In the summer of 1953, Doug Brady was 11 and the third oldest of seven children. It was three years after their father had left the family.
“My mother couldn’t handle raising that many kids by herself,” Brady said. “And she wanted a male role model for her sons.”
The family was from Wichita but at the time was living in the southeast Kansas town of Howard. A neighbor told Brady’s mother about Cal Farley’s Boys Ranch, a facility near Amarillo, Texas, that began taking in boys, including those from broken homes, in 1939.
Brady and two of his brothers, Cecil and Charles, were sent to the ranch. A third brother, Randy, who was only 2 months old when the father left, joined them about five years later. Three sisters remained with their mother.
Doug Brady would learn lessons at the ranch that shaped his character and his career.
From milking cows by hand, washing dishes, and raking rocks and hoeing weeds on the 160-acre ranch so grass would grow, he learned “work wouldn’t kill me.” He took vocational classes on electricity and worked as an apprentice to electricians who came to the ranch to convert buildings brought in from a nearby Army Air Corps base into dormitories.
Brady would need all those life lessons and more after a vehicle accident in July 2010 left him a quadriplegic.
In between, he has given back to the community and ranch – as a Haysville City Council member, Boy Scouts leader, president of the Sons of the Revolution’s local chapter, helping establish and care for war memorials in Wichita, and serving for 25 years on the ranch’s alumni board, including five as president.
“I always tried to do more than asked to do,” Brady said. “Cal Farley’s ranch taught me that.”
Saturday, the ranch will try to give back to him. A ranch alumni gathering will be held at Wichita’s Best Western Airport Inn to honor and encourage Brady. The public is invited to the 6 p.m. event.
“Doug is a man who has always liked to serve,” said Bob Saraplius, a former ranch resident and now executive director of the alumni association.
Saraplius has contacts for only 10 ranch alums in Kansas, but he hopes that others from around the country who were at the ranch when Brady was there will also come. There are about 9,000 alums of the ranch, which began taking girls in 1992 and is called home today for about 300 children.
After a three-year stint in the Army, Brady spent a couple of years as an electrician in the Amarillo area before coming to Wichita, where he raised two sons before he divorced. Nine years ago he married Zenaida, a widow from the Philippines who has two daughters.
Phil Blake has no connection to the ranch but plans to be there Saturday. Blake said Brady was his “right-hand man” in helping with the war memorials.
“Doug’s contribution to society has been totally remarkable, both as a father and a worker in the community,” Blake said.
Brady wondered what he would do with the rest of his life after the accident.
He was working for Leadfoot Express Transport, which delivers products by van across the country. Two drivers trade off at the wheel, traveling around the clock.
Brady and another driver had just delivered a Cessna rudder for a jet in Southern California and were headed back toward Kansas through Arizona in July 2010. Brady was asleep in the back while his partner drove during the early morning.
The driver apparently fell asleep, woke up and slammed on the brakes, sending the van into a spin. Brady’s head slammed into the rear door, pinching the nerve in six vertebrae and bruising his spinal cord. He was immediately paralyzed.
“I went through a lot of thoughts in those first few days,” said Brady, 69. “I decided I had two choices. I could be angry about life, making it miserable for me and everyone around me. Or I could put a smile on my face and make the best of the unfortunate situation.”
After surgery and two months at an Arizona hospital, he returned to Wichita. He has been at the Haysville Health Care Center since November 2010, trying to do rehab in hopes of regaining some movement.
He’ll return to his Haysville home on Monday for the first time in nearly two years.
“There’s nothing more they can do,” Brady said Thursday as he sat in his wheelchair with Zenaida nearby. “This is it.”
He can’t use any of his muscle below his neck. He used to be able to work the motorized controls of his chair with the thumb and little finger on his right hand. He lost that a few months ago.
Brady seems taken aback by Saturday’s event.
“Quite frankly, I’m not even sure what it’s all about,” he said.
You, Doug Brady. It’s about you.