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Bruce, the Teenage Bible Thumper

bruce gerencser 1971
Bruce Gerencser, Ninth Grade, 1971

I attended Central Junior High and Findlay High School, both in Findlay, Ohio from 1970-1974, with brief excursions away from FHS in the spring of my sophomore year (Rincon High School, Tucson, Arizona) and the fall of my junior year (Riverdale High School, Mt. Blanchard, Ohio). All told, I attended Findlay city schools for three and one-half years — my longest enrollment in any school district.

After attending Calvary Baptist Church for several months, our family decided to attend Trinity Baptist Church, then located on Trenton Ave. Trinity was a fast-growing Independent Fundamentalist Baptist (IFB) pastored by Gene Milioni, a graduate of the inaugural class (1953) of Baptist Bible College in Springfield, Missouri. Ron Johnson served as the church’s assistant pastor, and Bruce Turner — who came on board several months after we started attending Trinity — was its youth pastor. (Please see Dear Bruce Turner.)

As I reflect on the years I spent at FHS and Trinity Baptist, I see two Bruce Gerencsers, with a born-again experience separating the two. Before I became a Christian, I was an ornery, temperamental teen. While I attended church every time the doors were opened, my behavior, language, and dress reflected a young man who didn’t know the IFB Jesus. It was not uncommon for me to wear a white tee-shirt, frayed Levis, and combat boots to midweek prayer meeting — definitely not IFB approved dress. I wasn’t afraid of using expletives when with my church friends. One time, while attending a youth hayride at the home of Bob and Bonnie Bolander, Bob hollered at me for horsing around. I replied, fuck off. Needless to say, that didn’t go over well. I loved having fun and playing practical jokes, irritating those who expected better behavior from church teens. One Saturday, I was helping paint the walls in the church annex. Pastor Milioni stopped by to “admire” my work, I mean criticize my painting. I stood up, threw my roller in the paint pan, and told Milioni that he could do it himself if he didn’t like my painting. From these incidences and others, my pastors and other church adults concluded that I was an angry, temperamental teenager. It was evident, to them, that I needed Jesus.

In the spring of 1972, after fourteen years of marriage, my parents divorced. Several months later, my mother married her first cousin, a recent parolee from the Texas prison system, and my father married a nineteen-year-old girl with a baby. My parent’s divorce and remarriages upended my life. Making matters worse, Pastor Milioni performed the wedding ceremony for my father and his teenage bride. Both of my parents, along with my two siblings, stopped attending church. I, however, continued to attend church every time the doors were open. Trinity provided me a stable family of sorts. Most of my friends attended the church.

In June of 1972, I celebrated my fifteenth birthday. In September of ’72, I had a life-changing experience. Evangelist Al Lacy held a meeting that fall at Trinity. I attended every night of the week-long revival. One night, as I sat in one of the left side pews with my friends, I came under conviction. At that moment, I knew I was a sinner, and I knew I needed to be saved. So when the time came for the invitation, I stepped out of my pew and went forward. I was met at the church altar by Ray Salisbury, one of the church’s deacons. I told Ray why I had come forward. He led me through what is commonly called in IFB churches the Romans Road, and then I prayed the sinner’s prayer, asking Jesus to forgive me of my sins and come into my heart to save me. At that very moment, I was a changed man. The next Sunday, I was baptized, and several weeks later, I stood before the church and declared that I believed God was calling me to preach. It was not long after that I preached my first sermon.

The changes in my life BC (Before Christ) and AC (After Christ) were instantaneous and dramatic. I started reading my Bible and praying every day. I started dressing up for church, and I no longer used swear words. Every aspect of my life was transformed. I was an on-fire, born-again Christian.

I want to illustrate this transformation with several stories. As you shall see, “Jesus” had transformed my life.

I started carrying my Bible to school every day. I also tried to evangelize my classmates, inviting them to attend church with me. Overnight, I became an insufferable Fundamentalist. I remember writing a paper for one of my classes about Baptists being the true church. I got an A on the paper. My teacher wrote the word “interesting” at the top of my paper and underlined it. I suspect she defined “interesting” differently from the way I did. I would give the correct answers on tests in my biology class and then write the “Biblical” answers below. I do not doubt that I irritated the hell out of my teacher.

