AD Main Menu

Nugen's treatment ranch gives addicts a second chance

Debra McKinney
Clinical supervisor Cathy Bishop views personalized flags nailed to an inspirational tree by program graduates when they left Thursday Feb. 28, 2013 at Nugen's Ranch in Pt. MacKenzie.
Erik Hill
Client Wesley Brewington works on his assignments in a quiet room Thursday Feb. 28, 2013 at Nugen's Ranch in Pt. MacKenzie.
Erik Hill
The main building at Nugen's Ranch houses living quarters, offices, meeting rooms, work areas, an exercise room, laundry facilities and the dining area. Nugen's Ranch moved in June of 2011 to its new 116-acre site located at the corner of W. Pt. MacKenzie Rd. and Holstein Rd.
Erik Hill
The main building features an extensive kitchen at the new Nugen's Ranch location Thursday Feb. 28, 2013 in Pt. MacKenzie.
Erik Hill
A typical room houses two clients at Nugen's Ranch in Pt. MacKenzie.
Erik Hill
The barn houses 10 pigs at Nugen's Ranch Thursday Feb. 28, 2013 in Pt. MacKenzie. Managers hope to increase the pig population to around 25 for clients to care for.
Erik Hill
The barn houses 10 pigs at Nugen's Ranch Thursday Feb. 28, 2013 in Pt. MacKenzie. Managers hope to increase the pig population to around 25 for clients to care for.
Erik Hill
Clinical supervisor Cathy Bishop, left, and executive director Karen Nugen-Logan visit with some of the 10 pigs currently housed in the barn at Nugen's Ranch Thursday Feb. 28, 2013 in Pt. MacKenzie. They hope to increase the pig population to around 25 for clients to care for.
Erik Hill
Clinical supervisor Cathy Bishop visits with Dozer, a hog that is among 10 pigs currently housed in the barn at Nugen's Ranch, Thursday Feb. 28, 2013 in Pt. MacKenzie. They hope to increase the pig population to around 25 for clients to care for.
Erik Hill
One hallway displays dream catchers made by former clients at Nugen's Ranch Thursday Feb. 28, 2013 in Pt. MacKenzie.
Erik Hill
A 100-ft. by 40-ft. greenhouse will be used this growing season to nurture tomatoes, cucumbers and squash as well as starts for cabbage, broccoli, cauliflower and lettuce plants to be grown outdoors at Nugen's Ranch in Pt. MacKenzie.
Erik Hill
Client Forest Bond inks some of his detailed artwork Thursday afternoon Feb. 28, 2013 at Nugen's Ranch in Pt. MacKenzie.
Erik Hill
Creating artwork including ink drawings is a passion for client Forest Bond.
Erik Hill
Client Forest Bond grabs a few minutes of exercise at Nugen's Ranch Thursday Feb. 28, 2013 in Pt. MacKenzie.
Erik Hill
Never Alone recovery key rings fill a grass bowl in a craft room at Nugen's Ranch Thursday Feb. 28, 2013 in Pt. MacKenzie. Alaskan crafts are among activities available for clients at the facility.
Erik Hill
Two wings in the main building can house 17 men and nine women at Nugen's Ranch in Pt. MacKenzie. The building also houses offices, meeting rooms, work areas, an exercise room, laundry facilities and the dining area. Nugen's Ranch moved in June of 2011 to its new 116-acre site located at the corner of W. Pt. MacKenzie Rd. and Holstein Rd.
Erik Hill
The ashes of late former foreman Vern Kjellsen are perched above the entrance to Vern's Wing, which houses male clients, at Nugen's Ranch Thursday Feb. 28, 2013 in Pt. MacKenzie. Kjellsen died June 26, 2010, the day the former Nugen's Ranch property along the Palmer-Wasilla Highway was sold prior to the move to Pt. MacKenzie.
Erik Hill
Former client Mike Foy, right, is now a certified counselor working at Nugen's Ranch while pursuing a master's degree. He was catching up with client Wesley Brewington Thursday Feb. 28, 2013 in his office.
Erik Hill
Clinical supervisor Cathy Bishop, left, and executive director Karen Nugen-Logan stand outside the new Nugen's Ranch main building Thursday Feb. 28, 2013 in Pt. MacKenzie.
Erik Hill
Alaska State Fair awards adorn a hallway of the new Nugen's Ranch building Thursday Feb. 28, 2013 at Pt. MacKenzie.
Erik Hill
A self-portrait by a former client remains on a wall at Nugen's Ranch Thursday Feb. 28, 2013 at Pt. MacKenzie.
Erik Hill
