David Bitto had a big heart.
That’s the way Jim Harmon, ranch life director of the Baldwin County Sheriffs Boys Ranch describes the late Baldwin County Farmers Federation president who passed away in March.
“David always seemed to show up at just the right time,” Harmon said. “The ranch has many needs, and we never really had to tell David what those were. He saw a need and suddenly the need was met, most of the time without so much as a word. But, I knew who was responsible.”
Bitto, 67, served 25 years as county president and nine years as Alabama Farmers Federation District 11 director. Known as a successful farmer with a gregarious personality and quick wit, Bitto had a softer side that included a love for the Boys Ranch located a few miles from his Elberta farm.
Even after his passing, Bitto’s legacy of love continues at the ranch. Memorials made in his honor, along with donations from the Elberta Farmers Cooperative, Alabama Farmers Cooperative, Priefert Manufacturing, Baldwin County Farmers Federation and the Point Clear Rotary Club, were used to build the David Bitto Memorial Cattle Barn.
The new 40-by-60-foot barn covers a modern cattle-working facility with a squeeze chute, sweep tub and livestock panels. It replaced an outdated and sometimes dangerous holding pen, Harmon said. The new facility is a fitting tribute to Bitto, he added.
“David loved the cows, and he would bring us one of his bulls every year to use free of charge,” Harmon said. “Last year, he brought us three heifers from his farm that were five months pregnant and donated them to the ranch. He was a generous man; that’s for sure. His son, John, recently brought us a Brangus bull and told us it was ours to keep. The Bittos have been very good to the ranch.”
Harmon said the ranch has 17 cows, although he’d love to see the herd grow to 20. Calves raised there are sold to supplement the ranch’s annual food budget.
Harmon said Bitto understood the mission of the ranch isn’t to make its residents into farmers but to teach them the importance of a good work ethic. Boys at the ranch attend local schools and First Baptist Church of Foley. They spend summer mornings doing chores like typical farm children and have most afternoons free to swim, fish, ride horses or participate in other recreational activities.
The memorial barn was nearly finished July 1 when Bitto’s son and daughter, John and Annette, visited the ranch at Harmon’s request. John said the sign across the front of the barn is nice, but added his dad never sought recognition for what he did at the Boys Ranch.
“He did it because it was the right thing to do,” John Bitto said of his father’s work for the ranch. “My family would like everyone to know how much we appreciate their donations to the ranch on his behalf. The barn will last a long time and will make a real impact for years to come for those young men at the Boys Ranch.”
Annette Bitto said her father was passionate about agriculture, but he was even more passionate about helping people.
“By helping Jim and the farm at the Boys Ranch, he was able to combine both loves,” she said. “He knew — and told us often — that the world is a better place due to the loving home provided at the Boys Ranch.”
The 180-acre ranch, run entirely on donations, started in 1984 and is part of the Boys and Girls Ranches of Alabama. The Summerdale ranch has two houses that can accommodate up to 14 boys from 6-18 years old. A third house is a transitional home for boys over 18 who’ve graduated high school and are attending a trade school or college.
“Because we’re called the Sheriffs Boys Ranch, there’s a common misconception that the boys here are juvenile delinquents or have been in some kind of trouble,” Harmon said. “That’s not true at all. Our boys are here through no fault of their own. We provide them with a loving home where they learn manners, work ethic and responsibility, just like any family.”
Baldwin County Farmers Federation President Hope Cassebaum said even though she’s lived near the Boys Ranch for years, it was Bitto who introduced her and husband Todd to its mission.
“David asked us to attend the annual pig roast and auction at the ranch a few years ago,” Cassebaum said. “It really opened our eyes to what they do here. Even though David would probably say he didn’t want a barn with his name on it, he’d be pleased the ranch is getting such a nice facility. He loved this place.”
For a video about the Baldwin County Sheriffs Boys Ranch visit tinyurl.com/boysranch2015.http://tinyurl.com/boysranch2015.