I took seriously the interpretations of the Bible preached by my pastors. I was all in. Wanting to be morally pure, I made a list of dating rules for myself. My goal was to remain a virgin until my wedding day. My dad found my dating rules on top of the refrigerator, read them, and then laughed at me. Sure, my rules were funny (and delusional) but him laughing at me only caused me to hate him more.

I loved listening to preaching. In the fall of 1972 or 1973, Trinity hosted the monthly meeting of the Ohio Baptist Bible Fellowship. I skipped school that day so I could hear the big-name IFB preachers preach. I was enamored by these men of God, thinking I would one day be just like them.

I also learned at this meeting that preachers could be hypocrites. After one of the preaching sessions, I was standing outside with Pastor Turner and several other preachers. I hung on every word these pastors said. I looked up to them. One of these preachers told a joke about lust. He told us that lust was looking at a woman, turning away, and turning back to look again. And then he said, “just make sure your first look is a long one!” Everyone laughed, but as a devout, committed IFB Christian, I was troubled by his “joke.” For the first time, I learned that what preachers said from the pulpit they didn’t necessarily believe. I knew that I didn’t want to be like that pastor.

Bruce, the teenage Bible thumper went on to become Bruce, the IFB college student, and Bruce, the pastor. I preached my first sermon at Trinity in the fall of 1972. Thirty-three years and 4,000+ sermons later, I preached my last sermon (at Hedgesville Baptist Church in Hedgesville, West Virginia).

bruce-gerencser-headshot

Bruce Gerencser, 64, lives in rural Northwest Ohio with his wife of 43 years. He and his wife have six grown children and thirteen grandchildren. Bruce pastored Evangelical churches for twenty-five years in Ohio, Texas, and Michigan. Bruce left the ministry in 2005, and in 2008 he left Christianity. Bruce is now a humanist and an atheist.

You can contact Bruce via email, Facebook, Twitter, or YouTube.

Your comments are welcome and appreciated. All first-time comments are moderated. Please read the commenting rules before commenting.

Good Independent Baptist Boys Don’t Dance

christian dancing
Not even this kind of dancing was permitted in the IFB church

Repost from 2015-2016. Edited, updated, and corrected.

In September 1971, I began my ninth grade year at Central Junior High School in Findlay, Ohio.  At home, my parents argued constantly, and seven months later they divorced. A few months after that, Mom married her first cousin — a recent Texas prison parolee — and Dad married a 19-year-old woman he met at the local dirt race track. She brought a toddler girl into our new “blended” family. 

Needless to say, life at home was anything but love, peace, and harmony. I hated my parents for getting divorced. I hated my Dad for marrying a girl who was only four years older than I.

I stayed away from home as much as I could. Dad was busy with his “new” family, so my siblings and I were left to our own devices. I spent a lot of time at the local YMCA. I didn’t have the money for a membership, so I learned the fine art of sneaking into the Y. The Y became my home away from home.

Dad started G and B Train Shop with Gary Zissler, a fellow deacon at the church. The store mainly sold Lionel, American Flyer, Marx, and HO trains. I worked at the store in the evenings. Dad paid me twenty-five cents an hour, minus the cost of the pop I drank. Since we rarely had pop at home, I became a pop-a-holic while at the train shop. I also spent a lot of money buying comic books at the next-door drug store. I quickly learned how to sort the till to fund my habits.

Our family attended Trinity Baptist Church in Findlay, Ohio. Trinity was a large Independent Fundamentalist Baptist (IFB) church pastored by Gene Milioni. Ron Johnson was the assistant pastor and Bruce Turner (please see Dear Bruce Turner) was the youth pastor.

After Pastor Milioni married my dad and his second wife, Dad and my siblings stopped going to church. I, however, immersed myself in the church, attending every time the doors were opened.

