Book pays tribute to Camp Cherokee

June 29, 2013 

— As Camp Cherokee began another summer last month at the Kings Mountain State Park site, author Lee Miller released a tribute to the camp and its campers’ memories of summers there.

The four-color, coffee-table-style book, “Legends of Camp Cherokee,” captures the camp’s spirit through hundreds of photos and memories dating back to the camp’s opening.

“The campers who came were rich and poor, and they were all treated the same,” Miller said. “They learned so many life skills. Some even met their future spouses.”

Growing up in Tennessee, Miller never attended the YMCA camp as teenager but spent weeks last year soaking up camp lore, singing its corny songs around a campfire, practicing mess hall chants, playing games and enjoying the smiles of young campers and counselors.

“Trying to be a kid again” is how Miller characterized it.

Camp Cherokee has been a summer retreat for generations of boys and girls, age 6 to 14, since 1945. As the camp took off for its 68th summer June 9, its goal continues to be simple: “helping everyone reach their potential by building self-esteem, friendships and character in a safe environment.”

The book is broken into sections about camp directors and sites around the camp, including the mess hall, waterfront, cabins and the athletic field. It includes song lyrics, poems, reunion memories and a final chapter on “friends for a lifetime.”

Dr. Rene Herlong, a former camper who will mark his 36th year on the camp staff, said Camp Cherokee helped shape him into the person he is today.

“Camp taught me that the greatest joy in life comes from helping others to find joy,” the camp doctor said. “It taught me how to lead. It taught me how to teach. It taught me how to speak publicly.”

Frank “Moe” Bell served as camp director from 1977 to 1988. Bell has been at opening day to greet campers and parents 210 Sundays since 1965 and now is CEO of the Upper Palmetto YMCA.

“All of our children were campers,” Bell said.

“Camp Cherokee is truly a special place, and our family has been blessed to be a part of it,” he said.

Past and present Camp Cherokee directors decided unanimously to dedicate “Legends of Camp Cherokee” to a man who helps keep the camp flourishing: Robert M. Hope.

“He epitomizes what the camp is all about,” said Miller, who is an adjunct faculty member in Winthrop University’s Department of Sociology and Anthropology.

Hope lost his 9-year-old son, Butch, in 1963. Hope directed the camp from 1965 to 1974 and then supervised it once he became the YMCA’s executive director. The early years at the camp were tough, Hope recalled, because government regulation increased.

Instead of shutting down the camp, Hope dug in to make the experience count for the hundreds of children who spend a week of their summer in the sun.

After the loss of his son, he embraced his mission to provide an experience to all children that would allow them to develop their God-given talents.

Hope and his staff’s theme of “There are no losers at Camp Cherokee” gave the national YMCA office an idea for its own slogan: “Every kid’s a winner.”

“Legends of Camp Cherokee” is $35; call the Upper Piedmont YMCA regional office at 803-329-9622 or 803-329-9622. All proceeds go to camp operations.

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