This past weekend, nearly 200 Falling Creek alumni gathered to celebrate camp’s 50th anniversary and reconnect with old friends. It was heartwarming to see so many people reconnected, and to realize just how much this camp means to so many.
Everyone began trickling in late that Friday afternoon, mingling on the grassy knoll by the old Lakefront cabin, which is now the ESEFEL library. Render Braswell and Clay Willett were two of the alums returning for the first time since the late 2000s. “This just makes me so happy,” Render beamed, walking to the cabin areas with his bag ready to settle in for the weekend. “I haven’t smiled this much in forever.” Their walk to the cabins kept getting cut short as they couldn’t walk more than a few yards without seeing another old friend and excitedly embracing.
As old campers and counselors arrived, we were welcomed with lemonade and “gorp”, classic camp treats, while mingling on the grassy knoll by Morning Watch. The excitement for the reunion was contagious, and everyone was happy to see each other, no matter what decade they were from. Phil Walker, a founding camper from Falling Creek’s first summer, was explaining what a fun surprise it was to drive up the old dirt road to camp again, experiencing all the new additions since he had last been here. “As a founding camper, we found out how Jim Daddy had the most brilliant business plan. We paid $100 a week (which we thought was a lot), and we were put to work building the camp instead! We had counselors in the water for 8 hours a day building docks. Everything we worked on in the woods seemed to have yellow jacket nests in it. But we loved it.”
Fathers and sons were able to come back to camp together, and old counselors were reunited with their previous campers. David Brown, counselor 1976-1987, came with his brother Bucky, counselor 1978-1984 (they both served as head of the paddling program in the early 80’s), and his son Joey. David was hanging out on the grassy knoll with some of his old campers like Brooks Scurry and Stephen Gray. Joey was playing some favorite camp songs on his banjo, setting the mood as people gathered, returning to their summer home for the weekend.
For dinner on Friday, we had Falling Creek’s famous fried chicken, mashed potatoes with gravy, green beans, and warm rolls, a meal usually reserved for Sunday lunches. The dining hall was once again buzzing with energy as old friends reminisced, reconnecting after years apart.
As the “Evening Program” for the night, we divided into groups based on the decade we most resonated with. Each group had a leader from their decades to head up discussions on the individual flair from each generation, including their favorite foods, skits, songs, most legendary counselors, or funniest memories. For the 70s, the group leader was Phil Walker, the 80s was Dusty Davis, Crom Carey was leading the 90s, Clay Willett led the 2000s, and Will Walters led the most recent group from the 2010s.
After the group discussions, everyone came together to share highlights from their decade with the whole crowd. Phil told everyone about the early days of camp, when there were organized green and gold camper work days, and how during the first summer Jim Kurtts removed 15 copperheads in one week. They had to frequently get up at 5am for “work days” and even build their own cabins, but as Phil said, “we boys thought it was heaven.” During these early years the boys were treated to blackberry pie for dessert with hand-picked blackberries, joined Bob John’s music program with the “Men’s Corral” choir, and had to turn in a letter home (many of which were blank paper mailed home) if they wanted to partake in the weekly banana split sundaes. Phil had the whole crowd rolling with laughter as he reminisced on “the night that all the campers got diarrhea at 1am,” particularly during a time at camp when cabins had no electricity or plumbing. Everyone cringed and laughed as Phil described how they had to take their kerosene lanterns and “shlep down to the 4 communal toilets” at the bathhouse. On a happier note, Phil also told us about watching the first moon landing from a tiny black and white TV screen in the dining hall, trying to crowd all 113 boys around the small display as history was made.
Dusty Davis and his prior camper Stephen Grey shared the highlights of camp in the 80s, starting by chanting “stud,” much to Yates’ embarrassment. This nickname originated during his time as head of the paddling docks in the 80s, and Dusty said that he “had been everyone’s favorite CIT,” so they enjoyed poking a little fun at him. The favorite food of this decade was not only fried chicken, but specifically the leftover fried chicken out of the trunk of Skeet Keyes’ car on the following Monday. The legend of camp in the 80s was Virgil Starks, one of the first African Americans to work at camp, breaking down racial barriers and bringing his kindness, enthusiasm, and humour to grace camp. His legacy lives on everytime camp alums repeat his famous chant, “I am. Somebody.” Dusty and Stephen also laughed about the times that the old Volkswagen was put in the Dining Hall, or the time that all the dining hall chairs were carabiner-ed to the high wire, and how anytime you wanted to call home you would have to use the old pay phone in the counselor lair. They looked forward to Saturday nights especially, when the camp gathered to watch reel to reel films like Indiana Jones and Star Wars.
