A BRIEF HISTORY
We have been asked over and over, “how did Thanksgiving Camp get started?” The following is an attempt to answer that question and to record some of the history of camp. This is a recounting from Evelyn Bannerman's perspective.
THE EARLY YEARS
In the late 1960s, Glenn was working full time as professor of Recreation and Outdoor Education at the Presbyterian School of Christian Education in Richmond, Virginia, we had four young children and Glenn was in demand as a folk dance leader and clog dance teacher. Therefore, he was away a lot on weekends and holidays, while the kids and I were left at home. We finally made a decision that whatever duties he accepted away from home would need to include the children and myself. As a result of this decision, we all went along when he was invited to teach at the Maine Folk Dance Camp where Mary Anne Herman was having her first ‘family’ dance camp. This was a good experience in many ways and was actually the impetus for the idea of starting a family camp of our own.
Soon after Lee Ann was born, Glenn and I had been asked to lead the city sponsored folk dance movement in Richmond, which came to be the International Folk Dance Club, which still meets today. We served as dance leaders for IFDC for many years. As children reached 4th grade, welcome to come to IFDC with their parents. As a result, our children learned to love and appreciate the folk dance as much as we did.
Along about late ‘68, early ’69 we realized how frustrated we were becoming with the way the family was being peer-grouped at church, at school and in their social activities. It seemed we never had the opportunity to play together as a family. With our common interest in folk dance, we began to explore the idea of an intergenerational event, and presented the idea to church groups first with no success. Finally, after a very frustrating meeting with Synod of Virginia leaders, Ruth Campbell, then director of Massanetta Springs Conference Center, offered to rent the Conference Center to us as a private enterprise so that we could see if our ideas had any merit. Ralph Page, old-time contra dance master from New Hampshire and a dear friend, offered to come to be on staff and help us launch this balloon. We got a late start that year (1969) and with no financial backing and low registration, had to cancel, but were determined to get an early start the next year. Unfortunately, before the first camp came to fruition, Ruth Campbell had died. She holds a special place in our hearts for giving us the encouragement to go out on our own.
In 1970, the first camp was held with 88 people in attendance and was a big success. Ralph Page rode the bus down from N.H., and provided his special brand of dance leadership and wry humor. He always stated that if we made any money, he wanted some; otherwise, he was happy just being a part of the weekend. (He always brought us a hunk of strong smelling Vermont cheese and could never understand why people gave him such a wide berth on the bus!)
Much to our surprise, we did not get as many of our church family friends, as we did our folk dance friends, at camp. We had a goodly number of folk dancers from the Pittsburgh, New Jersey & New York areas, and to this day they have been strong supporters of the camp. It was a wonderful weekend with a strong sense of community and a wonderful mix of people. True to our family tradition and Christian convictions, on Sunday morning at 10 a.m. we held a simple worship. When time came for evaluations, we were startled to hear folks of other faiths express dismay that after such a weekend of cohesiveness, we had divided the group by having worship. On returning to Richmond, Glenn went in to speak to Charles Kraemer, then president of PSCE, to ask his advice. He said we should not feel it necessary to pull aside for worship, that the fellowship of all God’s children playing together was sufficient! This has continued to be our theme for 30 years.
Our music leadership over the years has also been excellent. The two bands that Craig has been a part of have been outstanding – The Crooked Pine String Band and The Painless String Band, both having played for dancing and listening for many years.
Frank McConnell has been a part of both of those bands and has played a large part in music leadership in other ways. Marion Boatwright, Don Jackson, Laura Boosinger, Timmy Abel, Doc Snodderly, Don Petty, Susie Gott, Raymond McLean, Hilary Dirlham, and David Holt have all been very special leaders in the area of music. In addition, campers have always brought instruments and numerous impromptu bands have been formed each year. Some have played for dancing; others for dinner and others just for listening in the lobby. Shape note singing has also been a part of the music tradition at camp. For many years, led by Laura Boosinger, as well as others, a small choir of singers and staff provided beautiful acapella music while campers gathered for a candlelight dinner.
LEADERSHIP AT CAMP
From the beginning, all of our family have shared in the work and leadership of the weekend. The first year, Lee Ann, (at six) was in charge of teaching string figures. Evelyn has always been the financial/registration person, and we have all helped with the planning, packing and unpacking of the equipment and decorations, setting up and taking down, and storing it all for the next year. Craig has always been our musician and fireside time coordinator; Ren a dance leader, especially Big Circle and clog dancing, and soundman; Beth and Lee Ann emceed our Saturday Evening Fashion Show for years, and now plan the theme parties, work with puppetry and plan family time. As spouses and grandchildren have come along, they too, have taken on their special roles. Each of them have discovered their niche and work within the various committees. And then there is Glenn, who for years and years did it all! It’s hard to imagine how it all got done in the early years when Glenn and Evelyn, a few of Glenn’s students and one dance leader held forth with as many folks as we have today! But over the years, he has relinquished much of the planning and leadership to his children and grandchildren who learned all they know from him.
Other leadership over the years has evolved – with Jim Kirkpatrick holding the title as serving on staff the longest, other than family. He has been with us for at least 25 years! And Ralph Page was with us for 15. The last year he served in 1984, we honored Ralph as the “Mayor of Massanetta”, resplendent in top hat and cane, seated regally in a wing chair. There was a special performance of the dance Market Lass and the presentation of a scrapbook in appreciation of his years with us. That year, he was taken ill at our house in Richmond when we returned from Massanetta, and was hospitalized for a short time before he could travel home. He never regained his health and died in early 1985.