The church became my family. Most of my close friends attended Trinity, and the church provided me with everything I found lacking in my home life. Even though I am now an atheist, I will forever be grateful for the support and social connection the church provided for me.

In the fall of 1972, my tenth-grade year at Findlay High School, Al Lacy held a revival at Trinity Baptist. One night, I came under great conviction and I went down to the altar, confessed my sins, and asked Jesus to save me. A week later I was baptized, and not too long after that, I publicly confessed before the church that I believed God was calling me into the ministry. I was fifteen.

My life changed dramatically after I got saved. I started carrying my Bible to school, and I regularly witnessed to my non-Christian friends. My non-Christian friends, those I played sports with, thought I had lost my mind, and some of my Christian friends did too.

I have always been an all-in kind of person. I don’t do half-way very well, so when it came to being a Christian, I was 100% committed to my Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. I took seriously what I heard the pastors preach. In my young mind, I saw the pastors as speaking for God. After all, everything they preached about came straight out of the Bible, God’s inspired, inerrant, infallible Word — KJV-1611.

Trinity was an IFB church, affiliated with the Baptist Bible Fellowship. The pastors preached against rock music, premarital sex, mixed swimming, going to movies, short skirts and pants on women, and long hair on men. Remember, it was the early 1970s, and mini-skirts and maxi-dresses were popular and men wore their hair long. The pastors at Trinity were anti-culture, believing the love and peace generation was destroying America.

Like a good Baptist boy, I tried to follow the rules to the letter. God (or the pastor) said it, I believed it, and that settled it for me. One sin the pastors were against was any kind of dancing. Not just some types of dancing, they were against ALL dancing.

I vividly remember ninth-grade year at Central Jr High. The Phys Ed teacher decided to teach square dancing. I was all for learning to square dance. This would be my only opportunity to touch the cheerleaders. Unfortunately, Pastor Milioni put an end to my carnal desires. He came to school and made a fuss about the square-dancing class. Next thing I know, I am being forced to sit with the fags (talking as we did in the 1970s — I do not use such language today) who refused to take Phys Ed. This was a punishment worse than death. Pastor Milioni would later come to my school to complain about the choir singing Jesus Christ Superstar. I had to quit choir.

Both my junior high and high school held dances, social events that everyone attended — well everyone but this good Baptist boy. I went through a period of time when I was really upset about all the rules and restrictions, so I would stay overnight with non-Christian friends so I could go to the dances with them. I did this numerous times. I don’t know if my parents ever caught on. If they did, they never said a word.

I came through the 1970s with my Baptisthood intact. I never smoked cigarettes, drank, or toked marijuana. I didn’t listen to rock music, I kept my hair cut short, and I successfully made it through high school as a virgin. Not that I didn’t want to have sex — I did — but I was afraid of what might happen if I did, and I didn’t think any of the church girls I dated were “willing.” I found out a few years ago, after talking to some of the girls I went to church with, that they were more “willing” than this naïve Baptist boy thought they were.

The first time I danced was at the wedding of one of my children. This was the first time for my wife too. My daughters-in-law cajoled us into dancing. Oh, what a sight we were. We may have been years away from our Fundamentalist youth, but it was quite evident that we didn’t know the first thing about dancing.

How about you? If you were raised in a Fundamentalist Christian home and attended public school, how did that affect your ability to be a normal student? Please share your experiences in the comment section.

bruce-gerencser-headshot

Bruce Gerencser, 64, lives in rural Northwest Ohio with his wife of 43 years. He and his wife have six grown children and thirteen grandchildren. Bruce pastored Evangelical churches for twenty-five years in Ohio, Texas, and Michigan. Bruce left the ministry in 2005, and in 2008 he left Christianity. Bruce is now a humanist and an atheist.

You can contact Bruce via email, Facebook, Twitter, or YouTube.

Your comments are welcome and appreciated. All first-time comments are moderated. Please read the commenting rules before commenting.

