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Jim Talks (Part 2)

Jim Kurtts Talks Falling Creek And Personal History

John Granatino

A few weeks ago, we did an interview with Jim Kurtts, camp’s longest returning staff-man. He had a lot to say about early camp and his contributions to the Indian Lore program. But we wanted to hear more about his personal history and memories about camp. So I went in for another interview to learn about his experience with the tribes of the mid-1900’s.

“I grew up in South Alabama, where the local Indian tribes, the Creeks, were taking the Federal Government to court,” he says as he sits in his Indian lodge on the edge of camp, helping campers bead chokers and stitch costume parts. He’s preparing for the upcoming Grand Council, a Native-American Drama that he modeled after the Indians of the Southeast.

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Jim joined the Order of the Arrow(OA) as a Boy Scout, a camping group based on Native American traditions organized like a tribe. He found an appreciation for the culture before the political correctness in America would have normally allowed him to do so. The World War II generation of people rebelled against any tie with Indian culture. These sentiments didn’t change until the 1970’s.

“They had not identified themselves as Indians because of racial laws and segregation. If they had said that they were Indian, then they would have had to go to segregated schools… They didn’t have reservations and had supposedly been absorbed into white society and didn’t exist.”

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About the time the tribes were able to admit their own existence, Jim followed the remaining people out to Oklahoma, where they still conducted traditional dances and performed pow-wows. There he discovered the modern Indian that would inspire him for years to come. A living culture, the Indians showed off their comfort in using modern conveniences like vibrant color dyes in feathers and sunglasses to block their eyes from the sun.

“I came back to compete in an Order of the Arrow event with an outfit that was turquoise and hot pink and wearing sun glasses… Some of the old-time Order of the Arrow guys [said], ’Where did Indians get all those colored feathers?!”

The OA participants at the time followed the Ben Hunt tradition of costume building. They believed everything had to either be real, or look real. So if they couldn’t find real deer antlers they would make some out of wood or use brown-colored fabric instead of leather. Jim remembers answering them, “Well, feathers can be dyed.”

When they asked, "Well, where did Indians get sun glasses?’ he said, “Just like me, they went to the Wetasco.”

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Jim claims to always keep a modern frame of mind when coming up with the Falling Creek program. “Indians are still out there dancing. Indians are still out there doing beadwork. They are still out there involved in their culture. It’s not a dead culture.”

He had such a close tie with the native people, he reflects on visits he used to make when he organized trips to Unto These Hills.

“In the early years of camp, the whole camp would go to Cherokee… which meant they would bring three big busses up. We would load up the whole camp. All 100 or 150 of us (however many in camp). We would all go to Cherokee and watch the drama— the Unto These Hills drama— and then come back to camp really late… I remember that some of the Cabin 1 boys and Cabin 2 boys would have to carried back to their cabins because you couldn’t wake them up.

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He also recalls visiting Cherokee land on the Fourth of July for pow-wows and Oconaluftee to see traditional crafting and activities that has remained true to the times.

While they no longer attend these events off-campus, he has still done his part to maintain the quality of the program. Just last week, he made the 2 and a half hour drive out to Cherokee to make bean bread. A couple days later, he made the same bean bread at camp with his campers.

The part of the program he has used to stay true to the activities origins has been Grand Council at the end of Main Camp. It highlights the camps dancing, singing and costuming all in one night. “When you prepare for Grand Council, you learn the songs, you learn the dances, you learn the outfitting, you learn the ‘whys’ and ‘wherefores’ of the Native Indian culture… It’s like if you were doing a play on Elizabethan England, like Shakespeare. You would have to learn the lifestyle of the people. And you would do the costuming so you would look Elizabethan, and everything to get to a Shakespeare play."

With the event coming up this Wednesday, Jim goes back to work on the costumes and beading, hoping to continue the tradition of his own tribe.

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He Came, He Swam, He Conquered.

It’s 7:45 in the morning and there’s fog rolling over the quiet lake. You would never know that just 26 hours ago, history was being made at Falling Creek Camp.