Crom described the best parts of camp in the 90s, a decade that he chose because even though he was a counselor in the 2000s, he can remember idolizing the counselors as his heroes every summer during his camper years in the 90s. Food that he remembers from the 90s included Frito Pie (complete with it’s own theme song), cookouts on the field, the coca cola you get at 5 year dinner, and Longenecker Lumps. Legends included JJ Hicks and John Dickens as camp comedians, Bill Wilson because Crom was both terrified of and in awe of him, and of course Chuck McGrady and how they called him “the stealth” because of his ability to seemingly be everywhere. The 90s were a transitional time especially for the cabins as they began to get renamed, each got their own bathroom, and the old rusty metal beds were finally traded out for wooden ones. The 90s was also the era of pranks, with Chuck recalling the time he inflated the entire blob inside cabin 8, the time the cow that they borrowed for Cow Pie Bingo escaped, and the paddling competitions with Merrie Woode for the elusive Bull Sluice sign.
The 2000s were highlighted by Clay, who described the unique position of that decade as being witness to the “transition years” from Chuck and Donnie to Yates and Marisa. Choco Tacos were the favorite dessert of the time, acting almost as a “camp currency” during mealtimes. The legend of the 2000s was Rick Bowers, also known as “Wood God,” and they’ll never forget the time that Ben Williams smashed through the plexiglass onto the front porch while trying to act out the “bug on a windshield” skit. The trends of the millenials in the 2000s were birkenstocks, crocs, having a myspace, and Nalgene water bottles that were not yet BPA free. The struggle of this decade was trying to make sure your laundry made it on the outside of the huge cabin laundry loads that were washed in the industrial size machines at the time. As Clay said, if your laundry was clumped in the middle of the massive laundry loads, it would just remain there untouched by the soap and return back to you still filthy, but sanitized.
Finally, Will Walters shared the most recent highlights of the past decade. Food highlights included stromboli, mini corn dogs, and s’mores pockets. The best pranks included the time the counselors moved a smartcar to different locations all around camp, when the paddlers performed an enthusiastic “harlem shake,” or the ongoing legend that beaver sharks live in the lakes. We laughed about the failed addition of a 5th tribe “Algonquin” and remembering Duckles, the fat duck who couldn’t fly.
Though each decade had their own highlights and memories, reflecting on what made Falling Creek so fun throughout the years was a common theme for all. To close the first evening, everyone was given the newly released book, Behold50, a celebration of the past 50 summers and a collection of the stories and photos throughout the years.
The next morning, many of the early rising alumni chose to join in on a “Top of The World” sunrise hike. This hike went up to the top of the new apple orchard property before breakfast, enjoying the view of the Green River Valley below as the sun rose to greet them. After a beautiful start to the day, they returned in time for Morning Watch, led by Dusty. The focus was on camp’s central verse: Psalm 133. Dusty explained that the verse specifies both “good and pleasant” because sometimes things that are good for you are not always pleasant. At camp however, we have the privilege of experiencing the good and the pleasant simultaneously as we “dwell together in unity.”
After a hearty breakfast everyone gathered on the front porch to experience an extended Morning Assembly. We were treated to several skits, including Ben Williams’ “bug on a windshield,” Timothy and the “used toothbrush” skit, the newer “dead cat in a box” skit, and even Goody shared his “Opie Rap”. The band for the morning was extensive, with dozens of camp legends up at the front with guitars and singing voices at the ready. Joel Priest started it off with “Rooster in the Yard,” Nathan suggested “Fox on the Run,” and requests for “Rocky Top,” “Dust on my Saddle,” and “Leroy Brown” were all honored. Donnie Bain even borrowed a guitar so he could join in with other legends Walt Cottingham, Steve Rogers, and Dave Dickerson on the favorite “Hey Baby” song.
The morning was a whirlwind of choose-your-own activities. SFL was cooking Longenecker Lumps at the library, Joe Duckett brought his giant snakes and tarantulas to hang out in the warrior ball pit, Ben Lea was planning a mountain bike epic around camp, and several old alumni were channeling their inner camper as they back flipped and dove off the high-dive. After lunch, we had ice cream sundaes on the road by the dining hall, complete with all the toppings. The afternoon was another free choice time, with rounds of disc golf being played, kayaks and canoes out on the lower lake, and folks trying to make it to the top of the climbing wall. SFL also shared a combined program presenting birds of prey and snakes.
