Croyle to take the reins at Big Oak Ranch

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By Gene Stanley/Correspondent

Brodie Croyle thought he was in trouble right after he told his wife of his life plans.

However, it wasn’t tears of anger that Kelli Schutz Croyle was shedding – they were tears of joy.

“She told me that she had been waiting for the announcement for five years,” Brodie said. “She said that she and Dad (John Croyle) had been talking and praying about it for a long time, but that she knew it had to be on God’s time and on my time.”

The announcement was  Brodie’s decision to learn the ins and outs of the Big Oak Boys Ranch, Girls Ranch and Westbrook Christian School and eventually become the executive director, taking over from John.

“I’ll be shadowing Dad for a year or two,” Brodie said

“And when we’re comfortable with my abilities, I’ll take over the day-to-day operations.”

Doesn’t that mean John retiring?

“No,” John quickly said. “I’m not planning to even slow down. I’m not even stepping down; I’m stepping aside to let the young folks take the Ranch to the next level.”

“In my heart I was ecstatic,” John Croyle said, of Brodie’s decision to participate in operations at the ranch.

“To know that my son wanted to help hurting children elated me.

“And to know that both of my children are involved – I couldn’t be prouder as a daddy.”

Brodie will be working with his sister, Reagan, who is in charge of the Child Care Ministries.

“There’s only one John Croyle and no one can fill his shoes,” Brodie said.

“We figure if we get enough Croyles involved, maybe we can collectively fill them.”

Brodie, a former Westbrook athlete who went on to play quarterback at the University of Alabama and for the Kansas City Chiefs, retired from the National Football League two years ago.

For the past 18 months he partnered with Inge Beeker to run Ingewood Land Company, an Alabama land and timber real estate company.

That allowed the young family to live in Brandon, Miss., Kelli’s hometown.

“Inge and I had just finished a deal for a large tract of timber and were sitting around talking,” Brodie said. “We were talking about our short-term goals and the conversation got into what we wanted to do farther in the future. I told him that at some point, I wanted to get back to Northeast Alabama and to come back and work with the children at the Ranches.

“I got home that evening and no one was home, so I talked to God about it. I thought about it for about two weeks before telling Kelli over the dinner table.”

In the end, they figured out that both had been pondering the idea for awhile but hadn’t mentioned it to the other.

Kelli, who won the 2005 America’s Junior Miss as the Mississippi representative, met Brodie at the Children’s Hospital in Mobile while Brodie was there for the Senior Bowl.

“I was coming out of the room of a young leukemia patient and he was going in,” Kelli said. “We started talking and two days later, had our first date – a date that also had Brodie’s entire family and a bunch more people. And the rest is history, as they say.”

Brodie also noted that being at the Ranches will give two-year-old Sawyer a chance to grow up in a great environment.

The young family will make its home at the Boys Ranch.

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