Summer Camps

Airdate: July 30

This is Living Stories, featuring voices from the collections of the Baylor University Institute for Oral History. I'm Louis Mazé.

Each summer, millions of children across the United States attend summer camps, where they learn about teamwork, encounter life lessons, and make friends.

In the summer of 1937, after graduating from West Point, George McDowell of Houston worked at a boys' camp in Maine, teaching horseback riding. He remembers one overnight trip he took his campers on:

"It started raining like everything and—so these kids, they had never thought about tying horses to picket lines and stuff like that. We fixed a picket line up. And one of these horses broke loose, and he went charging over to a—an abandoned wooden store over in front and started climbing up on the front porch. And he sunk clear through the rotten boards (laughs) on the thing. We had a heck of a time getting him out of that. (laughter)"

Pastor Fred Craddock, professor emeritus at Emory University in Atlanta, recalls some of his summers as a young boy at Bethany Hills, a Disciples of Christ camp near Nashville:

"Ministers were there. Back in those days, youth camps, they didn't try to get a lot of young people to be the sponsors or teachers. Nowadays, a youth minister in a church is usually about three years older than the young people themselves. Back then, older ministers were very close to kids. And the ministers most influential on me were almost retirement age, and one of them was retired. They seemed to have more time and not threatened by questions, not impatient. Some of these I found out later were ministers of huge churches in Nashville and other places, but they just seemed so giving of the time. And they would come as counselors at youth camp."

Opened in 1964, Baylor Camp served as a training ground for Baylor students interested in recreational vocations. Mary McCall of Dallas remembers its creation, which was a project close to the heart of her first husband, Lloyd Russell, who was then the head of Baylor's physical education department:

"He wanted the Baylor Camp so badly. And it just worked out that the lake was being enlarged at that time, and a lot of people whose houses were to be flooded, particularly the Lacys, gave their houses out on the lake, and they were moved. It was quite a project to move those houses over to the land that Baylor had bought for a camp out on the—what is now called the Baylor Camp Road near China Spring. That's how they started: just from scratch, really. And then they had a barracks building from the airport area that they were able to lift and make a gymnasium. And then they had a building that they moved in for a cafeteria. So it gradually developed into a very, very active and attractive camp. It was an active place. I loved going out there. If I wanted to see Lloyd, I went out and stayed at the camp. And we had a little place where we could stay."

McCall recounts a favorite story from those early years:

"Dr. Stonie Cotten's son was I think in a tree and—or somewhere—and fell and—and broke his arm. And, of course, they called his dad, and he came and got him and took him and had it set. And the kid wouldn't go home. He wanted to stay at the camp. (laughter) And so they put the—put it in a sling or in a cast, and he—his dad let him come back and stay at the camp."

While summer camps have traditionally championed the great outdoors, nowadays many camps specialize in areas such as music, art, technology, and sports. There's something for everyone.

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