Joy Ranch under new ownership in 2022

January 11, 2022

WATERTOWN, S.D.–Joy Ranch has begun 2022 under new ownership and leadership. The retreat center, located 8 miles northwest of Watertown, was previously owned by Lutheran Outdoors and has been transferred to the new non-profit, Joy Ranch of South Dakota, as of Jan. 3.

Joy Nelson (pictured) , original benefactor of the complex and now president of the new non-profit, said, “We are excited about the future of Joy Ranch of South Dakota. Joy Ranch has been in operation for 10 years with its complete accessibility serving people facing varying degrees of challenges.

Nelson confirmed Joy Ranch’s “All are welcome,” atmosphere. “We will most certainly continue with the core mission of serving people with any type of disability or challenge in their lives and additionally will widen the scope of these opportunities for people of all ages. We already have several medical camps scheduled for next year, as well as foster children camps, and are in conversation with medical centers, not just regionally but in the Midwest, who are interested in coming to Joy Ranch for our programs.

“My original vision for Joy Ranch was to be a place of hope, healing and serenity for anyone facing challenges in their lives,” Nelson continued. “That vision has definitely not changed and, in fact, will be expanded with even more offerings.

“Beyond the camps,” Nelson said, “Joy Ranch is a place to find peace in the busy world we live in, whether that be family reunions, corporate retreats or other getaways.”

Jeff Ranum has been named CEO of the new Joy Ranch. Ranum comes with a background in hospitality, sales and marketing. “I am excited to be part of the next stage of Joy Ranch”, Ranum says of his new position. “Joy Ranch is uniquely able to build on its rich history and provide lasting memories to our guests. Here, people of all abilities can experience a one-of-a-kind destination in a historic setting.”

Robb Peterson, owner of Glacial Lakes Rubber & Plastics and Vice President of the new Joy Ranch, agreed. “Joy Ranch has positioned itself as an iconic symbol of benevolence and caretaking of the body, mind and soul. We are blessed to have such a treasure here in Watertown,” Peterson said. “I’m honored to have been asked to take part in the next phase of the journey.”

Joy Ranch of South Dakota Board Members echo Ranum and Peterson’s enthusiasm about Joy Ranch and its future. “Joy Ranch is a peaceful setting, and that, coupled with the love you feel from the people that work there, provides an incredible setting for groups and individuals to experience real hope in a fallen world,” said Bryon Noem, First Gentlemen of South Dakota and a board member of Joy Ranch. “I am thrilled to be a part of it.”

“Joy Ranch is a symbol of the goodness in this community” said Board Member Michael Cartney, president of Lake Area Technical College. “It is about caring for our children and recognizing the value of those among us living with challenges”.

“I have seen first-hand the benefit of the outdoor setting and tranquil space Joy Ranch provides to those who are learning, healing and growing” added Board Member, Sister Barbara Younger. “Joy Ranch is one of the many elements that makes the Watertown community a unique place to live.”

Michael Klatt, board member, added, “I have had the pleasure of seeing how Joy Ranch has impacted persons with intellectual and developmental disabilities. Each time, Joy Ranch has inspired hope in the lives it has touched and brought great joy to parents and family members of persons with disabilities. Joy Ranch reflects the wonderful character of South Dakota’s farming and ranching experience, and the future of this nonprofit is now in a place where it can truly make a lasting legacy to our community and state.

Jo Vitek added “I’ve been partnering with Joy Nelson and Joy Ranch since coming to Watertown in 2005. In the early years, it was Camp Chance and today, it’s Divine Providence of South Dakota. We share a common goal – to serve God and our brothers and sisters. That’s what it’s all about.” Vitek, former Watertown Police Chief, continues to partner with Joy Ranch primarily for retreats and equine experiences for victims of sexual abuse.

“Equine experiences are a large part of what we do,” Nelson continued. “People benefit from the horse-to-human connection whether they are people with challenges or folks just wanting to learn horsemanship. Horses have so much to offer humans and having spent a lifetime with them, I’ve watched the magic happen.”

Many times, people with challenges also experience financial challenges. With that in mind, the Joy Ranch of SD Endowment Fund was established at the Watertown Area Community Foundation. “The fund will help bring these folks to Joy Ranch,” Nelson explained. “It will enable the people who this place was created for to be able to come without finances being a stumbling block.”

Nelson thanks the many who have already supported Joy Ranch of SD and hopes more will partner with the Joy Ranch mission.

The public is invited to book events at Joy Ranch and volunteers are welcome. For more information on either, call: 605-886-4622, or go to:

“We hope Joy Ranch will be the gift it was intended to be, not just for our community, but to many more throughout our state and the region,” Nelson said.