Jerry Monson is the reason that Rawhide Boys Ranch came to be in the early 1960s. Not wanting to return to his alcoholic home environment at age 13, Jerry asked John and Jan Gillespie if he could spend the night at their house. All he wanted was one night away. He stayed for 2 years. When Jerry experienced a series of calamities some 50 years later, John and Jan Gillespie, Rawhide Founders, went to bat for him again. In doing so, they proved that Rawhide’s promise of “Once a Rawhide guy, always a Rawhide guy” is authentic.

How They Met

The Gillespies first met Jerry when he was 12. John and Jan had one child at the time and lived in a 2-bedroom home in the country. John had his own subdivision-design business and taught Sunday school on weekends.  He even drove a church bus, giving neighborhood kids a ride to Sunday school. Jerry was one of those kids.

Jerry welcomed any reason to not go home. His mother was an alcoholic and he had a new stepfather who wasn’t crazy about kids. One Sunday, Jerry asked John and Jan if he could stay overnight. The Gillespies told him he could if his mom approved.

Jerry’s mom eagerly approved – even brought over a sack of Jerry’s clothes. She expressed gratitude for the Gillespies taking in Jerry. She said her new husband would only let her keep 1 of her 3 children. That is not what Jan and John had intended, but they were more than willing to give Jerry a home.

Jan was shocked that people could give away a child. She remembers thinking “do people really do this?”

The Birth of Rawhide

Jerry became part of the family and a big brother to the Gillespie’s 3-yr-old son, Steve. Soon a second child was on the way and the Gillespies knew they needed a larger home.

As fate would have it, a client asked John for a subdivision-design estimate on his 700 acre property about 30 miles out of town. A large 11-bedroom house sat on the river-front property at the time. When John toured the house, he commented “this would make a great boys home.” His client’s eyes lit up. Rawhide was born.

 “Thanks to Jerry being used by God, there’s a Rawhide today.” John Gillespie

Lodge Residential Home

Rawhide Guy Ventures Out

First-Rawhide-Guy_army-frameIn 1965, about the time the Gillespies moved to the new home, Jerry felt it was time to venture out into the world. He joined the Army and served as a combat Helicopter Mechanic in Vietnam. During his tour of duty, Jerry was exposed to Agent Orange and suffered a resulting leg rash for over 40 years.

Civilian Life Agrees with Jerry

Upon his return to civilian life, Jerry worked as a mechanic for a prominent auto dealership. One day a recurrent customer told Jerry that her husband passed away and she was going to sell her property with a mobile home already in place. “Would you be interested in it?” she asked Jerry. He didn’t need to think twice. He moved in, eventually started his own auto shop business and worked on some Bergstrom race cars. Jerry was living the American Dream. Everything was going well until health issues arose many years later.

Fast Forward 50 Years

Around 2008, Jerry was diagnosed with Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disease (COPD), forcing him into an early retirement. Fortunately, he had paid his property and home mortgage in full by that time. Without working, his only means of support were monthly benefits of $750 Social Security and $407 Veterans Disability. His budget was tight but he managed.

In 2012, Jerry was diagnosed with cancer and needed surgery. While under anesthesia, Jerry suffered a stroke. It took six months of therapy to regain his speech ability. While recovering at home, he noticed leaks in his 40-year-old ceiling. His income level qualified him for free “help” from the county government. And that’s when his problems multiplied.

Poor Repairs Open Pandora’s Box

The “free” roof repair amounted to the county’s weatherization services team applying a liquid sealant to the roof. In the process, the roof was damaged. That spring was extremely rainy and the “fix” did not hold up. The heavy rain saturated the insulation, causing the roof to eventually cave and mold to grow throughout Jerry’s home. Jerry’s calls to the weatherization office went unanswered. When he finally reached someone, the person responded that they had no record of ever working on the roof.

First Rawhide Guy's former home_roof construction

Jerry stayed in the dilapidated home for 5 months and had to prop up his ceiling with wood beams and metal rods. In order to sleep without getting wet during storms, he attached plastic to the ceiling above his bed. He even ran a plastic hose from a ceiling fixture into a 5-gallon pail. During heavy storms he set an alarm just to wake up and empty the pail. Mold continued to spread and Jerry’s home became a serious health hazard. That’s when he reached out to Rawhide’s founder, John Gillespie.

Calling in the Big Guns

When Jerry finally reached out to John Gillespie—the only father figure Jerry had ever known—the wheels started turning. John called the weatherization services, but they wouldn’t respond to him either. So John contacted an investigative reporter who arrived on the scene with a camera crew.

