It was very sad to learn of yet another victim of the coronavirus - summer camp sessions at Alpine Camp for Boys. What a huge disappointment for so many families this year.
Alpine Camp for Boys is a Christian boys camp located atop Lookout Mountain in Mentone, Alabama. It draws consistent attendance from Jackson and other towns across the state. I had the good fortune of going there as a summer camper in 1967, ‘68, ‘69 and 1971, and as a cabin counselor in 1975 and ‘76. Those experiences shaped much of who I am to this day. For that, I owe heartfelt gratitude to Dick O’Ferrill, the camp’s founder and director for many, many years.
Dick’s family was from Jackson and what I remember about his background was that his father was a prominent doctor in town, and during college Dick was a member of Phi Delta Theta fraternity at Ole Miss. This paralleled my life in that my father was a family practitioner who treated patients in Grenada, and I was a Phi Delt at Ole Miss too. Dick married Alice Gandy who for years spent time at the girls camp located across the Little River, Camp Desoto. Alice was kin to Evelyn Gandy who lost her bid for governor of Mississippi in 1979 to my beloved cousin and political mentor, William Winter. (Alice and I didn’t talk politics.🤐)
I thoroughly enjoyed my summers at Alpine. We campers were in constant motion during the daily schedule of activities such as swimming, canoeing, archery, riflery, team sports, and my favorite, tennis, and my least favorite, crafts. The other important elements of Alpine’s daily schedule were the morning devotional followed by Quiet Time, and the cabin devotional and Night Prayers to end the day. Little did I know then but those daily rituals were carving out a space in my spiritual life that only silence and time with God in prayer would satisfy. Although I left my youthful theology behind, thanks to the wisdom that only years can provide, I am still drinking deeply from that contemplative religious well that, in the words of the old Methodist hymn, “never shall run dry.“
My life was richly blessed over the relationships that developed through my summers at Alpine but never more so than when I had the good fortune of having Dave Cannada as my cabin counselor. Dave, who grew up in Jackson, was a camp favorite - handsome, athletic, and completely at ease in talking about his relationship with the Lord. All my cabin mates knew we were lucky having Dave as our counselor. We didn’t know during our month with him that he suffered from having leukemia. Less than a year later Dave died. It was a huge loss for all who knew and loved him, but we rested comfortably in the belief that this special person was welcomed home in the arms of an adoring God.
While in college, it was a great honor to be chosen by Dick to be a cabin counselor. I remember the intensive training sessions the counselors participated in before the campers arrived. We mainly focused on proper role modeling and camper safety. It gave me great pause when Dick recounted having to call the parents of a child who died of a freak accident after being thrown from riding a horse to let them know that their child was no longer with us. I remember my heart sinking and my becoming very focused on providing the care and support campers needed. I matured a lot as a counselor those two summers.
Blessings be to Dick O’Ferrill for Alpine Camp for Boys and for helping to positively shape the lives of thousands of boys and young men. My prayer is that this will be the only year when an entire summer of fun and formation is disrupted.
Rob Townes lives in Decatur, Georgia and enjoys remembering and writing about his Mississippi connections that he holds dear.