were an unusual period in the history of our country with civil rights, women's
movement, Viet Nam, and the beginning of technical growth.
This might also
be called the last series of a particular type of Girl Scout resident camp
scouting, the long period resident summer camp. Over time competition would
arise from camps for band, tennis, cheer leaders, computers and many other
subjects coming to the interest of young people.
Amid this time
frame there was Camelot, a magical name given to the camp sessions at Camp
Scoutshire Woods. Margaret Ellis was
named camp director of Scoutshire Woods for a three year contract which in her
own words meant, "the first year I won't know what to do, the second year
will go well, and the third year I'll think I know everything and it will be
time to leave."
as assistant camp director under Barbara Phillips, Ellis was known to say,
"lf l were king..." So when staff members returned for her first term
as director, they said, "OK, now you are the king. What are you doing to
do?" And thus her camp nickname became, The King.
At that time
Scoutshire Woods had 120 camper spaces. Ellis promptly took more than 120
reservations. "I oversold each session," she said. "Having
worked for an airline for 12 years, I knew there would be no shows." And
it worked, every time, each session, three times a summer, camp was completely
full. That hasn't happened since then. "One time we did end up with 121
campers," Ellis said, "But we found another bed in storage and set it
began on Sunday afternoon and ran until the following week on Friday, lots of
days and nights to make new friends, renew the old, and learn new skills.
Church services were provided on the Sunday in the session. More about that
There were four
units-Whispering Pines (Whispers) a cabin unit for the youngest of campers,
Innisfree, also cabins, for the intermediate age. The cadets and senior campers
were in tent units called Gypsy Glenn and Four Winds. And yes, there were nice
bath houses with showers. Many activities were offered: swimming, canoeing,
horseback riding, archery, crafts, overnighting away from the units, and
overnight canoe trips on nearby rivers.
and delicious meals were planned by dietician Marguerite George and served in
the pleasant Dining Hall. Campers handled the table waiting chores and clean
up. Singing was always a big part of the
meals. Flag raising and lowering took place every day, and a rest period after
lunch as this was lower Alabama summer weather and there was no air
conditioning. (Staff used to sneak into the walk in cooler in the kitchen.)
When Ellis took
over, the Catholic girls were taken to Mass in Citronelle, clad in Sunday
dresses. They did not like this return to civilization and a definite division
with the other campers was created. Those left at camp would hold a devotional
of some sorts. There was no unity of spirit. But Sundays became a highlight
when Ellis arranged to have a priest from Spring Hill College in Mobile come
and say a Folk Mass on the grounds of Scoutshire. Everyone was welcomed-in Girl
Scout dress uniform-and no one was turned away from the communion table.
(Jesuits at Spring Hill are known to be free thinking in such matters. Nobody
asked and nobody told.)
This was the
age of folk music and many of the counselors played guitars and banjos, and all
of them sang. The sound of this music echoed through the clearing and rose
above the pine trees which composed the "camp cathedral." This folk mass continued every Sunday as long
as Ellis was camp director and has proved to be one of the most memorable
activities of those camp days.
The first year
of Ellis' direction was the first time summer camp had ever been integrated.
Five girls of Cadet age were registered and the staff placed them in the tents
without any regard to the color of their skin. (Ellis, however, made sure her
daughter was in one of the tents with a black girl.) After several days it was
obvious things were not going well. A unit meeting was called and the campers
were asked to discuss any problems. The Afro-American girls said they were
unhappy because they had come to camp to be with their friends and they were
separated in different tents. At their request they were all moved to one tent
and camp proceeded happily the rest of the session.
ceremonies stay in nostalgic remembrance as well. Half-pint milk cartons were
collected from the dining room and the last night of camp as darkness fell,
campers put birthday-size candles in the cartons and floated them off the
swimming dock to sail into Echo Lake. Songs were sung and last times were spent
together and good byes said often with tears. (The following morning the canoe
instructor picked up the cartons from the lake in keeping with the Girl Scout
philosophy of always leaving a site cleaner than it was found.)
played every night by Ellis' nephew, who was on staff as handy boy. The sound
of the bugle over the lake at bedtime is another memory most campers and staff
carry for a lifetime.
who had passed swimming and canoeing skill tests were permitted to go on the
overnight canoe trips, about eight or ten canoes. Most of the boating and
waterfront staff went along. The Styx River in Baldwin County, and the Escataba
in Mississippi, with their calm water and sandy beaches for camping were among
the Tombigbee River from the previous year when she was assistant camp
director. They discovered that a large commercial river with its motor boats
and barge wakes was no place for a canoe with no keel and teen age girls. The
canoe trip groups took tents, sleeping bags, and food and supplies needed for
Scouts and other youth programs made any progress through the years? With all
the competition for the time of Girl Scouts, camp has been reduced to three day
events or a week at the most with many of the activities eliminated entirely.
And can you imagine today's camp director bringing along her husband who came
up from work in Mobile every night, two dogs and a four-year old son, who now
likes to brag he spent three summers at Girl Scout camp? (Her two daughters were Girl Scouts and
regular campers.) Or a priest allowing the Jewish campers to come to the
communion table? Things don't always change for the better.
members returned year after year to spend ten weeks at Scoutshire Woods-one
week of pre-camp training, and three sessions of two weeks. Some counselors
remained for clean up after camp closed. (At that time Camp Seale Harris for
diabetic children held a camp session at Scoutshire after the Girl Scouts
finished their time.) The quality of the memories and friendships made during
the three years of the reign of "The King" cannot be found today.
Going on to nearly fifty years later, those girls of those summers continue to
be the best of friends meeting again frequently. One of them still volunteers
to do a program at camp every summer.
And why was it
called Camelot? The time when John F. Kennedy was president before his untimely
death was often referred to as Camelot. Some of the staff members picked up on
this and compared the glorious days of summer at Scoutshire Woods to it.
Don't let it be forgot,
that once there was a spot
For one brief shining moment that was known as Camelot.
Margaret B. Ellis
Camp Director, 1968-69-70