Camp Woody 70s Year By Year 75-77

Camp Woody 70s Year By Year

Part Two: A Photo Diary of 1975 -1977

Celebrating 50 Years of Camp Woody: 1956 to 2006


Introduction to Part Two:

When I wrote the articles in this series on Camp Woody that covered the 50s and 60s, I wrote from the perspective of a “camp kid” who first came to Woody as a kid of three, and finally grew old enough to be a camper.  But from 1970 to 1977, I was a staff member in various capacities, and in 1978 I served on the camp board.  It is not easy to write about myself as a camp staff member, because I want to avoid sounding like I am patting myself on the back for my service there.  I will limit my comments to what I learned from serving at camp, and how it felt to be there working with the many wonderful volunteers who kept the place running.  It’s up to someone else to describe what it was like to be on the receiving end of the ministry there during that time. So I will try to write down what it was like at Camp Woody in the 70s from the perspective of a full-time summer volunteer there for eight years.  This second article on the 70s covers my last three years on staff at Camp Woody, from 1975 to 1977. For part one, please see: Camp Woody 70s Year By Year 70-74 and for an overview of some of the memorable features of camp in the 70s (plus a few secrets) please see Camp Woody 70s Memories. For even more photos, see the Camp Woody scrapbooks, organized by decade.


The main camp building as it looked from the pump house road in 1975.  Cody Custer talks to Cathy Arita and Debbie Sullens (on the ramp)


We really had a special time in the summer of 1975.  The staff was as close as I had ever seen, and more new counselors became a part of the camp family.  But for me something clicked that year, and not just because I got to know my future wife Debbie!  There was more maturity in my experience, and I felt more comfortable leading the teaching in the Senior High camp and leading the music.  Kelly and I had a great time leading singing, even though we no longer had anyone else to form a group sound.  We recorded our music several times that year, laying down most of our solo songs in the chapel and most of our sing-along songs with a very energetic group of Junior High kids in the dining hall. While not great recordings, those tapes remind me of what a vast collection of really great songs we had amassed since guitar-based “Jesus Music” took over in the summer of 1971. 


Tim and Kelly Smith give an outdoor concert at Camp Woody, 1975.  We didn’t have any mike stands, so I taped the mikes to broom handles propped up in cinder blocks!  “Whatever works” was an unofficial Camp motto for situations like this.  By this time I had added a banjo (foreground) to the guitars I used at camp.  Cody Custer photo


Junior campers and staff, 1975. Mab Boko photo


Cody Custer holds an injured seagull that he found, as Marianne Boko reaches out to touch it.


In the Evangel, L to R:  Kathy Arita, yours truly with a shaggy beard, Debbie Sullens, Diane Chestnut.



My brother Kelly with the VW van we got from Kraft’s Market in Kodiak.  The vehicle could barely navigate the dirt roads, and regularly got stuck in the grass.  It was also hard to shift.  But it was camp’s only vehicle for several years, and we were glad to have it.  Kelly loved driving a challenge like that.  Mab Boko photo.


The Junior High camp at Woody, 1975.  Joyce Smith is to the far left, with Kathy Arita in front of her.  Kelly is the tall one in the back, and Larry Le Doux peeks out from behind on the far right.  Cody Custer photo


Kelly Smith (foreground) and Debbie Sullens (center) pose with a group of campers in 1975.  Cody Custer photo.



Summer 75: Diane, Debbie, Janette (a repeat camper) and Kathy pose with Joe Ritchey, a young Christian who came up to Alaska to work and was able to spend two weeks with us between jobs that summer. He quickly became a part of our extended family.  Oscar the dog is peeking out behind Kathy.  Cody Custer photo.



Joe Ritchie took this photo of the remarkable group of great kids and staff at the Senior High camp.  Rev. Wesley Powell is behind Emil Norton, Jr. (with the hat, center right) and I’m in the front row with Oscar the camp dog.  Felecia Norton is in the red sweatshirt, with Cathy behind in the light blue sweatshirt. Karri Wasson is the blonde behind Cathy, and her brother Rudd is kneeling second from left.  So many great folks!



Larry and Bruce after a painting project at camp, 1975.

