The Grand Duke from Boys Ranch: Lone Star Book Blog Tours Promo & Review

THE GRAND DUKE FROM BOYS RANCH
EUGENIA AND HUGH M. STEWART ’26 SERIES
by
BILL SARPALIUS
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.

PRAISE FOR THE GRAND DUKE FROM BOYS RANCH: 

“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

 

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Review

Former Congressman Bill Sarpalius’ memoir, The Grand Duke from Boys Ranch, chronicles a remarkable life that progresses from an illiterate child whose father abandoned him and whose mother battled depression, alcoholism, and suicidal tendencies, to Future Farmers of America President, to a brief career in agribusiness and teaching, to a position in the Texas Legislature, and ultimately to the U.S. Congress. It is at once compelling and inspirational, and should appeal to readers looking to overcome obstacles and accomplish their own dreams.

Each of the aforementioned touchstone events in Bill Sarpalius’ book is presented in one of five parts that correspond to the turning points in his life. Of these, the one that put him on the road to public service and convinced him that “God had a plan for him to help people” is Part I: Cal Farley’s Boys Ranch.

“It was at Boys Ranch where I learned how to dream and make those dreams come true.”

As a resident of Texas, I was certainly aware of the facility in West Texas. Each year about Christmas time I receive a mailing soliciting funding to support the ranch’s operational needs. However, I was unaware of the magnitude of its mission; one of the largest child care homes in the state, it has raised and educated thousands of boys who either had no family or whose families couldn’t provide for them, or who had committed violent crimes. I was also unfamiliar with the man responsible, Cal Farley, whose faith and compassion wouldn’t allow him to ever say “no to a boy in trouble.”

Of course, when Bill Sarpalius’ mother dropped him and his two brothers off at the Boys Ranch in 1960 in an act of desperation, it was at a time when childcare facilities in Texas were unregulated, licensed, or inspected (the Texas Child Care and Licensing Act wasn’t passed until 1975.) The volatile mix of boys and staff sometimes resulted in abuse, and Mr. Sarpalius candidly discusses corporal punishment, sexual assault, and the initial struggle to survive.

It is a testament to his character and determination that when he finally emerges from Boys Ranch he leaves with an education, self-confidence, profound faith, a work ethic, and lasting friendships. In fact he will attribute his time there as the reason for his later success.

“Everything I had ever accomplished, I owe to Cal Farley and his Boys Ranch.”

 The remaining four parts to the book were less compelling for me. The memories of his rise to political prominence and his accomplishments in office just didn’t resonate with me for reasons that I think had more to do with writing style than story. In many instances his stream of consciousness results in random thoughts and reflections that don’t seem to fit into the context or chronology of the situations being described. And, because the focus of any memoir is the author, all events, reactions, opinions, thoughts, feelings, and outcomes are filtered through that one viewpoint. There is always the danger that they may come across as less than objective, which is especially true in today’s political climate. The “I/me” perspective employed by Mr. Sarpalius definitely invites reader intimacy, but it also runs the risk of appearing self-aggrandizing.

Though not for everyone, The Grand Duke from Boys Ranch is a unique political memoir that many readers will enjoy.

I received a free copy of the book from Texas A&M University Press & the Texas Book Consortium in exchange for my honest opinion.

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.
MEET THE AUTHOR! 
BARNES & NOBLE, #2665
2:00 PM
SATURDAY, SEPTEMBER 1, 2018
2415 Soncy Road
Amarillo, TX 79124

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