Tue, 08/24/2021 - 1:39pm admin
Ever since seeing Hailey Mills in the original movie Parent Trap, I’ve had a whimsical attraction to summer camps. It wasn’t just an eighth-grade infatuation with a teenage movie star; I liked the whole ambience of distant wooded areas, lakes, campfires, and swimming, And, as I have written before, a Red Cross Water Safety Instructor Certification (WSI) enabled me to work at several summer camps.
Like many things, my first knowledge of a WSI started in Willow Springs. In the early 1960s, teacher Buddy Bennett coached high school baseball and all junior high sports. One summer he coached the youth baseball programs in Willow, but most summers, because he had a WSI, he worked as the waterfront director at Camp Wakonda, a privately owned camp on the Lake of the Ozarks.
I recall he had a nifty WSI patch on his swimming trunks, which I viewed as a formidable badge of distinction. He told cool stories about campfire programs, lifeguarding, and watermelon fights, where campers and staff would pummel each other with hunks of watermelon, in good-natured fun. I suppose, no pun intended, a proverbial seed was planted in my mind.
The lifeguarding path for me and a couple schoolmates, Joe Corn (WSHS, 1965) and Royce Yardley (WSHS, 1966), started in Willow at Smokey Stover’s swimming pool. Smokey owned a motel on Main Street located approximately where the Sonic is today, and, in the early 1960s, he constructed an indoor pool adjacent to it.
To describe it as an indoor pool is a bit of a stretch. In actual fact, it was an outdoor pool housed inside aqua-and yellow-colored, corrugated fiberglass walls and a roof, and during the summer it got quite steamy inside. Nevertheless, it is where the three of us obtained our junior and senior Red Cross lifesaving badges, which provided the prerequisites for a WSI.
Judy Scott (basketball coach Joe Scott’s wife) instructed us in junior lifesaving, and local resident Alice Perkins trained us in the senior course. A girl from Alton, an athletic, strong swimmer, drove to Willow to take the senior training. I recall her well, since she nearly drowned me in one of the exercises, but I finally managed to escape her choke hold. Lesson learned: duck your chin when attacked from behind.
When I started college, Mizzou required students to take physical education classes twice a week. However, WSI certification training, which was considerably more challenging, could be substituted for PE. I signed up and passed the course, which opened several doors of opportunity for me in 1966.
That summer, with a newly-acquired WSI, I got a job as the waterfront director at Camp Clover Point, a 4-H camp on the Lake of the Ozarks near Kaiser, Missouri, five miles south of the Grand Glaze Bridge.
The 4-H campers, mostly small town and farm kids, all seemed appreciative and happy to be at the rustic setting of a former Civilian Conservation Corps (CCC) camp that offered few amenities. I don’t recall a whiner in the bunch. Perhaps a week not driving a tractor or assisting with canning chores provided a welcomed break.
I’ve taught swimming in fancier places such as the Beaumont Scout Reservation in St. Louis County, mentioned in my last article, or teaching university students for a couple semesters at Mizzou. But it never felt as rewarding as working with the kids at Clover Point, or later that summer, at White Oak Camp at Hammond Mill in Ozark County.
The Missouri Extension Service sponsored both Camp Clover Point and White Oak Camp. After Clover Point closed for the summer, Gilbert Rader, the area Missouri Extension agent and director of White Oak Camp, hired me as the swimming instructor. Willow Springs schoolmates of mine, Deanna Collins (WSHS, 1964), Mike Warning (WSHS, 1964), and Gary Evans (WSHS, 1964) had already been hired as camp counselors, and classmate Joe Corn (WSHS, 1965) was onboard as a lifeguard.
Located at the former CCC camp at Hammond Mill southeast of Dora, Missouri, White Oak Camp was specifically designated for local underprivileged kids. The quality of life they came from surprised some of the volunteers. Recalling her experience as a counselor there, Deanna Collins Corn recently told me, “The only thing that is still so vivid to me is how many of the kids came to camp with nothing. No change of clothes, no swim suit, no toothbrush or toothpaste, no brush or comb, no pj’s, etc.”
The gratitude the kids showed for the slightest acknowledgment or attention motivated us to make their experience positive. Deanna says, “After that first week and the shock of these needy kids, I told my mom that I needed to gather clothing, brushes/combs, toothbrushes, and toothpaste . . . I thought I understood being poor, but these kids were in another level of doing without necessities.”
Deanna also understood their need for personal attention. She says, “I know that second week I spent our free time brushing hair and helping the 8-year-old girls place their hair in ponytails and pigtails. I took hair ribbons and hair fasteners and the girls were so excited. It was a major influence on my life’s work.” [Deanna became a successful teacher and school administrator. No doubt, the campers adored the pretty college woman who pampered and encouraged them.]
Our first priority as staff members was to keep the campers safe, but a big part of our jobs was to make sure they had fun, and swimming played a big part. The old CCC camp didn’t have a swimming pool, and it is doubtful many of the kids had ever been in one, but the nearby North Fork River served quite well.
Several times a day, lifeguard Joe Corn and I transported the kids to the creek in an old school bus. Joe says of those trips, “The bus was old, with a 4-speed on the floor and poor brakes. There was a hill we traveled to the swimming hole, and we were very careful to gear down going downhill and keep the speed slow.”
Joe recalled that the swimming area “was an old abandoned concrete low-water crossing with a fairly shallow swim area. Downstream was the new overhead bridge. It was close to the Twin Bridges recreation canoe facility.” We did little swimming instruction, although most the kids could have used lessons. We just lifeguarded and let them have fun.
One memory from the White Oak Camp at Hammond Mill that has endured for me stems from the bus trips to the creek. Because the bus was yellow, all the way there and back, Joe and I led the kids in singing the Beatles song, “Yellow Submarine.” The singing by those kids might better be described as enthusiastic yelling, but I’ve never heard a more joyful sound.