By: Chris “Topher” Aderhold
It was the culminating moment of months of planning. It was a moment that I’ll never forget. It was a moment unlike any other I’d ever experienced at Camp Gray. It all started with a big dream.
We like to dream big at Camp Gray – I suppose it’s in our DNA. It was the huge dream of an Irish priest in the early 1950s that led to the founding of Camp Gray.
Francis Gray escaped to America in the early 1900s to continue his priestly studies while Ireland was in the midst of their civil war. After being ordained, rather than returning to serve the Church in Ireland, his Irish Bishop allowed him to stay in America – Fr. Gray had fallen in love with America and with the people of this great nation. Later, seeing the need for a place for young people to escape the busyness and the noise of everyday life, Monsignor Gray founded his Camp.
Ever since, for the past 63 years, Camp Gray has served as a bright shining light – a great city on a hill. Never are we content, however. All these years later, we’re still dreaming big about the future of Camp Gray.
Speaking of big dreams and a bright shining light – it was a few brave men back in the mid-1770s that dreamed of a country that could serve – to the whole world – as a great city on a hill.
And so it was, this past summer, for the first time in recent memory, a session of Summer Camp was held over the 4th of July. Typically, we avoid hosting Camp on Independence Day. This past summer, for a number of reasons (all of which I won’t bore you with), it was most prudent for us to host Summer Camp on the fourth.
Of course, we’re Camp Gray and we’re Americans – meaning that we’re double big dreamers – so we couldn’t sit idly by as the birthday of our great nation came and went. To ring in America’s 240th birthday, we pulled out the big guns.
This brings us to the aforementioned culminating moment that I’ll never forget. Standing arm in arm with 130 campers and 60 staffers, we watched as the flag of our great nation was raised to the top of the flagpole at the corner of Camp’s basketball court. As the flag was being raised, we sang along to Lee Greenwood’s “Proud to be an American.” As I looked around the circle, I noticed tears in the eyes of many, and if I’m being honest, there might have been one or two in mine, as well. The tears in my eyes, I promise, weren’t from learning – only minutes prior – that Kevin Durant would be leaving my beloved OKC Thunder.
Prior to gathering in a large circle around Camp’s flagpole, we were first gathered in a large half-circle around one side of a Lake Delton fire truck. Before the American flag could be raised to the top of the flagpole, we first needed to retrieve it from atop the fire truck’s 75’ ladder. When Nate, Camp’s Property Manager, isn’t working hard to keep Camp looking and running great, he serves as the Lieutenant of the Delton Fire Department. He, along with Jeff, Camp’s Co-Executive Director, climbed the many rungs to the top of the 75’ ladder to retrieve the flag. Rather than climbing the many rungs back down to earth, they instead repelled back down to the safety of solid ground. Arriving with the American flag in hand, the cheers from the enormous crowd of campers and staffers was deafening.
Before Nate and Jeff could summit the ladder, the fire truck was the final piece of an incredible surprise Independence Day parade. The parade included a marching band, floating canoes, and patriotically decorated tractors, four wheelers, classic cars, and golf carts. And yes, candy was ubiquitous. A highlight of the parade for many were the floats dedicated to three critically important moments in American history: 1) The Boston Tea Party, 2) The Gold Rush, 3) The founding of Culver’s! (See photos from the parade here!)
With great joy, our campers and staffers cheered along the parade route, mostly for the candy thrown, and also for the cheese curds thrown from the Culver’s float.
No, those weren’t tears for Durant’s sudden and heartbreaking departure from my hometown team. Rather, those were tears of great gratitude: gratitude for Camp Gray, for America, and for the Catholic faith – and for a young Irishman’s faithfulness to sacrifice much to come to this far away land.
We love to dream big and we love to work hard to see those dreams turned into reality. To pull off the Independence Day parade and subsequent fire truck ladder repel experience, it required the hard work of many.
The hard work to create the goofy, the fun, the lively, the astonishing, the delicious, and the boisterous – it’s all at the service of showing young people the love of Christ. His Church, founded nearly 2,000 years ago, is alive and well at Camp Gray. As today’s world becomes louder, busier, and more secular, the need for a strong Camp Gray is paramount.
Summer Camp 2016 was full of all of those adjectives and then some. At the heart of it all, it was full of the love of Christ.
Thanks for a great summer!
With the arrival of autumn, along with reflecting on this past summer, we’re looking ahead. Though Summer Camp is over, things don’t slow down at Camp Gray. Plans are already being made for Summer Camp 2017 (We’d love your feedback! How can we make Summer Camp 2017 the best yet!). Between summer’s, Camp Gray doesn’t sit empty.
A gaggle of amazing young adults joined us in mid-August to begin a year of service as a part of Camp’s Servant Leadership Team. They’re selfless, they’re faith-filled, they’re wonderful – they’re thrilled to meet you! Our SaLT Missionaries facilitate our many, many retreats – retreats that are attended by nearly 4,000 young people. Please pray for them! In addition to facilitating retreats for schools and churches, we offer a few “open” retreats. Check the schedule if you’d like to experience a Camp Gray retreat!
As we look to the fall, I invite you to mark your calendars for two important dates: October 18th and November 15th.
Staff applications for Summer Camp 2017 and for the 2017-2018 Servant Leadership Team will go live October 18th.
Camper registration for Summer Camp 2017 will go live on November 15th. The 2017 Summer Camp Session Chart will be posted to the website around mid-October.
On behalf of Jeff and Rebecca and the entire Camp Gray Family, I thank you for your tremendous support of Camp Gray!
Additionally, I thank you for taking the time to read this blog!
We invite you to continue checking back here on the Camp Gray Blog for stories from the past, present, and future!
Lastly, check out the amazing highlight video from America Week, Session Five 2016: