Re. the front page story in last week’s Rappahannock News: Lanise Waites and I the originators of Camp Fantastic? No.
First off, Cathie Shiff did not speak to me before writing her history of Camp Fantastic. Here’s the story as I remember it:
Camp Fantastic began in 1983. It was a labor of love by Tom and Sheila Baker, whose daughter Julie died of cancer, plus: John Dooley (aka Big John), the director of the new 4-H center in Harmony Hollow, who was hoping to make the camp experience more inclusive; and Dave Smith, an enthusiastic college sophomore, 4-H center staffer and later the director of Special Love. (See speciallove.org for more Fantastic history.)
My son, Jim McCullough, was a counselor that first year, recruited by Dooley from the ranks of 4-H camp’s junior counselors. He came back the next. And he was forever changed by those two weeks. Jim was also struck with deep admiration for the NIH doctors and nurses, volunteers all, who made the week of wonder and magic possible. “They are heroes, and somebody should do something for them, and you could,” he told me. “The food here is either cafeteria fare, hamburgers or barbecued chicken – the NIH folks need fresh veggies, fruit, good stuff.”
So I organized the first Rappahannock Night at Camp Fantastic. I had excellent lieutenants: my sons Joe and Jon McCullough, Extension Agent Birgitt Thornhall, her assistant Jan Palmer and Commissioner of Revenue Bev Atkins. Extension Homemakers from across Rappahannock baked cakes and cookies, Patrick O’Connell from The Inn made pizza, Heidi and Vinnie from Four and Twenty Blackbirds added both entrees and desserts for an army, Manfred Call contributed fresh veggies and fruit, the county’s storekeepers donated sodas. Eric Kvarnes brought his portable glass blowing furnace and line of patter for the before-dinner entertainment, and Jules Coon gathered musicians for a Fantastic rock band for after-dinner dancing. And there were many wonderful others who helped and donated – after 20 years, I can remember the faces but I’ve forgotten the names!
It was a very special event. I was the chief organizer for two years before passing the baton to Bev, who has managed the magic ever since. Then I was a Camp Fantastic counselor for two sessions, and that’s the extent of my involvement.
Camp Fantastic did not have its origins in Rappahannock. There never was any such thing as “Camp International”; it never existed so, of course, it couldn’t have been founded by me and Lanise Waites and it couldn’t be adopted by Special Love, which does not “run a series of similar camps for children with cancer in the state.” Special Love’s camping programs are all held at the Northern Virginia 4-H Center.
I love Camp Fantastic. It’s life changing, and now that I’m retired, I hope to return as a counselor and again lead a team of young reporters, photographers and designers in producing the daily Fantastic Times. And that’s the main reason for this letter: I can’t be taking credit for something I don’t deserve!