Before dinner, everyone gathered at the McGrady Gym for a group panoramic photo and cocktail hour. It was a treat to be able to mingle with old friends, snack on hoursdouvers, and reminisce over the many photos and memorabilia that were hanging up around the gym. Shortly after, everyone sat around the stage.
Talbot Carter, who attended with all 3 of his sons, led a toast to Falling Creek and how the camp has positively impacted his entire family. He remarked that “They say the road to heaven is paved in gold,” Talbot mused, “but for me it’s a dirt road. And I know I’m there right now.” This was a perfect segway to then watch the new historical video, made specially for the reunion and highlighting the past 50 years in detail. As the video ended, we all were blessed to have the opportunity to stand with so many important FCC aumni to announce and celebrate that the sacred bridge that everyone crosses on their way to church and campfire has been reconstructed and now renamed “Bain Bridge”, dedicated in honor of Donnie and Kim Bain who each have offered over 30 years of service to Falling Creek. It was a standing ovation of love, happiness, and gratitude for the Bains.
For supper we were treated to BBQ, tomato pie, texas caviar, warm rolls, and coleslaw. Everyone was able to enjoy a great meal before heading to the campfire area for a Candlelight Campfire ceremony. Campfire is a place that is held dear to all who come to Falling Creek. The minute you walk over Bain Bridge and pass the “Behold” sign with Psalm 133, a wave of peace and reverence immediately washes over you. As we gathered in silence along the rows of benches and listened to the alternating conversations between bullfrogs and cicadas, it felt like any other summer before.
During this Campfire, gratitude was the redundant theme, and with good reason. Between songs of “Country Roads”, “Will the Circle Be Unbroken”, and Garrett sharing his song he wrote about Steve Longenecker called “Down South Again,” Terry Tyree reflected on why he was grateful for Falling Creek, and opened the floor for other alumni to share their experiences. Terry’s thoughts centered on the ever present “Spirit of Falling Creek,” and how those values never leave when you leave camp, allowing you to make a difference and touch lives every day because of the things you learn at camp. He shared how he believes that you get what you need at Falling Creek. Leland Morris shared, “Boys get what they need in camp. It meets you where you are and teaches you what masculinity is about, through vulnerability, caring, and unselfishness.” Phil Walker echoed this positive impact, sharing, “Falling Creek didn’t change my life, Falling Creek made my life. It was the first place that I was able to say ‘I can,’ and at the end of the summer I could say, ‘I did.’” Phil expressed, “you can go home again if you never left – and Falling Creek never left me or my heart.” Phil challenged us to take on a new identity, one that is not simply Falling Creek alums. Instead, he declared us “Guardians of the Flame,” since we let the Spirit of Falling Creek live inside us. Each of us can give something to make this flame grow brighter and ensure that it doesn’t die, taking on a more active alumni role as “guardians” of the Falling Creek spirit we know and love.
For the final morning of the weekend, we gathered at the campfire area once again for a church service before breakfast. As the quiet sounds of the morning surrounded us, Allen Kannapell began the service, sharing the story of how he “came back to God on the banks of the Tuckasegee River” as a camper. The theme of the service was “love,” a fitting way to end a weekend spent celebrating brotherhood. Dusty Davis also shared his experiences with the CITs (now called men of S.T.E.E.L.) this summer, emphasizing the importance of the love and support from peers and mentors at camp, something that is so formative for a teenage boy.
As we fueled up for the day with a hearty pancake breakfast, the excitement was high for another Morning Assembly before heading out. In addition to singing even more popular tunes from the past, Terry Tyree led us all in “Fleasta” and Steve Rogers performed his famous “Chicken Walk”. Starting the day with enthusiastic singing, hilarious skits, and just goofing off together was a great way to set the mood, and everyone was hesitant to get on the road before lunch. After a fun weekend spent reminiscing and catching up in a place loved by so many, it was hard to say goodbye. However, with the reassurance that the Spirit of Falling Creek was still alive and well, everyone knew it wasn’t goodbye, but only a “see you next time.”
Author: Annie Pharr
If you would like to see the full album of photos from the weekend, go to our website and enter your e-mail and password to log in to your CampInTouch account. (The link is below the video on the home page). Once logged in, click Photos. You can also use this link. Behold!