Memories for a lifetime

Former campers and staff celebrate 75 years of fun at Camp Kiwanis

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Posted May 9, 2023 | By Andrew Filmore

Nancy Moses-Hart‘s week at Camp Kiwanis 69 years ago left a lifelong impression.

“I wanted to stay forever; it was the best week of my life,” she said.

Moses-Hart, a camper at the 13-acre facility on Mill Dam Lake about 20 miles east of Ocala in the Ocala National Forest in 1954 and 1955, was one of the guest speakers at the Camp Kiwanis 75th Anniversary celebration held Saturday in Waldon Hall at the camp.

Moses-Hart said the lessons she learned as a camper set her on a path of working with youth and then toward a 39-year teaching career in St. Petersburg. Originally from Ocala, she moved to the St. Petersburg area but returned to Ocala, or “home,” about six years ago.

“(The camping experience) was fantastic, a memory which has lasted 60 years. Freedom, fun and fellowship,” she said.

Moses-Hart recalled campfires and songs, while fellow 1954-1955 camper Wes Wheeler of Ocala remembered activities like archery and skit nights. Wheeler, who operated Mid-State Motors in Ocala for 35 years, also was a speaker at the celebration.

Camp Kiwanis is the signature project of the Ocala Kiwanis Club, which was chartered in 1924. The 90-member club, which also distributes thousands of books in the Reading Is Fundamental program, operates the annual youth camping sessions at Camp Kiwanis in partnership with Marion County Public Schools.

The camp’s location served as a Civilian Conservation Corps site in the 1930s and a quarantine hospital during World War II, according to the MCPS. The Ocala Kiwanis Club leased the camp property from the U.S. Forest Service in the 1940s to use as a children’s camp and Camp Kiwanis was opened in 1948.

The facility hosts four group camping sessions in June and July for youth ages 7-13, with 34 staff and counselors. Activities include arts and crafts, canoeing, archery, riflery and firearm safety, camp literature states.

Upward of 600 campers attend the sessions annually. About 150 are on scholarships, with the $260 fee per camper paid by the local Kiwanis Club. The club has two primary fundraisers annually, Pancake Day and the Sportsman’s Dinner.

The earlier wooden cabins at the camp have been replaced by three air-conditioned dorms that can house 100 campers plus counselors. Spacious Waldon Hall has a commercial-grade kitchen, and the facility is available for rent to approved groups and companies.

U.S. Forest Service District Ranger Carrie Sekerak spoke at the celebration Saturday. She said camping and outdoor activities give youth a chance to learn “critical thinking” in real life experiences.
In comments before her talk, Sekerak said the campers become aware of wildlife and how to respect nature. She called the camp experience a “confidence builder” for youth.

Camp literature states the camp property is on a long-term lease from the U.S. Forest Service, the Ocala Kiwanis Club owns the improvements, and a Board of Camp Trustees oversees the work of the camp.

Randolph Family Affair LLC, a family business operated by Alfonso and Davida Randolph, were caterers for the lunch. Alfonso Randolph was a Camp Kiwanis camper in 1972.

“I was a homebody, I stayed at home,” Alfonso Randolph recalled. He explained the camping experience drew him out and allowed him to socialize and make friends.

“Everything’s still here,” he said of the camp and facilities.

Scott Mitchell, a MCPS employee and director of Camp Kiwanis for the last 19 years, said at the celebration that the camp belongs to the community and the thousands of youths who have attended the camp.

Mitchell said part of the “magic” of Camp Kiwanis is that youths from diverse backgrounds, from the homeless to the advantaged, can attend, join activities and make friends. He said he was once told the best way to tell if the kids are having fun at camp is to listen to the shouts of glee and excitement as the campers play.

Mitchell introduced Bob Lindstrom, assistant camp director, who was honored for his 26 years of dedicated work with Camp Kiwanis.

Jim Phillips, Kiwanis member and former Fifth Judicial Circuit state attorney from 1980 to 2004, spoke at the celebration about fond memories of his more than 40 years of work with the camp. Ocala Mayor Kent Guinn and County Commissioner Craig Curry both presented proclamations marking May 6, 2023, as the 75th Anniversary of Camp Kiwanis.

Additional speakers and dignitaries at the celebration included retired U.S. Rep. Cliff Stearns; Marion County Property Appraiser Jimmy Cowan; Chuck and Emilia Gugliuzza with the Kiwanis District; and Ryan Robbins, who spoke for his father, Dave Robbins, who couldn’t attend but served as Camp Director in the 1980s. Kiwanis Club member Imhabibi Laroche was accompanied at the celebration by her husband, Dr. Greggy Laroche, and their children, Immanuel, 4, and Godfrey, 1.

Kiwanis Club of Ocala President Jim Maguire served as emcee and Spiritual Aims Advisor Gary Rigby led the audience in a prayer, the Pledge of Allegiance and a rendition of the 1963 comedy song by Allan Sherman, “Hello Muddah, Hello Faddah (A letter from camp).”

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