Ascension Camp still making memories
COVE — Northeast Oregonians have a strong sense of place, whether they were born here or relocated to the area intentionally.
The Blue and Wallowa mountains offer boundless recreational opportunities, and the country lifestyle is attractive to many transplants. It’s no wonder Union County institutions like Ascension School Camp in Cove, with the Eagle Cap Wilderness as a backdrop, has attracted several modern day pioneers. The camp is a longstanding Northeast Oregon tradition, having started in 1924.Patty Olson-Lindsey first attended Ascension when she was 8 years old. She was a member of St. Matthew’s Episcopal Church in Ontario, and many of the children from that parish went to camp. She didn’t return until she was a senior in high school, but that experience prompted her to work the two following summers on the Resource Staff as a counselor.
In 2006 while living in Bend, Olson-Lindsey’s husband took a job at Anderson Perry and the family moved to La Grande. The cost of living in Bend was getting too high and the surrounding national forest trails required dogs to be leashed. It was time for a quieter pace. In 2008 Olson-Lindsey was hired as assistant to the director and within a month, the Lindseys moved to Cove.
“I envision our children graduating from Cove High School,” she said.
Olson-Lindsey is now the interim camp director and wants to provide the same safe, creative camp experience she enjoyed.
“The staff has so much to do with the camp experience, and there is a profound sense of team building among them,” she said. “They work together to create the camp environment, a special place for campers to push the envelope, revealing parts of themselves they don’t in their normal peer groups.”
One of Olson-Lindsey’s longtime friends from Ascension is Cori Brewster. When Brewster first came to Ascension she was a junior high student from Burns. Her family moved to McMinnville the following year, yet she continued to attend camp each summer until she graduated from high school. During her college summers she worked at Ascension as a counselor.
After receiving her Ph.D. from Washington State University, she returned to Northeast Oregon as a writing professor at Eastern Oregon University. In addition, this summer she will serve as the program director for Ascension.
“Most of my friends today are from Ascension,’’ Brewster said. “Part of the Ascension experience for campers and adults who return to the area is ‘running around on Mount Fanny. When I get together with my friends from Ascension we often meet near Cove. It’s not just about being together, it’s about being in this place. It’s more like home than anywhere we’ve ever been.”
Campers who attended the spring youth retreat in April echoed Brewster’s sentiment.
“It is like my second home,” said Saryna Horace, a freshman from Irrigon who has been attending camps at Ascension since she was 5 years old.
Calen Holmes, Ontario, echoed her comment in a separate interview. When asked why they return to Ascension year after year, most of the kids said to see their friends.
Arts and music are integral parts of the camp experience. Paddock Hall, the arts building, is currently being painted, plumbed and wired for an oven. It is home to a potter’s wheel, long wooden tables and a wide array of art supplies. Many of the songs the campers sing at meals and at campfire they compose themselves.
“Because the campers make their songs and traditions, they create their own community,” Brewster said.
Jessi Swain, a La Grande High School student who attended the spring youth retreat, said that the “Cove Hymn,” sung each night before bedtime, is a tradition from the first year the camp opened in 1924 and was written by its founder, Bishop Remington. Retired bishop of the Episcopal Diocese of Eastern Oregon, Rustin Kimsey, confirmed the story.
Bishop Kimsey, too, was a camper at Ascension. In 1947 he met Arnold Coe, now a lifelong friend.
Coe, a current board member of Ascension, has had an attachment to Cove since his first visit as a 9-year-old camper from Milton-Freewater. After a couple of career changes and raising four children, he and his wife, Jean, moved to Cove from Baker City where he was the school superintendent. When the superintendent position in Cove opened, his longtime friend and fellow Ascension School supporter, Dick Thew, suggested he apply for the job.
Now retired, the Coes are at the camp nearly every day helping with administration and maintenance duties. While living in Baker, Coe was already helping Ascension as a liaison between the camp and the builders during the construction of Kimsey Commons Conference Center.
Coe described the informal mission of the board.
“We are committed to having a safe place for kids to go to camp,” he said. “It’s a place where friendships and relationships become important.”