Remembering Don Kirby

On Monday, July 10th Don Kirby, our beloved friend and one of our longest Kingswood volunteers, passed away after a short illness.  Don’s work in the New York Annual Conference Camps was long and varied.  Along the way he accumulated many of us as friends through his gift of hospitality and his genuine love and care for people. His smile, his humor, his dedication to all the camps: Quinipet, Epworth, Olmsted, Sessions Woods and Kingswood are fondly remembered as well as his culinary delights at Woodsmoke and volunteer events. 

The amazing thing about Don is that he reinvented himself to serve the camps and others to the best of his skills and abilities for over 60 years.  He was here at Kingswood, from the very beginning, preparing and greeting the first campers. Don did so much that no one person knew all that he did so we have compiled reflections of Don and his contributions to Kingswood and NYAC camping program.

“Don was part of the UM Young Adult groups that were in many churches. We were asked in the late 1960’s to sponsor work weekends to help set up Sessions Woods and a few years later Kingswood. We had other big retreats with a planned theme. Don was involved in all those. He was involved in publishing a monthly newsletter to all the different young adults. So that’s how all the Memorial Day Work weekends at Kingswood started. Don was always involved with the planning and doing. He lent his voice to the many campfires and was the one we called on to offer prayers for meals, etc.  He counseled kids at camp and brought his church’s high school groups up on retreats. Dave Taylor figured out a way for churches to hold auctions and part of their profits would go to the camps. Don was one of the auctioneers and spent many Saturdays at churches all over the conference. The fund provided buildings at Quinipet and tractors and site equipment at Kingswood. Don was always the financial person, keeping the books and watching the spending. He always encouraged the raising of camper rates because he could see that financial problems were looming. Don was a representative to the Annual Conference, and Don and a few others were known as the ‘camp people’. He was always thinking about camp and how to improve the experience for all.” -Karen Taylor

“I met Don in the early 1960’s at the Young Adult Fellowship in New Hyde Park. Bud met Don in 1965, and we worked together at Sessions Woods in Connecticut. We then started volunteering at Kingswood, raising our children Paul, Kristen and Keith who grew up calling him “Uncle Donald”.  Don will be truly missed by our whole family which now includes grandchildren.” -Judy Swanson

“The Hansen have known Don Kirby since June 1967. We met him at Sessions Woods when my father was Program Director and he was a member of the conference young adults, along with the Swansons and Taylors.

Most memories with Don were at KIngswood. Putting up and taking down tents, and of course the teepees which had to go up each year. As recently as last April he was cooking for the Stone Ministry work weekend.

I have nothing but the fondest memories of all my times with him. I was always amazed at all the activities he was involved in outside of KIngswood. And of course a discussion never ended without talking about our beloved Mets.

KIngswood will not be the same without him.” -KL Hansen

“Don, a friend, leader, gracious always, was a vital member of the Conference Camping Committee from the 1970’s on. Of the many commitments Don made, he and I represented our Committee in developing shared summer camp events with the Presbyterians. His devotion to the camping ministry will be remembered always in the hearts and minds of all who walked the path of faith with him. Carol and I praise God for his wonderful life.” -Doug and Carol Osgood

“Don was our volunteer accountant for Kingswood forever. The ever present teepee was Don’s love. He knew how to set it up and bought new supplies as they were needed. Don was so generous to Kingswood. He  bought tarps for the fireplaces, gave substantial donations to the construction of Oasis, the dam and Stone Ministry. His camera was always in his hand, making sure there were pictures of everything, so we had plenty to choose from for publicity. He helped by always having his eye on the budget.” -Cheryl Winship

“So much has been said and can be said about Don.  I would like to simply remember the hospitality he extended to me and others who found themselves at Kingswood during the last week of the summer.  He also went on the mission trip to Bolivia several times.  I was able to be part of that adventure with him, Ginny, Bob, and others, twice.  Such a faithful and dedicated servant who will be deeply missed…  Well done…” -David Lounsbury 

“Don Kirby will be a beacon for me for the remaining years God allows me to inhabit this earth. His quiet, thoughtful commitment to what he believed in has always been inspirational.

