A Dream Worth Catching

Connection Magazine
By Lisa Schlichtman
December 2012
view (pdf) article here

AS A WRITER, I am given insider’s access to explore new programs and places I would never had known about if I were not constantly on the search for interesting stories to share with our readers.

Last fall, I received a call from a friend asking me if I knew about an incredible program that was taking place right here in Barry County at Bill and Peggy Roller’s Little Flat Creek Ranch. She acquainted me with the Catch-A-Dream program, and I immediately knew it was a story I wanted to pursue personally for Connection.

It took another year to get schedules to mesh and permissions granted, but when I arrived at the ranch in mid-September for the interview, I was welcomed with open arms and given full access to interview the children, families and volunteers. I spent a wonderful afternoon at the Rollers’ ranch and was introduced to an amazing group of courageous young people and given a glimpse into the huge hearts of our humble hosts.

I was deeply touched by the children and parents I interviewed. Their spirits seemed to be soaring as they spoke about their time at Little Flat Creek Ranch. They described the thrill of downing a trophy deer and sharing the experience as a family – far away from the sterile world of hospitals and doctors’ offices.

The basic mission of Catch-A-Dream is to provide once-in-a-lifetime dream hunting and fishing experiences to children age 18 and younger who suffer from life-threatening illnesses. The purpose of these adventures is to instill a message of encouragement and hope at a time when these kids need it the most.

From what I witnessed at Little Flat Creek Ranch, Catch-A-Dream is fulfilling its mission while also touching the lives of the children’s families and the hearts of the volunteers who give of their time to support the program. The Rollers have fully embraced the Catch-A-Dream message and are giving generously of their resources to promote the promise found in Isaiah 40:31 — “But those who hope in the Lord will renew their strength. They will soar on wings like eagles; they will run and not grow weary, they will walk and not be faint.”

Seeing Catch-A-Dream in action was like seeing this message of hope come alive. I watched children who were coping with life-threatening diseases smile and laugh and enjoy the beauty of the outdoors that surrounded them. For a short time, they were just normal kids, free from diagnoses and doctors, enjoying an afternoon of fishing with the sun on their faces.

I think it is especially fitting that the Catch-A-Dream article is running in our Christmas issue. It is my hope that the article inspires you to cherish life in a fresh way as you are reminded of God’s unwavering love for each of us.

In honor of the holiday season, the pages of Connection are full of Christmas cheer and inspiration. There is an article about a Monett woman who collects antique feather trees and a Cassville resident who fills her home with an ever-growing collection of Christmas decorations. We have also included three pages of delicious Christmas cookie recipes as well as a feature on the Daisy Airgun Museum in Rogers, Arkansas, that features memorabilia from “A Christmas Story.” I also asked our Connection contributors to share a favorite Christmas memory or tradition. I thought this would be a nice way for our readers to connect with the talented individuals who are involved in putting out the magazine each month.

With the writing of this column, Connection turns 4 years old, and we are publishing our largest issue ever. This month’s publication is our Christmas gift to you, our readers. We wish you a very Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year, and as we head into 2013, we are thankful that Connection is still as wildly popular as it was when we first launched it back in 2009.

LAUGHTER AND THE HAPPY SOUND OF CHILDREN PLAYING tag welcomed me to Little Flat Creek Ranch on a sunny mid-September day. It was my first visit to the peaceful hunting preserve located between East Purdy and McDowell, and I was invited there to learn more about the Catch-A-Dream program.

On this particular afternoon, the ranch, which is owned by Bill and Peggy Roller, was hosting three Catch-A-Dream families. The group of fathers and mothers and daughters and sons had gathered around a large spring-fed lake, and they were busy casting into the clear, cold water and reeling in fish after fish — largemouth and smallmouth bass, catfish and perch. The chance to enjoy a stress-free afternoon in the gorgeous Ozarks outdoors was a welcome reprieve for these youngsters who spend far too much time in doctors’ offices and hospital beds.

Thanks to the Catch-A-Dream program, which connects terminally ill children with outdoor adventure, Trey Ward, a 12-year-old from Montana, Syd Loper, a 15-year-old from Mississippi, and Tony Dobratz, a 10-year-old from Wisconsin, were getting the chance to “just be kids” for a few days. For all three, hunting is a passion and their opportunities to participate in the sport have been limited due to their illnesses.

Trey grew up hunting, but since losing his sight at the age of 5 due to Batten’s disease, his hopes of bagging a big buck seemed out of reach until the Ward family heard about Catch-A-Dream. Accompanied by his mom and dad and four younger brothers, Trey was able to fulfill his wish by bringing down a 14-point buck on the second morning of his visit to Little Flat Creek Ranch.

With the assistance of an experienced guide, a special gun and a video screen, Trey achieved his dream and bagged a large trophy Whitetail.

“Trey was clapping and excited,” said Trey’s father, Hal Ward. “He lifted the deer up, and we took some cool pictures. He’s all about the outdoors.