Rebecca Davis Worried About Her Lustful Four-Year-Old Ogling A Woman Wearing a Bikini

hannah davis sports illustrated
Hannah Davis, 2015 Sports Illustrated Swimsuit Model

Repost from 2015-2016. Edited, updated, and corrected.

Rebecca Davis works for the American Family Association (AFA). She is the assistant editor of The Stand, the official whine and outrage newsletter of the AFA. Several years ago, she wrote an eye-opening article about her 4-year-old’s propensity to lust after women in bathing suits and lingerie. While she denies that she is saying her little boy lusts, her article suggests otherwise (link no longer active):

It is almost swimsuit season. There are a number of adjectives I could use to describe my disdain for this time of year. Itsy-bitsy and teeny-weeny are two of them.

No, I’m not a prude, and no, I’m not bitter because I don’t have the perfect figure. I have never been Ms. Skinny Mini, and after having two babies and holding on to an extra 10 pounds each time, I probably never will be. But that’s not really the reason I dread swimsuit season.

Actually, summer is one of my favorite times of year. I enjoy taking our son to the pool. He begs year-round to go the beach.

But the older he gets, the more difficult it becomes to take him to the beach … to the grocery story, to the mall, even to church at times. His eyes are constantly surveying his surroundings, and many times he sees entirely too much.

Although he is only four years old, his little mind is wired to be visual. The dominant perceptual sense in men is vision. God made males that way for a reason, and I’m thankful he did.

There are a number of studies and findings that conclude male brains are more visually stimulated than the female brain. It’s a fact that my son’s actions prove true, even at such a young age.

For example, from the time he was about two years old, if we were in a store and simply walked past the lingerie section, he would point and say “Mama.” Now, it’s all I can do to keep his eyes from innocently zoning in on the window displays when we walk rather hurriedly past Victoria’s Secret.

For several months now, I have been receiving issues of Glamour magazine in the mail. I have no idea why. Somehow I became a subscriber to the magazine. (I have tried to cancel my unwanted subscription but that’s another story.) An issue came in the mail; I accidently left it facedown on the counter before putting it in the garbage can. I was in the kitchen cooking and noticed my son sitting at the counter staring at a scantily clad woman on the back cover. My heart sank.

Then it wasn’t long after that he was with me in a beauty-supply store. I was down on my knees examining some shampoo (for color-treated hair, I admit) when my son picked up a small promotional card off the nearby shelf, handed it to me, and said, “Mama, look!” The card pictured an outstretched woman in a seductive pose wearing a skimpy swimsuit. Again, my heart sank.

Let me make a very clear disclaimer at this point. My son is only four years old. In no way am I implying that his observations are sexual in nature. They are not. His reactions are natural – not lustful – responses to the way his brain is wired.

I use the above examples to show just how powerful a female’s attire can be over males of all ages.

When my son sees a woman wearing clothes that barely cover her body, be it in a picture or in person, he always asks, “Mama, why are they dressed that way?”

I’m thankful for his questions; they make for good teachable moments. I’m thankful that seeing women dressed immodestly is not the norm for him right now. I want it to stay that way, but the reality is it won’t.

So, as his mother, how can I protect him? How can I teach him to channel the wirings of his little brain through a biblical worldview? How can I keep his mind, heart and body pure for his future wife, if the Lord wills him to marry one day? More than that, how can I encourage him to live a daily life of purity out of love and honor for God?

Honestly, I don’t have the answers to all these questions. I am learning that parenting is a day-by-day journey. Some days I do it right; some days I do it wrong. But thankfully God is a God of grace and mercy.

One thing I do know is that, with my husband, we can make an extra effort to keep our son’s eyes from seeing the immodest pattern of this world by monitoring what he watches, changing the channel if need be, diverting his attention elsewhere when in public, and having open and honest dialogue with him when he does have questions about what he sees. Our aim is to always do so out of honor, never out of shame.

We can also show him the importance of modesty by the way I dress and by the way we dress his little sister.

And I can encourage you, ladies, to be intentional about what you wear (or don’t wear) to the beach or pool this summer.

