When Bill Cowell and his wife, Carole, were pastoring Emmanuel Baptist Church in Marion, they began to pursue their passion of helping teenagers who found themselves in difficult situations or were in trouble with the law.
Their ministry began in 1970 when Cowell visited a 14-year-old boy who was in the county jail for truancy. He persuaded the judge to let the boy move in with the couple for a while.
With three little children of their own, they began taking unwed pregnant teenagers into their home at the corner of First and Santa Fe Sts.
Cowell said it was difficult to pastor a congregation while also ministering to the needs of the girls, so, in 1972, he resigned the pastorate.
In an effort to accommodate more girls, the Cowells moved to a large house on N. Third St., where they boarded five. They named their work Heart Ministries and looked to expand.
They purchased the vacant Cedar Rest nursing home southwest of Marion but discovered the building had been condemned by the state fire marshal. Fortunately, they found a buyer who purchased it for what they had put into it.
Meanwhile, they began looking in other areas for a property on which to establish their ministry. They were led to the area around Burrton and found a 117-acre pasture that the owner was willing to sell. It is located seven miles east of Hutchinson on old U.S. 50 at 201 S. Victory Rd.
Victory Village opens
The following years were challenging as the Cowells sought support for their mission. They started with a group of mobile homes, moving their family of four children there in the fall of 1972. They began conducting school for the teenage girls under their care, while ministering to their spiritual needs. They named the campus Victory Village.
After a tornado destroyed two of the mobile homes in 1974, the Cowells spent the next five or six years raising funds and erecting a metal school building and a dorm that could house up to 16 girls.
In the mid-80s, Heartland Ministries added a gymnasium. Four years ago, a heavy snowfall caused the roof to cave in, but the facility was rebuilt with insurance money.
Eventually, the ministry was able to build a chapel through donations of labor and material and an additional $50,000 loan.
The pews, a pipe organ, and a large stained-glass window placed over the baptistry were donated from various sources to furnish the building. The Cowells also have a house on the property.
“God definitely had his hand in our ministry,” Cowell said. “If it would have been up to us, we would have failed 35 years ago.”
The Cowells have ministered to more than 1,100 teenagers during the past years and are in their 44th year.
Cowell said they have good memories of Marion.
“We were trying to figure out how to transition from one ministry to another,” he said. “People were understanding.”
The Cowells have been married for more than 50 years. They have five children and an expanding family of grandchildren and great-grandchildren.
Now in their mid-70s, the couple are concerned that the ministry continue after they are no longer able to carry on. Cowell said they have made arrangements with some of the other workers to keep it going.
Parents pay as much as they can for the girls’ keep, but the Cowells rely on donations from individuals, churches, and other groups to fill the gaps in funding. More details about the ministry may be found online at www.heartministries.org.