“Trey has a life expectancy of 16 or 17, and we’re trying to make the best of his remaining years,” said Hal. “For Trey, this is a dream come true, and it’s nothing we could have ever organized with five boys.”

Trey’s hunt was witnessed by his entire family who joined Trey in a deer stand that Bill Roller designed specifically for his Catch-A-Dream kids. There are four Catch-A-Dream blinds at Little Flat Creek Ranch, and each is customized to serve children who cannot amble up a ladder into a traditional tower blind or tree stand. The blinds are handicap accessible and wired for heat and electricity.

These special blinds are just one of the many ways the Rollers have adapted their hunting ranch to serve the Catch-A-Dream program. Since 2004, Little Flat Creek Ranch has been an official outfitter and sponsor for Catch-A-Dream. In that role, the ranch has provided 110 child hunts and fishing trips, which represents one-fourth of all the experiences granted since Catch-A-Dream was established in January of 2001.

“We’ve put in place here something we can’t replicate anywhere else in the country,” said Marty Brunson, Catch-A-Dream’s executive director who also served as my guide during my visit to the ranch. “We don’t have a single outfitter who truly understands our mission and vision and buys into it more fully than Bill Roller.”

During the recent three-day trip to Little Flat Creek Ranch, Syd and Tony also had successful hunts, and all three youngsters and families were photographed with their deer. The photos were framed and sent home with the families as keepsakes of their outdoor adventure.


For Syd, hunting is a hobby that allows her to spend time with her dad.

“I’ve always hunted,” said Syd. “I fell in love with it, and I love being with my daddy when I hunt. I wanted to go kill a big buck, and you can’t find ones like these in Mississippi.”

It’s hard to imagine that this petite blond with an engaging smile and irresistible southern accent is terminally ill. Syd has cystic fibrosis, a disease that is usually fatal by age 18 to 20, but she is not defined by her illness.

“I don’t let it get to me,” said Syd. “I cheer and do show choir.

“My disease has made me a stronger person,” explained the high school freshman. “I don’t let anything drag me down, and if it does, I don’t let it show. No one knows when they are going to die. You just keep your head held high and go on.”

For Syd’s mom, Johnna, the time spent at Little Flat Creek Ranch is a chance for her and her husband to spend quality time with their daughter.

“This is an unbelievable, once-in-a-lifetime experience,” said Johnna. “Syd is loving every minute of it, and this gives us an opportunity to do something for her that we would not be able to afford. Because of medical expenses and travel expenses, we wouldn’t be able to do something for her like this.”

The Lopers have learned to live with Syd’s diagnosis, but they do not dwell on the disease.

“There are days she’s very sick and it’s never far from my mind, but we don’t talk about it all the time,” said Johnna. “We try to make sure she is happy and that’s she’s living her life. We don’t believe the odds. We believe Sydney will beat them.

“Syd never complains; she has such a positive outlook,” added Johnna. “She’s a miracle and a blessing.”


Giving children who have been diagnosed with terminal diseases an opportunity to hunt and fish is what Catch-A-Dream is all about. The organization’s mission is based on Isaiah 40:31 — “But those who hope in the Lord will renew their strength. They will soar on wings like eagles; they will run and not grow weary, they will walk and not be faint.”

“There’s a promise of hope there,” said Marty. “Their bodies don’t work like yours and mine. Their hope is that one day they will run and not grow weary. All the good and bad things in life are temporary, but there is one eternal Hope with a capital ‘H.’

“Catch-A-Dream is not just a hook ‘em and shoot ‘em thing,” explained Marty. “The big deer and big fish are just the tools we use to accomplish our mission. We’re convinced this is therapy — positive and appropriate therapy. We show them that if they trust in God, He will renew their strength and they’ll soar like eagles.”

“Our purpose is to instill hope and build vision relationships; our tool to accomplish our purpose is hunting and fishing experiences.”

This fall, the Rollers’ commitment to the national Catch-A-Dream program was honored during a gathering of family, friends and sponsors at the lodge at Little Flat Creek Ranch. Marty used the get together as a way to thank the Rollers for their support.

“Bill Roller is an innovator and a visionary,” said Marty. “His heart and passion are in what we do.”

In celebration of the 100th child trip to their ranch, Bill and Peggy were presented with a blanket created by a master quilter who happens to be the grandmother of one of the Catch-A-Dream kids. The king-size quilt was covered in photographs of the children who have hunted or fished at Little Flat Creek — 109 as of September.

Bill hesitated to talk about his personal involvement in the program. Instead, in his typically humble way, he was more interested in making sure Connection readers were introduced to the Catch-A-Dream program, and as a result, inspired to support its mission.