If nothing else, be mindful of your appearance for the sake of my son … your son or someone else’s son.  Actually, keep all men in mind! You may have no idea what you do to them – and to yourself – when you wear a bikini or expose yourself in other ways…

In the past, I have detailed how women in Independent Fundamental Baptist (IFB) churches are blamed for the lustful thoughts of teenage boys. Rebecca Davis, an Evangelical, does the same. Her poor little boy already has a wandering eye, and it is up to the women of the world to keep him from lusting. He can’t help himself, Davis says, because his mind is wired for the visual. It’s just how males are. (Of course, she refuses to accept this exact same argument when it comes to homosexuality.)

I suspect most readers will think Davis’s article is ignorant and silly. And it is, but millions of Christians think like this. Taught that their sexuality must be repressed, is it any surprise that 4-year-old Evangelical boys grow into sexually dysfunctional 20-year-old toddlers? Years ago, I was the co-pastor of Community Baptist Church in Elmendorf, Texas. One prayer meeting night, a woman came up and scolded us for letting our girls sleep on the church floor with their panties exposed. That’s right, little girls sleeping with their panties exposed were a problem. I think she expected me to immediately get the girls off the floor. Instead, I curtly told her, don’t look. Were there pedophiles in the church I didn’t know about? Maybe. Was she afraid that teenage boys would see panties and lust? Perhaps. I suppose if some teenage boy lusted, it would be our four- and two-year-old daughters’ fault, right?

While Evangelicals want to point to the “world” and blame it for sexualizing everything, it is those who adhere to the sexual mores of the Bible who have done so. They are the ones who have turned a woman’s breast into a sex object that must be covered up at all times. They are the ones who focus on cleavage, legs, asses, and the female shape in general. Cover up, women are told. Hide your feminine figure. If left to people such as Davis, the human race would perish. Sexual attraction and desire are n-o-r-m-a-l and healthy. It’s the Bible that is out of step with what it means to be human. From Genesis to Revelation, God demands that humans deny their sexuality. I thought God made us sexual beings? It seems strange that he would create us with sexual desires and then say it is a sin if we act on them. Well, maybe not. This is the same God, after all, who created some of us just so he could damn us and torture us in the Lake of Fire for eternity.

So, what do you think? Will Rebecca Davis’s four-year-old son turn into a horn-dog Evangelical teenager a decade from now? If he finds himself uncontrollably lusting after women, who will be blamed? Perhaps, thanks to being taught to Just Say No, he gets the deacon’s daughter pregnant. Whose fault will this be? Again, the Bible is not the answer. Children and teenagers need to be taught the facts of life. As they get older, they need to be taught sexual responsibility. Since most church teenagers engage in some sort of sexual activity before marriage, isn’t it in their best interest to make sure they know how to use birth control? Instead of telling them THE BIBLE SAYS, how about doses of common sense and honest instruction about sex? Instead of teaching them masturbation is a sin, how about teaching them that self-pleasuring is a way to release sexual tension. Better to spank the monkey than get the deacon’s daughter pregnant.

We should pity Evangelical teen boys and men who must go through life with blinders on lest they ravage the first woman they see in tight shorts. Instead of enjoying the beauty of God’s creation, they are taught the human body is shameful and should only be uncovered in darkness after marriage. While I am not suggesting we all turn into naturalists, surely a man can be in the same room with women to whom he might be attracted and not turn into the First Baptist Rapist.

Physical attraction is normal and healthy. I am a married man, happily so for almost 42 years. I love my wife and she is my one and only. Until death do us part, I am hers and she is mine. That’s the commitment we made to one another one hot July day in 1978. Does this commitment mean we can no longer walk down the store aisle and check out the goods? Is Polly being unfaithful if she says Matt Bomer, Sean Connery, or Daniel Craig is attractive? Am I being unfaithful when I admire another woman’s beauty? Of course not. We are confident in our ability to control our sexual desires.