A great staff! Front Row: Diane, Debbie, Cody, Kathy, Bruce.  Back Row: Tim, Kelly, Larry

Perhaps I also loved the summer of 1975 because I had worked with several of the staff before, and already had strong friendships with them.  As had happened the previous year, friendships were formed that have lasted the rest of my life.  Larry Le Doux was back, as was Bruce Adams, and the repeat service helped to form a stronger bond for me. Larry’s intellect and humor kept my mind sharp.  And Bruce’s emotional and spiritual maturity helped to keep my own emotions in check.  A new addition that year was Cody Custer, who not only fit right in but came back to Kodiak for the next two years.  Cody’s energy and playfulness was a great contrast to the more sober-minded style of Bruce and Larry.  Cody helped to keep my energy level up, and he had by far the most contagious sense of humor.  I still feel that those three are like my brothers.  Incidentally, Larry, Bruce, Cody and my brother Kelly called themselves “Frog, Toad, Wart and Hair” that year. On the ladies’ side of the staff, three marvelous and beautiful women came to help us (and probably helped to moderate the male gawkiness that we had in abundance).  Kathy Arita and Diane Chestnut were sweet people, hard workers with a gentle spirit that ministered to campers and staff alike.  The other new counselor, Diane’s best friend Debbie Sullens, was simply the most spectacular young woman I had ever met, with a kind, patient nature and abundant good humor.  She was quiet but not shy, with a mature competence in any situation.  Before the end of the summer, I knew that Debbie was someone I wanted to know considerably better!


Debbie Sullens collects some driftwood for a campfire at Sawmill Beach in 1975.  Cody Custer photo


Unfortunately, 1975 was also the last year that the Bokos would be at Camp Woody.  Their departure from the scene left a big hole in Camp Woody, but in the summer of 1975, none of us knew that was coming.  Since I was growing more mature (by small stages, to be sure) I began to see how special the dedication of the Bokos and my parents and people like Beryl Torsen really was.  These were all top-notch people, fervent warriors for the cause of Christ, committed to passing on the legacy of the Gospel to the younger generations.  What an example to follow!


Marianne Boko and Cody Custer (pictured) work on a series of signposts on the trail to camp, featuring Bible verses.


Gabie Boko poses in front of the finished sign, featuring John 14:6.  Cody Custer photo 



A great bunch of guys, 1975.  Jon Le Doux has the guitar, and the tallest guy in the back is Mat Freeman.  Jimmy Challiak holds the cow’s skull.

Senior High boys: Matthew Anahonak is in the center, with Emil Norton, Jr. (and the camp Bone Award) above him, and Charlie Lorenson to the right rear.  Cody Custer photo.

The Evangel unloads campers on the beach at Long Island, 1975.  We made several trips to Long Island that summer, exploring almost every inch of the island.




Debbie Sullens, Cody Custer, Diane Chestnut and Joe Ritchie pose atop the abandoned radar tower of Fort Tidball on Long Island on a windy day in 1975.  It was a long, shaky adventure to climb that tower!


1975 was a blast.  Good weather, good camps, good company and a wonderful place to spend a summer!  I was always aware of how wonderful it was to be at Woody all summer, but every now and then the specialness of it was almost overpowering.  Even then I knew that I was having the best young adulthood anyone could hope to have.  We did weird things like bringing an abandoned FAA outhouse (replete with orange and white paint) back to camp just for the heck of it and searching through every Quonset hut on Long Island.  For the previous three years I had moved my darkroom from Ouzinkie to Woody every spring, and I took photos of every thing that moved that summer!  I made and gave away hundreds of photos.  I’m sure all was not sweetness and light (it rarely is) but that summer was especially fun.  There was a large percentage of returning campers that year, some of whom we had known for years.  The campers benefited from seeing the returning staff again, but soon made deep friendships with the new counselors.


The following season was to be one of the most difficult we had ever faced, but for a season the camp was an oasis of fun, adventure and spiritual growth on our road to adulthood.  As always, I’m speaking from my own perspective, but 1975 for me was the ultimate balance of service and fun, of spiritual growth and youthful adventure.


Larry, Bruce (in the hole) and Cody pose in their former outhouse in 1975.  I have no idea what purpose that building was supposed to serve, but it stayed in the center of camp (near the bell) like some London phone booth for several years. Cody Custer collection; I took the photo.


The Evangel heads back to Kodiak with a load of campers, 1975.  Debbie Sullens Smith photo


The disassembled dining hall, as it looked in the late spring of 1976. 



