For 40 years, the Indiana Deaf Camp has provided a fun experience for deaf and partially deaf children, plus their hearing siblings and children with deaf parents. On Sunday, the camp marked this anniversary with a special ceremony.
Entitled “40 Years of Joy and Grace,” the ceremony highlighted the efforts of camp co-founders Grace Nunery and Joyce Smith to launch a deaf camp during a time when there were no closed-caption televisions, no emails or texts.
The camp — first for adults — came to fruition in 1973 with over 80 attendees participating. Three years later, Nunery and Smith established a children’s camp for children ages four to 16 with a counselor-in-training program for ages 17 and 18.
Epworth Forest in North Webster hosted the first camps. Then at one point, Epworth Forest and Camp Adventure were used simultaneously with the teens going to the former and the younger kids going to the latter. There was a brief period spent at North Webster’s Camp Crosley until Deaf Camp found a home at Camp Alexander Mack in Milford.
“Grace had her heart in the whole thing and God was right behind her pushing her, and she was right behind me pushing me,” Smith recalled of Nunery, who passed away in 2008.
Smith also told those involved in the camp that they needed to pat themselves on the back, stating it was amazing the camp had gone on for so long.
Former campers, counselors and volunteers shared their experiences with the camp and how it had impacted their lives.
Former camper turned camp assistant director, Curtis Sigafoose, related through signing how nervous he had been to come to camp as a kid, but how he had made friends and had such wonderful counselors. “I wanted to come back,” he signed.
Sigafoose has been involved at camp since 1979 and has also served as a counselor.
Sigafoose’s mother, Louise, was also on hand to share her experiences as a parent. “I was worried about leaving him,” she said, noting she was expecting a call at any moment to pick him up — that he was miserable at the camp. That call never came and five days later she picked him up.
“He couldn’t stop talking about camp,” Louise noted of their trip home. “I wish every child could experience camp.”
Current director Phil Harden also shared his experience of visiting the camp. “I could not have imagined what I would encounter,” Harden said through sign language, sharing how he had met Nunery, who encouraged him to help out at camp. “I can’t believe I’ve been here 27 years! I’ve met so many people and made so many friends.”
Harden also noted that Nunery, Smith and camp program coordinator Barbi Stenacker have greatly influenced everything in his life. And he is not alone with many campers going on to become counselors, ASL interpreters or start their own deaf ministries.
Deaf Camp runs from now to July 26, and campers will be participating in several activities from arts and crafts to canoeing and swimming.
Camperships are available for kids to attend the camp with the Indiana Lions Club being a major contributor. For information, call Indiana Deaf Camps Foundation at 317-846-3404, ext. 305, email [email protected] or visit indeafcamps.org.
FROM ALL OVER — Campers come to Indiana Deaf Camp from all over the United States and the world. Pictured from left are campers: Kalvin Dowdy, Akron, Ohio; Hannah Jezerski, Pittsburgh, Pa.; Athisi McGinnis, Toledo, Ohio; and Sabrina Owens, Columbus, Ohio.