Make New Friends and Keep the Old – The 85th +2 Reunion

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As we welcome September, we are so grateful for a positive, fun, and successful camp season and a joyful 85+2 camp reunion. Having waited for two years to celebrate Gwynn Valley’s 85th summer, many generations gathered after we closed camp to see old friends, make new ones, and to share the many stories and memories of their time spent in the Valley. It was a good reminder of the power of camp and the vision Mary Gwynn had in 1935 to create such a magical place to celebrate the simple joys of childhood.

Camp is about connections and it was wonderful to watch campers and staff from the different decades singing, eating, playing, and dancing together. The weekend began with swimming at the lake, walks around camp, a social time where people were able to meet those from different generations and catch up with old friends, and dinner. We closed the first day with a campfire on the Gatehouse Green, singing as we watched the sunset over the beautiful Blue Ridge Mountains. As Winni and Gwynn led the Music Condor that evening, many others jumped up to help lead the song and hand motions. Chris, our Program Director, commented later “we have to bring back that song; it’s so fun and engaging.”

One of the highlights for me and others was singing and the gift of music Debbie provides for us. If you ask any of our campers and staff prior to 2020 and who have been at camp since, they will say that one of the main things they’ve missed is singing in the Lodge. One of the difficulties of COVID has been trying to balance keeping our community healthy and making sure we keep our traditions alive. Unfortunately, singing has been one of the traditions that is hard to balance because we haven’t gathered in big groups in the Lodge in order to mitigate risk. For the first time in three years we again came together after lunch to sing and it went on for over an hour. It was such a joy to see the younger generation sing one of their favorites and then the older generation would share the older tunes that are classics at camp. This reminded us of what an impact music has on camp as a tradition, from singing in the Lodge to serenade. Music, like camp, is good for the soul.  

Saturday, we enjoyed lots of activities from climbing, basket making, tye-dye, blacksmithing, a hike to Connestee and swimming at the falls, lake fun with kayaks, SUPs, zipline, to swimming at the pool. Of course, we also spent time playing thunderball, and basketball throughout the weekend. With camp being 87 years old, we wanted to make sure we created a time to remember those who are part of the Gwynn Valley family, who worked to make camp magical, and who impacted many lives. Family members and friends shared memories and stories about the following alumni who are no longer with us: Gray Taylor, Betty Boyd, Barbara Orloff, Susie Woodall, and Art and Elizabeth Cleary.   

That evening we came together at a reception to honor Dale Robertson who retired from his position as Site Director after 40+ years of service to the campers, staff, and site. Dale will continue to manage and teach at the Farm and direct its program so he’s not fully retired. There were many tributes and stories shared about the impact of Dale’s influence on those who have had the joy of learning from and working with him.

The Gwynn Valley Campership Foundation Board along with Lisa Woodall put together a wonderful silent auction to benefit the scholarship program. Items ranged from sweatshirts, t-shirts, and bags from the 50’s, photos and paintings of camp, to ceramic flower vases and candle holders, all of which were generously donated by alumni and current staff. The money raised went to fund the Dale Robertson, Susie Woodall, Lillie Ware, and Lucille Roberts Scholarship. A wonderful farm to table dinner was enjoyed by all after the reception, followed by another camp tradition, mountain dancing.

Sunday morning, we enjoyed a lovely brunch before coming together to share our gifts, music, and words during our Sunday Service. As we said good-bye to old and new friends, we relished the time spent together in the Valley, the beautiful weekend weather, and the joy of 85+2 years of camp connections.