Skip to comments.Sick Kids' Ranch Has Hefty Costs (DON IMUS)
Posted on 02/10/2003 2:41:20 PM PST by woofie
RIBERA The Imus Ranch isn't just another camp for sick children. Rather than bunk in cabins, the kids stay with the Imus family in well-appointed bedrooms in a 15,000-square-foot hacienda that cost more than $2 million.
A main street of a 19th-century Western town has been re-created on the ranch. National talk show host and ranch co-founder Don Imus sometimes broadcasts from there.
The property has barns, wrangler houses, a pool and a horse-riding arena. Longhorn cattle, horses, buffalo, sheep and other animals roam the ranch. Each child who visits gets a cowboy hat, boots and jeans from the general store.
About 100 kids, between about 10 and 16 years of age, come for 10 days or so each year at no cost to their families.
But it isn't cheap.
Expenses for the nonprofit ranch were $2.6 million in 2001, according to its federal tax return. That works out to about $25,000 for each of the children who visited.
"It sounds like a lot of money for kids, and it is a lot of money," Imus said in a recent interview.
But, he said, the Imus Ranch is a working cattle ranch that provides a unique experience for the children. Unlike a camp, it can't be shut down when children aren't there.
"One of the things, of course, we didn't think about when we came up with the idea of this place was that you can only have kids there when they're out of school, but you have to run the place year-round because you got animals and horses and 17 buildings and the land and all that."
The Imus Ranch lost money in 2001, with contributions falling short of expenses for the first time since its creation in 1998.
Imus said he is working to reduce ranch expenses while taking steps to secure the financial future of the operation.
"Am I concerned about being able to continue to run it? No, not at all," Imus said. The ranch hasn't escaped controversy related to its finances.
National radio shock jock Howard Stern once called it the "biggest scam-foolery I've ever seen," saying the spread amounts to a second home for Imus.
The San Miguel County assessor in 2000 refused to give the ranch a full exemption from property taxes because of the private quarters for the Imuses and the broadcasting studio and because children aren't at the ranch year-round.
The assessor did find that the educational and charitable services provided by the Imus Ranch were substantial and granted the ranch a 55 percent property-tax exemption.
No sick talk or cell phones
Imus, wife Deirdre Coleman Imus and brother Fred founded the ranch in 1998.
Major corporations, TV personalities, Don and Deirdre Imus and others have contributed more than $24 million. Most of that has gone for construction.
The ranch near the tiny village of Ribera, about 45 miles east of Santa Fe, is 2,300 acres of juniper, sagebrush and cactus. Don, Deirdre and Fred privately own another 637 acres.
The stated purpose of the ranch is to provide the "experience of the ranch life of the great American cowboy" for children with cancer or blood disorders, their siblings and the siblings of children who have died of sudden infant death syndrome.
The ranch has hosted children from Connecticut, New York, New Jersey, New Mexico and elsewhere.
The kids are expected to work. Ranch policy forbids mention of illness. Cell phones and CD players are prohibited.
And while there's plenty of beef on the hoof, there's none on the table. It's a vegan ranch, meaning no animal products are served.
"There's a lottery in Texas among the cattle to come here," Imus joked in an interview in 2001.
He has repeatedly said his goal is to give the children an experience like that of living on the Ponderosa Ranch from the Western television series "Bonanza." That means having everyone stay in the big house like one family.
"It's a unique program," Imus said. "It's not a camp. ... Camps are fine, but that doesn't do anything for their self-esteem or dignity. It doesn't teach them anything about their ability to accomplish."
Imus, who grew up on a ranch in Arizona, does his radio show in the early morning while children are at the ranch. He then spends his afternoon with them, often leading horse rides.
"Almost to a kid, it's the experience of their life," he said. "It's turned around many of these kids' lives."
Imus has declined requests to interview children while they are at the ranch.
And no 'crummy cabins'
The cost of running the Imus Ranch has been on the rise since its creation.
Expenses in 1999 its first full year of operation were slightly more than $1 million. They hit $2.4 million in 2000 and $2.6 million in 2001, according to the ranch's tax returns.
Expenses for 2001 included $729,000 in depreciation on ranch buildings and equipment.
Salaries and wages totaled $725,000, but the ranch reported that no one person earned more than $50,000. The Imuses aren't paid for their work.
Other major expenses included $114,000 in legal fees, $94,000 for children's travel, $100,000 for property and liability insurance, $99,000 for repairs and maintenance, and $77,000 for veterinary care and animal feed and accessories.
The ranch reported it spent $85,000 on a communications line for Imus' talk show but was reimbursed.
Imus said he is reviewing the size of the staff, what other buildings need to be constructed and whether the cattle and horse herds should be thinned.
"I'm concerned about the expenses. I always am," he said. "We're making every effort we can" to cut costs. The ranch's expenses were about $1.8 million in 2002, excluding depreciation, and should decline to about $1.5 million this year, he said.
Imus said that the ranch can't be run for less than $1.5 million but that he has no regrets about the "Bonanza" model and its costs.
"It's fabulous," he said.
An audit of the ranch in February 2002 valued its assets including cash, buildings, equipment, land and livestock at $19.8 million.
The furniture and fixtures were valued at just over $1 million. The ranch, decorated in a Western theme, has been featured in Architectural Digest. The thick-walled stucco house is one story, with numerous fireplaces, terraces and portals, as well as an open courtyard.
In addition to the bedrooms for the Imuses, the house includes five bedrooms for visiting children and two bedrooms for child-life specialists or others.
