As campers flock to Camp Cherokee for another summer, author Lee Miller has released a tribute to the camp and its campers’ memories of summers spent at the Kings Mountain State Park site.
As Camp Cherokee moves into another summer, author Lee Miller has released a tribute to the camp and its campers’ memories of summers spent at the Kings Mountain State Park site.
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.”
Camp Cherokee has been a summer retreat for generations of boys and girls, ages 6 to 14, since 1945. As the camp heads into its 68th summer, 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 up into sections about camp directors, sites around the camp such as the mess hall, waterfront, cabins and the athletic field. It includes song lyrics, poems, tales of the “Do-do-dilly-whopper” bird creature, 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 different Sundays from 1965 to the present and now serves as CEO of the Upper Palmetto YMCA.
“All of our children were campers and CITS and most have become counselors and members of the Upper Staff,” Bell said. “Camp Cherokee is truly a special place and our family has been blessed to be a part of it.”
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, 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 more government regulations were required.
Instead of shutting down the camp, Hope dug in to make the experience count for the hundreds of kids who spend a week of their summers soaking up 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 remains a fixture around Rock Hill and at the camp.
“Robert's enthusiasm for camp inspired others to put more effort into camp and it flourished,” Miller wrote in the book’s introduction. 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 available for $35 by calling the Upper Piedmont YMCA regional office at 803-329-9622 or Amy Counterman at 803-329-9622. All proceeds will go to camp operations.