ARARAT — Eldora Handicamp returned to Homeplace Recreational Park here over the weekend, the first time the camp has been held without either of its co-founders.
The camp for special-needs children was started in 1986 by Brent Simpson and Paul Key. Key died several years ago and Simpson passed away in May.
“It’s hard to believe Mr. Simpson is gone. We hated it when he died,” said Greg Journey, whose son Ben has been attending Eldora Camp for the last four or five years. “We saw him just two weeks before he died, and he asked Ben if he was coming this year.”
Ben wouldn’t miss it. As of Saturday afternoon, Ben has liked the pool the best, but his father said he was looking forward to the band on Saturday night. Ben plays the guitar and piano and performs in the musical group, “The Journeys,” with his mother Donna.
“I’m just the pack mule,” said Greg Journey.
Ethan Higgins, 14, also likes the swimming.
“He’s a fish,” said his nurse Tammy Carpenter.
“I like the band, too,” said Ethan.
Greg Journey said camper Ben Jackson will play the drums.
“He’s really good,” added Ethan, adding that his favorite song is “Sunshine in my Pocket.”
Haley Johnson, 13, sat down and joined the group and began eating her lunch. Haley also likes to swim and said the slide in the pool is her very favorite thing. Ethan agrees the slide is the best.
At the other lunch table, Gretl Key said she likes swimming, getting a chance to see her friends, and hearing the band.
Sitting beside her, Clark Key, son of Paul Key who co-founded the camp, said he likes everything.
Key’s lunch companions encourage him to talk about how he sings like Elvis.
“It’s true,” he said. “I sing like Elvis.”
He had a rendition of “Hound Dog” planned for Saturday night.
“I think the campers have as much fun sitting and talking as they do doing anything else, said Kevin Simpson, son of co-founder Brent Simpson. “Some of them don’t see the other campers except this time each year.”
“Four or five of the campers have been coming the whole 33 years,” said Simpson. “Then there are several more who have been coming for 20 years or more.”
The camp was originally intended for children, but as time has gone by and campers have grown up, some keep coming back year after year. Simpson and his brother Rodney Simpson think about it for a minute and decide Clark Key is the oldest camper at 60 and the youngest this year is 5. But the 5-year-old camper has been attending for a few years.
“We are not going to tell them they can’t come back,” said Kevin Simpson.
Rodney Simpson added, “Daddy always said, ‘If you can tell them they can’t come back, go ahead and do it. but I can’t do it.’”
The Simpson brothers say they can’t and won’t, either.
Eldora Handicamp’s Sunday morning service is another highlight of the weekend.
“Rock Hill Church is just over there,” said Kevin Simpson. “But they come to our service. Homeplace doesn’t have a service the weekend we’re here. The other campers come to ours.”
Eldora used to bring in a minister to handle their service, but for the past several years, it has been conducted by campers Faye Anderson and Bucky Wight.
Wight said, “In 2014, they said they needed a preacher. I said, ‘You don’t need one — you got one.’ Ever since then I’ve been doing the service.”
Wight has been attending the camp since the beginning, making it to camp 31 out of 33 years. One year he had surgery and the other time he went to Hawaii.
“I’ve been preaching since 1999,” said Wight. “I started out filling in at churches, and I was licensed in 2003. So, officially it’s been 15 years.”
Wight’s business card reads “Open Door Ministries.”
“I go anywhere the door is open,” he smiles, saying that his sermon the next day is titled “HOG.”
“It stands for “Hand Of God,” he whispered, careful not to spoil the surprise for the folks who will be in attendance the next day.
At Eldora Handicamp, the door is always open. In fact, there isn’t even a door. This thought makes Bucky Wight laugh.
Reach Bill Colvard at 336-415-4699.