Updated: Nov 1, 2021
by Tim Dickey
Sixty years ago, the YMCA ran a wonderful summer day camp for kids at Bachman Lake called “Camp Kiwanis.” Camp Kiwanis sat where the new $8 million Regional Family Aquatics Center is currently being built and was run by the YMCA in conjunction with the Kiwanis Club and the Dallas Park and Recreation Department.
Camp Kiwanis was a kids’ paradise. After being dropped off by their parents in the morning, kids could look forward to a day full of canoeing, hiking, swimming, archery, arts and crafts, treehouse building, capture the flag, horseshoes, and much more. You name it-- if it was fun, Camp Kiwanis had it. Camp Kiwanis was a true Godsend for my parents, who both worked long hours and needed an affordable place for me to go during the day. At $10 a week (about $90 in today’s dollars) it was a bit of a stretch for them, but they made it work, as parents do.
The official Camp Kiwanis day began at 8:30 sharp, when the loudspeaker on top of the now long-gone main building would sound “Reveille”, the bugle call that the military uses to mark the beginning of the day. Upon hearing Reveille, all of us campers would gather under the big pecan tree by the water’s edge and be led in the Pledge of Allegiance by one Mr. Brooks, whose family lived at Camp Kiwanis, and ran the place. That pecan tree is still there, by the way, and is now a whopping 42 inches in diameter.
After that, us campers (50-60 kids) would break into our various “tribes” of 10-12 kids, which were sorted by age group, and were led by twenty-something “counselors” -- generally college students working at Camp Kiwanis as a summer job. At that point, there was no telling what adventures the day might bring.
The average day might begin with a long canoe session on the lake, maybe even venturing east, up the creek, all the way to “The Bluff”, where we would sometimes see a Water Moccasin, a.k.a. “Cottonmouth” hanging from the branch of a tree.
After that, maybe go for a swim in the now-buried pool whose vague outline one can still see in the Google Earth shot of the property. I learned to swim in that pool, and still remember the stages of progress as one became a more proficient swimmer: “Minnow”, “Fish”, “Shark” then the coveted, “Junior Life Saver.” Each stage awarded a cloth badge one’s parents could sew onto our bathing suits. I only ever got to “Shark.”
There were also wonderful games of “Capture the Flag”, where the whole camp would split into two sides, and we would run and play that game for hours.
One summer the “tribes” built treehouses in the huge Post Oak grove that covered the camp. Each tribe had their own tree, and woe be unto the fellow camper from another tribe who entered another tribe’s treehouse without permission.
That big Post Oak grove is still there, although 35 or so of the old trees were taken down to make way for the new Aquatics Center.
Another summer, my tribe’s counselor, Bailey Phelps, taught us campers the sport of “fencing.” Mr. Phelps was on his college’s fencing team, and he had some extra fencing gear, so he brought it all to camp, and gave us fencing lessons. It’s a strange sport, and I’ve had an interest in the sport of fencing ever since.
And looking back, upon reflection, wasn’t that the point, of it all, really? The idea behind Camp Kiwanis must have been to provide a place for kids to go in the summer, and have their days filled with all kinds of interesting and fun activities, and encounter new people, new thoughts and ideas that might spark a lifelong interest in fencing, or swimming, or archery or collecting bugs, or the thousand other things kids learn to do at summer day camp.
I remember when providing great activities and places for kids to go in the summer was a top priority in the City of Dallas. I would love to see us make that a top priority again, and back it up with the funding needed to make it all happen.
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