeus "Thud" Hill, THCR Executive Director. Photos by Douglas Harrington

Riverhead - No parent should ever have to bury their child. It is a nightmare unfathomable, and a heartache unbearable. It is a horror that can shroud a family in sadness for generations. Or perhaps, as was the case for the parents of Timothy Hill, it crystallizes a clarity of purpose that creates an indomitable legacy in memory of a life of great promise, too soon lost.

THCR "Iron Man" Bob Lanieri in his green jacket.

On June 5, those touched by the all too brief life of Hill gathered 350 strong in the aquatic ambiance of Atlantis Marine World in Riverhead to celebrate and support the vision of a 13-year-old altruist whose life was taken on a bike ride to school in a tragic truck accident in 1972. This extraordinary young man at the time of his death already had the vision for the ranch he wanted to create in aid of at risk and homeless children. He worked three different newspaper routes with that vision in mind and at 12-years-old was already contacting real estate agencies in search of land. An obviously focused young man, he was very close to achieving the venerable rank of Eagle Scout when he was struck down by an eighteen wheeler. His father. Jerry Hill espoused his son's early charitable nature, "Timothy loved horses and he loved children. We had a lot of foster kids over the years and he saw good things happening and he wanted to do that when he got grown. He was saving money for a ranch when he died."

In 1974 Timothy's mother, Vern Hill, published a book, "Graduation To Glory," that told the story of her noble son. I asked Vern, whose 75th birthday coincided with the evening's fundraiser, what she thought Timothy would think about the turnout in support of his dream. "He would be thankful, particularly thankful." Jerry Hill, an ordained pastor, had moved his family up from the South to serve at a non-denominational church whose congregation consisted mainly of Air Force personnel. "Two years later they closed the Air Force base and we just stayed. We loved it up here."

Supporters filling out their THCR pledge envelopes.

There are hundreds of young men that are particularly grateful that the Hills decided to stay, as beyond their personal work as foster parents to dozens of children, in 1980 The Timothy Hill Children's Ranch officially opened its doors and arms to young men in desperate need of guidance, love and support. THCR is a 73-acre safe haven for children in crisis, ages 10 through 21, that "seeks to be a vehicle of love and encouragement, to build integrity and character within the children and families" they serve.

The success of the ranch in changing boys' lives for the better is palpable, as explained by one the residents who was in attendance at the benefit. According to Cody Chambers, "The Timothy Hill Ranch is a wonderful place, it is a dream come true. You don't want to come there at first and when you get there you go through trials and tribulations, but things work out for the best. The ranch is a wonderful place. I appreciate it so much. The ranch is a very good place, I hated it at first, but I love it now. It changed my life - it probably saved my life." All the residents I spoke to during the event shared the same sentiment. Dressed smartly in suits and ties, the young men went from table to table personally thanking the supporters who were helping to change their lives for the better.

During the event there was a sudden proliferation of green jacketed men throughout the venue, these were the "Iron Men" who supported THCR. Atlantis Marine World Catering Director Bob Lanieri, an Iron Man himself, explained, "Each man you see in a green jacket played the Iron Man Classic two weeks ago. Each man played 100 holes of golf and raised at least $1,500 each in support of the ranch."

Another Iron Man in attendance was Retired General Ray Doyle who articulated his support for THCR. "It is a great grass roots organization right here in my own backyard, the North Fork. There are a lot of kids out there that we can help. They just need a chance, they need the right people around them, the right influences, which obviously they never had in their lives. This is an organization well worth supporting."

Cody Chambers (center in blue jacket) and other residents of The Timothy Hill Children's Ranch.

Assemblyman Marc Alessi, who was in attendance with his daughter Sarah, presented THCR with a special proclamation, "We are here for a good cause. I try not to miss this event for Timothy Hill Ranch. One of the first meetings I held when I came into office was with Thud Hill [Timothy's brother and Executive Director of THCR]. When he told me about the history, the wonderful concept that Timothy thought of at such a young age and that the family has been so committed to carrying out his dream, I believe we all need to be a part of it and that is why I am here tonight." Along with proclamations by Alessi and one sent by Congressman Tim Bishop, the event included recognition of 2009 honorees, Cross Sound Ferry for Business Supporter of the Year and Anthony Cestari for Volunteer of the Year. Thanks to this kind of support, THRC continues to grow with the recent acquisition of a former Girls Scout Camp in Massachusetts and an expanded summer camp program in Riverhead.

Hundreds of boys have found their place in the world, saved from delinquency, abuse and homelessness due to the vision of a child, and a world left kinder and more compassionate because of his brief presence in it.

To find out more about The Timothy Hill Children's Ranch go to www.timothyhillranch.org.

Frequently mistaken for the "Most Interesting Man in the World" from the Dos Equis commercials and the iconic gray-bearded Sean Connery, DMH is the Senior Contributing Editor at Hamptons.com. www.hamptons.com Hamptons HamptonsOnline HamptonsOnline

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