In 2007, a camper accomplished the unprecedented. Roberto Nevarez swam 128 lake laps, over 16 miles, in the Upper Lake. He began at the crack of dawn, swimming all day with his counselor, Peter Bishop, paddling by his side in a canoe for safety and support. He stopped only briefly to eat lunch and dinner before jumping back into the water to swim more laps.

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On July 9, 2014, a camper once again accomplished the unprecedented. Eric Wood decided that he wanted to break Roberto’s record. Eric had had this goal in mind when he knew that he would be coming back to camp this summer.

Over the 4th of July weekend, Roberto came for a visit to camp. He was introduced as the record holder for most lake laps swam in a day. It was then that Eric decided that he was going to surpass Roberto’s record. Eric made his interest known, and even had a conversation with Roberto. Roberto encouraged Eric to do it, wanting his record broken. He would always be the first person to absolutely shatter the previous record, but he really wanted his record to be challenged and for that challenge to become a tradition. This is what Eric aimed to do.

In preparation for swimming more than 16 miles in one day, Eric did very little training. During the year, he is a competitive swimmer, but the longest distance he had ever traversed through the water was 5k, or 3.1 miles. This was indeed a herculean task, but he was determined to try.

Over the next couple days, a support team of lifeguards, Sara Wise and Evan Wescott, was put together to paddle at Eric’s side and to be on alert at the dock in case of emergency. Evan and Sara took turns at the different jobs so that they would be ready to act if anything were to happen. They had a steady supply of water, electrolytes, and food, such as bananas and granola bars, to keep Eric hydrated and well-nutritioned throughout the day in between the rest breaks he would take for breakfast and lunch.

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The morning of the undertaking, a small contingent of people awakened before the sun to help Eric achieve one of his dreams. Eric, his support team, a few of his cabin mates, one of his cabin counselors, and a small group of other staff arrived at the swim docks before 6am. By 6:15, Eric was in the water and starting his first lap. Ryan Smith, his cabin counselor, swam with him.

Throughout the day, Eric had a few people jump in and swim a couple laps with him and there was a constant atmosphere of encouragement from all of the campers as they went about their regularly scheduled activities throughout the day. The campers would even form in big groups to chant his name and “I believe that he will swim!” countless times before the day was done.

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Eric got out of the water for breakfast, lunch, and dinner, and replenished every couple of laps while staying in the water. Sara and Evan did a fantastic job of making sure that Eric stopped for water, electrolytes, and food to ensure he could break the record safely without endangering himself.

By the time dinner rolled around, Eric had completed 123 laps. After dinner he would have about an hour to swim 5 laps to tie the record and 6 laps to break it. Having swam an average of about 10 laps an hour all day, Eric’s dream was definitely within his grasp.

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After dinner, Eric hopped back into the water one last time for the day. Everyone was trembling inside with excitement about what was about to happen. Four laps down (127 laps total), everyone on the docks are restless with anticipation. When Eric completes his 128th lap, the crowd that had formed around the lake went wild! As he was starting his 129th lap, “We Are the Champions” was blasting through the speakers as everyone changes the lyrics to, “He is the champion, my friends. And he’ll keep on swimming till the end. He is the champion. He is the champion…of the lake.”

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Eric finished up his day with lap 130 around the Upper Lake. He broke the record of lake laps and increased it by two. When I asked him how he felt after accomplishing his goal he said, “I feel awesome, but now I want some more food, and I want to go to bed!”
Well done Eric!

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8 Reasons Why July 4th is Awesome at FCC

1. Breakfast of Champions!

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On the 4th of July, we start off the day with waffles topped with fresh blueberries, strawberries, and whipped cream to get our patriotic juices flowing with the red, white, and blue.

2. Hanging at the Lake!

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We have several activities at the lakefront on July 4th. Including an epic mountain biking lake jump where boys qualify to pedal hard down a small hill and up a ramp to jump off of their bikes in mid-air into the lower lake.

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Also at the lake, the ultimate frisbee players practice their layouts by jumping off the diving board to catch frisbees thrown out across the lake.

