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CAMP HUNT: CHANGING LIVES YESTERDAY
presented at Camp on May, 2007 by Andy Ritchie III
Intro: The year was 1947 and George Pope Gurganus was preaching in Hubbardsville and teaching at Colgate. He had a vision of a camp where the Bible would be taught and lives of children changed forever. He and Irene were still building their family. Her story, as excerpted from a longer work and posted on Joe Perry's Camp Hunt Memories page, will help fill in their story. George had apparently visited Omagh Bible School in Ontario. This was the first of the attempts by our fellowship anywhere in North America to have something like a camping experience. It, however, at that time was little more than a summer Bible training school.
George Gurganus, Lewis Case, Glen Stewart, Carroll Lancaster and Norman Dart were the original trustees who purchases the old Hunt Farm up on this beloved hill. George was the director in the first two years. I came here as the song leader for a couple of weeks in the second summer of operation, 1948. I was 14 years old and I expected the respect that my years deserved - well maybe not - maybe I looked for something more. Anyway George Gurganus was never known to cut anyone any slack and certainly I got nowhere complaining that I didn't come to be a camper, I was staff and I didn't have to do what the campers did. It's a wonder I lasted the two weeks.
Let me tell you how I got here. I had been part of a campaign group working on the eastside of New York City. My Dad was the campaign leader and speaker for the series of meetings. We were to go next to Winnipeg, Manitoba, Canada, but there was about three weeks between the close of the NYC campaign and the opening of that one in Winnipeg. Bob and Ruth Hare, Velda Turner and, I believe, Charlie Draper and I piled into Velda's 1941 Nash in which she had already gotten into some legal problems in NYC and for which I would later go back to court twice. On the way up somewhere down in the Poconos sometime in the middle of the night we lost the right front wheel - the spindle bolt had broken. There we sat in the ditch awaiting rescue. When morning came and the car had been towed we called Hubbardsville to the Darts and sent word to George Gurganus of our plight. He basically told us to get here the best way we could. Eddie Grindley came to our rescue. He was already at camp and he didn't like George's answer to us. Of course, we had already worked several weeks with Eddie in NYC and he knew all of us.
Things were somewhat rudimentary back in those days. There was the farm house, later known as Bonnie Lodge. There was the old barn to be re-named The Hobby Shop. There was a dining hall which Irene says was made from an old house George and his nephews torn down. I think it was really an old barn and for many years one with good vision could see cow manure plastered to the boards that formed the decking for the roof. I was always afraid that the health inspector might look up, but they were always more interested in looking around. But that is getting a little ahead of my story.
In case you haven't figured it out yet you are going to get "Keebled." Brother Marshall Keeble, the Black evangelist, used to be invited to speak every fall on the Harding Lectures and every year they would assign him a topic and every year he said what he wanted to say. Finally, they began to just put in the program "Marshall Keeble - An Address." I plan to talk some about how lives were changed back in the olden days, but there are people and events that need to be put on record for all of those who will look back on these days as "the olden days."
In 1969 I was President of the Board of Camp Hunt and we came to nearly time to open camp and we didn't have a dietician. I prevailed upon Phyllis to quit her job as a medical secretary and come to camp as cook. My brother-in-law, Gerald Casey was Director and my father, Andy T. Ritchie, Jr. was his assistant. I don't know that he knows it, but we came close to having both a family and a camp meltdown that summer. Phyllis called me and said "come get me, I am not staying any longer." Upon questioning her I found that Gerald had set up a "backwards day" including the evening meal at breakfast time, etc. etc. The cook had not been consulted! Folks, you just don't do that. Like an army a camp runs on its stomach.
In 1970 I became the camp director. Phyllis continued to be the dietician. For five years we spent every summer here as a family and at least one of our children would still be here every summer if his wife would let him. Three of the children served at least one year as a counselor, Elizabeth, Tom and Alice. Bob was too young, but he had a job too. In those days we served all meals on paper or Styrofoam. Bob was the official garbage stomper. He must have done a good job because he became a Director of Camp Hunt. Stomping garbage is good preparation for being a director. When Bob's son, Bennett was a counselor a few summers ago four generations of Ritchies had worked at Camp Hunt.
