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Sunday, June 12, 2022

It's summer camp season in Kerr County

Postcard showing campers at the Texas Lions Camp, Kerrville, 1970s.
Click on any image to enlarge.

The summer youth camp season is in full swing in Kerr County – with thousands of young people from all over the world coming here to our community to make memories and have fun.
Not long ago, my friends Sandy and Jon Wolfmueller gave me a collection of local postcards, including images of local summer camps. Some of the postcards show camps which no longer exist. 
Camp Arrowhead
What I particularly like about the old postcards the Wolfmuellers gave me is how they show young people having fun outdoors. They show a lot of Guadalupe River scenes, and quite a few show kids on horseback.
Camp La Junta
When the first sleepaway youth camps in Kerr County opened, in the 1920s, there were no Interstate highways and local air travel was extremely rare. Most campers came from Texas's largest cities -- but especially from Dallas and Houston -- and they arrived by train or bus. Leaving the cities in the heat of summer, and then arriving here, where it's cooler because of the elevation, would have been a welcome trip. Then campers were taken from town to camp, traveling unpaved roads which dipped into the riverbed here and there. Higher and higher the campers would travel, winding their way deeper into the green hills, following the ribbon of river. 
Camp Rio Vista
When they finally arrived at their camp, and settled into their cabins, tired and hungry, a special paradise greeted them. The green river beckoned. Horseback riding was available. Campers were taught to shoot guns, arrows; they were instructed in athletics; they learned to paddle a canoe.
And more than one camper wrote home to tell how good the food was at camp, how it was piled high on the tables, and how, after a day busy with camp activities, the food tasted so good.
Why wouldn't campers, even later in life, think of Kerr County as paradise?
Camp Stewart
As a child, I was fortunate enough to go to Camp Stewart. While there I learned to swim, learned to ride horses, and (almost) learned to shoot a bow and arrow. The counselor responsible for archery that term reported to my parents his hope that I’d be able to hit the target before the end of camp. I’m not sure his hope was ever realized.
Learning to swim, of course, was one of the most important life skills I learned that summer. Our class met at a quiet bend in the river, where the water was shallow and warmed by the sun. I remember the instructors were very patient. It didn’t take long for me to learn to swim; they were good teachers.
Camp Waldemar
I may have had some other strong motivations to learn to swim, as well. Until you passed your swimming test, you weren’t allowed to join other activities, like learning to canoe, or using the long rope swing in the deeper pool near the dining hall.
That summer I was eight years old – and I can still remember how one event in particular filled me with dread. Then, as now, the boys at Camp Stewart attended dances at several of the nearby camps for girls. I particularly remember the dance held at Camp Mystic that year.
Heart o' The Hills
At eight years old, I had yet to discover what fine company young ladies could offer. We boys were encouraged to dance, and I remember being one of the last ones on the sidelines as the music played.
Then there was an announcement – only those who danced could have ice cream, which was being served next to the dance floor. Quickly, I found a partner – who likely didn’t want to dance much, either – and soon we two were in line for ice cream.
Though it was over fifty years ago, I still have fond memories of that summer at Camp Stewart. I have no doubt the youngsters visiting Kerr County this summer will be making plenty of memories, too.
Thank heaven for summer camps, for the folks who run them, for the counselors who guide the campers, for the cooks who feed everyone, and for the blessings of safety and health for all.
Until next week, all the best.

Joe Herring Jr. is a Kerrville native who can still swim. This column originally appeared in the Kerrville Daily Times June 11, 2022.

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1 comment:

  1. June Cole RobertsJune 12, 2022 at 10:33 AM

    My dad had bulldozers all my growing up years. Every year prior to opening the summer camp season my Dad and Grandpa cleaned out the river swimming holes and dam areas for the camps. I have pictures of one of the camps after a flood. The tractors were not parked high enough and went under. Blessed to have grown up in such a beautiful place.



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