The most difficult summer I ever experienced at Camp Woody was the 1976 season.  The camp board had decided to upgrade the dining hall, kitchen and Cabin One (the downstairs of the main camp building) by replacing the ancient Cellotex with new sheetrock and paint.  The camp schedule was adjusted to allow a few weeks for the remodeling job.  Unfortunately, as frequently happens in an all-volunteer outfit, when the time came to put up the sheetrock, there were no volunteers.  Larry Le Doux, my younger brother Kelly, and I were the primary workers for days on end.  Bruce Adams and Cody Custer were also in town, but divided up their time with us because they also had jobs at the cannery run by Emil Norton, Sr. I knew that drill, and had regularly worked furiously in the canneries for a few weeks after camp to earn money for college.  (See my Cannery Work article.)  Others occasionally came and went, and their help was substantial.  But the three of us lived there at the disemboweled camp the whole time, working until the wee hours, eating poorly, then getting up to do it all again. Dad was there when his schedule permitted, and was more likely than any of us to cook a decent meal, but in the absence of the Bokos, he was doing all of the water and heating system repairs himself, as well as running all the supply trips to town.


Larry Le Doux checks some wiring before he puts up some sheetrock in the staff cabin, summer 1976. 


Of all the helpers and part-time helpers, Larry was almost always the only one on hand with any real construction experience, and we were fortunate to have him.  For Larry worked kind of like a tornado, and also knew what he was doing!  What he lacked in finesse he more than made up in creativity and energy.  Granting that we were mostly under-experienced and in a bit of a hurry, we actually did a pretty good job of it all. There were frayed power saw cords, frayed nerves, a hammer lost in the wall and patience lost by all.  Once after a particularly long day, I think I actually asked Larry to just execute me, only partly in jest!  


The dining hall takes shape after weeks of work.  Kelly Smith, left, Larry Le Doux, right.  We were exhausted!


The fine lady counselors of 1976:  Michelle, Linda and Sue.  They were hard working, encouraging and cheerful, in a year that had more than its share of challenges and transitions.


Finally we got the walls back in reasonable shape, and a nice Lutheran guy came over for several days to mud them (he taught me how to do it).  I honestly don’t remember who helped us paint (including sanding and painting the floors for the first time ever).  When it was all finished, the place was sparkly and new, and we were reasonably proud of ourselves.  I think most of our work is still in evidence.  But the toll on all of us, emotionally and spiritually, was enormous.  I began the camping season essentially exhausted. 



A group of campers clown around counselor Michelle, in one of my favorite photos from the summer of 1976.


It took awhile for the exhaustion to be replaced with the old fire and enthusiasm, but eventually the joy of working with the campers replaced the frustration of construction and deadlines.  The photos that I took that summer show a bustling, happy place, with lots of great goings-on as usual.  There are many happy memories of another successful season on Woody Island.  But I felt as though I was a little less effective than I had been before, and needed some spiritual refreshing myself.  I know that there were little tensions among the staff that really shouldn’t have been there, and the tone of the joking and teasing had an edge that sometimes wasn’t conducive to the spiritual health of the camp.  Yet the power of God was still present, and He worked in us and through us.  I don’t think any of this dampened the campers’ spirits, because many of them have told me that 1976 was one of their favorite years.  The camping experience was as meaningful as ever, but for me the main lesson from that summer was that God works through weak and imperfect servants.  I know that’s always been true, but the lesson came home full force in the summer of 1976.


This photo would look the same in color: some camps had a little more rain in 1976 than in some years, but we had campfires and hikes and activities anyway.  This is Chabitnoy Beach, always a favorite of campers.  The kids always said that they could be stuck at home in the rain, and camp was way better!  Camp Woody has often turned a tired old phrase on its head, proving that “Into every rain a little life must fall!”



A group of adventurous ladies atop the shaky World War II radar tower at Long Island in 1976.  L to R: Felecia, Vicki (seated), Veronica, and counselors Michelle and Linda.