I. Camp As I Have Known It
As I have said, I first came to Camp Hunt in 1948. In 1964 we moved to Schenectady and I soon became involved in the work and served on the board. Phyllis and I came up here to teach and met Bill and Betty Smith. John White was the director. Joe Perry writes that was "the big year of the folkies." That is not exactly the way Bill Smith and I would characterize it. We felt things needed to be a little tighter. Bill even took it upon himself to go down to the boys area at least one night and quiet things down.
In 1965 the pool was built at a cost of $11,000.00. Bill Rushton was the director. He was completing his doctorate at Cornell and he was hired for that summer. It was he who would build the tower that stood for so many years just on the property line behind the campfire. Bill told me recently that he had a camper who had been thrown out of school a time or two and wasn't getting with the program at camp. Every director has at least one like that every summer, probably every session. The pool was finished late and we were afraid we would pump the well dry if we tried to fill the pool from it. The Poolville Fire Department agreed to bring the water to fill the pool. The only problem was one of communication. We assumed that they would bring water from a municipal source. They thought the best way was to go to the bottom of the hill and pump water out of the creek. Now that water may look cool and clear, but I can assure you that when riled up by pumping it is muddy! I thought we would never get that pool clear enough for swimming, much less up to state standards. But Bill Rushton had just the solution. He pulled this problem boy out of the regular camp routine and set him to vacuuming the pool and emptying the filter. He not only did a good job and in just 3 days had the pool ready for swimming, it transformed the boy. There are several of us who have been directors that have a strong feeling about the efficacy of work therapy.
II. Changing Lives
Irene Gurganus writes: "We converted many young people during their few weeks at camp, because they were away from their often-negative family environments. Every morning we had Bible classes and every afternoon sports activities." That is one way and one reason that lives were changed.
Another reason that lives were changed is that the example of Jesus of one on one teaching was followed. Small groups of campers were assigned older role models who really tried to exemplify the Golden Rule before their campers. When we built Grindley Auditorium and the Girls' Village we hired an architect. George Martin was in charge of the building project and he felt that we needed to have someone who was acquainted with all applicable state rules and codes. This architect quickly grasped the scope of what we needed to have done. The old Hobby Shop, the original barn, was about to fall down. But the campers loved it. One could enter from near the top and go down a treacherous stairway and into the building, but most came in from the east on the ground level there. By then this building served as the general assembly building. Earlier there had been an outdoor assembly area just to the east of the Hobby Shop. Anyway, this architect interviewed campers and tried to find out why they liked the Hobby Shop. He came away with the belief that it was the almost underground, cave-like effect that the campers liked. So he designed Grindley Auditorium to replicate, as nearly as possible, that feeling. He even had the roof line going right down into the ground. We had to bob that off the first year, but even then I understand that there have been snowmobilers who have gone up and over the roof. Equal care went into the design of the girls' village. Cabins were to have eight bunks, thus seven campers and a counselor. In between the time of the design and the building of the cabins the state began to radically change the way camps were governed. I remember going to meetings and arguing our case. This was a bunch of reactionaries who were upset about the use of old hotels down in the Catskills where bunks were stacked three high and as many as possible in firetrap rooms. So they took as their model the federal standards for prisons. I argued that we were comparing apples with oranges. Adults versus young people, long term versus short term, indoor large buildings versus outdoor cabins with flow through ventilation. But these people didn't know the difference between apples and oranges and our new girl cabins built to accommodate seven campers and a counselor would now legally hold, I believe, five campers and a counselor. I asked the inspector what we were to do with these new buildings that met existing state standards when designed and built. Her reply to me was that we could put six campers in each cabin and put the counselors in a tent in the middle of the group of cabins. I tried to explain that that ran contrary to everything we tried to do. To their credit all of the time I was director the people we dealt with gave us a variance and we never had to make the dreaded changes. My point is that it is the personal, small group, relationship that was a large factor in changing lives.
