by Devin Rodgers of Glen Burnie, Md., a member of Catawba's Class of 2011
Comments ranging from the truly meaningful to the humorously trivial could be heard coming from the sleepy faces that gathered in front of Omwake-Dearborn Chapel early (very early!) on a recent Saturday morning. After downing doughnuts, bagels, and coffee from Salisbury's new Dunkin' Donuts - and some healthy fruit for good measure – a team of 15 Catawba College students, faculty, staff, and alumni headed west for John's River Valley Camp. The camp, which is celebrating its 75th year, is operated by the Southern Conference of the United Church of Christ. It may be best known by the Catawba community as the host site of our freshman retreats.
After a 90-minute drive, our group rolled through the quiet mountain village of Collettesville, North Carolina and into the welcoming gates of JRVC. We joined other volunteers who had journeyed there for the sole purpose of repairing camp facilities and cleaning up the grounds in preparation for the summer camp season. Several in our group spent the day pressure-washing and staining cabins and other camp facilities. Some raked leaves and cleared brush. Still others replaced outdated light fixtures and removed old appliances. While much work remained to be done, there was a visible difference in the appearance of the camp at the end of just one day.
When commenting on all that was accomplished, Susan Fisher (a Catawba College senior from Lititz, Pa., and president of the Retreat Leadership Corps) shared, "It was great to be able to give back to a camp that has such a close connection to Catawba College and has come to mean so much to me over these past four years." Camp Director, Curly Stumb, is a 1969 Catawba graduate. Ironically, his first trip to John's River Valley Camp was during his freshman year at Catawba, when he joined a group of his peers in painting the old men's bathhouse. Curly was very appreciative of our efforts and stated, "The youthful energy of Catawba students helped transform and revitalize the weathered buildings of our camp. Speaking on behalf of our Board of Directors, we are most appreciative."
At the end of a hard day's work, we rewarded ourselves with what were affectionately called "hobo meals," which were cooked in the campfire. That's right, these delicious meals of chicken, potatoes, onions, carrots, and sweet peppers were wrapped in foil and cooked in the fire – rather than on it. The same method – which just can't be duplicated in the microwave - was used to cook apples and bananas for dessert. Yum! Yum!
While Saturday had clearly been "a day full of r's" - with repairs, renovations, and raking – the remainder of the weekend would be filled with r's of a different sort – rest, relaxation, and rock climbing. Our day began on Sunday with a hearty breakfast prepared by Jay Laurens, the new coordinator of Outreach Programs for the Lilly Center. After breakfast, we gathered for an informal worship service and time of reflection at the campfire by the river. Then we were off to do some rock climbing on nearby outcroppings. Nate Wrights, an '09 Catawba College graduate and former counselor at JRVC, was one of our leaders for this expedition. Demonstrating true dedication, Nate had actually volunteered to join our group for the weekend, even though it was his birthday! While waiting for their turn to "conquer the rock," members of our group spent time exploring the trails around the climbing area, and searching a nearby creek bed for salamanders and wildflowers. Once back at the camp, we chowed down on some sandwiches, chips, and fruit – and then loaded up for the return trip to Salisbury.
When asked to describe his first experience at Johns River Valley Camp, Taft Kallam (a Catawba College freshman from Randleman) responded, "It was great seeing the improvements on the camp being done, and I had so much fun with all the people who were there!" Much like Taft, I think all of us who participated in this work retreat not only witnessed a renovation and rejuvenation of the camp property – but also of our own spirits.
Students, alumni, faculty, and staff from Catawba College who participated included the following: Christian Crifasi, D.J. Colson, Spencer Preston, John Lincourt, Zane Gibson, Kyle Hendrick, Devin Rodgers, Susan Fisher, Taft Kallam, Nate Wrights, Joe Brooks , Richard Pickel, Dr. Ken Clapp, and Jay Laurens.
PHOTOS: Lilly Center Work Retreat