The boys explore the south end of Long Island, stopping for a look at an abandoned log cabin (1976).  L to R: Kelly, Matthew, Larry


There were some outstanding, happy times in that summer. One of the special memories of 1976 includes going with Bruce Adams to a bunker on Long Island and singing into a portable tape recorder.  We carted my Gibson 12-string and a portable mono cassette recorder to the first bunker at the far end of Dolgoi Lake and recorded my best ever version of the Wilson McKinley’s “His Eye is on the Sparrow.”  Those great words, “Let not your heart be troubled, His gentle voice I hear, and resting on His goodness, I lose my doubts and fears…” absolutely soared in that great dark hole.  For a few minutes, a dank World War II ammunition dump became a cathedral of praise.  I greatly appreciated having Bruce there at Camp Woody for most of the summer, since he and I had gotten to be very close friends.  He had been a counselor in 1974 and 1975 as well, and in the winter months had often provided me with a place to stay when my college closed down during holidays.  1976 was to be the last summer of his involvement at camp, but he was by then a lifelong friend. His “even keel” temperament was helpful in bringing me back to plumb on numerous occasions!  Our paths still cross whenever we can arrange it, and he has helped me on many music projects since the early 1980s.  We stayed at his home in 1996 when Debbie and I first visited Kodiak with our family.


Back in the bunker:  Bruce Adams poses for me in 1996 in a Long Island ammunition bunker we sang in twenty years earlier.


That summer was good for music as well.  I had scrounged a marginal old Concertone reel to reel machine somewhere in California the previous winter, and it allowed us to record fairly reliably in stereo. “If that thing’s not running at the right speed this time, I’ll blow it up!” can be heard between a couple of songs.  Kelly and I put together a makeshift recording studio in the dining hall (one snatch of talking between takes has us asking Mom not to start sweeping!) and recorded several songs that I had written.  We also recorded a complete set of our camp songs with the dining hall full of enthusiastic Junior High kids.  Kelly and I had now worked together for four straight summers, and the list of songs we had accumulated (starting with John Hicks’ 1971 originals) was impressive. Tom Stipe’s “Stagecoach” and the theme from Johnny Cash’s “Gospel Road” were among the campers’ favorites.  With music so much a part of our lives at camp, it’s surprising we never invested in good equipment.  On the other hand, it was never about performance, but about putting the song and its meaning front and center.  The recordings never captured the essence of camp music, and besides, recording wasn’t what we were there for.  The 50th anniversary reunion music CD has some of these tracks, and you can judge for yourself.  But we sure had terrific songs!



Carol and Travis North (parents of current Kodiak volunteers Joel and Drew) pose at a World War II bunker in the summer of 1976.


Another cool thing that summer was that Travis North, counselor from 1969 to 1972, came back to Alaska to work at the Mission that summer.  He brought his wife Carol, on her first trip to Kodiak.  Travis was busy putting sheetrock in the buildings at the Mission that summer, or he would have helped us at Woody.  But they broke free occasionally to come to camp and visit, and it was great to see him back at his old stomping grounds.


Sawmill Beach is always changing, since it is open to the storms that come in off Shelikof Straight. In 1976, most of the old millpond was dammed by drift logs washed ashore during the winter.  Larry tries his luck at rafting a log.


Campers with Larry practice the fine art of “doughboy” baking, 1976.  Such endeavors usually resulted in them being burned on the outside and wet on the inside, with far too much of the smoke in your eyes!  Being hungry, we never cared a bit, but devoured them eagerly. (Travis North photo)


Hikers explore the Natural Arch, 1976.  This photo was taken from the cliff above the arch.




Campers leave tracks along the black sand beach beyond the arch, approaching the FAA site, as viewed from the cliff behind the arch (1976 photo). One hiker pauses to examine a seashell.  Long Island lies in the distance. 


We also made some cool trips in the Evangel that summer, taking the staff between camps to Ouzinkie and Port Lions, and taking the older campers to Long Island.  It was wonderful to have the use of that old boat, but Dad had recently gotten word of his impending retirement (not a voluntary move on his part) and he had to spend some of his time that summer in Ouzinkie, where he was arranging for other employment and for a possible move from the village.  Thankfully, that move away never materialized, and Dad was able to spend the rest of his life in Ouzinkie among the people he loved.  He found work running the village water system and power plant, and had the contract to deliver freight from the post office to the airstrip for many years.  But all these changes meant that he was not with us as much as in previous years.  Mom Joyce was able to spend the summer with us, even when Dad was away. We certainly felt his absence, no one more than Mom. That summer made me realize the great investment of time that folks like Norman and Joyce Smith and the Bokos had made in Camp Woody.  This was the first summer without the Bokos, and that also added to the difficulties we experienced.