There was J. W., a small for his age, tough Black kid from Rochester. I don't remember his last name, maybe I never did know it. A lot of kids are like that, you never get to know their family name, but you know the camper well. J. W.'s real name was John Wayne and he tried to act like the swaggering actor. J. W. wasn't doing well in Bible Class. When teachers can't teach because of a disruptive camper it is likely to come to the attention of the director. We found out that J. W. couldn't read and rather than let anyone know, he acted out. I remember a team of one male counselor and one female counselor who tried to teach him to read. I really don't know how successful we were, but I can tell you there were some counselors who tried and in trying, I believe, made a difference in his life.
Three years ago this September Phyllis and I celebrated our 50th wedding anniversary. We met my youngest sister and her husband in Seattle and flew to Anchorage. We rented a car and drove up to Mt. McKinley. That had been my one big wish for the trip and did we see it! From the air as we landed, from the south side, the west side and the east side. But that's another story for another time. We found our cabins out in the country and then went in search of a place to eat. We found a bar/restaurant out in the middle of nowhere, but since we hadn't found much else we decided that was probably the best place to eat. We hadn't much more than gotten started and three big old mountain men with full beards and shaggy hair came in. I paid them little attention, but my sister got to bantering with them about the two pieces of pie that were left. You see this was the last two days of tourist season and when it is over - its over! All the restaurants tried to run out of food and things were really sparse. Anyway one of these men said something about he was twice the man that his wife married and I started to say that I had gained a few pounds over the 145 I weighed when we married. Before I finished this guy said "you sure have, Andy Ritchie!" Phyllis said that the look on my sister's and her husband's faces was priceless. Who, out in the Alaskan wilderness would know Andy? Then I recognized Bob Austin and his brother Caleb. The third man was, I believe, Caleb's brother-in-law who is married to a former Camp Hunt camper. These folks, whose lives were influenced and probably changed by their summers at Camp Hunt are now and have for a long time, along with the Perrys made a big difference in the communities and churches out on the Kenai Peninsula of Alaska.
I took Phyllis' sewing machine into a repair shop in Searcy, Arkansas and when the owner saw my name he asked if I had been the director at Camp Hunt. I said, "yes" and he asked if I remembered Pam Stephenson from Syracuse. I told him "yes" and he said, "she's my wife and she is very ill with cancer. As a matter of fact she is in the back of the shop resting." I am sorry I didn't get back to see Pam because she died a couple of years ago. She was secretary at one of the area schools and as evidenced by the huge crowd the night of visitation she was highly regarded by staff and students. Camp Hunt had made a difference in her life and in turn she had influenced many others. Pam Stephenson Miller was both a camper and counselor here.
I suspect that as many staff lives were changed as camper lives. I know that many of them became missionaries at home and abroad. There were Bob and Ruth Hare who were missionaries in Austria for many years. Bob is dead, Ruth lives in Harding Place in Searcy. George and Irene Gurganus went on to serve two tours in Japan. F. M. Perry built the missionary radio station at Anchor Point, Alaska. Bob Scott, who preached in Syracuse and Albany and who served on the board of Camp Hunt was President of KNLS, the shortwave station in Alaska.
And, perhaps, exhibit A is right here in our midst, Jeanine and Richard Peck. They will probably be more than happy to tell you their story.
