Harrison County

He can’t save all addicts, but this Gulfport man is going to keep trying

Tony Stapleton, left, and wife Shirlene visit with Ted Hearn, a retired Gulfport executive who has supported their efforts to open a new dorm at their TNT Ranch Recovery Home north of Gulfport in Harrison County.
Tony Stapleton, left, and wife Shirlene visit with Ted Hearn, a retired Gulfport executive who has supported their efforts to open a new dorm at their TNT Ranch Recovery Home north of Gulfport in Harrison County. calee@sunherald.com

A long year and a half and countless fish fries later, the only addiction recovery home of its kind on the Coast has finally moved into new quarters in Harrison County.

Tony Stapleton founded the home in 1993 for veterans. Once he retired from the U.S. Army, he returned to his native Gulfport and began taking in alcoholics as well.

Alcoholism ran in Stapleton’s family. He stopped drinking cold turkey after he met the woman he would marry, Shirlene, a devout Baptist. A younger brother, addicted to alcohol and pills, hung himself in the their home before Stapleton retired.

So the Stapletons are familiar with the ravages of addiction. They’ve continued to see the toll it has taken on the men and women who find their way to TNT Ranch Recovery Home.

For decades, the home operated in a hodgepodge of buildings where residents stayed for months-long stretches, and in some cases, years. The Stapletons finally decided, with the urging of supporters, to upgrade. They started on the project in December 2015 with $90,000.

They thought they could build a 14-room dormitory with kitchen, meeting room and office for $150,000. Tony Stapleton held fish fries almost every weekend to raise money.

Instead, the building has cost $223,000, with some of the money coming out of the Stapleton’s pocket. They are trying to raise $20,300 to pay off the remainder of the construction costs. TNT Ranch has a website where donations are accepted.

Tony Stapleton's TNT Ranch Recovery Home in Gulfport offers a long-term recovery program for homeless addicts. He originally started housing veterans in 1993, but his own family's struggle with addiction led him to take in homeless that needed hel

Those closest to Stapleton know he has a soft heart. Eighteen years ago, he took in two mentally handicapped brothers whose mother implored him to care for the sons she was growing too old to help. She died two years ago, Stapleton said, at age 97. The brothers, he said, will always have a home at the ranch.

Stapleton looks fatigued from all the fish fries and work around the ranch for a grand opening celebration Thursday for supporters. He and some of the residents are still busy sprucing up decks, painting and making sure everything is in working order.

While all of this goes on, Stapleton also is constantly in demand because residents rely on him for counsel.

Everyone has moved into the new bedrooms and office. The Stapletons were in the office Wednesday, talking about some of the residents who have come through the ranch. Tony Stapleton grew sad when he spoke of one man who left sober but died three months later, in March, of a drug overdose.

“It hurts me so bad to see somebody leave and go out when they’re not ready,” Stapleton said. “It just kills me.”

Shirlene Stapleton won’t let her husband feel dejected for long. She has a bright, ready smile.

“There’s been some success stories,” she said. “We can’t save them all, but if we can get one, two or three that go on to live a good life — marriage, families — yes, there are some success stories.”

Homeless advocate Ted Hearn of Gulfport, the retired director of Coast Transit Authority, has helped guide Stapleton with the recovery program and construction of the new building.

“Tony is a very compassionate person,” Hearn said. “He has strong feelings about helping people. His wife, Shirlene, is an anchor for him. She is a very spiritual person, and so is he.

“He is a simple man doing what he can to help people who need help.”

Anita Lee: 228-896-2331, @calee99

How to help

Donations for TNT Ranch Recovery Home can be mailed to 11373 Allen Road, Gulfport, MS 39503, or donate online http://tntranchrecoveryhome.com/

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