3. Impromptu Star-Spangled Banner!

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Randomly, at a meal, a group of people stand up and sing the National anthem. By the end of the song, everyone in the dining hall stands with hands over hearts singing their hearts out for America.

4. Even the Australian Staff Are Super Pumped for America

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We have several Australian staff members this year. They joined in the excitement all day for America’s birthday.

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5. DISC-GOLF!!!

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Several of the guys trekked across camp to play our 18-hole disc-golf course while looking great in their patriotic outfits.

6. Playing in the Mud Again!

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Every year, for the 4th of July, we hike down to the Green River Flats and have a great time hanging out. One of the biggest highlights of this is the mud pit. Even the directors roll around in the mud, and the boys have a great time getting dirty before washing off in the Green River.

7. Food! Food! Food!

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After all of the shenanigans in the mudpit, the boys clean up and change clothes and line up for great barbeque, delicious sides, and, of course, the wonderful drink that is Cheerwine (“Born in the South, Raised in a Glass”). They get to picnic in the grass and eat with any and all of their friends.

8. FIREWORKS!

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What 4th of July celebration would be complete without fireworks??? NONE! That’s why after the hike back to camp after dinner, the boys shower up and head out to the grassy knoll and lakeside spots to watch a magnificent fireworks display before heading to bed a little later(but a little more excited) than usual.

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A Song of Fire and Beards

Way up on the mountain,
away from camp,
away from the lodge and den
Resides a master smith,
Tommy Carroll,

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And his legion of Blax Brother men.
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Burning white hot coals of brotherhood,
they hammer out joy and mirth
All from the recesses of their hut
crafting their “Special” projects of worth
‘With four mighty forges—
run like horses—
hitched to a mighty ventilator
He’s chalked upon them names:
“Sky Forge,”
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“Stella”
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and one strangely
“Cat Cremator.”
Recruiting men
Whose skills would spark any anvil
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And perhaps
most importantly
Won’t burn themselves on black-hot metal
He plans to open the exhaust gates of good deeds
And forge friendships
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By the books,
Crafting candle holders,
which— Let’s face it—
Look like modified grappling hooks.
In the world of artforms, theirs is manliest,
Head and chest hair above any.
Let any man who doubt this
try crafting a Jay-hook in pottery.

-John

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The Ultimate Throw

You hear the announcement and you think, this is going to be cool. You show up to the activity and you think, this is way better than cool, this is awesome! Ultimate frisbee is an activity period usually played on the upper field, next to the gym. Only this day is different. This day the boys learn to do a full spread and the lake turns into the perfect safety blanket. As each boy hesitantly steps up to the diving board, they wait for instructions. Neil, the lead ultimate frisbee counselor, better known as Ultimate Neil, says to go at the frisbee with no fear. Even a hint of doubt will kill your form. As you watch the first counselor demonstrate, you understand the meaning of giving it your all.

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He runs and jumps several feet from the diving board into a superman like pose over the water. Fully extending his body and fully committing to the pursuit of the frisbee. Even though he does not catch this particular throw, he sets the mentality for the boys to follow. The full spread must be done with full confidence.

As the first boy steps up, the look in his eyes shows hesitation and uncertainty. He is quickly showered with words of encouragement. The camper takes a breath, runs, and jumps into the air. His knees tuck in and the frisbee flies past his hand. Ooooo, miss. The counselors quickly point out that he did not extend his whole body. He did not fully commit. As the boys behind him step up, each one takes their first jump in the similar manner. Jumping the first time with novice uncertainty.

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Then something great happens. A frisbee is caught. Everyone screams. This catch fuels the next camper and the next until everyone is doing the superman over the water. It gets more amazing. A camper jumps, catches, and then throws back the frisbee to the dock before even making a splash. And incredibly the frisbee was caught by a fellow camper, waiting in line for his turn to fly. The ultimate throw. Everyone explodes. The whole camp can hear and eventually a crowd forms around the lake. The audience only empowers the boys. By the time lunch pulls around, the whole camp has heard or witnessed about the happenings of ultimate frisbee.

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-Maddie Roberts

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