The end of an era: Rev. Norman and Joyce Smith were both full-time staff members at Camp Woody for the last time in the summer of 1976.  By the following year, most of Dad’s time was spent working for the city of Ouzinkie as an officially “retired” missionary.  1976 was a year of challenges and transitions. Travis North photo


Tim and Debbie (center and right) share some “doughboys” with the campers at Sawmill Beach in 1976. Travis North photo


But I need to mention another, much happier event from that summer.  Debbie Sullens and I had been getting steadily more interested in each other since the previous summer when she had been a counselor.  We had been writing to each other all summer.  Naturally, I was delighted when she decided to come up to camp to visit us again.  She arrived late in the camp season, and stayed until mid-August.  I proposed and she accepted during the Women’s Retreat, and oh, what cooing and fussing those women made over us!  It was a happy ending to a challenging year, and added yet another dimension to the changes that were taking place. 


The six counselors of 1976: Sue, Michelle, Linda (with Oscar, camp dog) and Bruce, Larry and Tim



Kelly Smith, atop the Evangel, helps Norman Smith take campers back to town in the summer of 1976.  Notice the kids peeking out the cabin windows! (Photographer unknown; that’s the photographer’s thumb, not smoke, in the upper left.)


The summer of 1976 ended with yet another successful season.  It had started out rough, but there was still that unmistakable blessing of spending a summer with rambunctious kids on a gorgeous Alaskan island.  I was privileged to be working with my brother and parents, and with lifelong friends like Larry and Bruce as well.  We’d had a hand in upgrading the facilities, we’d played a lot of great music and hiked to a lot of beautiful places.  But our goal, as always, was to see young people drawn closer to God.  That is what happened.  And that is what Camp Woody is all about. 



My last summer at camp is a bit of a blur. There is more of a bittersweet emotional memory of that year, bitter because I sensed it was to be my last season there, and sweet because the glorious chaos of a thriving youth camp was all around me.  I knew it was bound to be my last summer there, because I was now a year out of college, I had been working all winter in Kodiak, and I was about to get married at the end of the camp season.  It was, nevertheless, one of the more enjoyable summers I spent at Camp Woody, and it was especially smooth after the struggles of the 1976 season.  I was a bit distracted I’m sure with the prospect of getting married, and I hope I did a good job that summer.  But it was a sweet and pleasant camp season, and I tried to savor every minute.  I had been a full-time camp staff member for the seven previous years, and there’s no way I could ever give back what that place had given me.  I had grown from being a toddler at Camp Woody’s first season in 1956 to a tax paying, career seeking young adult about to spread his wings and fly away.  Such facts gave me some long thoughts that summer, and I was happy to have the warm community of campers and staff around me at such a time.


The Evangel is ready to load passengers in its last season, 1977.  The Evangel served Camp Woody from 1956 to 1964, then (as the Sea Scout boat Chinook) it was used by the camp until 1970 when the engine finally failed.  The Evangel was back in action in the summer of 1973, owned by the Smiths, and sporting a new diesel engine.  The restored boat was able to serve Camp Woody for five more years, until the retirement of Rev. Norman and Joyce Smith (and the necessity of finding other employment) forced their retirement from Woody as well.  Photo by Don Wells


The original stalwarts of past years were slowly drifting away.  Bruce and Cody were in Kodiak working, and were not on staff that summer (although they visited when they could).  The Bokos were long gone.  And worst of all, my Dad, Rev. Norman Smith, was struggling through his first summer in forced “retirement,” weighing his options (including taking a pastorate in some small church in the states) and working for the village of Ouzinkie.  Dad was able to work his hours so that he was with us for several days at a time, and he used the Evangel to transport kids to camp all summer, but he wasn’t around on a daily basis.  Mom Joyce was there as camp manager and nurse, but it was different and strange; the Smith family’s involvement in the camp they helped to build was entering its last chapter.


I lead a sing time in the rec room of the old Boy’s Dorm in the summer of 1977.  We got the fireplace from Darrell and Yule Chaffin when they upgraded their cabin.  The entire building is now one big room, and serves as the recreation hall and chapel for the camp, but for me it will always be the BOQ (Bachelor Officers’ Quarters) with its tiny little rooms and barely-working plumbing, filled with happy and energetic campers.  Don Wells photo.