III. Some People You Must Know About
Let me talk about Perry Newton. Perry had worked as an accountant for HUMBLE OIL in Texas. He came to Albany to work with Bob Scott. Perry became a vital part of the board and was our treasurer. It was the days in which we were beginning to see the need to expand the facilities. There was to be a new congregation in Rochester and we were told that a large influx would be coming to Camp Hunt. That didn't happen, instead they started a new camp in the western part of the state and for the most part ignored us. Anyway George Martin became the chairman of the building project. Glendol Grimes had gotten us started selling Fannie Farmer candy and we made a lot of money doing that, but folks got tired of doing it and some church leaders complained that people in the community might think it was the church. Well we bit off a large bite and agreed to build the Grindley Auditorium and the Girls' Village. Perry Newton had warned us that if we passed another major expenditure without also devising a way to pay for it he was going to resign - and he did! I loved and respected Perry, a true man of his word. He began to teach us all a lesson. You know, come to think about it, Perry needed to be in government. But I guess he would have had to resign because congress does what we were doing all of the time. Like No Child Left Behind, but all of the states left out in the cold without the funds to pull it off.
Perry was the first board member to resign as a protest, but he wasn't to be the last. We had built the pool and, of course, we had to have qualified life guards. Several years that meant that we had to train our own and in a hurry. We had both men and women in the life guarding class and that meant in the pool at the same time. Doyle Kee was preaching in Liverpool and had faithfully served on the board of the camp. He was upset by our having both men and women in the pool at the same time and predicted that in five years we would have mixed swimming all of the time at camp. That didn't happen on my watch and though some of us have at least modified our thinking on that question I don't know that it has ever happened. He wanted the board to pass a resolution that would forbid it happening. The board wouldn't pass the resolution and Doyle resigned from the board. His older sister, Jeanette, remained active on the board and at camp. Doyle and Barbara went on to serve until this day as missionaries in Switzerland and in a sense to a large part of the French speaking world. Doyle was wrong, both in his prediction, and I think in his over-reaction. But when time came to move to Switzerland Phyllis and I considered going with them. Doyle did not loose my respect. As I stated Jeanette served the camp many years as did a younger sister, Marie.
Let me express now my appreciation for the work that Kevin Potter and Joe Perry have done on web pages. Kevin began his work about the time of our 50th reunion. It has now been combined with Joe's page. Both have done excellent work. That is also true of the official Camp Hunt Web page which is right up to date with pictures of the remodeling.
Up until my time the following I know were directors. The dates may not be right on some of them:
I must talk a little about Eddie Grindley. It seems everyone should know him, but I know you don't. Eddie was an Irishman who was a confirmed drunk and was redeemed by the Lord Jesus Christ through the influence of his godly wife. He worked at the Southern Christian Home in Morrilton, AR and then at the Manhattan Church in NYC and was instrumental in beginning the Eastside Church in NYC. He came to Camp Hunt when it opened to work with George. They were as different as night and day. George was organized, strict, perceived as harsh, no nonsense. Eddie was totally unorganized, emotional, a people person. Eddie's prayers were real conversations with the Lord. He could beg with the best of them, especially when it came to providing for children. George, though eventually holding a Phd from Penn State, wasn't an ivory tower theologian. He could work with his hands and that wasn't something I ever saw Eddie do, except to cook - and he was a good cook. Go on Joe Perry's web site to see a facsimile of Eddie's business card. He said, "I am a fool for Christ's sake - whose fool are you?"
I must tell you about Russell Gleaves. He was my predecessor at Schenectady and a very distant relative. Russell was an enthusiastic worker and Camp Hunt supporter. One work day someone told Russell to shingle the wishing well, which was neither a well nor did anyone ever utter any wishes there that I know of, but it provided a places to pile Bibles and other books and occasionally someone sat there. Russell set to the task and finished it, but he had started at the top and worked down instead of the bottom and work up, but little did it matter because it was mostly for looks anyway and few ever looked that closely at it. We had a lot of willing workers, but sometimes the results were more disastrous.
In 1964 I walked into the Hobby Shop for the first time. It was singing class. There was a young kid up leading the singing. He not only knew how to lead, maybe I should say direct, the singing; he led good songs, meaning the great hymns from over the centuries. I wanted to know who he was. It was Ted Thomas, Bob's kid brother. He went on to be a missionary in German and then preached for many years in Silver Springs, Maryland.
