The History of the Royal Rangers in West Florida
In 1960, the new Men’s Department secretary of the Assemblies of God, Rev. Burton Pierce, was burdened for a new boys’ program. After he met the North Texas District Youth director, Johnnie Barnes, he knew he had the right guy. Johnnie moved to Springfield, MO and, on January 1, 1962, began the Royal Rangers ministry. The most popular age groups were the Pioneers (9-11) and Trailblazers (12-14). Also created for the older boys was the Air/Sea/Trail Rangers (15-17) group. Shortly thereafter, an auxiliary group – Buckaroos - was created for boys ages 7&8.
After two churches in Missouri piloted the program, it was offered to all AG churches. In West Florida, Pastor Sam Breland of Crestview First Assembly jumped on the opportunity. In late 1962, Crestview First Assembly chartered the first outpost in West Florida. Following close on its heels were St. Andrews in Panama City, Bagdad, Tallahassee East Side, Pace, Pensacola First, and Brownsville.
Soon, it became obvious that this new program was a hit. Churches from across the district became interested, and outposts began popping up in every almost every community. The duties of coordinating the Royal Ranger activities in the district fell to the District CA president, Rev. Don Price.
On the national level, Commander Barnes created district camping events, called “PowWows” so outposts could come together and do “guy stuff.” In West Florida, we followed suit, and soon powwows were soon the premier event in the district rangers. In 1966, the Frontiersmen Camping Fraternity (FCF) was born on the national level, so men and older boys could learn and display their advanced camping skills.
It did not take long to determine that coordinating this growing ministry was too much for the DCAP, so the search was on for a dedicated lay leader who could lead men to reach, teach, and keep boys for Christ. In 1981, Rev. Rudolph Brown from Callaway Assembly in Panama City (Outpost 31) was chosen to be the first official district commander of West Florida. Commander Brown had been involved in the leadership of Royal Rangers since its beginning. He was a plumber by trade, but his passion was ministering, especially to boys.
By now, younger boys were bugging parents about starting early, and parents were bugging pastors. Consequently, the Straight Arrows program was started for boys ages 5&6.
On March 16, 1985, Camp Eagle Rock opened. Camp Eagle Rock is the home to the National Royal Rangers Training Center, located on the shores of Table Rock Lake in Missouri.
Commander Brown led the ministry in West Florida for 16 years. Pow Wows, Leadership Training Classes, FCF events, leader awards, and the Ranger of the Year program all came under his authority. During his term, Johnnie Barnes passed away (1989). A great void was created, but the national Assemblies of God office wisely chose Rev. Ken Hunt from Ohio as the second national commander.
Under Commander Hunt’s leadership, the Royal Rangers leaders realized that older boys were interested in much more than just air, sea, and trail. So the program was restructured and renamed “Challengers.” Another change that took place was the name of FCF, or Frontiersmen Camping Fraternity. Many felt that a fraternity did not reflect a Christian attitude, so the group became the “Frontiersmen Camping Fellowship.”
Rev. Brown stepped down in 1997, and took a full-time pastor position at Parker Assembly of God in Panama City. Rev. Paul Coroleuski from Tallahassee was appointed to take the District Commander reigns. Paul stayed in the position for about a year, bringing new concepts and approaches to the ministry. He then felt the call into full-time ministry. He stepped down in the summer of 1998.
Soon after, Commander Mike Simmons from Pensacola was asked to serve as the District Commander. Mike had grown up in Royal Rangers, joining Buckaroos at Pensacola First Assembly (Outpost 13). At age 18, he became a Lt. Commander in his Trailblazers group. In 1992, he took over as Senior Commander and began an inner-city Rangers ministry. As a result, Outpost 13 grew to an average of 130 boys. A police officer in Pensacola, Mike has a passion to see boys grow into successful Christian men.
Commander Hunt resigned as national commander in 1999. A nationwide search took place for a successor, and an excellent leader was found in the district commander from the Northern California/Nevada district. His name is Richard Marriott. Rich, a businessman by trade, made some drastic changes in the ministry. The entire advancement system and the age groups were restructured. Ranger Kids, Discovery Rangers, Adventure Rangers, and Expedition Rangers came into existence. Instead of the boys being grouped by age, they were grouped by grades in school.
In 2007, Commander Marriott stepped down from the national commander position. Rev. Doug Marsh became the fourth national commander. Under Commander Marsh, many new ventures were started. We have refocused on evangelizing, equipping, and empowering the next generation of Christlike men and lifelong servant leaders. No longer do we think only of camping activities, but we focus on activities in which Godly men can mentor boys.
By the end of 2013, District Director Mike Simmons left the post to become the Southeast Division Director. Picked to take over was Raymond Thompson. Ray and his wife Angie along with their children Jacob and Bethany reside in Southport Florida. He is currently serving in the US Air Force stationed at Tyndall AFB assigned to First Air Force (AFNORTH) with almost 23 years active service. They worship at Deerpoint Lake Assembly of God where he is a Board Member. He has been an active member since joining the fellowship in 1995 and immediately began working in the children’s and youth ministries. He was introduced to Royal Rangers in 1986 by Bro Rudolph Brown and after a break in active duty service was able to get back into the ministry at Deerpoint. He has served on District staff now since 2007 as Section Commander, Division Director and recently appointed as West Florida District Director.
With God’s help, we will continue to evangelize, equip and empower into the future!