Dale Robertson Retires


After more than four decades, Dale Robertson has decided to hang up his tool belt and retire.  Dale first worked at Gwynn Valley Camp as summer staff for the previous owners, Howie and Betty Boyd.  They hired him full-time as the Site Director after he finished grad school and enticed him to settle in Brevard and make a life and a living at Gwynn Valley.  His expertise as the Site Director continued when Anne and Grant Bullard purchased the camp in 1998.  Dale’s extensive collection of mechanical parts, tools, tractors, and knowledge of the infrastructure of Gwynn Valley is being passed on to the new Site Director, Jeff Heath, who has worked alongside Dale for the past 20 years. Dale has made an immeasurable and lasting impact on decades of staff, campers, and on the site itself.  As Dale would say, “It takes a big dog to weigh a ton.”

Dale’s summer staff days

Dale began work at Gwynn Valley in the summer of 1974 when he was a freshman at Brevard College. He was enticed to work at camp by his Botany professor, the late Howie Boyd.  Dale and several other BC students worked as summer staff around that time including Jann Scarborough, Debbie Debord, Frank McConnell, Mike Darnell, and Alice Vernon.  Dale’s first summer position at camp was at the stables.  Camp was much smaller in the 70’s with about 100 campers and 30 staff. Mountainside didn’t exist and the sessions were much longer.  Dale remembers that there were often whole camp activities.  Each Sunday afternoon, all of camp would hike through the woods to the nearby camp of Deep Woods to a meadow on the top of a hill, known as “Pineapple Hill” for a picnic supper.  Another memorable activity was when everyone would campout on the green for “Stargazing”.  The archery instructor, Barney, would point out constellations with her flashlight well into the night.  As a summer staff member, Dale started in the stables, but also helped out in whatever way was needed.  He remembers doing a lot of driving in those early years, picking up campers at the airport as well as taking children to town to get some of the famous Biltmore ice cream.  

Transition to Full-Time

After attending Brevard College (a junior college at the time), Dale finished his bachelor’s degree at NC State in the spring of 1977.  He worked year-round for the first time that year after graduating.  The following fall, he attended graduate school at Clemson University and continued to work at camp in the summers.  He graduated in December of 1979 with a Master’s in Biological and Agricultural Mechanization and Business.  After a month-long trip out west, he began working full-time again at camp and was hired for a 2 year commitment to build some new buildings, starting with the Center. During his tenure at camp Dale has built and renovated many buildings including the Center, Joe Pye, Indian Paintbrush, the Mountainside Shelter, Island Ford, Connestee Cove, the Brookside Shelter, the Big Shop, 7th Heaven, Chestnut Hollow, Laurelwood, Wildwood, and Primavera.  He demolished some cabins like Cabin #9, and rebuilt others such as Raccoon Ridge and Rosebay.

“Timing is Everything”

After that initial 2 year commitment ended, Dale had another job lined up, but a large piece of property adjacent to camp became available for sale.  As Dale would say, “Timing is Everything”.  After purchasing the property, Howie agreed to sell 24 acres to Dale which would later become The Farm. One of Dale’s passions is farming and his innovative idea to start a farm program at Gwynn Valley is his legacy. He was way ahead of his time as he implemented a farm-to table program before the movement ever took shape. He and Howie experimented with a farm program by first renting property at the nearby Deep Woods Camp for one year.  It was a hit!  He purchased the farm property in the summer of 1982 and by the following summer, the farm was moved to its current location.  By 1985, the farm program was up and running.  These days, the farm serves as the standard for anyone nearby hoping to develop a farm-to-table operation. 

Farm Campfire

The long-standing tradition of the Farm Campfire started sometime in the 90’s. As camp transitioned to shorter sessions, they decided to have each program area be in charge of an evening program, or “campfire” as they were called in those days.  Having a Farm Campfire each summer became a tradition that still continues today.  While the Farm Campfire has changed somewhat over the years, a few things remain the same.  There’s always a live band known as “The Needle-Nose Vise Grips” made up of whoever can play a musical instrument (and sometimes musical guests) and campers always get to see Dale show off his clogging skills, dance with a chicken, and tell a story.

The Mill

Dale was also integral in the development of The Mill program at Gwynn Valley.  It was a much slower project than the farm.  The Mill at Gwynn Valley was the original grist mill for the Dunn’s Rock community, built around 1890.  Dale slowly renovated and reconstructed it from around 1980 to 1990 with the Mill program operating for the first time in 1990.  Jamie White and Ed Cloaninger were the first millers.  Today, campers still enjoy grinding corn grown at the farm, sifting out the meal from the grits, and cooking johnny cakes over a fire.  The sound of the waterwheel remains embedded in the memories of all those who work and play at Gwynn Valley.

A Camp Marriage

If you’ve ever attended a Gwynn Valley reunion, you may or may not be surprised by the number of married couples who first met at camp.  Dale is included in this group.  He met his wife Janet the first summer he worked at Gwynn Valley.  Janet has her own lengthy history with camp.  She is a legendary cook and was the Food Service Director for several years following in the footsteps of her mother.  She first started working at Gwynn Valley teaching horseback riding in 1979.  She was hired full-time that winter working in the office, maintenance, or helping with whatever needed to be done.  She and Dale got to know each other over the years that she worked maintenance with her supervisor, Dale. The two were married in 1989 at Dunn’s Rock Baptist Church, just up the road from Gwynn Valley.  Their reception was held in the Lodge at camp with several alumni in attendance.

“Another Day of Opportunity”

If you know Dale, you know he is not one to sit idle.  He sees every day as “another day of opportunity”.  Over the last decade of working at Gwynn Valley, Dale has secured a CPO license, a welding certificate, a contractors license, and even began teaching a course on sustainable agriculture at his early alma mater, Brevard College.  He has gone on several extensive trips to New Zealand in the winter to build backcountry shelters on the cycling and hiking trail, The Old Ghost Road, with another Gwynn Valley alum, Marion Boatwright.  He plans to continue overseeing the farm program for the foreseeable future and hopes to spend more time in New Zealand as soon as travel restrictions are lifted.

Dale has done an incredible job managing the infrastructure of camp, renovating and building new buildings, improving the grounds, and teaching staff. He has served as a valuable member of the leadership team by sharing his institutional knowledge and his camp history with others. He has the ability to always keep a level head and exude calmness in all emergency situations, and most importantly, he has been dedicated and committed to carrying on the mission of Gwynn Valley Camp. We are so thankful for all he has done throughout the years, for all of the lives he has impacted, and that he will continue to fulfill his passion by running the farm and Gwynn Valley’s farm-to-table program!