Lloyd Diehl was a member of the church in Utica, I believe, and he was a contractor. We desperately needed a place for staff to stay. He said we could build it ourselves and he showed us how. And so Diehl Lodge was built in 1966 for $6,500.00. Lloyd's son, Brent, served at least one year as a counselor.
A funny thing happened during the building of Diehl Lodge. Lumber had been ordered and delivered and we came and worked when we could. One weekend we arrived and some of the structural lumber had been stolen, the next week part of it had been brought back. I guess they used what they needed and decided to return what they didn't need. When we built the pool George Martin laid underground cable all the way to the pool to avoid having unsightly wires. One week someone came and somehow pulled out of the ground and stole several hundred feet of cable. So George had the power company come and put the lines as close to the line of trees as possible.
Now at the risk of offending someone or maybe everyone I am going to mention a few more people. Remember that my topic has to do with Yesterday. I do not know much about the time from 1974 until the present. But I do want to mention again F.M. and Charlotte Perry who worked so tirelessly for many years. Their sons, Joe and Charlie were campers and staff brats and workers too. Joe was a counselor for a couple of years and Charlie, like his dad, works with the radio station in Alaska.
Pat and Karen Lyon, and they are really youngsters since I performed their marriage ceremony and I am not all that old yet. They have spent many years around Camp Hunt, beginning as counselors. Glen and Kathryn Olbricht must have been here about the time dirt was invented. Then there was Bob Gray the master scrounger. Bob took over what George Martin left when he moved to Virginia. Harold and Marilyn Russell were diligent servants, Marilyn often acting as camp nurse though her specialty was as a lab tech. Wilburta Stowell did crafts for several years. Lois Glindmyer and Maxine Holder helped as nurses.
IV. Follow Up
I have mentioned George Martin leading our building project and Glendol Grimes getting us going on candy sales and Perry Newton resigning because we didn't decide how we would raise money to pay for all of the good things we were going to do. Anyway we were going to have a funds drive and to kick it off we were going to burn down Bonnie Lodge. The Hubbardsville Fire Department wanted to practice entering a burning building and putting out the fire. I told them that they could, but that they were to basically leave the building intact for our big kick off the fund drive day. Kerry Dart called me and said, "Andy, if you let those guys practice up there they will burn the house down." I assured him that we all understood each other, not like the dirty water in the pool situation. Just a few days before our big drive Kerry called me again and said, "Guess what? They burned it to the ground!" They had a new to them truck and the pump went out on it and I think their other truck was out of commission. Anyway they burned up Bonnie Lodge and none of us were here to see it. I have learned only today that Kerry was one of two men who set the fire. So we dragged an old outhouse over and put it on the ruins and burned it - sort of less than climactic. And as I remember our fund drive didn't do much better.
In the 1970s we put out two long play records, one in memory of Eddie Grindley that has some of the dedication of Grindley Auditorium on it, including Eddie's brief speech.. The other is of various camp groups singing. Phyllis has copied them onto CDs and I have copies with me which we will be glad to play if we have a boom box or some other way to reproduce them.
This is the first camp established by members of the churches of Christ anywhere in this land! The people who have made the camp have been helping to change lives for sixty years.
I do not want to abuse the Biblical text and I rarely ever read from the King James Text, but an admonition in Prov 22:28 seems so appropriate for today. It speaks of honesty in real estate dealings and in preserving the marks that were selected or placed to determine boundary lines. It says, "Remove not the ancient landmark, which thy fathers have set." KJV
Andy T. Ritchie, III on the occasion of the 60th anniversary of the founding of Camp Hunt May 25, 2007Contact the webmaster.
New—Sounds of CH Banquet 1954
Camp Hunt Memories Album
—featuring new photos of summer 2005 from Kathy Page Applebee
The Official Camp Hunt Web Site
Eddie Grindley Memory Page
Yahoo Group for Camp Alumni
My Camp Hunt Story
Christian Camps (1957)
Irene Gurganus' story of Camp
Other Web Sites:
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|All is well, safely rest; God is nigh.|