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Wednesday, October 23, 2019  Spokane, Washington  Est. May 19, 1883
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News >  Spokane

Camp Sweyolakan connected lifelong friends

UPDATED: Wed., Aug. 9, 2017, 2:22 p.m.

In 1957, Christy deViveiros, 11, boarded a bus for Camp Sweyolakan at what was then the Spokane Coliseum. Though she’d enjoyed her experience at camp two years earlier, this time she was bummed because she’d missed the session most of her friends had attended.

Kathy Davis, also 11, watched her take a seat.

“She got on the bus by herself, so I sat next to her. It was my first time going to camp,” Davis recalled.

The two talked all the way to the boat launch in Coeur d’Alene and all the way across the lake. When they arrived at Sweyolakan, they discovered they’d been assigned to the same cabin and the same bunk – their happy chatter didn’t miss a beat.

Sixty years later, the conversation continues.

The lifelong friends attended different schools, Davis, St. Charles, and deViveiros, Finch Elementary.

“We had such a great time, and our paths would have never crossed without camp,” Davis said.

She joined deViveiros’ Camp Fire group when they returned home, and Davis said they’ve been joined at the hip ever since.

“She is the oldest of six, and I was an only child,” said deViveiros. “It was so fun when I went to dinner at her house with her big family!”

Each summer they boarded the bus for Camp Sweyolakan together, and as the summers passed, they went from campers to counselors-in-training to counselors.

When asked about memorable camp experiences, they looked at each other and burst into laughter.

DeViveiros recounted the tale.

“I was a senior CIT (counselor-in-training) and was getting ready to take my group out in rowboats,” she said. “There were oars scattered on the beach, and I picked one up to hang it where it belonged. It dislodged another one and that oar fell, hit my nose and broke it!”

Davis hurried to the scene.

“Christy was always so organized, so perfect, with every hair in place, but her nose wasn’t!” she recalled. “Much to my shame, I took one look and started laughing.”

After high school, both attended Gonzaga University. DeViveiros graduated and launched a teaching career that spanned 32 years, 23 of them spent at Indian Trail Elementary.

Davis quit college to go to work in the advertising industry, eventually pursuing a career in graphic design.

Their friendship continued as they both married and became mothers. Davis has six children; deViveiros, two.

“We’ve become part of each other’s extended families,” said deViveiros. “I can’t think of a time we haven’t been in each other’s lives.”

Their commitment to Camp Fire and to Camp Sweyolakan endures, as well. Over the years, they’ve witnessed changes, including Camp Fire becoming coed and Sweyolakan opening to non-Camp Fire members. They’ve served and continue to serve on the council or on various committees.

And they’ve passed their love of Sweyolakan on to a new generation. Davis’ daughter serves as assistant camp director.

“The skills learned at camp help you the rest of your life,” deViveiros said.

She’s not necessarily referring to archery, fire-building or knife-safety skills.

“You learn how to get along with people,” she continued.

Davis added, “And as counselors you learn to be calm, level-headed and how to manage conversation with a table full of strangers.”

In 1997, the friends attended the 75th anniversary celebration of Camp Fire Inland Northwest and Camp Sweyolakan.

“The cook left early, so some of us pitched in to help,” Davis said.

The following year the group of former campers, counselors and staffers were asked to come help again. They enjoyed the work and the camaraderie so much they dubbed themselves “The Old Ladies” and returned summer after summer.

“In 2001, a gentleman said, ‘You need a better name than that,’ ” deViveiros said. “He named us ‘The Goldens,’ and every year as many of us who can, come out to help at camp.”

Their involvement preserves much of Sweyolakan history – especially the music – and ensures new generations will be familiar with the old traditions and songs.

“We teach a round, a grace and a special song to every single group,” said deViveiros, who comes out on Tuesdays. “We wanted the songs we learned to carry on.”

For the past three years, Davis has spent the entire summer volunteering at Sweyolakan.

“She’s there from the end of June till the end of August, plus two weeks of preseason,” deViveiros said. “Kathy provides something really special – that level of history and experience.”

Davis smiled at her friend.

“It was a life-altering experience to sit down on the bus next to this little girl.”

They’re both 71 now, and when asked how long they plan to continue volunteering at camp, Davis shrugged.

“Till we die,” she said. “They’re going to have to drag us out feet first.”

“Camp Sweyolakan is so much more than just a place,” deViveiros explained.

Davis nodded.

“It’s magic,” she said.

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