CHASE COUNTY KANSAS
YMCA CAMP WOOD OF THE FLINT HILLS
Elmdale is not much of a town now (population 51) --- and truthfully, it wasn't much of a town back when I lived there. Today, its biggest claim to fame is the fact that you basically have to pass through it to get to YMCA CAMP WOOD ---- about a mile and a half drive. A lot has changed at Camp Wood during the past 40 years. I can remember going up there for church cookouts as a little kid. Sometimes we would even ride our bikes out there to explore the place or swim in their lake (the old one, with an island in the middle --- and both a low dive and a high dive) during the years that the camp was either closed or barely open.
Having gotten tired of working on my Grandpa's farm, I decided after my freshman year of college (on Tom's advice) come to camp and work as a counselor / life guard / river guide / part time wrangler / part time maintenance person / etc, out at camp. By this time, Camp Wood was making a resurgence under the guidance of Luke Austenfeld. Numbers were up and the facility itself was being resurrected from the dead. Back in the day, we did a lot of heavy, hard work in those weeks before Y-camps actually started and the children arrived (painting, breaking concrete, digging trenches, tearing down old structures, etc, etc). But still; the camp looked nothing like what you see today.
PICS OF THE KANSAS FLINT HILLS
CAMP WOOD YMCA
Those days are gone, now they're memories on the wall
I hear the sounds from the place where I was born
Up on a hill across a blue lake..........
The Swedish Mafia from "Don't You Worry Child"
Some of those memories include things like open-air camp outs at Flat-top & Robber's Gulch (on horseback), camping out on the Island, camping on the Cottonwood River, camping out at the Teepee, and several other places that were sometimes distant from the main camp. I fondly remember the cooking of Laura Mae Spence and Mez Davis (I don't know what it's like now, but we got real food back then). I remember weight lifting sessions on the porch of the Nurse's Cabin until we all collapsed. I can remember when the lake not only had a low dive, but a high dive as well --- and an island. I was there when Tom (he has two engineering degrees now) designed and then redesigned the Rope Swing. And who could forget all the stories about "Tyrone" and "Kapoochee"?
There were the wild games of "Gold Rush", skit nights, Luke doing "the gorilla", and trips to "The Castle". There were specialized camps (wrestling and soccer) where I was able to meet and rub shoulders with several sports legends (the Smith brothers and "Stormin" Norman Piper come to mind). We went through many a severe Kansas storms and more than our fair share of drought and heat while at camp. I remember teaching shooting at the old rifle range behind the old lake, and leading over 60 canoe trips my first year there. There were several of us that would get together to play music, and who could forget sitting around listening to Jon B. play the piano and sing? What about the "Camp Wood Softball Team" that used to play league in Cottonwood Falls during the weeks before the YMCA camps started? I can remember more than once, the staff coming down to my folks place to eat homemade ice cream. Then there was the 24 hours off between noon Saturday and noon on Sunday (a couple of things that immediately come to mind are motorcycling, and hanging out at the BRIDGE FROM THE MOVIE).
When I was home from college or Chiropractic School, I used to go out and see what was going on at camp and spend some time on the lake or hiking the hills and ravines to the south and east. When the flood of 1998 went over the Elmdale dike and put two feet of water in my folk's house back in the fall of 1998, they ended up moving about an hour away (close to Melvern). Between that and the fact that Rick had moved on to a different camp, I have not been back in probably 15 years. Those days at Camp Wood are getting farther and farther away, but even today when I hear certain songs on the radio, I am immediately transported back to those summers.
THE ROPE SWING BREAK
MUDDY BOOTS IN BED
WHO IS STEALING ALL OUR STUFF?
Rick went back in and told them that there was nothing out there ---- but the scratching resumed in various places around the outside of the cabin. I could see into the cabin and hear what was going on, but the kids could not see out. The kids immediately (and nervously) said, "It's just Russ". Rick led them outside and had them shine their flashlights through my window screen and into my cabin where I was 'sleeping' in my bed like a baby. Needless to say, once Rick's kids went back into their cabin, the scratching continued. Rick came out again, and I told him to get all his kids together and shine the light on a knot hole in the back of his cabin. He went back in and told the kids he had seen Kapoochee's buffalo, but no sign of Kapoochee himself. The scratching continued near the back of the cabin, with Rick using some pretense to gather everyone around and then shining the flashlight on the knot hole. What they saw was an eyeball peering through the wall at them. Needless to say, there was a huge commotion in the cabin accompanied by several screams. The next morning I heard all the wildly varying stories of being visited by Kapoochee during the nite. Believe it or not, some even saw him!
ANOTHER SCARY STORY:
Kids would show up to camp with the darnedest things in their suitcases. Anyway, I had a kid show up with a really cool glow-in-the-dark rubber mask and gloves that must have come straight off the set of the old movie, The Creature from the Black Lagoon. After putting the kids to bed one evening, Tom put the borrowed mask and gloves on, and went down and got in the water under the dock. A couple of counselors were then brought down to the lake with the pretense of a 'moonlight swim'. I can still see this person (we'll call him Sam) leaning over the water at the end of the dock with a puzzled look on his face as Tom came slowly up from the bottom. As the glowing mask got brighter and brighter in the clear (for Kansas) spring-fed water, a look of horrified realization came over Sam's face. He was going to be attacked by a lake monster. He literally froze and could neither speak nor flee. My guess is that he has never forgotten that one.
JUMPING OUT OF THE TREE
FAILED RIVER TRIP --- OR NOT
CAMP WOOD YMCA
In many ways and for better or worse, working at Camp Wood helped mold me into the person I am today. I would probably never have become a chiropractor if not for certain people I met at camp. I got to work with one of my best friends (Tom Edwards), and was introduced to another of my best friends at camp (RICK BURRIS, who has been Executive Director at several large YMCA Camps ---- CLASSEN and GREENVILLE, as well as Camp Wood itself).
Although I am certain we all could have done better, hopefully, we were able to leave positive lasting impressions on the kids that passed through Camp Wood during the four summers I worked there (1985-1988). It was always nice to see kids leave camp excited and talking about coming back next year. Our goal, however, was not simply to see these kids leave with awesome lifetime memories, but to leave with increased self confidence as well. I'm talking about the self confidence that comes from kids realizing they have what it takes to conquer their fears and accomplish hard / scary things (swimming to the island and back, going off the rope swing or jumping off the rope swing platform, sleeping outdoors --- without a tent, shooting a rifle for the first time, riding a horse for the first time, making new friends, or a thousand other things that terrify different kids). We wanted the kids we spent time with to learn to be successful ---- to be finishers in whatever they set their minds to. There is no doubt in my mind that large numbers of the children who were yesterday's campers are today positively impacting their communities as adults ---- and preparing the next generation to be successful as well.
Although I would recognize few of them today, I still remember many of these kid's names and sometimes wonder what they're doing these days. Maybe I'll find out. I plan on being at (hopefully motorcycling to) Camp Wood's 100th Anniversary Celebration on Saturday, October 17, 2015 (nearly two years from now) with my son MALACHI (15). Hope to see you all there!