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Romance blossomed at Camp Wood YMCA

Staff writer

The 100-year history of Camp Wood YMCA at Elmdale undoubtedly contains countless tales of summer camp romance, but perhaps none more endearing than that of the late Roger and Marie Morse of Marion.

Marie, of McPherson, was a camper there in 1932. She etched her name and address on a bunk, and Roger later found it and wrote her.

That was the beginning of an eight-year courtship. They first met face-to-face when Marie traveled through Marion with the McPherson High School band on its way to the 1933 Chicago World’s Fair. She arranged for a stop in Marion to meet Roger.

“Mother said she took a girlfriend with her, and she was very nervous,” recalled Marie’s daughter, Jean. “The two met outside the drug store, and all went according to plan.”

They were married June 30, 1940 and celebrated 64 years together before Roger died in April 2005. Marie died in June 2011.

If it wouldn’t have been for the late Don Coldsmith of Emporia, an author of many western novels, the YMCA camp might have become a ghost camp in 1980, and the stories like that of Roger and Marie Morse would have been lost forever.

That was the only summer in its 100-year history that it was not open.

The camp first opened in May 1916 on 40 acres donated by the Stephen Wood family. The YMCAs of Kansas supported the camp with money and supplies.

In time, the camp was passed along to and operated by individual YMCAs. It was owned by the Wichita YMCA in the 1970s and was not promoted well, according to board member Anne Winter.

In 1980, there were not enough campers enrolled to keep the camp open, she said.

When Coldsmith and fellow camp alumni heard about the closure, they took action to purchase the site and establish it as an independent YMCA camp in 1981.

The camp now is comprised of 864 acres. Executive director Ken Wold said 490 acres are leased out to a neighbor for grazing with the agreement that campers can ride, hike, and camp on it while cattle are there. The buildings sit on 140 acres, and 238 acres are used for outdoor education, camping, hiking, biking, and sometimes horse grazing.

One of the more recent additions is a horse pavilion that was built in 2005. Shane and Charla Duerksen of Hillsboro have family ties to the facility.

Charla Duerksen grew up in the Camp Wood area. Her grandfather, Evan Koger, donated money for the horse barn.

Duerksen’s aunt, Susan Koger, donated horse stalls for the barn. They were named “Nealy’s Horse Alley” in honor of the couple’s 10-month-old daughter who died in 2003. The name is inscribed on a sign on the barn door.

Duerksen’s daughter Mia, 11, spent a week at the camp two years ago and was allowed to bring a friend, Emersyn Funk. They weren’t part of an organized group but signed up “for the fun of it.”

They stayed in a cabin with other girls their age and shared bath facilities with an adjoining cabin.

The girls said they enjoyed being able to choose which of the many available activities to do. They enjoyed horseback riding, swimming in a lake, archery, games, arts and crafts, and hiking. The hike included wading in a creek.

The campsite includes numerous lodging facilities, a main lodge for large group gatherings, and a hilltop amphitheater.

The newest addition is the Preston Outdoor Education Station. The pavilion has five stations from which campers and visitors can learn about the ecosystem of the Flint Hills.

The original limestone lodge remains. Camp volunteers this year removed 17 little red cabins that were built in 1921. The cabins were “adopted” by camp alumni, but one has been retained to preserve their history. They have been replaced with newer cabins.

The camp is open year-round. Wold said 1,050 young people camped there last summer, and 3,500 people attended during the off-season. Wold said the facilities have two full-time maintenance staff and one and one-half housekeeping staff year round.

Alice Richmond of Marion has a niece, Jinny Braden of San Antonio, who helped to compile a 100-page pictorial history book of the camp. The book is being edited and not yet published. Braden’s grandmother was in the Wood family.

The late veterinarian Earl Wood of Marion grew up near Elmdale. His mother was a Marion County Record correspondent for Elmdale. Wood family reunions always were at Camp Wood, including one this past weekend, Earl’s daughter, Nancy Tharp, said.

Past campers, staffers, volunteers, and supporters will converge on Camp Wood on May 7 to celebrate its centennial.

A wide range of activities is planned, including pony rides, canoeing on the lake, archery, arts and crafts stations, and prairie hikes. Walking tours of historic and new facilities will be offered along with sessions on the camp’s history and recent additions.

Activities are free, but advance registrations are requested. Those planning to attend may register by sending an email to ymca@campwood.org. Limited overnight accommodations are available by calling (620) 273-8641.

Last modified April 28, 2016

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