In 1994 Karen Nugen-Logan became executive director of the treatment program established by her parents Leonard and Henrietta Nugen in 1981.
Erik Hill
Clinical supervisor Cathy Bishop keeps a display of mementoes left with her by former clients at Nugen's Ranch Thursday Feb. 28, 2013 at Pt. MacKenzie
Erik Hill
An inspirational message rests among mementoes left with clinical supervisor Cathy Bishop by former clients at Nugen's Ranch Thursday Feb. 28, 2013 at Pt. MacKenzie.
Erik Hill
Former client Mike Foy, right, is now a certified counselor working at Nugen's Ranch while pursuing a master's degree. He was touching base with client Wesley Brewington Thursday Feb. 28, 2013 in his office.
Erik Hill
The main building at Nugen's Ranch houses living quarters, offices, meeting rooms, work areas, an exercise room, laundry facilities and the dining area. Nugen's Ranch moved in June of 2011 to its new 116-acre site located at the corner of W. Pt. MacKenzie Rd. and Holstein Rd.
Erik Hill
Victoria Gochenauer, who graduated from Nugen's Ranch in 2004, is now an Anchorage homeowner and works as a dental assistant.
Erik Hill
Nugen's Ranch graduate Victoria Gochenauer nuzzles her dog "Copper" while reflected in a mirror adjacent to mementoes from her time at the facility Thursday Feb. 28, 2013 at her home in south Anchorage. Gochenauer graduated in September of 2004, and is now a dental assistant and homeowner.
Erik Hill
Victoria Gochenauer's client number appears on one of the personalized flags nailed to an inspirational tree by program graduates when they leave Thursday Feb. 28, 2013 at Nugen's Ranch in Pt. MacKenzie. Gochenauer graduated Sept. 7, 2004.
Erik Hill
Nugen's Ranch was located along the Palmer-Wasilla Highway in this 2005 photo.
Evan R. Steinhauser
Karen Nugen-Logan holds one of the piglets raised at Nugen's Ranch, a drug and alcohol treatment facility on the Palmer-Wasilla Highway, in June of 2002.
Bob Hallinen
Nugen's Ranch, a drug and alcohol treatment facility on the Palmer-Wasilla Highway, as it appeared in 2002.
Bob Hallinen
Clinical supervisor Cathy Bishop views personalized flags nailed to an inspirational tree by program graduates when they left Thursday Feb. 28, 2013 at Nugen's Ranch in Pt. MacKenzie.
Erik Hill
Client Wesley Brewington works on his assignments in a quiet room Thursday Feb. 28, 2013 at Nugen's Ranch in Pt. MacKenzie.
Erik Hill
The main building at Nugen's Ranch houses living quarters, offices, meeting rooms, work areas, an exercise room, laundry facilities and the dining area. Nugen's Ranch moved in June of 2011 to its new 116-acre site located at the corner of W. Pt. MacKenzie Rd. and Holstein Rd.
Erik Hill
The main building features an extensive kitchen at the new Nugen's Ranch location Thursday Feb. 28, 2013 in Pt. MacKenzie.
Erik Hill
A typical room houses two clients at Nugen's Ranch in Pt. MacKenzie.
Erik Hill
The barn houses 10 pigs at Nugen's Ranch Thursday Feb. 28, 2013 in Pt. MacKenzie. Managers hope to increase the pig population to around 25 for clients to care for.
Erik Hill
The barn houses 10 pigs at Nugen's Ranch Thursday Feb. 28, 2013 in Pt. MacKenzie. Managers hope to increase the pig population to around 25 for clients to care for.
Erik Hill
Clinical supervisor Cathy Bishop, left, and executive director Karen Nugen-Logan visit with some of the 10 pigs currently housed in the barn at Nugen's Ranch Thursday Feb. 28, 2013 in Pt. MacKenzie. They hope to increase the pig population to around 25 for clients to care for.
Erik Hill
Clinical supervisor Cathy Bishop visits with Dozer, a hog that is among 10 pigs currently housed in the barn at Nugen's Ranch, Thursday Feb. 28, 2013 in Pt. MacKenzie. They hope to increase the pig population to around 25 for clients to care for.
Erik Hill
One hallway displays dream catchers made by former clients at Nugen's Ranch Thursday Feb. 28, 2013 in Pt. MacKenzie.
Erik Hill
A 100-ft. by 40-ft. greenhouse will be used this growing season to nurture tomatoes, cucumbers and squash as well as starts for cabbage, broccoli, cauliflower and lettuce plants to be grown outdoors at Nugen's Ranch in Pt. MacKenzie.