When I was a fifteen-year-old boy, I was standing outside Trinity Baptist Church in Findlay, Ohio with a group of Baptist Bible Fellowship preachers. I was in heaven just being around these renowned men of God. Well, preacher men are just like factory men, and when they are around their own, they will let down their guard and talk like one of the boys. One preacher made a joke about Jesus’s command, “but I say unto you, That whosoever looketh on a woman to lust after her hath committed adultery with her already in his heart.”  He said, the first look is not a sin, the second one is. Just make sure the first look is a long one. Everyone laughed. Great advice for a sexually aware 15-year-old preacher boy, right?

Forget the Bible and religion for a moment and think about this issue from a scientific perspective. Where would the human race be if males and females were not attracted to one another? This attraction is vital to the propagation and future of our species. We can talk about inner beauty and loving someone for their mind, but the fact is, for those of us in a relationship with another, it was sexual attraction that first brought us together. There were plenty of women I could have dated while a student at Midwestern Baptist College. Why did I decide to ask 17-year-old Polly Shope out on a date? She was and is a beautiful woman, but there were other beautiful women at the college. Why was she the one? Biology? Chemistry? Fate?

Here’s what I know: every relationship begins with a look. Hmm, that’s a nice-looking man or woman. Have you ever seen couples that you wonder how they were attracted to one another? You know, the drop-dead gorgeous woman with the guy who looks like he just spent the last month homeless, living on the street. I don’t have all the answers, but I do know that sexual attraction is key to our relationship with our significant other. Yes, given time, the relationship becomes far more than sexual attraction, but few relationships start without it. (I speak broadly, knowing that people can and do enter relationships for reasons other than sexual attraction.)

Instead of asking everyone to cover up for the sake of her son, perhaps Davis should focus on helping him grow into a sexually responsible man. I wouldn’t be worrying about the things Davis seems preoccupied with for my 4-year-old son. I’d be more worried about a four-year-old plugging up the toilet with army men or Legos or sticking a kitchen knife in an electrical plug than I would a woman in a bikini causing him to have inappropriate thoughts. If Davis is concerned about the bikini effect, perhaps she should pay attention to her husband’s eyes.

bruce-gerencser-headshot

Bruce Gerencser, 64, lives in rural Northwest Ohio with his wife of 43 years. He and his wife have six grown children and thirteen grandchildren. Bruce pastored Evangelical churches for twenty-five years in Ohio, Texas, and Michigan. Bruce left the ministry in 2005, and in 2008 he left Christianity. Bruce is now a humanist and an atheist.

You can contact Bruce via email, Facebook, Twitter, or YouTube.

Your comments are welcome and appreciated. All first-time comments are moderated. Please read the commenting rules before commenting.

Camp Chautauqua, Miamisburg, Ohio

youth camp

Youth Camp. The one big event most Independent Baptist teens looked forward to every year. Camp is a week-long event dedicated to daily devotions, praying, and listening to preaching two or more times a day. Every summer countless teenagers go to camp, returning home a week later with their spiritual batteries recharged and their notebook filled with sermon notes and the mailing addresses, email addresses, and text numbers of cute boys or girls.

I went to camp for three years — eighth through tenth grades.

As an eighth grader I attended a General Association of Regular Baptist Churches (GARBC) Youth camp. Camp Patmos is located on Kelley’s Island in Lake Erie. I don’t remember much about my week at Camp Patmos. One thing that stands out is that one of the older boys in my cabin took the camera of another boy while he was away from the cabin and took pictures of his genitals. I can only imagine the horror of the boy’s parents when they saw the developed pictures.

I attended Camp Chautauqua in Miamisburg, Ohio the summers of 1972 and 1973. The camp is owned and operated by the Baptist Bible Fellowship (BBF). The Church I attended at the time, Trinity Baptist Church in Findlay Ohio, is a BBF affiliated church. Numerous BBF churches from Ohio, Kentucky, and West Virginia, brought their teenagers to Camp Chautauqua for a week of spiritual challenge, with a little bit of fun thrown in to keep the teens happy.

