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Rawhide History Overview

In 1965, John and Jan Gillespie had an idea to help at-risk youth and their families by introducing moral values, academics, and work experience in their lives. In need of a major endorsement, John and Jan contacted NFL champion Bart Starr, quarterback of the Green Bay Packers, which is how Bart Starr became a large part of Rawhide history.

Bart and his wife Cherry showed interest in the idea of a ranch that helped troubled teens and decided to support John and Jan, allowing them to purchase a 714-acre parcel of property along the scenic Wolf River in New London, Wisconsin. That same year, John and Jan were able to help eight young men; and Rawhide was born.

John & Jan Gillespie

John and Jan Gillespie met in second grade at the same one-room school his father and grandfather attended north of Appleton. John received his bachelor’s degree in landscape architecture from the University of Wisconsin and married Jan in 1947.

In 1965, they answered a calling to help struggling youth and founded Rawhide Boys Ranch with the help of Bart and Cherry Starr. The couple welcomed 351 at-risk boys into their home, caring for 10 at a time every year for decades.

Jan passed in January 2017 and John continues to be a voice for Rawhide and kids across Wisconsin. He enjoys spending time with his two sons and grandchildren.

Read about how the Gillespie’s dream became a reality in their book “Our 351 Sons. The book features personal stories of their experience founding Rawhide and being foster parents to 351 teenage boys. “Our 351 Sons” sheds a light on many of the challenges the Gillespies faced while pursuing their goal of improving the lives of youth and helping youth grow by learning to serve others. This book is also a great resource for guardians and youth care workers to look for tips and heartwarming stories of how to transform the lives of our youth.

To order a copy of their book, Please Click Here

Bart and Cherry Starr

At the time the Gillespies approached Bart Starr and his wife Cherry with their vision for Rawhide, Bart was very popular and his time was in great demand. In 1965, Bart Starr, along with coach Vince Lombardi, would lead the Green Bay Packers to become World Champions and Super Bowl I champions one year later.

When the Starrs agreed to join the Gillespies, Rawhide gained instant credibility. Bart would later offer to raffle off the Corvette he received as MVP from Super Bowl II to complete the down payment on the Rawhide property.

Bart and Cherry have been wonderful role models for hundreds of boys who have gone through Rawhide’s programs since 1965. They have donated countless hours sharing the Rawhide story, helping raise funds, visiting with the boys, and producing dozens of public service announcements for radio and TV.

Bart passed in May of 2019. Cherry and Bart Jr. continue to be spokespersons for Rawhide and are in communication with Rawhide on a frequent basis.