50 Winters Ago: The Beginning

January, 2016, is special for the Si Ragsdale, Jr. family.

Fifty (that’s right, 50!) Januarys ago our adventure at Camp Stewart began.

It was January, 1967, that Si, Jon, Jane, Juli, Funny Bunny (our cute, talented schnauzer/cocker mutt) and I, along with last minute items the movers didn’t get, piled into the family’s black Ford Galaxy 500 and Stewart’s faded green Greenbrier (a vehicle defying description in my estimation) to head south towards our new life at Camp Stewart.

What a marvelous journey it has been! Summers filled with incredible folks and memories.  (Ed. Note: Camp folks count summers, as well as calendar years! 2017 will be the Ragsdales 50th year.)

There will be random historical postings, sharing memories of our family’s Stewart sojourn throughout this year.  They may seem more personal than camp, but it’s a personal story, told from my perspective.  Camp and our personal lives were quickly interwoven and blended: there was and continues to be no separation of business and family.

In August, 1966 – our first anniversary – Si signed a lease-purchase contract with ‘Uncle Bill’ James and his wife, ‘Aunt Kate’ for us to buy Camp Stewart. We were ‘flooded in’ at Riverbend Lodge for three days, where I played a lot of 42 with 10-year-old nephew, Bo Baskin, while Si and Pat met with Uncle Bill and Al Hutchings (Uncle Bill’s business manager and Aunt Kate’s brother).  Pat (Si’s brother-in-law and lawyer from Midland) and Bo had picked us up at the Denton airport in his ‘group owned’ single engine plane to fly to Kerrville. Fortunately, we got there before the rains started but we were not able to fly home when planned.

That weekend began a four-month Ragsdale pattern: each Friday afternoon would see us on the back roads to Hunt (hoping to reach Kerrville before Torres Fine Foods closed at 8:30 pm) and each Sunday night would see us, sleepy and tired, piling into the car to drive back to Denton for work and school.

As I recall, that pattern was broken only one weekend: Si was on a national Chamber of Commerce committee and wanted to attend the Chicago meeting. He took me along. (There were a few adventures that weekend that maybe I’ll relate some other time!) A later weekend I’d had relatively minor surgery: Si picked me up at Parkland Hospital in Dallas early Saturday morning, kids, dog, and all – saying ‘By the way, a family of six is joining us, so you’ll only have 12 to cook for this weekend’. Typical Si: he loved to have his friends around. Twelve of us were in the old Infirmary for the weekend.  Looking back, it was a good thing I was an eager to please newlywed!

During the week, back home in Denton, in addition to continuing his job as Chamber of Commerce Executive, Si spent lots of time on the phone, picking the brains of all his old camp friends and fraternity brothers. He utilized all their talents! J.J. Robertson came over from Fort Worth during early fall evenings to help Si put together the ‘camp movies’ from 16 mm footage taken the previous summer by Glen Stanbaugh, Uncle Bill James’ longtime photographer.  Si was on the phone constantly (and those who knew him will relate to that!) to “Perky” Perhamus, Pinky Quarles, Frank Sherwood, Steve Mobley, Meredith Long and so many others.  (Perky, Pinky and Steve all pre-deceased Si: Frank is still helping as an architectural engineering consultant).

Our weekends were totally focused on Stewart- both 1967 and the future. Si was familiarizing himself with the existing Stewart program, meeting with Uncle Bill about current staff who should be rehired and some who should be replaced.   Lots of time was spent on enrollment: or the lack thereof.  Aging and ill health had taken its toll on the facilities, and enrollment had suffered.  Uncle Bill offered candid advice on needed changes – many things he felt he couldn’t do but that new ownership/management could and should.

 One weekend in early December as we drove home, I was sketching ideas for our Christmas card, when Si said he wanted GTS on it. His premise was that early settlers had posted or painted GTT when they moved to Texas, and we were moving to Stewart – so GTS was born. (That original card, drawn by me and printed by Terrill Wheeler, now hangs at Glynn’s, the guest house near the rifle range). You’ll hear more about the GTS brand!