One of my last combined cabin groups at Camp Woody, “Old PTAG” (Pam, Tim and Gang) produced this amusing poster with puns on the “Ptag” name.  Most of the artwork was done by Mat Freeman.  Our bird: Pterodactyl. Our animal: Ptortoise.  Our Flower: Ptunia.  Our Snack: Ptato Chips.  The most fun I ever had at camp was in the company of a really great cabin group, and this “gang” certainly fit that description.


Kelly (left) and Tim play a few tunes between camps in the newly remodeled dining hall in this composite of two photos from 1977 (photographer unknown).  We had worked together for five years by then.


There were good people on the counseling staff that year, including Jeannette from California and Lorie who later moved to Kodiak.  But I didn’t feel as though I got to know anyone as well as I could have.  We still had our share of adventures.  During Senior High camp, we got to make our annual trek to Long Island. I roped a bunch of kids into going down to that previously-used recording site, the bunker at the end of Dolgoi Lake, and we sang a couple of great songs together into a cheap cassette recorder.  “Father I Adore You” and “The All Day Song” sounded like a choir of angels in that dank, dark old concrete cave.  And it was always fun to play tour guide to the new staff, showing them all the cool stuff the army had left behind when the war passed Fort Tidball by.



A great group of Junior High campers pose for me near the Arch in 1977.  Second from left is Jon Le Doux, and second from right (with elbow on the sand) is Daniel Benton, whose daughter has served for several summers recently as a camp counselor.


Then between camps, Dad took the whole staff in the Evangel to old Afognak and on to Port Lions.  Dad tried to find film for me in Kodiak, but no one had any more rolls of 120 Verichrome (or 120 anything), so I went on what should have been a marvelous photo safari with nothing but my eyes and brain.  We were very respectful of the old buildings, but did go into the attic of the abandoned Russian Orthodox Church to view the unique log and wood-slat construction of the ceiling.  That was a powerful event, a visit to a real ghost town, abandoned as the result of the Tidal Wave and subsidence of 1964. 



The Evangel lies at anchor at an old logging camp on Afognak Island in the summer of 1974, as a plane takes off beside it.  The camp staff repeated this voyage in 1977, but I have no photos of that adventure, since every place in Kodiak was out of my size of film!


The journey across Marmot Bay and back to Woody was the last great voyage of the Evangel.  It made a few more trips to Ouzinkie before it was unofficially retired in the late 1970s, victim of the fact that Norman Smith was now too busy working to use it or to pay the insurance needed to haul passengers.  The boat was also expensive to run and maintain, and my parents were in the process of buying Baker Cottage in Ouzinkie from their former employers, and so the boat lost out.  The camp board, struggling to maintain their own ragtag collection of buildings on Woody Island, could never have taken on the expense of maintaining and using the Evangel themselves, if they could have found someone to run it.  As strange as it may seem, the Evangel was only a tool, and its former users were now stuck with a limited budget and a struggle to make ends meet, forced out of the Camp Woody universe by their change in employment.


The Evangel met a rather un-dramatic, un-poetic end.  Dad was now working full time in Ouzinkie. Although he and Mom kept their ministry going there with regular chapel services and youth programs, Dad could never find dependable people to help watch over the Evangel. And he and Mom had used up a lot of their meager resources when they managed to purchase Baker Cottage from the Mission Board.  There was neither time nor money to care for the boat.  Four decade-old wooden boats do not do well without regular maintenance. A few years later, sagging and waterlogged, it was removed from the boat harbor, eventually ending up in someone’s yard as a makeshift museum.  But in 1977, it was our venerable transportation to some of the most beautiful places on the north end of Kodiak Island.  As strong as my emotional attachment to it may be, the fact remains that it was just an oddly-shaped old wooden boat; it was only what we used it for that made it so special to so many people.  Its memory lives on in the hearts of everyone who climbed aboard it for all those trips to Camp Woody for all those years, and in the memories of all those people in the villages and canneries of Kodiak Island who knew it as the mission boat.  It had a great run!

