Yonahlossee staff and campers to gather
A girls’ summer camp that was in operation from 1923 until 1985, Yonahlossee was the place where girls rode horses, sang songs and learned how to use a bow and arrow.
It was also the place where girls made friends for life.
“I went to Camp Yonahlossee from 1950 until 1962,” Julia Allen said. “I started going when I was 10 years old and was a camp counselor when I was in college. I met my friend Lucy there when we were 13 years old. We’re still really close friends.”
Allen and her friend, Lucy Lane Riddle, will be among the 70 to 100 former Camp Yonahlossee campers expected to attend a special reunion this weekend.
The site of the camp is now the site of the Yonahlossee Resort and Club on Shulls Mill Road, between Blowing Rock and Hound Ears. The building that once housed the camp’s main office is now the site of The Gamekeeper Restaurant.
The weekend reunion will include campfires and sing-alongs, a reception on Friday, luncheon on Saturday and an author signing on Saturday afternoon.
According to Allen, the heart and soul of Camp Yonahlossee was Agnes “Jete” Jeter.
Jeter began her career at Camp Yonahlossee as a college student counselor in 1927 and never missed a summer at the camp until she retired in 1982. After she retired, Jeter returned to her hometown of Union, S.C., but continued to stay in touch with former campers and counselors and organize annual reunions.
Jeter died in 2005 at the age of 97.
In her obituary, it stated, “Jete was a remarkable person who touched the lives of hundreds and hundreds of girls throughout the 55 years she was associated with Camp Yonahlossee. They were all ‘her girls’ and she welcomed the daughters of her early campers and eventually their granddaughters — three generations of Yonahlossee girls whose lives had been enriched by Jete’s love, wisdom and good example.”
According to Allen, Jeter started out as a camp counselor, but later became its director and part owner.
The camp was founded in the early 1920s by a couple known as Kep and Keppie Kephart.
Allen recalled that by the mid-1950s, the camp featured a wide range of activities for girls, including crafts, from basket weaving to loom weaving, archery, creative writing, music, canoeing, swimming, theater, horseback riding, volleyball, ballet, hiking and gardening, among others.
The girls were divided into “tribes” based on their age range and named after Native American tribes, such as Shawano, Tuscarora, Croatan and Chippewa. The cabins were also named with idyllic-sounding addresses such as Utopia, Mohawk, Cathedral and Shangri-La.
The camp was divided into two five-week sessions and many of the girls who came from Georgia and Florida would attend both sessions during the summer.
Today, the camp has been closed for more than a quarter century, but is still alive in the hearts and minds of the women who attended camp as girls.
Susan Kimel maintains a website where former campers can share stories, view photographs and find the email addresses of their campmates of yore. It is located at http://www.campyonahlossee.com.
“Last summer a friend of mine shared an experience she had with a mischievous ghost who resides at the Gamekeeper Restaurant in Blowing Rock — on shared grounds with the Yonahlossee Resort,” said Judi Beck, one of the organizers of the reunion. “She and a friend were dining in the bar area when the friend’s water glass mysteriously fell to the floor and broke. Perplexed and embarrassed, the woman profusely apologized as the bartender mopped up the mess.
“‘Don’t worry, it happens all the time,’ he insisted. ‘It probably wasn’t your doing, anyhow. There’s a precocious ghost, a Camp Yonahlossee camper, who lives here in the restaurant. Unfinished business, I guess. She’s been more than normally active lately.’
“And lo and behold, later in the meal, the glass began moving of its own accord, across the table and toward the edge. This time, my friend grabbed it before it fell to the floor. They finished their meal alert — but with no further incident.”
North Carolina author Anton DiSclafani will sign copies of the new book, “The Camp Yonahlossee Riding Camp for Girls,” from 4 to 6 p.m. on Saturday, June 8, during the reunion.
The book is a fictional account of 15-year-old Thea, who has been sent to the camp in the wake of a family tragedy during the Great Depression. She is angry over her exile from home and she misses her twin brothers terribly. A tender coming-of-age story, DiSclafani’s new book aims to touch the teenager in us all.