Where we were going to live was important to me. The Jameses were living in what is currently the office (then the main camp residence) while remodeling a small house up the road at the edge of their Riverbend property. We assumed that was where we would live, even though the front room was all we had seen prior to early January, 1967, shortly before our big move.

As you read this, keep in mind that buying his own camp was a dream come true for Si Ragsdale, Jr.  Si loved camp from his first time at Rio Vista in 1936 and Stewart in 1937 as a camper. He could tell you every song that was sung, every counselor he had and maintained incredible recall about daily camp activity. (This from a man who rarely remembered his wedding anniversary!)  During WWII, as a young infantry lieutenant Si kept a notebook, filling it with things he’d incorporate if he ever had his own camp: that was his technique for surviving battles, foxholes, etc., mentally healthy.

Unbeknownst to me, he had negotiated to buy Stewart three years prior to our marriage. I swear he never mentioned wanting to own a camp while we were dating, although he did regale me with camp stories and visits to camps he had attended and directed in college (after the war).  He volunteered me to be the Mystic representative in Denton before we were married: I got a crash course in the values of camp from Inez and Frank Harrison (Mystic’s beloved director and manager) as well as Si and his parents.

Si and I were married in August and hosted Mystic movies in October, 1965. Jane was one of several girls from Denton registered to attend Mystic in 1966.

Shortly after we married, Si took me to Stewart to introduce me to Uncle Bill and Aunt Kate James, which I thought odd since Jon was at Rio Vista, and Si had such a close relationship with the Broun family. The Jameses, though, could not have been more gracious, especially Aunt Kate.  She asked unusual or different questions, and I thoroughly enjoyed visiting with her. I could tell she was a very special lady.

There were lots of trips to Hill Country during our courtship and early marriage: Si took advantage of any opportunity to go to the area. He promoted the Hill Country Arts Foundation for a WTCC Cultural Award; he recommended James Avery Craftsman for the same award – and volunteered to pick up the recipients at Love Field and take them to the banquets, etc.  To say we came often to the Hill Country is an understatement.

In 1966 there seemed to be even more: not only were Jane and Jon both in camp (six-week terms with visiting days), there were weekend trips with friends to see productions at The Point and Hondo Crouch’s Comfort Little Theater (Si was a charter member of the Cedar Creek Clippings/Hondo Crouch Fan Club). When friends went along, it was ‘required’ that they accompany Si on tours of area private camps to ‘get credit for the trip.’ He passionately promoted the values of the Hill Country camps.

Towards the end of that summer, Si received the phone call that would change our lives: Uncle Bill called to say he and Aunt Kate had decided they were ready to sell Stewart – and they wanted Si and me (I got mentioned!) to buy it.  The James, who had owned Camp Stewart since 1929, had no children.  They had purchased Stewart from the estate of E.J. “Doc” Stewart following his untimely death in 1929.

Si was elated: it was the opportunity dreams were made of for him.

Why did I get mentioned? Aunt Kate explained that three years earlier they decided against selling to Si because he was single, but ‘after meeting you, I know you’ll help Rags (which she often called Si) and running a camp takes the combined efforts of a couple.’

Yes, Si was elated while I was overwhelmed. Life was about to drastically change.

All this is just a glimpse into what preceded our loading up one last time to head towards Stewart and our new life.

Fifty Januarys ago we were in the cars, about to GTS – where our new life awaited us.

Read Part II: 50 Winters Ago: Still Just Beginning – Click Here

Comments

  1. It was such a pleasure to have been associated with the Ragsdale family, the Ranch, the Camp crew Texas in general. I so miss our reunion days with Castle Heights alum. God Bless – love to all

  2. Kathy, your line about directing camp takes a combined efforts of a couple is SO true, I am a true believer of that. I enjoyed your blog greatly. Blessings

  3. The years I spent at Camp Stewart were the best of my life. I regale my wife of ALL (well…. almost all) my experiences at camp. Some of the work ethics I have today are because of Si and Kathy’s influence in my life!!