The airing of Fox 11 News’ story regarding Jerry’s dilemma finally got the agency’s attention. The county agency even sent a crew out the day after the story aired and stated that Jerry simply “fell through the cracks.” They promised to make it better by buying Jerry a new trailer with the insurance money. Jerry thought the problem was solved. Wrong.

Is This Murphy’s Law in Action?

What people involved didn’t realize was that Appleton zoning laws had changed, meaning Jerry’s old mobile home could not be replaced with another one on that property. It looked like the only way Jerry could stay on the land he owned was if a traditional house was built from the ground up. However, after applying the insurance money, they were short about $35,000.

The Rawhide Magic at Work

John Gillespie was mad. After all Jerry had been through and now he didn’t have a home through no fault of his own.

“All I want is a place to live.” Jerry Monson

John reached out to his Rawhide connections and some former employees who went on to form their own businesses. The first one he called was Ross Giordana, former Rawhide employee who now owns Giordana Home Builders.

After John presented the problem, Ross promised to make some calls and get back to him in a week. One week later, John was bowled over with the news. Ross was able to enlist the help of enough companies to build a house for Jerry. In addition to donating labor, some companies donated the cost of materials as well. Ross and John secured a total of $60,000 in labor and materials. The project became known as the “Veteran’s Home Build Volunteer Team.”

The team consisted of 35 different contributors:

Thankfully, the Outagamie County Housing Authority provided Jerry with a rent-free apartment for nine months while his home was being built.

Jerry’s Coffee Shop

Once construction began, Jerry wanted to give back to those building his new home. He picked up coffee and cinnamon rolls each morning at the Machine Shed Restaurant  and turned his garage into a café of sorts for the building crew. One of the workers even made a sign that reads “Jerry’s Coffee Shop: Open 9 am usually.


Finishing Touches

After the walls were up, tiles were laid, and appliances installed, it was time to transform it from a house into a home. John Gillespie wanted this to be especially cozy and inviting after all Jerry had been through. So he called upon his neighbor, Brenda Biese, who just happens to be an interior designer. She was happy to assist and reached out to an executive at the local Goodwill stores for help. Goodwill opened their hearts and their doors to let Brenda pick what she needed for Jerry’s home. Brenda sure has a gift, because she managed to make Jerry’s new home look model-perfect.

When he first saw his new home, all Jerry could think was: “Awesome, unbelievable, I can’t even believe it. This has actually happened.”

Moving Day

All the pieces were in place and Jerry was finally able to move in. Rawhide helped with that too. Guys in Rawhide’s About Face Program routinely help with community service projects and helping Jerry move was on their list. The guys arrived at Jerry’s apartment around 9:30 a.m. and started to pack up Jerry’s belongings. After a bite of lunch, they proceeded to unpack the truck at Jerry’s new home.

With everything moved in, Jerry couldn’t resist showing off his new home. He was like a kid in a candy store as he showed everyone his kitchen drawers that automatically closed and a toilet seat with the same feature. “Every square inch of this place is perfect. This is a perfect place. Wisconsin. Appleton. The people. This is it. It cannot be better.”

“I’ve been given a big responsibility. I owe it to everyone who helped build this to take care of this home because it really doesn’t belong to me. It belongs to each and every person who helped. You are all welcome here anytime. You are all angels.” Jerry Monson

Jerry is incredibly grateful for everyone that helped. “I want to thank them and give each one of them a big hug. For me, that would be awesome.”


Tour of Jerry’s New Home

See the finishing decorator touches after the boxes are unpacked and the volunteers have gone home.

Through It All

Jerry has been through a lot. He’s overcome family troubles, survived a war, and dealt with health issues doctors say many wouldn’t have survived.

And through it all, Rawhide has held true to its promise “Once a Rawhide guy, always a Rawhide guy.” Through every trial, Jerry has had the support of Rawhide and others. He is Rawhide’s first son “so to speak” and he always will be.

When things became especially difficult, Jerry thought back to what Jan Gillespie told him: “You have to remember you have a lot of prayers from a lot of people.”

Without Jerry, there would be no Rawhide, and thanks to the support Jerry has had, he can finally rest easy in what he calls the “nicest home in Appleton.”


Belated Veterans Day Surprise

On November 16th, 2016, Jerry’s home received a welcome surprise – an American flag that flew over the state Capitol in Madison on Veterans Day. State Senator Roger Roth presented the flag to Jerry, furthering the incredible outpouring of community support for the Vietnam veteran.