Erik Hill
Client Forest Bond inks some of his detailed artwork Thursday afternoon Feb. 28, 2013 at Nugen's Ranch in Pt. MacKenzie.
Erik Hill
Creating artwork including ink drawings is a passion for client Forest Bond.
Erik Hill
Client Forest Bond grabs a few minutes of exercise at Nugen's Ranch Thursday Feb. 28, 2013 in Pt. MacKenzie.
Erik Hill
Never Alone recovery key rings fill a grass bowl in a craft room at Nugen's Ranch Thursday Feb. 28, 2013 in Pt. MacKenzie. Alaskan crafts are among activities available for clients at the facility.
Erik Hill
Two wings in the main building can house 17 men and nine women at Nugen's Ranch in Pt. MacKenzie. The building also houses offices, meeting rooms, work areas, an exercise room, laundry facilities and the dining area. Nugen's Ranch moved in June of 2011 to its new 116-acre site located at the corner of W. Pt. MacKenzie Rd. and Holstein Rd.
Erik Hill
The ashes of late former foreman Vern Kjellsen are perched above the entrance to Vern's Wing, which houses male clients, at Nugen's Ranch Thursday Feb. 28, 2013 in Pt. MacKenzie. Kjellsen died June 26, 2010, the day the former Nugen's Ranch property along the Palmer-Wasilla Highway was sold prior to the move to Pt. MacKenzie.
Erik Hill
Former client Mike Foy, right, is now a certified counselor working at Nugen's Ranch while pursuing a master's degree. He was catching up with client Wesley Brewington Thursday Feb. 28, 2013 in his office.
Erik Hill
Clinical supervisor Cathy Bishop, left, and executive director Karen Nugen-Logan stand outside the new Nugen's Ranch main building Thursday Feb. 28, 2013 in Pt. MacKenzie.
Erik Hill
Alaska State Fair awards adorn a hallway of the new Nugen's Ranch building Thursday Feb. 28, 2013 at Pt. MacKenzie.
Erik Hill
A self-portrait by a former client remains on a wall at Nugen's Ranch Thursday Feb. 28, 2013 at Pt. MacKenzie.
Erik Hill
In 1994 Karen Nugen-Logan became executive director of the treatment program established by her parents Leonard and Henrietta Nugen in 1981.
Erik Hill
Clinical supervisor Cathy Bishop keeps a display of mementoes left with her by former clients at Nugen's Ranch Thursday Feb. 28, 2013 at Pt. MacKenzie
Erik Hill
An inspirational message rests among mementoes left with clinical supervisor Cathy Bishop by former clients at Nugen's Ranch Thursday Feb. 28, 2013 at Pt. MacKenzie.
Erik Hill
Former client Mike Foy, right, is now a certified counselor working at Nugen's Ranch while pursuing a master's degree. He was touching base with client Wesley Brewington Thursday Feb. 28, 2013 in his office.
Erik Hill
The main building at Nugen's Ranch houses living quarters, offices, meeting rooms, work areas, an exercise room, laundry facilities and the dining area. Nugen's Ranch moved in June of 2011 to its new 116-acre site located at the corner of W. Pt. MacKenzie Rd. and Holstein Rd.
Erik Hill
Victoria Gochenauer, who graduated from Nugen's Ranch in 2004, is now an Anchorage homeowner and works as a dental assistant.
Erik Hill
Nugen's Ranch graduate Victoria Gochenauer nuzzles her dog "Copper" while reflected in a mirror adjacent to mementoes from her time at the facility Thursday Feb. 28, 2013 at her home in south Anchorage. Gochenauer graduated in September of 2004, and is now a dental assistant and homeowner.
Erik Hill
Victoria Gochenauer's client number appears on one of the personalized flags nailed to an inspirational tree by program graduates when they leave Thursday Feb. 28, 2013 at Nugen's Ranch in Pt. MacKenzie. Gochenauer graduated Sept. 7, 2004.
Erik Hill
Nugen's Ranch was located along the Palmer-Wasilla Highway in this 2005 photo.
Evan R. Steinhauser
Karen Nugen-Logan holds one of the piglets raised at Nugen's Ranch, a drug and alcohol treatment facility on the Palmer-Wasilla Highway, in June of 2002.
Bob Hallinen
Nugen's Ranch, a drug and alcohol treatment facility on the Palmer-Wasilla Highway, as it appeared in 2002.
Bob Hallinen