    1. Author

      Ah, Andy! You always were a favorite! I still remember how excited you were when you found out how good the food was! And we still follow your suggested time-change on PowWow.

  4. I can’t wait for more reflections Kathy. There are few days that go by that I don’t find myself following Si’s advice (it’s the little things), or wondering what Kathy would say. I’m so grateful for all the lessons learned and thankful that my two boys have the opportunity to experience the same thing.

  5. Loved reading this Kathy- I was a counsellor from Ireland only for one year – I didn’t get the chance to attend camp as a child but as a young adult Camp Stewart taught me so much. I think of it often and hope some day I’ll make it back over. Congrats on your 50years. Can’t wait to read more posts Kathy. Lots of love and of course big hugs

    1. Author

      Brendan, How nice to hear from you! Do come back – and my 50 YEARS will be in 2017; this is a mere 50 winters – and I still think I am about the same age as the staff!

  6. Kathy, I loved reading about the start of the Ragsdale family adventure at Camp Stewart. Can’t wait to read more!
    I have very fond memories of the summers I worked there, and Jacob frequently recounts his summers spent at Stewart!

    1. Author

      Joan, so nice to hear from you! Anytime you want to come do archery, consider yourself invited! Tell Jacob I’d love to see him back at Stewart.

  7. Kathy, thanks for sharing the memories. I can’t wait to read the next installment! Seeing some of the names from my first years at camp (Perky Perhamus & Pinky Quarles) brought back so many memories. I, too, remember my many summers at Stewart and the influence they had on me. (In fact, I was telling someone just a few days ago about one of Si’s lessons about how to avoid deer while driving on winding hill country roads at night – we’re not in the hill country, but we do occasionally see a family of deer crossing some of the back roads in NW Arkansas.) One of these days, we’ll make it back down your way to say “howdy.”

    1. Author

      Howard-so great to hear from you! I have fond memories of the years you and your brothers were here! Do come visit & tell your parents hello.

  8. Kathy, loved reading this blog. It brought back many memories. My family hears the stories all the time. I still remember where I was at Camp Stewart when the First Moon Landing took place. Many of the life lessons have served me well in adulthood. Looking forward to reading future blogs.

    1. Author

      Len, how wonderful to hear from you! I remember you & your brother so well, and treasure some photos your dad took of you all heading to Green Cathedral one Sunday. Aren’t memories wonderful?

  9. Thanks a lot for the story Kathy! I always come back in my mind to the miraculous time that my friends and I spent at the camp. I am glad thay I had a chance to be the part of the team. I hope I return one day to once again feel the warm Texas air and the spirit of Camp Stewart. Thank you for everything! Warm greetings from Cracow, Poland!

    1. Author

      Marek-how nice to hear from you! You and your friends were such great assets, especially in the kitchen! What fun days those were! Come back to see us!

  10. Stewart is a very special place. My son Robert loves Stewart and my college days as a counselor warm my heart. Best wishes on 50 years!

  11. Wow! I loved reading all of this. Thank you for sharing and making GTS a dream come true for us ALL. Forever grateful and proud to be GTS,
    Charlie

  12. I look forward to each chapter! An incredible story, incredible camp and incredible family! Thank you.

  13. Kathy, thanks for sharing your memories. I didn’t want the article to end!
    I feel very fortunate and blessed to have known Si and for both of my children to have known him as well. Even more importantly, they continue to be influenced by his methods and teachings each summer. Kudos to you for finding the right way to integrate “the new” while maintaining a great sense of tradition. Thank you for all you do.

    1. Author

      Thank you, Louann! There are more coming. Si dearly loved you, as did Dan Brainard! Wasn’t having a mentor for counselors fun ‘back when?’ I thought that was another real added value to working at Stewart/Heart!