“We’re pretty dedicated to Catch-A-Dream,” said Bill. “It’s an area where we can be a help. It’s about the kids and their special needs. It’s healing for the kids and the caregivers. I’d like to think we can give them a break. We also want to give a special thanks to Little Flat Creek/ Catch -A-Dream sponsors as well as our Little Flat Creek staff,” added Bill. “Without both of these groups of people, the effort could not succeed.”

In addition to hosting Catch-A-Dream hunts, Little Flat Creek Ranch can provide similar hunts for adults and older people who may have disabilities that could keep them from hunting. The 1,800-acre ranch is also set up for guided trophy whitetail hunts with a lodge that can sleep 18 comfortably.


The trips to Little Flat Creek Ranch always begin with a visit to Bass Pro Shops and an overnight stay in a Springfield hotel. Bass Pro Shops provide all the clothing the kids need for the hunt, and Bill makes sure it’s all personalized. Catch-A-Dream ensures all needed gear and gadgets are also provided. When the families arrive at the hunting lodge, their gear is waiting for them in their rooms.

“They get settled in and then go to the range,” said Marty. “We have special equipment with a little video screen so the kids can see the crosshairs, and we also have devices so the kids can manipulate the trigger.”

After lunch, the families relax, do a little fishing and then attend a pre-hunt meeting where safety and hunting rules are reviewed. The kids are in the deer stands by 4 p.m. on that first day with their own guides and hopefully they down a deer within the next few hours. If the evening hunt is unsuccessful, the kids who did not get their deer return to the stands the next morning.

“Out of 417 trips across the nation, we’ve only had four or five where the child didn’t consummate what we took them to do,” said Marty. “It’s our job to make sure the hunting and fishing go well.”

In the evenings, the families enjoy delicious meals of bratwurst, hot dogs and hamburgers all grilled outside on the lodge’s back deck, and on the last night, an outdoor celebration and catfish dinner are held by the lake where special presentations are made to the Catch-A-Dream kids, their parents and siblings.

“It’s usually a very emotional time when they realize what Catch-A-Dream is really about,” said Marty. “We tell them that there is a Creator who gives you an eternal promise. Who says ‘it’s okay, because if you trust in Me, you will renew your strength and you’ll soar like an eagle. It is the Creator who put the deer here and the ranch here.”

Catch-A-Dream uses hunting and fishing to encourage terminally ill children and their families by exposing them to the magnificence of God’s Creation, Marty explained. The experience also provides a healthy escape from the sterile world of medical facilities.

According to Marty, Catch-A-Dream produces a ripple effect that touches the child and their family and others who become involved with the program. And at Little Flat Creek Ranch, the ripple seems to be reaching wave status.

“This is the only place we can do what we do as perfectly as we do it,” said Marty. “Bill Roller and this ranch have helped us change the face of Catch-A-Dream and our mode of doing business.

“When we created Catch-A-Dream, we wanted it to be more than a wish-granting organization that serves as a travel agency,” explained Marty. “There’s nothing wrong with that but we wanted something different. We hope to send the families home with changed minds and changed perspectives. We want to provide some blessing to the kids, and the blessings are returned back to us. This is a program that will change your life.”


Catch-A-Dream, a charitable, non-profit foundation, covers all the costs associated with the trips, including travel expenses.

The hunts on the Roller ranch are subsidized in part through the sale of an Missouri Whitetail Bucks calendar, featuring Little Flat Creek Ranch’s trophy bucks, which was a fundraising idea of Bill’s. These calendars are sold at Bass Pro Shops and other retailers and are used to promote the Catch-A-Dream program. To date, the calendars have raised $150,000 for Catch-A-Dream and one out of 10 Catch-A-Dream families have learned about the program through information provided with the calendar.

For more information about Catch-A-Dream, to make a contribution or to refer a child, contact Catch-A-Dream at 662-324-5700 or visit www.catchadream.org.

If you wish to learn more about the hunting opportunities available at Little Flat Creek Ranch, visit www. littleflatcreekranch.com.

“But those who hope in the Lord will renew their strength. They will soar on wings like eagles; they will run and not grow weary, they will walk and not be faint.” – Isaiah 40:31 (NIV)

Who is eligible for a dream?

Any child, 18 years or younger who is a United States or Canadian citizen and has a qualifying physician-certified, life-threatening illness. Life-threatening is defined as “any progressive, degenerative or malignant disease or condition, resulting in a significant threat, liklihood or certainty that the child’s life expectancy will not extend past his or her 19th birthday unless the course of the disease is interrupted or otherwise abated.”

What kind of costs are incurred by the family of a dream child?

Families incur no expense. All dream expenses, including travel, meals, lodging, clothing, gear, licenses, fees, taxidermy and meat processing, is fully covered by Catch-A-Dream.

How is Catch-A-Dream funded?

Catch-A-Dream is supported by individual contributions, corporate donations and planned gifts. A significant portion of the cost of each dream comes from in-kind donations from many partner outfitters, organizations, companies and outdoor enthusiasts who become a part of each child’s dream experience. All contributions are tax-deductible.