I first met Don 20 years ago when I arrived as a Kingswood outsider with a radical vision for the Stone Ministry. He was able to see that maybe the program would not be disruptive, but rather another way for campers to appreciate Kingswood’s sacred space.  Don was there the misty morning at set up weekend 2005, when a small group placed the first stone in honor of their friend who was losing her struggle with cancer.

Don remain an avid supporter of Stone Ministry, joining our “ Stone Ministry enthusiasts”  who have work weekends spring and fall, now that we are using our forest to build above the stone, columns and arches.” -Peter Seirup

“Don was very active.  Not only was he devoted to Kingswood and his local church, St. Paul and St. Andrew in NYC, and some of its programs, he was a board member of the United Methodist City Society and a trustee of the John Street Methodist Episcopal Trust Fund Society (which supports the John Street United Methodist Church, the oldest Methodist congregation in North America) and probably other groups, too. 

Don enjoyed the performing arts.  I remember him looking forward to his first visit to The Shed, a relatively new performing arts venue in Manhattan.  He was also happy to attend dance performances I invited him to at the LaGuardia High School for Performing Arts. 

I remember Don being excited to audit a class on Psalms a couple of years ago at The General Theological Seminary that was taught by Dr. Rev. Julie Faith Parker, an old testament scholar who is a member of SPSA. 

Until very recently, Don would always pitch his own tent when he stayed at Kingswood. 

Don eagerly participated in volunteer work events at Kingswood, both for the camp generally and for Stone Ministry.  But he always drove home on Saturday so he could be in church on Sunday morning. 

Don was a remarkable man who gave much of himself to groups he cared about.  I’m sad he is no longer with us and I’ll miss him. “ -Pat Schlegel

“Your rock solid faith, humility and deep love of God and all creation

Your dedication to your churches – Middle Village and the last 14 years or so at SPSA.

You inspire us all! What an exemplary life!” -Julie Wityk

“I will always remember Don’s passion for the teepee at Kingswood. We always depended on Don to layout the teepee and poles precisely so that we could raise it up together. Ironically, the teepee had to be retired this spring because its fabric became so fragile and unsafe.” -Phyllis and Dave Moore

“One of Benjamin’s favorite memories that showed Don’s heart for others is when Don found a mug with Benjamin’s name on it while at a yard sale and purchased it so he would have one in the Farmhouse. Don was always thinking of others.

Don touched me in so many ways. He was the perfect example of how when you focus on Jesus and serving others, it doesn’t matter what side of the political aisle you are on, we are all brothers and sisters in Christ. I will miss him dearly.”  -Valerie Lee Minton

“Don was one of the kindest persons ever. I can hear his voice so clearly and imagine his smile and that twinkle he would get in his eyes. And always finding ways to serve. Camp will not be the same without him. Safely and surely in God’s presence now!” -Tracy Moore

“I loved and admired Don for his kindness, his irascibility, and his unflinching ability to dissect a budget in the wink of an eye. He sent me numerous newspaper clippings and notes over the years, all of which were helpful. I appreciate how Don embraced diversity, fully supporting the addition of a welcoming statement for BIPOC folk on our camp websites. He was a mentor, a friend, and an inspiration for a life well lived. I will miss him.” -Brooke Bradley

 “In so many ways Don Kirby is the heart and soul of Kingswood. A model of service for us all, a man of profound commitment, a camper to the end, and a man who sought to bring justice to this world. And let us not forget the coffee ice cream!” -Sandi Stratton

A celebration of life will be held at Kingswood on Monday, September 4th (Labor Day) at 11:00am at Stone Ministry. Please email Holly Moore at if you plan to attend, so we can have an idea of the number of people attending.