  14. The Summer of 1977 my parents, my sister and I along with the Perlitz family caravaned eight hours down from Silsbee to Stewart for closing day and to pick up my brother Scott and Stewart and Jimmy. I was four years old. I saw what I thought were mountains ! A river that was emerald green, not brown like in Southeast Texas. We parked on what is now the horse jumping field. A Camp rodeo was in progress. The orange and white tents were set up. Kids were wearing knee high orange and white socks with orange shorts and white Shirts and were running around everywhere . Jimmy loped up on a horse and halted right in front of me. My eyes were level with the horses knees and as I looked up and saw this majestic pair, I knew I was in the right place. I wasn’t going to waste a minute of the day! I watched the rodeo. I swung from the Tarzan rope and splashed into that green water. I paddled in a canoe with my father from senior bridge. Then my brother took my father and Me up Goat Trail. This was the trail around the face of Joy Bluff before the rock slide. I then stood at the top of the world. My brother then began to point out all the wonderful activities of camp . Then lead my over to the Mad Miner’s tree and told me that if I picked bark from the tree something terrible would happen to me lol. We ate Billy’s famous fried chicken for lunch. Listened to Junior and his band play what I thought was cowboy music. It was the best day of my life up to then. And I wanted more than anything to be able to wear those orange shorts!
    Kathy, you and Si were Royalty to me. Si was the definition of a man. And you the most beautiful and comforting mother to all. Thank for the memories. Thank you for the passion. Thank you for the love . And thank you for the fun!
    P.S seeing Jeepers jump horses around when I was seven kinda made an impact on me…

    1. Author

      Jeff, I can honestly say that you have loved Stewart and all it stands for as much as anyone I know! How I enjoyed your comments – and shed a tear or two with your words about Si. Thank you for the memories – and for continuing to make new ones with your visits to Stewart to do jumping clinics and just ‘hang out’ – and for sharing your daughters with us at Heart!

  15. Today i was taking some camp Stewart Photos out of their frames (wide complete camper and staff photos) and the memories came flooding back. I could still remember campers names and staff names from ’54 – ’59. 5 great summers. I still sing the songs that we sang at lunch. What great memories. I in touch with a few campers although some are from my home town, but i have reached out to some over the years. I went when i was 8 1/2 and my father always said that was the beginning of my independence. I have visited twice over the years and plan to come back. Would love to have lunch with the campers. I remember the old campers returning to have lunch there in the dining hall. Double scoops of Ice Cream if you were the best on inspection as i recall.

  16. Hi Kathy
    I enjoyed your blog! I was there 50 years ago as a 12 year old boy from California. I was a camper there in 1966 and 1967. It was an experience of a life time. I remember Uncle Bill when I was there in 1966 and when I returned the following summer I recall that is when you and Si took over the camp. Ed was my camp counselor and Thunder was the horse I would always ride, such great memories. Are they still serving the same home made vanilla ice cream? I still crave that ice cream! Congratulations on such a milestone!

  17. Those were the best summers a boy could ask for…..I miss everything about it….. Kathy I sincerely apologize for messing it up!!!! I was only a child back then…..so much has changed!!! I hope this message finds all of you well !!!!

    1. Case-
      So good to hear from you!
      I do not remember you messing up! Come see us!
      kathy

  18. thank you for sharing your stories with us Jane. Our grandson, William, attended Stewart for the first time this summer at six years old. He has already informed his parents that he wants to stay “4 weeks next year.” Experiencing Stewart through his eyes and stories is a blast. Thank you Lord for Si, his passion and vision. Cheers to many more years! Rusty and I love you.
    (Thank you or always taking such good care of George)

    1. Donna-
      Thank you! We loved having both the grandchildren at Heart and Stewart this summer! The Morgan family – including Howard and Irma – have been part of our lives since George started – and he is an institution at Stewart now!

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