The Evangel sailed to Camp Woody for the last time in the summer of 1977.  It had served the Christian camping program almost continuously since the first summer at Long Island in 1953, including nineteen seasons serving as transportation to and from Camp Woody.  Yule Chaffin photo


At the end of the camping season, my own great adventure began, when my fiancé Debbie came to town with her parents, and other friends such as Carol Chapman (1974) and Diane Chestnut (1975) began to arrive.  The Smith family was ending their careers at camp with a flourish: we were planning the first and only wedding at Camp Woody.  After the last campers had gone, the dining hall was transformed into a flower shop and bakery, as various friends from Kodiak assembled bouquets and wedding cake, and prepared the reception menu.  When the day finally arrived, what a strange looking group of men accompanied me down the trail at Tanignak Park: Larry, my best man, was dressed in a stunning dark brown suit.  Bruce and Cody and my brother Kelly were also dressed to the nines. Quite a change from the “Frog, Toad, Wart and Hair” of 1975!  Lori Weisser, frequent camper and staff member, played the pump organ so Mom could be the Mother of the Groom. Debbie’s bridesmaids were quite a bit more color coordinated than my guys. Lorie from that summer’s counselor staff was one of the bridesmaids, and Diane Chestnut, Debbie’s best friend who had accompanied her north to Woody in the 1975 season, was her Maid of Honor. 


Oscar looks on politely as everyone stands for prayer at the beginning of Debbie and Tim’s wedding, August 19, 1977.


Burl Sullens watches (rear center left) as Best Man Larry Le Doux escorts Debbie’s mom Edith.  Debbie can be seen behind Larry, waiting on the Inspiration Point trail.


A white runner was stretched diagonally from the Inspiration Point trail through the trees to the wedding site, and chairs and benches had been scrounged from the chapel and cabins.  My meager PA system and microphones were set up thanks to a couple of long extension cords that stretched to the old light plant shed.  It was a gray day, and in fact we nearly cancelled (to regroup at the Community Baptist Church) but at the last minute the rain stopped.  You could still hear drops of water hitting the microphones from time to time.  That and the fact that Larry lost my ring in the moss for a few minutes (to tell me about much later) made it a typical Woody adventure.  But the slightly foggy air gave those tall trees in Tanignak Park a cathedral-like quality, and the lake sparkled just beyond the trees, making for a spectacular event.


Debbie and I right after the ceremony.  Rev. Norman Smith is on the far right.


Bruce and Cody (left) have already changed out of their suits by the time Debbie and I begin sampling the great food in the dining hall reception.  I’m bending over a large pan of salmon perok.  Making a wedding work at Camp Woody was no easy task, and it took a lot of folks the better part of a week to make it all come together.


Debbie appeared, looking absolutely glorious against the mossy forest in her lovely white gown, walking down the runner with her dad Burl. My Dad in his old black suit began the ceremony.  I remember that I tried to sing a song at one point (I don’t recommend it at your own wedding!)  Then Dad spoke in his understated, simple way, that deep, calm voice echoing through the trees. We said our vows and the ceremony ended, and we walked up the white runner to the road.  Enough people to fill the dining hall had come from town to share our moment, and soon we were seated at the benches (in suits and gowns and everything) to eat a fabulous spread of local delicacies.  Then Debbie went up to the ramp that went to cabin 4 and 5 and threw her bouquet, and we were off on the Evangel to catch our plane.  I don’t think I ever got to take another trip on the Evangel again, and from what I’m told, ours was the first wedding at Camp Woody.  It was an amazing day, and the Smith family concluded their long run as camp staff with a grand celebration. 


A sunset over Mirror Lagoon illustrates the never-ending beauty of Woody Island.  1977 marked the end of the Smith family’s full-time involvement with Camp Woody, after twenty-five years of leadership in Christian camping in the Kodiak area.  Travis North photo



The following summer I was working full time, trying to get enough money so that Debbie and I could move to California.  I had tried many avenues of employment, and found none that were good career moves. (Ironically, I had done a couple of years of substitute teaching by then, and just knew that teaching wasn’t for me.  Twelve years later I joined the staff of Montclair High School as a teacher, and am now in my seventeenth year there!)  I got over to camp only once or twice that summer, but I served on the camp board, and did what I could.  I was pretty sure that I would never get to serve at Woody again.  Thankfully, that proved not to be the case.  For my recent camp experiences, please see the next article (which includes a memoir by Mike Mooney, a friend and picking buddy that I recruited to join me at Woody in 1998): Return to Camp Woody: 1996 to 2006




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Written by Timothy Smith, web author. See the About Me page for more information. Always feel free to send me comments, suggestions or corrected information about this article or any of the articles on this site. (Write to:

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