A Conversation with Ginny Stevenson
by Geri Mariano
With over 75 years of camping at Girl Scout sites in Wisconsin, Scotland and of course at Kingswood in Hancock, NY, Ginny Stevenson has experienced a book worth of stories. Family and friends alike indeed have suggested that KW’s first Program Director write about these stories, many of which are “really, that happened?” type tales. Until Ginny takes pen to paper or finger to keyboard, she made time for an “interview.”
Just before her 10th birthday in 1946, young Ginny spent two “wonderful” weeks away from home in Chicago at a Girl Scout camp just over the state lines in Wisconsin. Later, when relatives asked if she had been homesick, Ginny replied that she was “camp-sick!”
That same Summer, Ginny’s dad bought a spray-painted silver old Dodge and loaded it with two army pup tents so Ginny, her brother and their parents could camp as a family. Despite the rain every day of the trip, Ginny remembers they all enjoyed a “wonderful” time and it was the beginning of a new family vacation tradition. Whether at Girl Scout camp or during family excursions after, Ginny loved all the time spent around campfires singing and not having to do dishes! And even before they married, Ginny and her then future husband Bob Stevenson found they appreciated spending time together outdoors when Bob would drive to Wisconsin where her family was vacationing.
When Ginny and Bob became husband and wife in 1959, camping would become an important part of their family’s life. Children Bob, Betsy, Dave and Kate were raised knowing that camping was precious time together no matter where they lived. After Bob’s job took the Stevensons to London in November, 1976, the two parents and four kids took to a different type of pop up camper where cooking inside an attached screen room was routine. “It was cold up there where we went in Scotland!”
The family of six returned stateside in June 1979 and settled in Western Connecticut where they tried a few campgrounds, finding Sessions Woods the Summer before it was sold by UMC’s New York Annual Conference in 1981. When not finding any new sites they liked the following summer, their then Pastor Doug Osgood (who later become head of NYAC’s camp program) recommended Kingswood to Ginny and Bob – that if they liked Sessions Wood, they would love Kingswood.
Having become particular to certain settings, Ginny recalls she and the two youngest kids driving to Binghamton to stay overnight so they could check out this new site Osgood recommended before they’d make reservations. Ginny, Dave and Kate walked around Kingswood and saw equipped sites spread out and not on top of each other. “Oooh, this is good,” they agreed and so Ginny remembers calling Karen Taylor. She asked for a site, ironically as it would later turn out, as far away from others as possible. Far Overlook was the chosen site for the Stevensons’ inaugural KW vacation.
Their first time at Kingswood, Ginny recalls, was “magical” and she raved to the managers who were there that week – if memory serves her — the Stidworthys. “I was crazy and so over the top enthusiastic.” As some will likely chuckle in agreement, when campers express enthusiasm and like to contribute, it isn’t long before they are invited to any which way. Ginny was asked to get movies from Hancock’s library that could be shown in the barn and prepare worship services. The weekends Ginny was there, she led worship and the weekends she wasn’t, she left materials for others to use on Sunday mornings. These small programming acts led Ginny to wonder if campers would like to do more activities and the next Summer she put up a note that she would lead a hike. For a trek out to the shelter, she brought a broom to sweep out the latrine. Laughing, Ginny recalled one time the latrine seat was in pieces as the beavers had visited and chewed it. The many campers who had trekked out that day. enjoyed the program. This then had Ginny thinking, “What if I could stay all summer?” After buying a pop up camper, Ginny did stay the following summer, and the summer after that and…
With her job as an Environmental Educator through the CT Audubon Society. Ginny found her work would be the perfect lead in to nature activities at Kingswood. And stories from the summers would be perfect to share with students during the school year. For 15 years, Ginny would work all winter so she could play all summer before “retiring” after the 2000 season.
The first 7-8 years, Ginny did “play” all Summer as a volunteer PD. Eventually a line item for Program Director was added in the Kingswood operating budget so it could be ensured that there would be a paid position upon Ginny’s stepping down.
Though managers had long handled the programming in prior years, once Ginny asked if she could stay all summer, the managers no longer had to do double duty. Ginny was able to shape the programming as she was the first season-long person to oversee the activities all summer. She delighted in welcoming each and every family and camper arriving at Kingswood, bringing them the weekly schedule and news of any bear sightings. Actually, bears were not an issue for the first few years Ginny stayed in her pop up camper above the swimming area. On one walk around the the pond perhaps 5 years into her tenure, Ginny noticed bear tracks in the mud. She decided not to say anything in the moment thinking, “We don’t have bears here,” but later went to get plaster to make a mold. Campers can still see this foot print cast up in the barn’s nature room. Soon after, the bear or bears continued to make their presence known when stashing garbage bags under the apple trees. And Ginny particularly remembers one being “in trouble” after swiping a lamb roast! Inspired by one of these visits, Ginny wrote “The Bear Came over the Mountain” poem for a camp publication.
Each week Ginny planned two nature programs, two craft activities, ice cream making after potluck dinners, “Hey! Rides,” a campfire and Sunday Worship. While planning worship each week was most difficult, Ginny found welcoming every camper to be the most enjoyable.
“I loved meeting all those wonderful amazing people!” She enjoyed the children especially. And when asked what were some of her highlight moments over her 15 years, Ginny marveled at watching the children grow, noting that some who were two when she started had turned 17 her last Summer in 2000. Ginny also echoes what countless families have told her over the years — Kingswood is so special because it’s a break from everyday life. “There is a sense among many that when you reach a certain spot coming up on Hathaway Pond Road, there is a feeling of peace and relief.” Families are leaving television, radio, social media, doctors, appointments, school, etc. behind, and they’re able to “get back to basics.”
From when she first began with the Girl Scouts back in 1946, Ginny adores singing around campfires. This was a favorite activity to lead as Program Director and to participate in as a Manager or camper herself. Who would Ginny like to have with her sitting around a fire singing? “It might be rather crowded,” Ginny laughs. In addition to her husband and their children, Ginny mentioned Don Kirby, the Osgoods, the Yettrus, Hansens, Stidworthys, DeLucas and many others. Ginny explained that when she thinks of singing around a campfire, she thinks of Kingswood people only. Ginny particularly remembers the support given to her as well as fun times playing games in the farmhouse.
Now 87, Ginny is happy and active at her home at Cornwall Manor in Pennsylvania. And she has the Stokes, longtime KW campers, to thank for for telling her and Bob about this community several years ago. When asked about what makes Kingswood so special, Ginny said she has been blessed — “Every single camper has enriched my life and continues to enrich my life.” Meeting all the families and volunteers as a camper, as Program Director, as Manager, as part of work crews has been the “best.”
Ginny is looking forward to returning to KW this July 4th week with all her kids and whichever grandchildren can make it to enjoy treasured time together. She is also planning to bring a friend for a first time on a separate trip. “Kingswood is so special – the whole place — I just love it!” Ginny and her family, though, will be missing Bob who sadly passed away last February 17, 2023. But they are comforted that he will be with them always as this past Labor Day weekend there was an internment service at the Stone Ministry site in the woods. Both Bob and Ginny were big supporters of Stone Ministry from the beginning, from what Peter Seirup first envisioned to what it has grown to be. “I couldn’t think of anywhere else I would want his ashes,” Ginny shared.
Upon reflecting on all her memories, Ginny confessed, “I have 100 more stories.” Time to start writing that book, Ginny, so it can be sold in Kingswood’s Camp Store within a few summers!