The house also has a library, dining hall and great room. There are chandeliers, exposed beams and tall ceilings. Some floors are brick, others wood.
One newspaper columnist from the Midwest called it a "rustic Taj Mahal."
Imus talked about the ranch in an interview with CNN's Larry King in November 2001.
"An enormous amount of the stuff, beginning with the Steinway pianos and all that stuff was donated, but we wanted to create for these dying children a beautiful place for them to come, to work, to learn how to be little cowboys and cowgirls," he said.
"And you know, I could have taken people's money and built crummy cabins for the kids to live in, but that's not what I did."
Fewer gifts, higher costs
The cost of running the Imus Ranch means a contribution of $5,000 would pay for just a fraction of the stay for one child.
"It's clear to people when they contribute money what the deal is," Imus said. "Speaking for me, I think it's worth contributing my own money just for the benefit that you could give to one kid."
He pledged $1 million to the ranch but has said he has given more.
Contributions to the Imus Ranch have fallen as expenses have increased.
It reported raising $2.3 million in 2001, down from $3.2 million in 2000, $6 million in 1999 and $12.5 million in 1998.
Imus said contributions for 2002 were down further, to about $1.5 million.
He said he hasn't made any real effort to raise money since the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks because of the poor economy and because the ranch hasn't needed it.
The Imus Ranch had $3.6 million in savings at the close of its 2001 tax year.
Imus said the ranch annually receives about $100,000 from Fujifilm, $250,000 from the Tomorrows Children's Fund in Hackensack, N.J., and $1 million from an annual radiothon Imus hosts to benefit the Children's Fund, the ranch and the CJ Foundation for SIDS (sudden infant death syndrome), also in Hackensack.
A seven-story pediatric center at Hackensack University Medical Center is named for Imus and his flagship radio station, WFAN in New York.
Imus said his goal is to establish a permanent fund for the ranch with the help of corporations.
"In five years, I would like to have $20 million in the bank and run it off the interest," he said.
All profits from Imus Ranch Foods, which includes coffee, salsa and chips, are now going to the ranch, Imus said. That program started last May and recently resulted in its first payment to the ranch, he said. The payment was $251,000.
"We're anticipating that we can generate some income that way, and then my wife and I contribute every year," Imus said.
Also, he said, his wife has been working on developing a line of nontoxic home cleaning agents as a spinoff of her work through the Deirdre Imus Environmental Center for Pediatric Oncology at the Hackensack University Medical Center.
Profits from sales of the products will also go to the ranch, Imus said.
And always controversy
The short history of the Imus Ranch has been controversial at times and colorful on occasion.
Imus, in the interview with CNN's King, said he was amused by people who thought he built the Imus Ranch as a second home.
And, in an in an interview with the Journal in 2001, he said, "there's no big benefit for me to be out here to get up at 3 o'clock in the morning and work all day" in the broadcasting studio, then with the children.
Imus has also said he buys his own horses, saddles and vehicles and doesn't charge the ranch for his travel on a private Gulfstream jet to and from New Mexico.
Other ranch-related developments over the years:
Imus agreed in 1998 to reimburse the state about $6,700 for tearing down buildings at the ranch.
Highway workers, at the direction of two state officials, had torn down dilapidated, 19th-century buildings on state land that is leased to the ranch.
The ranch drilled six wells despite concerns from some neighbors about its water use and after the state denied its request to use water rights from the village of Ribera.
Suffering from a toothache while at the ranch, Imus showed up at a dentist's office wearing a pistol on his hip in 2000. New Mexico law generally permits the open carrying of weapons.
Imus in 2001 suffered five broken ribs, a collapsed lung, a broken collarbone and a shoulder separation when he was thrown from a horse.
Fred Imus came under fire in November 1997 after he said Hispanics in a nearby county were "Mexicans" who get pregnant young and would rather drink beer than read a book. He later apologized.
I am no fan of Don Imus. But I want to know how a local rag get's a hold of private tax return information?
IRS Form 990's, for non-profit organizations, are Public Information. You can view the 2000 Imus Ranch Form 990 at:
I think Fred Imus lives there too?
No matter how you slice it, this is good stuff for the kids. God Bless Don Imus.
He gets those great early morning interviews from people all over the world and grills the "Movers and Shakers".
Some of his stuff is pretty hard to take, but all and all, he's head and shoulders above the likes of Katie Curac, Charlie Gibson, Dying Sawyer and anyone else spouting off that time of day.
And yes, he's a weasel.
This really doesn't pass the smell test.
These are kids with cancer, jerkweed. He has a selection committee that tries to get kids who are well down the road, but still able to be kids, without respect to financial condition.
You can send a kid to a fancy dude ranch for 10 days for about $4,000. Call it $5,000. That's 520 kids per year versus Imus' 100.
Imus can't accommodate 520 kids, and kids can only come when they're not in school.
You're nitpicking a very generous effort, IMO. Imus is not everybody's cup of tea, but he doesn't have to do this.
From all indications, he's losing money on it.
So, tell me how he benefits, other than giving some kids with cancer a good time before they die?
That's almost Mother Teresa-like stuff.
In addition to the paradox of a "vegan cattle ranch" already mentioned, I have a problem with imposing a vegan diet on kids are sick and dying. If I were running a facility for them, I'd serve ANYTHING their little appetites desired. I also wonder how it might impact their treatments.
The ranch may be very loving, but imposing a vegan diet is over the top, imno.