by Glenda Williams Williams

CHANCELLOR, Ala (BNc) — People came from far and near Saturday, May 4, 2019, to attend the 50-year celebration of Wiregrass Christian Youth Camp, Chancellor, AL.  Everyone enjoyed the delicious bar-b-que meal served under the large pavilion as well as memories shared from past years.

Angie Braswell, secretary of the camp and organizer of the celebration, reports 209 people came for the celebration. 

Daniel Cherry, Jinks Ave., Church of Christ in Panama City, FL, welcomed the group and led in prayer. Jack Madaris followed with a recap of how the camp began. He told how men of the College Avenue church in Enterprise, AL met in early 1968 to decide on the purchase of the Geneva County Country Club which had gone bankrupt. Their goal was to turn it into a Christian camp for children. They were encouraged not to think about the amount of work to be done but rather to think of the children that would pass through the gates and study the Bible for a week, and to think of hearing 250 children singing, “Oh, How I Love Jesus.”

The decision was made to purchase the camp. Many individual supporters and churches paid to build cabins and other structures. The original debt was paid off in 1975. Willie Ray Crocker, Elba, AL, who was present, was credited with supporting the camp monetarily from its very beginning.

Memories were recalled as different people stood and shared how the camp developed into what it is today. Pat Presley recalled the first year of camp when everyone stayed in two tents set up on the property, one for the girls and one for the boys. She remembered how it rained every day of the first week. They slept on army cots on sawdust floors. Joel Ellis told how as a little boy his dad got up early on Saturdays, cranked up “old blue,” their truck, loaded the tractor on the back and headed to work on the camp. Others used their equipment to develop the campgrounds. “None of the men were wealthy,” Joel said. “They didn’t know what the future of Camp Wiregrass held but if they could see the influence the camp has had on young people’s lives they would be rejoicing in heaven right now.”

Different people shared their camping experiences at Wiregrass which made an interesting program of both laughter and tears. Hoyt Nelson, deceased, was remembered and praised for the book he wrote, God Smiled…and Camp Wiregrass Was! Though he is no longer living the book lives on. Ken Nelson, son of Hoyt and Gueldine Nelson, told of how he was there from the beginning and of the great impact the camp had on his life. He was too little to drive a nail but Dan Presley would start it and Ken said he would nail it in.

Memories were recalled of when the chapel was reconstructed in 1971 from a chapel at Fort Rucker, AL., and of Frank Owens borrowing money from the bank to build the bathhouses. Brenda Dickinson, Kadie, TX, remembered how her youth groups worked and pledged money to help get the camp started. Dan Presley shared how the floor-less pavilion came about and when M.V. Stokes, Andalusia, told them to order the concrete and he would pay for it. 

Janet Moore Jeffcoat and Sara Jo Watson Adams shared their childhood memories from the camp and Heather Carmichael, granddaughter of Ann Uhrig, expressed her thanks on behalf of her grandmother who passed away earlier this year. Pat and Ann Uhrig are long-time supporters and workers at the camp.

Marlie Washington, Sophomore at Faulkner University, shared how she started to camp when she was eight years old and looked forward to summer camp each year. She became a Christian as a result of Camp Wiregrass and its influence over the years. 

As of 2018, there have been 32,688 campers and 12,878 volunteer staff members who have enjoyed Camp Wiregrass. A total of 990 baptisms have been performed at the camp.

Ken Nelson summed it up best when he said, “If the men had not made that decision to step out on faith, think of the near one thousand baptisms in the fifty years. If it had not been for the men’s foresight in the very beginning it wouldn’t have been here today.”