Forest Bond has been that bundle of bones passed out at the picnic table, people walking by, staring, shaking their heads. He's been that unconscious drunk carted off to the emergency room, over and over, three times in one week, best he can remember. He's scored a blood alcohol level of 0.5 more times than makes any kind of sense. That's more than six times the legal limit for driving.

"That's legally dead," is how he puts it.

Bond has been on this planet just 26 years. That's like 126 in chronic alcoholic years.

"My dad died when I was 7 of alcoholism," he said. "I figured the prime of my life was gone, and I was going to end up just like him. I was hopeless."

Slight, red-haired and so soft-spoken you have to lean forward to catch his words, Bond is making his second run at sobriety. Some people are court-ordered to treatment. He wanted to go. After five months at Nugen's Ranch, a long-term residential facility for last-chance alcoholics and drug addicts, he was certain he would never drink again, "100 hundred percent sure." But he did. The delirium tremens were back so fast it was like they missed him. The anxiety, the shaking, the queasiness, the blurred vision. By day two of his relapse, he knew he'd screwed up big time. He begged those at Nugen's Ranch to take him back.

Clients who relapse have to wait six months before being readmitted. It's policy. But for Bond they made an exception. He was back in a month. Otherwise, clinical supervisor Cathy Bishop said, he would have died.

"In retrospect I can see a thousand things I did wrong," Bond said. "This is where I need to be."

He wants sobriety; he wants it badly. But when you've been guzzling alcohol like soda pop since you were a teenager, it takes time, sometimes a lot of time, to learn to live without it.

Leonard Nugen knew this when he first strode into Juneau in the late 1970s with his cowboy hat, bolo tie and unconventional ideas. He knew what hard-core alcoholics weren't getting from the typical 30-day treatment programs: They weren't getting time. He knew because that's what he needed back when he was sick enough to drink whatever he could get his hands on -- whiskey, wine, vanilla extract, Heet. Sick enough he couldn't remember if he had any family and the DTs had him seeing giant spiders boiling out of the commode. Nugen knew that anyone who drank as hard as he once did needs 30 days just for the fumes to clear enough to let him think.

The former hog farmer from West Virginia and decorated World War II veteran knew he couldn't save them all but he had a plan he believed could save some.



SOBRIETY RANCH

Nugen's plan was to start a ranch where people would stay for several months, a year, maybe two if they needed. Clients would raise pigs, cows, chickens, rabbits, geese. They'd grow potatoes, vegetables, even flowers. All the while, they'd be learning to live sober while caring for living things, themselves included.

At first, legislators nearly laughed him out of town. Nugen and his wife, Henrietta, whom he'd met in Alcoholics Anonymous, were directors of the Studio Club when he finally convinced his employers, known now as Alaska Addiction Rehabilitation Services Inc., that his plan could work. The nonprofit secured state funding and purchased an old orphanage in the Matanuska Valley, a cluster of farm buildings on 10 acres in the middle of nowhere along a narrow road winding through the hay fields. The board named the program Nugen's Ranch. Leonard became executive director and Henrietta, deputy director.

When Leonard Nugen retired at 70 in 1994 after nearly three decades in drug and alcohol rehabilitation, he went out as a man who helped create the first long-term facility in Alaska to receive national accreditation. At his retirement dinner, the Legislature gave him a commendation. He also received an Ambassador of Goodwill honor from the governor's office, the John Shaw Humanitarian Award and others.

Daughter Karen Nugen-Logan has run the place since, taking on the battles required to keep a nonprofit afloat -- the instability of state funding, the endless seeking of private and corporate donations, the constant pursuit of grants. The cutbacks here, the cutbacks there, the encroaching development, the plans for a liquor store across the road, the cranky neighbors complaining about those smelly pigs.

No sooner had the property been purchased in 1980 than that winding, narrow road out front -- the Palmer-Wasilla Highway -- got straighten and widened. Over the years, three of the original 10 acres went for right of way. Traffic increased, businesses sprang up, subdivisions moved in. An elementary school, a fire station, a bowling alley, a bar. The ranch no longer fit in and needed to move. At first, the squeeze came slowly, then abruptly through eminent domain with the most recent road improvement project, the widening of the intersection of the highway and the Seward Meridian Parkway.

