Summers always bring take me down memory lane to camp. I usually get “campsick” each year around this time, and it’s even worse this year, with a heaping helping of “campsickness” and a side of “teacher envy. ” As I was already thinking about my own staff and summer program, my thoughts drifted to a summer camp director’s post on Facebook. It made me stop and think about the entire picture, not just the end product. The title was “The Power of One.” The question posed: Was your life changed because of one conversation at camp or because of one particular camp person? The answer for me is yes, as a matter of fact it was!
It was the late 1970-something, and I was a first year camper. I was going into the 4th grade, and I had met the coolest person who had ever walked on the face of the earth. She was a CIT named Judee Marshall. She always made us laugh and was great at keeping kids entertained. Her willingness to be silly with a bunch of campers made her a rock star! And her rendition of “superman in a hurricane” was hilarious!
Later she became a counselor, where her new alias (her camp name) was BlueJay. She was on the waterfront. Her enthusiasm was quite contagious. She was my swimming teacher and I just couldn’t catch on to the idea of survival floating (it was simply floating with your face in the water), and I wasn’t getting it. She finally explained to me how to do it, and with a little help from another CIT, something finally clicked and I passed my Intermediate swim test.
Judee took a hiatus for a few years, and as I got older, I still kept coming to camp. Right after my freshman year of high school I found out she was back at camp, and she was going to be my counselor! I was SUPER stoked!! As we all sat around the campfire that night on our very first night of camp, she taught us a song called “On the Loose.” It was a song she had learned while at National Center West. It was the coolest song ever!
Two days later we waved good-bye to Judee, yelled “we love you Bluejay” on her way down the road, as she left on her time off. She was going to speak at a youth ministry event. When She didn’t arrive the next day when she was supposed to come back, I asked another counselor about where she was– she just lowered her head and said, “I don’t know when she’ll be back.” I kind of had the suspicion that something was up, but I didn’t press for information then. The next day they gathered us together with many of our favorite counselors in the staff house and shared the news. First, we thought we were in trouble.
“Girls,” the Camp Director said, “I need to tell you that Bluejay was killed in a car accident.” It was devastating news to us. We were all crushed, but we were asked not to talk about with the younger campers. We were the oldest kids in camp. We were able to talk about it with our counselors, and they brought in as a grief counselor. That afternoon we gathered in Bluejay’s tent and sang songs from her John Denver songbooks and remembered her. The next day we had a beautiful camp flag ceremony where they raised the flag to half-mast to honor Bluejay, and then retired the colors at night. There were lots of tears and sadness. I’d never experienced anything like it!
So yes, when you ask about a person at camp who changed my life? I’d say camp itself had a huge impact on me, shaped me to be who I am, and most of the people I came in contact with at camp changed my life. Conversations that changed my life? Too many to count. Who impacted it the most? Bluejay. What a an amazing person, who led by example, lived out her faith without words, had a passion for caring for people, and shared the love of Christ.
What an amazing level of passion she shared with us for two short days when she was my counselor.
This a little bit of a different version of the song, but it’s the same idea. It’s a favorite campfire song.
On the Loose