Off The Record: On Religion, Politics & Equality
I have come across a pile of recent – as in the last 10 years recent about Lester Roloff. I have done a lot of reading about this granddaddy of the Christian Child Containment movement but had never come across his obituary. So, thought I would share it here.
In the next several days, I am going to be parsing out information from the documents newly discovered and post it here. And, below the obituary, a quick update from Jack Patterson’s personal website.
Lester Roloff, killed in a small-plane crash in Texas Tuesday, was a radio evangelist who fought an eight-year battle with the State of Texas over his management of homes for troubled teen-agers.
Mr. Roloff, who was 68 years old and based his operations at the People’s Church of Corpus Christi, was on his way to Missouri to deliver a sermon when he and four others died when the plane he was piloting crashed near Normangee. His Texas church compound also contains the Rebekah Home for Girls, which came to national attention in 1979 when there was a clash between Mr. Roloff’s adherents and state officials who tried to shut the home amid reports of overly harsh discipline and other mistreatment.
Mr. Roloff was also a power in Texas politics. He said he was instrumental in helping William Clements win an 18,000-vote margin in the Governor’s race in 1978. Mr. Roloff was one of the fundamentalist preachers who do not shy from giving political advice, and he did so in daily half-hour broadcasts heard on 180 radio stations. The authorities in Texas said Mr. Roloff, who often piloted one of the three small planes owned by Roloff Evangelistic Enterprises, died when his Cessna 210 plunged into a field. The evangelist, known as Brother Roloff, was to have preached in Roosterville, Mo.
Mr. Roloff started out as an ordained Baptist minister but later shunned affiliation with any denomination. He founded the Rebekah Home in 1967 on the grounds of his church as one of a number of homes for boys and girls and adult drug addicts and alcoholics. The homes, financed by donations, formed the basis of Roloff Enterprises, which enjoyed exemption from taxes as religious work. A few years ago, he put the annual receipts at $2.5 million. Mr. Roloff’s troubles with the Texas authorities began in 1973 over three homes housing 180 girls and 100 boys. It was charged that teenagers, most of them sent away by parents, were being beaten and underfed.
Charges Focus on One Home
Most of the accusations centered on the Rebekah Home, where, it was charged, girls were fed inadequately and punished with denial of meals, lashings and solitary confinement. Mr. Roloff, who consistently denied most of the charges, conceded that girls had been paddled and whipped for misbehavior. He asserted that such discipline was meant to save their souls. ”My old daddy spanked me, and some of these girls have to be spanked, too,” he said. State officials insisted that he obtain licenses for his homes and observe state standards. Mr. Roloff countered that the licenses were ”Communistic” and violated religious freedom. After years of wrangling, Mr. Roloff lost his final appeal to the Supreme Court in 1978 and, in June 1979, state officials, armed with court orders and backed by troopers, moved in to shut the Rebekah Home.
Human Barrier Around Church
Thousands of supporters, led by ministers from around the country, formed a barrier around the People’s Church, with 200 children inside. Governor Clements ordered officials to avoid physical violence, and after a week the issue was resolved. Mr. Roloff temporarily closed the three homes. He also removed them from the structure of Roloff Enterprises and placed them under the aegis of his People’s Church, causing a state court to rule in 1981 that they could operate without a license.
A Roloff spokesman, Dave Walkden, said that Mr. Roloff had been flying planes for 25 years. The Texas authorities said the plane disappeared from the radar screen shortly after 10 A.M. 110 miles north of Houston, and that there was no indication of trouble, although some storms were reported. The other victims were identified as Elaine Wingert, 30, a friend of Mr. Roloff; and three residents of the Jubilee Home for Ladies, one of the church-affiliated homes, Susan Lynn Smith, 28, Cheryl Palmer, 24, and Enola Slade, 25. Mr. Roloff is survived by his wife, Marie, and two daughters. Copyright 1982 The New York Times Company.
Jack Patterson Update
Since his Reclamation Ranch men’s home was shut down in Alabama in 2009, Patterson has been looking for a place to once again set up shop. So far, Patterson has had homes in Indiana, Washington and Alabama. He is now moving back to Detroit where he grew up.
From Patterson’s personal website:
“At the time of this writing I am in Alabama with five men in the program. We are doing alot of clean-up work to get the place ready to sell. As mentioned in the last prayer letter we are planning on moving the ministry to Detroit sometime this year.” and, “…so you can see we are busy and having lots of fun. Praise the Lord for the young men in our program, they are “sold out” and ready to serve the Lord with their lives. It is never a sacrifice but a great privilidge to work with these young men.”
I have had contact with “Bro. Jack” in the past via email. He absolutely rejected the charge that he has ever laid a hand on a teen in his care and that the charges brought by Blount County were trumped up. I have made several attempts to reconnect with him since the new news of Reclamation Ranch moving to Detroit. He hasn’t gotten back to me, however, Jack appears to like to talk, so, hopefully I will have an update on that soon.