Sunday, August 26, 2018


foreword by Bill Hobby

  Genre: Memoir / Texana / Politics / Eastern European History
Publisher: Texas A&M University Press
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Date of Publication: April 16, 2018
Number of Pages: 336 pages w/50 B&W photos

As a boy in Houston, Bill Sarpalius, his brothers, and their mother lived an itinerant life. Bill dug food out of trashcans, and he and his brothers moved from one school to the next. They squatted in a vacant home while their mother, affectionately called “Honey,” battled alcoholism and suicidal tendencies. In an act of desperation, she handed her three sons over to Cal Farley’s Boys Ranch north of Amarillo.

At the time, Bill was thirteen years old and could not read. Life at Boys Ranch had its own set of harrowing challenges, however. He found himself living in fear of some staff and older boys. He became involved in Future Farmers of America and discovered a talent for public speaking. When he graduated, he had a hundred dollars and no place to go. He worked hard, earned a scholarship from the Houston Livestock Show and Rodeo, and obtained a college degree. After a brief career as a teacher and in agribusiness, he won a seat in the Texas Senate. Driven by the memory of his suffering mother, he launched the Texas Commission on Alcohol and Drug Abuse in an effort to help people struggling with addiction.

Sarpalius later served in the United States Congress. As a Lithuanian American, he took a special interest in that nation’s fight for independence from the Soviet Union. For his efforts, Sarpalius received the highest honor possible to a non-Lithuanian citizen and was named a “Grand Duke.”

The Grand Duke from Boys Ranch is a unique political memoir—the story of a life full of unlikely paths that is at once heartbreaking and inspirational.


“The autobiography of Bill Sarpalius reads like a 20 -century version of the American dream – equal parts heartbreak and inspiration, culminating in an unlikely political career capped by three terms in the U.S. Congress.” -- University of Houston Hobby School of Public Affairs

The Grand Duke from Boys Ranch is an inspiring tale of perseverance and personal courage.” -- Si Dunn, Lone Star Literary Life


(used with permission)

In the first chapter of his memoir, The Grand Duke from Boys Ranch, former U.S. representative Bill Sarpalius describes the first few days after he arrived at Cal Farley’s Boys Ranch. 

Mr. Peggram checked his watch and said it was almost time for dinner and that he’d give us a ride to the dining hall. The dining hall was one large room with about fifty round tables, eight chairs to each table. Hundreds of coat hooks lined the walls. At the center of the front wall was a stage. The kitchen was on one side of the stage, and the dishwashing room was on the other. Mr. Peggram showed us the cafeteria line, where we filled our plates with food, then we followed him to a table where four boys were already seated. They also lived in Jim Hill dorm. Of all thirty-six boys in Jim Hill, these four were the only ones who hadn’t gone home for Christmas. As we ate, the four boys introduced themselves and answered the many questions we asked.
As we walked back toward the dorm after dinner, Mr. Peggram pulled up in the same station wagon we rode to Boys Ranch in and asked if we wanted to go bowling or see a movie in Amarillo. All seven of us scrambled in, and Mr. Peggram drove us the thirty-six miles to the bowling alley in Amarillo. We bowled for hours and then slept in the station wagon on the way back. We had a great first day, and I thought this was the beginning of something very special in our lives. As I dozed off to sleep, I could see myself riding a horse with a new pair of boots and a cowboy hat.
The next morning after breakfast, Mr. Peggram took us to a country store to get our new clothes. All I could think about was a pair of cowboy boots and a cowboy hat. The country store was a small white building behind the dining hall. Our “new clothes” were khaki army fatigues that had been donated from the air base in Amarillo. They were too big and didn’t fit well, but they were free. Each of us was given two pairs of pants and two shirts. We also got one pair of dress slacks, a dress shirt, and dress shoes to wear only to church or trips to Amarillo. Then we were fitted with army brogans: brown high-top shoes with leather laces. We were each issued four pairs of socks and underwear and two T-shirts.
When I asked Mr. Peggram when we’d get a cowboy hat and a pair of cowboy boots, he chuckled and answered, “When you have the money to buy them.”
He labeled all our clothes in red ink with our own laundry numbers, explaining that this was to identify our clothes from the other 350 boys at the ranch when the clothes came back from the laundry. My number was JH83. Bobby and Karl each had their own numbers.
I asked Mr. Peggram when I would get to ride a horse. He laughed and said that later that afternoon, I could go to the horse barn and wait in line to ride a horse. That was all I could think about the entire day. I wanted to ride that horse and pretend I was a cowboy. At 1:00 p.m., I hurried down a dirt road flanked by cottonwood trees to a cinder-block building. There were horse stalls on one side and dairy cow pens on the other side. Standing in line behind several boys, I waited for my turn to pick a horse to ride. A clipboard had a list of the horses’ names with a blank line next to each one. I had to select a horse and sign my name on the line. Turning to the boy behind me, I asked which horse to pick. He said to choose the horse named Sleepy because he was slow. Sleepy was the horse they used to teach boys to ride. Another boy helped me pick out a bridle and saddle, showing me how to strap it on the horse. I mounted Sleepy, rode for more than an hour, and fell in love.
I returned to my dorm that afternoon, fell into my bunk bed, and thought about how wonderful it was to be at Boys Ranch. I had a bed, new clothes, and fresh fruit by the door. We went bowling, and I got to ride a horse for the first time. Life could not be any better. Although I missed my mother, Boys Ranch was perfect for my brothers and me. I fell to sleep wondering if my mother was OK. I was twelve years old and had gone to sleep many times worrying about my mother. I had seen her drinking get worse each night for years. She had become very depressed and had tried several times to take her own life. She was my mother, and to me she was the best mother in the world. I knew deep inside she was struggling and that her sons were her life—it must have been so painful knowing she had to give us up and that she could not provide for us. That must have made her feel like a complete failure.
Two days later our lives at Boys Ranch changed when more than two hundred boys returned to the ranch. The dorm parents searched everyone’s luggage and clothes, looking for cigarettes, cash, and other contraband.
Before dinner, some boys started walking throughout the dorm yelling, “Muster!” I reported immediately to the living room. Mr. Peggram stood in the center of the big room as all the boys hurried to grab a seat on the couches along the walls.
As Mr. Peggram read the names of each boy in the dorm in alphabetical order, each boy responded, “Here, sir!” After he read all the names, he asked Bobby and me to stand. He introduced us to the group, and the boys clapped to make us feel welcome. We were referred to as the “new boys,” a nickname for boys who were new to the ranch.
After muster we walked to the dining hall, where we were assigned permanent seats at a table. Bobby’s table was next to mine, and we searched for Karl. He had just moved into the dorm for younger boys and knew no one. At least Bobby and I had each other. When I spotted my little brother, I hurried to his table to ask how he was doing. A man yelled at me, ordering me back to my seat. Karl began to cry. That man told Karl to shut up and sit down. As I walked back to my chair, I began to realize we were now living in a different Boys Ranch.

Karl, Bill, and Bobby Sarpalius, first week at Boys Ranch

BILL SARPALIUS represented the Texas 13th Congressional District from 1989 to 1995, and from 1981 to 1989 he served in the Texas State Senate. He currently is a motivational speaker and serves as CEO of Advantage Associates International. He divides his time between Maryland and Houston, Texas.

2:00 PM
2415 Soncy Road
Amarillo, TX 79124

Notable Quotable
Video Interview, Part 1
Scrapbook Page
Video Interview, Part 2

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