BENEFITING: YMCA of Greater Cincinnati
EVENT: YMCA Camp Ernst Camper Scholarship Challenge
You are the Organizer of this Fundraiser
I grew up in Falmouth, Kentucky, population 2,000 rowdy 4-H members, 600 worried parents, 9 mules, 21 piglets---and me. I was a very chubby little boy who was constantly bullied in school. My father was the star newspaper editor of ""The Falmouth Outlook." Yes, he did a lot of good, but he was very opinionated, and I grew up surrounded by a lot of people who hated the power of the press and my father. Surrounded by hate. Now I realize I was this little straight A kid who was a little lonely. My sweet mother wanted me to have a magical childhood and so she sent me away for a vacation at YMCA Camp Ernst in Burlington, Kentucky. When I got there, I was free of Falmouth Kentucky---I wasn't "A Shonert"--- and I was surrounded by LOVE. EVERYWHERE. I just made up my mind that I was going to meet and make friends with every camper who was there. My Camp Director Orrin ("Pooty") Devan just loved me. He called me "The Little Diplomat." Suddenly I was surrounded by amazing friends.
About that time I saw Mary Martin in "Peter Pan" on our tiny GE television and when I got to Camp Ernst I was so happy I would look up at the entire galaxy of stars above the messhall at nite and feel like I could fly and anything was possibleI was a very smart kid and I remember at the time I shocked my mother when I came home one day from school and told her I was gonna write a hundred word essay: "Peter Pan and Jesus: Compare and Contrast." Yes, I was thinking and I was growing and I just loved God in my own innocent way. Well at Camp I just blossomed spiritually! They had a chapel up on the hill surrounded with limestone rock walls and covered in a bowery of trees---"The Temple of the Trees" I loved to sneak up there and be alone and just talk and talk to God. ...
We had ghost stories at the campfire, and lots of singing ("Mangey Moose" and "Oh Willy Went Down in the Bucket" ) and horseback overnite sleepovers, and Oh, the joy of having a Red Pop and a Moon Pie at the Recreation Building. And then the weekly miracle of getting a surprise package from my mother, a box covered in grocery bag paper filled with goodies. --so much love packed into one box!
Then, the most miraculous event of my life happened: The counselors elected me honor camper! They gave you a tin cup with your name inscribed on it during a very serious secret society ritual at the last campfire. As we were inducted we all drank bug juice (Cherry koolaid sometimes infused with mosquitoes). They hung your cup for posterity on the beams high above the dining tables in the mess hall. And suddenly, I was no longer a little bullied fat boy! I was a leader! Today I think Camp Ernst was the most important thing that ever happened to me! I returned for a visit years later and Orrin Devan got up during lunch and spoke to the campers. "We have honor camper cups that go back all the way to 1928 and today we have Jeffrey Hancock Shonert visiting with us. He has just returned from doing his first New York Broadway show in the "King and I" with Yul Brynner." Last fall they featured my story on the national YMCA Website and the present Camp Ernst Director Elizabeth Wayman Cochran ("Eli") saw it and invited me back to camp. When we got to the mess hall, I got very emotional. This was where I found my power. I noticed there was a giant ladder set up. Eli said, "Go on, Jeff, climb the ladder and find your honor camper cup. Well, I did, and there it was, in the middle of 52 years of cobwebs--- my little tin cup: Goosebumps!! "Jeffrey Hancock Shonert 1961." Then she said: "I have a surprise for you. We're going to make you a new cup, hang that one, and---we want you to have your original honor camper cup. I just lost it. I felt like God was saying to me: "You're OK, and "I HAVE ALWAYS LOVED YOU---AND I STILL DO!"
I am posting this because I want to make a difference in the lives of a number of children out there who are too poor to afford camp. I want them to, like me, learn to fly. Jesus, said to ask---and, I am asking. If you are able, please consider sponsoring a child this summer at Camp Ernst. I will bow my head and just say, "Thank You God." With Love and Magic, Jeffrey Hancock Shonert (Camp Ernst Alumna, 1960-67).