I have many fond memories of the two summers I spent at Camp Chautauqua. The spiritual emphasis was intense and played an instrumental part in my call to the ministry. A number of the big-gun Baptist preachers preached at the evening chapel services. I can still remember Peter Ruckman’s sermons, complete with his famous chalk drawings. I also remember John Rawlings, then pastor of Landmark Baptist Temple (now Landmark Church) in Cincinnati, preaching one night, and during his sermon he told an illustration about cleaning shit out of the barn when he was young. He actually said the word SHIT!! Needless to say, I was stunned. Later in life, I learned that some Christians didn’t think shit was a curse word, especially when used to describe animal manure.

Camp brought upwards of a thousand youth together for one week. Camp Chautauqua had a lot of real estate for meandering teens to get lost in.  Follow me for a moment…It’s the 70s. A thousand teenagers, ninth through twelfth grade. Lots of real estate in which hormone-raging teens could get lost. Well, use your imagination. The highlight of youth camp for me was the girls. Forget the home church girls for a week. I traded addresses with several girls. Sadly, as of today. I am still waiting for that cute, dark-haired girl from Elyria to write back.

The first year I went to Camp Chautauqua, Gene Milioni, the pastor of Trinity Baptist, was our cabin counselor. He was pretty easy to outwit. The next year, the youth pastor, Bruce Turner, was the cabin counselor, (please see Dear Bruce Turner)  and he proved to be every bit our match. He was not so far removed from his own youth that he had forgotten the dangers of putting a bunch of teenage boys and girls in proximity to one another.

Practical jokes were an everyday occurrence. The jokes were fun to pull on others, but payback could be brutal. From stolen bedding and purloined light bulbs to shaving cream in sleeping bags, practical jokes were a part of what made camp a great experience. And besides, I was a pretty good joke perpetrator.

The music was another highlight of camp. Most of the churches that brought their teens to camp were mid-size to large churches, so the music talent level was superb. Wonderful music. To this day, I think some of the best singing I have ever heard was at Camp Chautauqua.

If I had a negative experience at camp, I don’t remember it. Perhaps, this is the wistful remembering of an old man trying to recall what happened 45 years ago during the glory days of his youth. Perhaps, my fond memories are a reflection of the fact that camp, for me and for many others, was a respite from our fundamentalist churches and family dysfunction. Camp was the one week out the year that I got to hang out with my friends and meet new people without having adults watching my every move.

How about you? Did you attend camp as a teenager? Do you have a camp story to share?

Note

Camp Chautauqua went into foreclosure in 2013. It was purchased by Jason Harmeyer, and based on the pictures I have seen, the Camp is no longer a Fundamentalist Baptist institution (though it still is quite Evangelical).

Here’s an excerpt from a Dayton Daily News article about the camp:

Miamisburg’s Camp Chautauqua, “The Camp by the River,” which sprawls throughout Montgomery and Warren counties, was on the verge of foreclosure when Jason Harmeyer, son of the longtime caretaker, stepped up to save the camp where he grew up. Purchased less than a year ago, the grounds and community center are again being put to use.

“I was 4 when we moved here,” says Harmeyer, an expert on the camp’s 100-plus year history.

The American Chautauqua Movement saw camps sprout up throughout the country to bring entertainment and culture to rural areas from the late 1800s to the 1920s. After the movement died out, campgrounds served other purposes, and many disappeared.

In its heyday, the Miamisburg Chautauqua hosted such notables as Booker T. Washington, George Washington Carver, Eleanor Roosevelt and baseball player-turned-evangelist Billy Sunday.

“It’s seen a little bit of everything, from famous orators and thinkers to entertainers such as Dolly Parton and Loretta Lynn; then it was a religious entity, and back and forth,” said Harmeyer.

“My dad took the caretaker’s job in 1977, and called me two years ago to say it was going into foreclosure. I moved back, set up the Chautauqua Foundation Inc., a 501C3 with a board of advisors, and we purchased the camp last August.

“Now, we hope to re-introduce Chautauqua back to the regional community.”

Although Harmeyer has long-term plans for the camp, which includes 59 buildings on 45 acres, activities in the community center have already begun.

….

Bruce Gerencser