(Bob and Ken Shamrock, circa 1983. Photo courtesy of Knucklepit.)
Bob Shamrock, who helped raise hundreds of troubled boys at his Shamrock Ranch group home in Susanville, California, passed away yesterday at age 68 from complications due to diabetes; Shamrock had been in poor health since suffering a heart attack in September 2008. To MMA fans, Bob is best known as the man who provided Kenneth Wayne Nance (later Ken Shamrock) and Frank Alisio Juarez III (later Frank Shamrock) with stable homes, eventually adopting them as his sons.
Unhappy with a new stepfather that entered his life at age 10, Ken Nance ran away from home and immediately began getting into trouble, committing robberies to support himself and bouncing between group homes before landing at the Shamrock Ranch at age 13. Frank Juarez’s background was remarkably similar: His own experiences with an abusive stepfather spurred behavioral issues that would place him in the juvenile state system beginning at the age of 11; he also entered the Shamrock Ranch at 13. With Bob, they found the sense of order that their lives had been missing. From a press release posted last night on KenShamrock.com:
“My dad had an unbelievable light with these kids," Shamrock said. "I’ve never seen anybody able to take a defiant kid into their home, and handle them like my father could – willing to get into a fight with them if he had to because of disrespect and then turn around and hug them and let them know, the minute you give me respect – I’ll give you respect. Everyone that came in contact with my dad – you could tell he made a difference in their life. I’ve never seen anyone have that much success with kids. I know he’s with the Lord, but I’ll miss him and I’m forever thankful."
"The probation officer from Napa County brought Ken in with two other boys. He was the smallest one. The two other boys were about 17. They came in after they’d been driving for a couple of hundred miles, so I said, ‘Are you guys hungry? Do you want something to eat and drink? The bathroom’s over there.’
"I just watched Ken’s eyes, because this was my home. It wasn’t some business place where I came on from 8 til 5. It was my home. And the house was really big, and well decorated with antique furniture, Austrian-swag drapes; we ate well, we had a swimming pool, and all those kinds of things. It was a lot different to the other group homes he had been in."
Bob and his wife, Dee Dee, had been taking in troubled youths since 1970. "It started out with one foster kid in August. And then they wanted me to come down at Christmas to the Riverside County Court to interview another kid. So I came home on Christmas Eve with three more boys. We had only planned having one kid, but we ended up having Christmas for four kids. That’s how it got started and it grew from there. It grew to where we had 18 boys at a time. It was great and I miss those days."
Bob and Dee Dee promoted sports in the community and at the Susanville High School. Their house was situated on a ranch and had Arabian horses, a full gym, basketball courts, swimming pool and tennis courts. "We’d have the football team and their cheerleaders out at the ranch when the season was over, and the same with the wrestling, baseball and basketball teams…
"We tried to get them all interested in outside activities, and the biggest one was sports. That’s what we did with Ken because he came to me as a fighter. We got him involved in football and wrestling. And if the kids made the team for their class, we’d get them gym membership in town. We did lots of activities to try keeping the kids busy and to provide outlets. That’s the problem with a lot of kids these days: They don’t have the outlets to get their energy out and their aggression down."
Bob says that if the kids got mad with each other, he’d let them put on gloves and box in the backyard to sort things out. The only rule imposed for these matches was that Bob had to be there at the time.
"Ken winded up being the house champion in boxing and wrestling. He had a way about him that just drew me to him: his own way of looking at things that was upright and honest. It wasn’t always kosher or exactly right, but that’s the way he thought and basically it was fair. Sometimes you had to show him there was another side to the story, but he always tried to do the right thing. By no means was he perfect, but we’d sit down and I could reason with him."
When Ken turned 18 in February, 1982, Bob legally adopted him and Ken changed his last name to Shamrock. Later, Ken’s younger brother Frank also changed his surname to Shamrock out of respect for the man who had done so much to help him.
Bob says it was an incredible feeling, knowing that two boys he’d done so much for, had gone on to be world champions in Mixed Martial Arts. "And so many kids who went through my program, maybe they didn’t become world champions, but they became upright citizens and they have their own families. A lot of kids didn’t appreciate what we were trying to teach them until they had their own families. And they’ve come back and said, ‘Hey Bob, now I know what you were talking about.’"
Our thoughts go out to the Shamrock family. Below, Ken Shamrock discusses his first encounter with Bob at a Fighting With God conference last year.