By: Sandi Stratton-Gonzalez
“I have managed the last week of summer for over 50 years. It seems like a lot but if you are having fun it goes quickly.” Don Kirby
Don Kirby first came to Kingswood about 60 years ago. Already a long-term volunteer at Sessions Wood, he was invited by the New York Conference Camping Executive to Kingswood. Both were rustic camps. At the time Kingswood was a youth camp with volunteer counselors and four sites, the two Orchards and the two Coves.
Don came to Kingswood for a season and stayed for sixty years! Kingswood provided him the opportunity to work in the outdoors and build community with others. In fact, Don sees the Kingswood tents as symbolic of community, and the teepees as symbolic of the work that we do. He enjoys sleeping outside under canvas, and still does so routinely, unless he is managing and then he stays in the farmhouse.
Soon after Don came to Kingswood the conference run program for youth was discontinued and Kingswood pivoted to become a family camp. Don worked alongside other veteran volunteers David and Karen Taylor and Judy and Bud Swanson in realizing the family camping vision.
From the mid 90-s to 2015 Don was involved with Woodsmoke, the next iteration of Kingswood youth camp. Don volunteered first as photographer, then as “Mr. Foods” responsible for collecting youth-prepared menus, organizing items for purchase and delivering the requested food back to the campsites and then as a staff cook responsible for the meals of non-counseling staff.
An accountant by trade, Don has enjoyed doing the physical work at Kingswood, including years working on the water line, which has always a big challenge. He describes himself as “not a skilled workman but a jack of all trades,” enjoying the learning experience and the constant influx of new people over the years. When I asked Don what keeps him coming back year after year, he said “a feeling that what we do is worthwhile not only in preparing the camp but also in the community that we have up there.”
Don has noticed many positive changes. “In the beginning we didn’t have money to put into stuff,” he said, but now we are getting money coming in supporting stone ministry, folks contributing equipment and skills, restoring the Farm House and keeping the camp in good shape. There is such a wealth of talent among Kingswood volunteers, and management (especially David Taylor and Cheryl Winship) seems to know just how to use the talent for the benefit of the camp community.
Among the challenges Don observes is the loss of the clergy involvement and lack of support for Chapel services. A lifelong Methodist who currently worships at The Church of St. Paul & St. Andrew in Manhattan, Don would love to see a more intentional worship experience restored at Kingswood, including during volunteer events. The other challenge he feels that Kingswood faces is its absence of racial diversity, particularly among the large number of volunteers. Noting that Conference leadership and staff and the Camping Committee include many persons of color, Black, Latinx, and Asians as well as Whites, Don believes that we should work toward a more inclusive volunteer and family camping presence.
On behalf of everyone at Kingswood, volunteers and campers, I raise a glass of profound thanks to you Don Kirby! You have been integral to Kingswood’s success over many decades. In turn Don extends thanks to “all the folks who are at Kingswood, who are a blessing to each other and to our camping population.”