The summer of 2011, the ranch moved to a new middle of nowhere, 30 miles from Wasilla, out Point MacKenzie Road. The old place, a cluster of weathered, red buildings with a mishmash of pallet-and-plywood fences, was bulldozed.



NOWHERE AGAIN

Nugen's Ranch now has a new, 16,000-square-foot, single-story facility on 116 acres about a mile before the Goose Creek Prison. It's about as different from the old place as it gets. The old ranch was cold, drafty and dark. The new one is warm, tidy and bright, with skylights throughout. Instead of going outside to fetch things from the cooler or freezer, clients find all amenities right there in the shiny new kitchen. There's a garage, staff quarters, an energy-efficient, 41-by-110-foot greenhouse and a sturdy barn. The old one was basically underground, and you had to really watch your head.

"The money we got from eminent domain, plus the Rasmuson Foundation and the Mat-Su Health Foundation, helped build this facility, and a state grant helped finish it," Nugen-Logan said. Other key contributors include The Foraker Group, the Denali Commission, Alaska Mental Health Trust and Rep. Don Young.

Between community volunteers, staff and a few clients, about half the property has been cleared, and there are plans to clear more. For now the ranch concentrates on growing vegetables, particularly potatoes, and hay. And pigs. It wouldn't be Nugen's Ranch without the pigs.

The new place has taken some getting used to. For one thing, it has 26 beds but funding to fill only 20. The old place served 30, down from 48 before funding cuts whittled away at the program. And they've had this little problem with the neighborhood bears, one digging up the potatoes, another trying to break into the barn.

Among the upsides, there's lots of room for agricultural expansion. There's hardly any traffic. And there are no nearby bars, no nearby much of anything except for the new prison, and that's not going to tempt anyone.

"It's peaceful," Logan-Nugen said. "I like that. I believe the ranch is where it needs to be."

Still, it was hard to see the old place go.

"The pig pens were made out of old pallets and railroad ties, and heck, the barn was made out of old railroad ties," said former client Mike Foy, 34. "The living room was the laundry room ... the whole thing didn't make any sense. It was the weirdest building I'd ever been in, all duct-taped together. I mean, it wasn't falling apart, it just had character.

"I'm sentimental, I miss it. Maybe because that's where it all happened for me."



RELAPSE HAPPENS

Foy did it all in his day -- alcohol, cocaine, Oxycontin, heroin. He got sick to death of it, and went through eight months of treatment at Nugen's Ranch. He left feeling renewed and made a classic mistake. Now that he was sober, everything would be different. He could start over and drink like normal people did. He drank the day he got out.

"I went out to play pool at a bar, and was going to have just one drink, just one. If I was going to have just one, I was going to have a strong one. From the day I left until six months later when I checked myself back in, I picked up right where I left off. As soon as I got drunk, I got drugs and I was off."

Foy went back for another 13 months. He graduated his second time the spring of 2009. Two years later he was back again -- this time not as a client but as an employee.

Foy returned with a bachelor's degree in criminal justice and certification in chemical dependency counseling. Now five years clean and sober, he's working on his master's degree in mental health counseling. Cathy Bishop, who was once his counselor, is now his supervisor.

Relapsing is less important to long-term recovery than how people deal with it, Bishop said. "Do they reach out for help? Or do they go drink themselves to death?" Those are the ones she reads about in the newspaper, found dead in an apartment or frozen in a snowbank.

Everyone who walks through Nugen's door has a story, some harder to hear than others. One client was left in an apartment to care for his two younger brothers, and he was only 5 himself. Two weeks passed before they were discovered.

"I've had two or three clients who've seen one parent shoot and kill the other. Live with that one.

"People who come here have lost everything. They've lost their families, they've lost their homes, they've lost their jobs.

"We've had clients with cirrhosis so bad their skin is yellow, the whites of their eyes are yellow. Some, alcohol has already killed them but they're still alive. Their liver function is never going to return. We give them time to get their affairs in order. Or to reconnect with their families."

"I'm all about giving people second chances. It's not just to help that person; it's to help the whole community."

That's the legacy of Leonard Nugen, now 89 and 50 years sober -- proof that even the hardest of the hard-core can turn it around and give back.


By DEBRA McKINNEY
Special to the Daily News