COLUMBIA, SC (WIS) - The founder of the Big Red Barn Retreat is sharing the story of how the program came to be after turning a major loss into a big gain for local military members.
The Big Red Barn Retreat was established in honor of Leon Irons, a local Navy veteran who believed strongly in giving back to the military. While the retreat is meant to be a place of healing for troops and veterans, the family behind the BRB found themselves healing, too.
Leon Irons joined the Navy right out of high school and it was in high school that he met his wife of 50 years, Barbara. She still blushes as she remembers him.
"Well, he was determined. They described him as laser-vision," she said.
The family went on to open the first Sonic restaurant here in the Midlands on Broad River Road. They now own 24 locations.
"Growing up, he was just a great father and a lot of what he instilled in me came from his experience in the Navy," the couple's daughter, Sutton Shaw, said.
But not long after Leon and Barbara celebrated their 50th wedding anniversary in 2009, Leon was diagnosed with cancer and died just months later.
"I wanted to do something. I didn't know exactly what. I just wanted to do something," Barbara said. "When I bought this piece of land, I'm walking it and I'm going, 'Wow! This land is beautiful.'"
The 75-acre property would soon become the Big Red Barn Retreat.
"He believed strongly in the military. He believed strongly in their sacrifice and so this is only fitting that this is what we're doing to honor his memory," Sutton said.
Although, the family says Leon may have had other ideas.
"I think he would think I'm crazy," Barbara said.
Asking herself would her father have liked the idea, she answers, "No. He would've been embarrassed. He would've been like, 'Why are you doing this?' But at the end of the day, would he have believed in what we're trying to accomplish? Absolutely."
The BRBR offers a place of healing for military members and veterans, and also for 77-year-old Barbara, who started horseback riding again after her husband's death.
"Riding and getting out into nature is healing. I mean that's all there is to it," Barbara said.
That's just what they're hoping to offer our servicemembers in need of a place to escape to.
"Most of them tell me the moment they enter the Red Barn and the gates open and they drive up the driveway and there're horses, they feel safe here and they feel like nobody's watching them and they feel like they really can relax here," Sutton said.
The Big Red Barn Retreat offers active duty military and veterans various ways of healing through Yoga, art, gardening and horse therapy.
For more on the Big Red Barn Retreat and the services they offer, just visit their website.