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Camp Memories

Camp Gifford leaders hope to uncover history of getaway that has provided life-changing experiences for 90 years

Camp Gifford, the Salvation Army camp on Deer Lake, is in search of its own history.

On the weekend of April 16, the camp will celebrate 90 years of existence. Camp leaders would love to have dozens of stories and historic photos to display.

“You can’t appreciate the present without knowing your past,” says Jeff Potts, the camp administrator.

Unfortunately, the camp doesn’t possess many old photos or old stories. There are understandable reasons why.

The camp’s focus has always been children in poverty. These children did not always have cameras.

Some came from families in chaos where daily survival precluded keeping diaries, taking photos and storing memories somewhere safe to retrieve later in adulthood.

One anonymous camper from the 1980s recently shared her story with the Salvation Army. She wrote:

“I didn’t have good shoes or enough clothes when I arrived and the nurse made sure I was given shoes, some clothes and a sweater to wear. The counselors combed my hair every day and made me look pretty.

“I had a schedule for the first time in my life. Camp Gifford taught me that I could make friends.”

Another reason for the lack of stories and photos? Camp Gifford used to be a summer-only camp, and long, cold winters made it difficult to collect and store photos and stories.

Now the camp is open to year-round, rented out in fall, winter and spring (and on summer weekends) for retreats and meetings.

The camp, purchased in 1921, was originally called Camp Cougar. On its website, a brief history there explains the possible reason for the name change:

“(It) appears that mothers in Spokane were afraid to send their kids to a place called Camp ‘Cougar.’ ”

The camp – located about 35 miles north of Spokane – grew, in acreage and campers, over the decades. It now encompasses 120 acres and hosts about 1,000 campers each year.

“We accept any child, but we target kids who don’t have opportunities others do financially and socially,” Potts said. “About 90 percent of our kids are low-income, and 15 percent come from the foster community.”

It costs $300 a child for a week’s stay at camp; many are subsidized.

Potts, 50, understands the power of stories to continue long legacies.

His camp story began when he arrived at 15, a California kid. His mother, a Salvation Army minister, sent him to Camp Gifford for the summer to volunteer.

He washed dishes. He cleaned bathrooms. He fell in love with the Inland Northwest’s mountains and lakes.

Potts returned in 1995 as camp administrator, after working at a Southern California camp for six years.

The historic photos and stories he hopes to collect will first be used during the anniversary celebration next month. On the website, camp leaders made this pitch:

“We are trying to collect photos, stories and history of Camp Gifford.  If you have T-shirts, postcards, photos or memories, please share them with us. Let us know what the camp looked like, who you worked with, how you were touched working at camp or how you were able to touch others. 

“Thousands of people had their lives positively affected at Camp Gifford – were you one of them?” 

This summer, Potts hopes that the stories and photos will encourage campers, and let them know that 90 years of caring people created the space of beauty and healthy activities.

“I believe every camper has unlimited potential,” he said. “Our job is to help them understand they have that potential. Even if they go back to a world where nobody else helps them (see) they have the potential to change the world.

“We tell them that. Some believe it. It can be life-changing.”

He also believes that the stories will inspire the camp counselors.

“When I bring staff on, they can look through the history and see everything that’s been done,” Potts said. “They can be excited about the lives they will touch.”