historic photo of ranch
Learn where we came from

Ranch History

In 1955 a young couple with 3 children bought a piece of land. The original plan was to farm the land and maybe raise some livestock. It turned out the land wasn’t prime farming land, but it was beautiful. The family noticed a lot of cars driving by on their way to the White Pines State Park. They thought, what if we farmed a portion of the land and used the other land for horseback riding? We could put up signs and draw people off the road; our customers are already driving by. Dick and Dee Little bought 8 horses and 4 ponies (the herd grew much bigger), and White Pines Ranch was born! Of course, the people in town thought they were crazy. Tourism was a budding industry at that time, and starting a business like this would be a considerable risk and a lot of work.

The ranch slowly grew; Dick worked 3rd shift at the sand plant, farmed, and ran the ranch. Dee worked at Ogle County Title Company (where she worked her way up to become the company’s first female Vice President), raised three teenagers, and gave birth to their fourth child, all while running the Ranch. This family was determined to make this ranch a success. Advertised riding hours were 8 am until 8 pm; official hours were sun-up until the parking lot was empty. Many young people from Rockford, Chicago, and surrounding towns would come to the ranch and ride horses until their money was gone. Some would do chores around the ranch, mow the yard, etc., to earn another ride. 

70s photograph of family on horseback

The First Official Summer Camp

People often asked to stay overnight so they would be here bright and early to ride again. This gave Dick and Dee the idea to start a resident camp for kids – the first official summer camp was in 1968. Girls stayed in the Little’s basement, and the boys stayed in the log cabin just down the hill. The whole family worked as counselors, cooks, trail guides, and supervisors. The business grew – time to expand. The ranch house was built in 1970. This building houses about 125 guests and includes the rec room, dining room, kitchen, office, and private apartment.

Things were busy during the summer, but during the school year business would slow down. Now they had to decide how to utilize the facilities year-round. Dick and Dee started advertising to attract youth groups. They set up a weekend program running from Friday evening until Sunday noon. This was such a success that by 1975 they built the bunkhouse. This building houses another 140 guests upstairs and includes the barn down below. Now it was time to go FULL TIME and try to fill the empty time during the week, but how do you get kids to camp while they’re in school? Easy, make the ranch part of the school curriculum – Outdoor Education! 

Dick and Dee decided to retire after 35 years by selling the ranch to their daughters, Gig, Sue, and Andee, in December 1993. Their brother, David (Bub), and his wife Linda, after working at the ranch for many years and raising their son Jesse there, decided on a different future but have been very supportive of the family business. For more than two decades, the Little Sisters have remained dedicated to providing an excellent experience for youth and their leaders who visit the Dude Ranch. Just like their parents, the sisters have involved their children in operating the ranch. Gig and Tex’s son Tyler, Sue and John’s children – Kayla, Lil, and Carson, and Andee and Todd’s children – Alix and Dusty, have all been involved in providing a fun, safe, and wholesome time during the summer, weekends, or school programs. We are sure there will be 3rd generation owners, and White Pines Ranch will go on for years and years. The fourth generation is growing! Leona, Claire, Bowe, and Campbell LOVE the ranch, the horses, and the backhoe. The 4th generation isn’t done growing – there are more to come!

Our family is very proud of what we have accomplished, and we know that none of this would be possible without our guests and our excellent staff. Thank you to everyone who contributed to making White Pines Ranch a favorite camp and home away from home for thousands of people – we owe it all to you.