Monday, January 10, 2011

Si Ragsdale: Always a Camper at Heart

Silas B. Ragsdale, Jr.
and Rebel. Hunt, Texas, 2005
I do not remember the first time I met Si Ragsdale, Jr., but I was probably only five or six years old at the time; I cannot remember a time when I didn't know Si, his wife Kathy, and their family. I do remember meeting Jeeper (Silas number 3) fairly soon after he was born, seeing him for the first time in his crib. I doubt he recalls that meeting. I also remember looking up to the older three children, Jane, Jon and Juli, who were close to my age. 
Si and Kathy bought Camp Stewart for Boys about the time my parents bought our print shop, in the mid-1960s. The Ragsdales and my parents were two young couples each working hard to make their businesses successful, and they could often telephone each other early or late in the day and know the other would also be working in their office.
More than once, when the roads were icy or a storm passed through, one of the Ragsdales would call the office to place an order, adding "I knew if I was at the office today, you would be, too."
In the summer of 1970 I was a camper at Camp Stewart -- my first time away from home for any length of time. 
That was a great summer. I learned to ride a horse, learned to swim, and, if you read the reports my counselor sent home, came very close to hitting the archery target. Well, almost close to hitting it.
There was pottery to make, tennis to play, wrestling and basketball. I learned how to canoe, how to right a swamped and overturned canoe, how to build a campfire, and spent some time fishing. There was baseball, football, track and target practice with real guns. The Ragsdales knew how to keep boys busy. 
And they knew how to feed them. I still remember the food: fresh rolls and large helpings, with ice cream for dessert. Songs at every meal. Meals were (and still are) great at Camp Stewart.
In the evenings we'd often meet by a blazing bonfire, where Indian lore was told while frogs sang from the river. The light from the fire would make the giant bluff -- Joy Bluff -- a golden orange, and the sparks would fly up to the stars above.
Always, in whatever we were doing, the Guadalupe River was close by, its green surface quiet at the deep pools. I think my life-long love for the river started there.
My own son and two of my nephews also attended Camp Stewart. It was a great place for a boy, a place that celebrated boys, taught them, and gave them a glimpse of their own possibilities. 
At Camp Stewart I learned many things, but possibly the most important thing I learned was this: I was capable, and when I tried new things (like swimming or riding a horse), I could do them well. Camp Stewart, in part, gave me confidence in myself and my abilities (even in those abilities I was unaware I possessed) -- a lesson proved useful over and over again.
And at the center of Camp Stewart was a man named Si Ragsdale. I know he was running a business, guiding and caring for the thousands of boys at his camp, directing an army of counselors, instructors and staff. I know he was busy, working hard.
But most of the time it seemed he was having as much fun as we were. That he, too, was at camp. That he was like us, still a boy at heart, who always relished a fun term at camp. His smile, and his gift for making you try your best, even when you didn't know you had it in you -- those will be sorely missed.
Until next week, all the best.

Joe Herring Jr. is a Kerrville native who still likes to swim in the Guadalupe. This column originally appeared in the Kerrville Daily Times January 8, 2010.

1 comment:

  1. Great memories for you to keep, and a great story for us to read.

    Thank you.


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