Back in the summer of ‘83, during a torrential downpour, a small group of paddlers made their way down a flooding river. The campers felt cold and couldn’t see any reason to go any further in their aluminum canoes and fiber-glass closed boats that were filling up with water much more easily than today’s equipment. But their trip leader urged them on, saying “isn’t this great?!” The trip leader was Dusty Davis. And one of the paddlers on the trip, Yates Pharr, has continued to stay connected with Dusty. Years later when he and Marisa became the Directors of Falling Creek and needed someone who could set the standard for his incoming staff. He and the other boys from when he was a camper favored going on trips with Dusty, not because of his skills on the water, but because of how much he encouraged them and made a gully washer rainstorm into ‘better rapids.’
“His positive attitude is something strong and contagious,” says Yates. “He could get more out of you than you thought you actually had to give.”
What he does now is not too dissimilar to his role back in the 80’s. He works off-season from Falling Creek as a counselor and chaplain for UAB’s Athletics Department, where he mentors many students from all backgrounds, and helps them come together as a team. That makes his job at camp a smooth transition, where he takes the same approach to make the 400 plus campers and staff at Falling Creek come together as a community.
As a camper you may know him best as the man who speaks from time to time at campfires and Morning Watch, relating personal experiences to his life in faith, or maybe you also know him as a trip leader for a rock climbing, paddling or mountain biking expedition. But the most important role he performs at Falling Creek is the position of mentor— not just to the boys coming to stay as campers— but the counselors who have come in to lead them.
Of course the staff spends up to three weeks in orientation before any boys arrive at camp, spending time going over scenarios and strategies to lead the young men coming to camp. They have guest speakers and wilderness survival training. They spend time with the tribal leaders going over potential problems with boys and understanding cabin dynamics.
But in the months to follow, a lot of the training happens on the job in individual experiences. The staff find themselves spending time with boys with whom they may have a lost the ability to relate to because of the age gap. This is where Dusty comes in and serves as a soundboard for the counselors, sharing their challenges or dissecting their triumphs in a safe environment that has their best interests at heart. Having been there himself, Dusty can relate to and advise young staff members into bettering themselves throughout any situation.
A position like Dusty’s, with a staff in most recent years of over 130, requires a high caliber of understanding in the competitive and emotional nature of young men who are all at different stages in their life. But Davis has no shortcomings here. He has spent over 25 years in sports ministry at two different college campuses, leading mission trips to 17 different countries, and has spent time as the Regional Director of Sports Ministry for the West Coast. During his time as a Chaplain he has competed in mountain bike and road cycling races all over the world. Davis won the state road cycling and mountain biking championship, twice. He has done endurance 24-hour rides. And he’s gone to Europe to partake in the Olympic time trials. He carried the torch through Oregon. His sense of athleticism is only matched by his compassion for the people who are struggling alongside him.
In addition to all of his accomplishments, he’s raised 3 children, all of whom have also worked on camp staff. Two have worked right here at Falling Creek; Cole and Chase. His daughter, Honey, works as a climbing instructor at a nearby Illahee, one of the country’s top girl’s camps, where she was also a camper for many years. His wife Mary Lou, who once worked at Falling Creek along-side him in the 80’s, now offers her photography skills for Illahee.
Dusty has dedicated his life to leading people through a rainstorm with a grin. Feel free to comment memories you have about Dusty, or pick up a copy of his short story here.