Additional dance leadership has included Edith Thompson, Dave Vinski, Steve Zalph, Mae Fraley, Bruce Merritt, John Wallace, Janet Sponheim McCulloch, Bob & Hanne Dalsemer and Jeff O’Connor, to name a few.
One or two years after that first worship service, Jesse Oroshnik and his family offered to share the Jewish Sabbath blessing of the bread and wine with the whole group, which was the beginning of that tradition which continues today. Other traditions practiced over the years have been the costume nights (when folks came to the mike after dinner on Saturday night and told the history of their ethnic dress), talent shows (until they became too unwieldy and long - too much talent in one place!), and more recently, theme parties. Some of the more memorable being the 40’s-50’s Sock Hop, the Retirement Party, the Circus, the Olym-picks and the Pajamarama. One enduring tradition has been the early morning wake-up crew. This began at Massanetta when people asked how they were to wake up to get to breakfast on time if they had no alarm clocks. Glenn told them not to worry and promptly enlisted some of the children to help him ‘serenade’ the guests. The Richardson Building had outside walkways with metal rails, so the first year the wake-up was mostly noise from banging the rails as the children and Glenn walked around singing “Good Morning to you”. After that, it evolved to rhythm instruments, cymbals, trumpets, fiddles, bongos and always, the song! Every year is different, as younger children join the chorus and others bring their various instruments and noise makers. Harry Howell is always there to help and to take pictures. It has become a charming tradition. While Glenn has been gradually relieved of various recreation leadership duties by the other family members over the years, the one duty he has never been relieved of is the wake-up crew, with one exception- the year he was sick and slept in and the whole crew came into his room, surrounded his bed and serenaded him!
Afternoons have always been of the free choice variety, with many options offered and plenty of traditions as well. For years, we took trips to Mr. Stickley’s farm, where we were regaled with tales of the history of the Shenandoah Valley, were allowed to play on the stacks of hay, and to pet the lambs. There have always been mountain hikes, led by Jim Kirkpatrick and Craig Bannerman, there have been memorable afternoon events such as the Banana Biggie, the youth touch football games, the kite flying, impromptu music jam sessions and quilting. The later resulted in a beautiful quilt that was presented to Glenn and I the last year we were at Massanetta. Shana Spiegel was the organizer of that effort and it goes back to camp with us every year as a lovely wall decoration. And of course, there is always the ever-popular afternoon nap!
A NEW ERA
After nineteen years in Virginia, we were forced to move locations due to the closing of Massanetta Springs (which has since re-opened). That was a sad day for all involved. After searching for an alternate location, we settled on the 4-H Center in Front Royal, VA but had reservations as to how the facility fit our program. However, this was still a doable drive for the folks from the north, although farther for those from the south. Two years there (1989 & 1990) was enough for us, given the long distance for the Bannerman’s, by now most of whom were living in North Carolina, and also because the facility just did not suit our style. Glenn and I had retired in 1989 and moved to our home in Montreat, which is in the midst of many conference centers in the Swannanoa Valley. We soon began to check out the possibilities of area centers and settled on the YMCA Blue Ridge Assembly, just a hop, skip and a jump from Montreat. We have never regretted the decision. It is a good fit, a good setting and a wonderful facility. Our only regret has been that we lost some of our faithful friends from Pittsburgh, because of the distance. And while for many, Massanetta and Thanksgiving Camp will always be synonymous, younger campers have come to love Blue Ridge Assembly in the same way.
Each year, after camp, we vote on whether to continue to have camp; it is not taken for granted. So far the vote has always been unanimous.
From the beginning, some of our best leadership came from Glenn’s students at PSCE – Genie Pannell and Steve Price in puppetry; and Jim Kirkpatrick, with his excellent recreation leadership and special relationship with children, as well as many others. Long time family friend, Gay Mothershed was with us for several years as a craft leader and storyteller. Another form of leadership essential to camp is that of the scholarship help. The Ralph Page Scholarship Fund was established in 1987 and these folks have provided necessary help in all areas of camp each year. And over the years, long time campers have evolved into leaders providing classes in clogging, woodcarving and other special interests.
SPRING WEEKEND CAMP
In 1976 the family decided to add a warm weather weekend with an emphasis on square, Big Circle and clog dancing. We were excited to share with campers the Stoney Creek Boys and the Southern Appalachian Cloggers who provided music and dance leadership. We chose Memorial Day weekend and located it in our beloved mountains at Camp Gwynne Valley in Brevard, N.C. The camp is in a beautiful setting and was familiar to us as Craig and Ren had worked there and Lee Ann had attended as a camper. There were only two of these weekends due to a change in PSCE’s schedule, moving graduation to Memorial Day weekend. However, the weekend at Gwynne Valley stands out in all our minds due to Mother Nature’s intervention. On a rainy Friday night we were awakened by Craig saying that the creek that ran through the middle of camp was rising at an alarming rate and we needed to move people to higher ground. As the night progressed, it became obvious that there was danger that an earthen dam above us might break and on the advice of the Sheriff’s department, we moved everyone out of camp to a motel in Brevard. On Saturday, we were able to obtain the use of the fellowship hall at a church in town and everyone voted to continue the program there. On Sunday, we all went back to camp and pitched in to help clear the debris and repair what damage we could. The camp fed us a sumptuous meal (combining all the missed meals into one) and the camp ended on a high note. The next year, camp was held at Camp Rockmont in Black Mountain.
One summer, three teen-agers that are currently coming to camp came to visit us on their one free afternoon during the Youth Conference at Montreat. They spent the afternoon with us “old folks”, sharing memories and pouring over photo albums and all the while talking excitedly about this year’s camp, at which point Glenn and I looked at each other and said “We’ve done good!”