~ 37 PROUD YEARS ~
Founded as the “Lions of California – Nevada Wilderness Camp for Deaf Children” in 1980, this original purpose was declared: “To provide wilderness camping facilities, experiences, educational opportunities, health care and counseling for hearing impaired children.”
Roger Adams, a man from Stockton with a deaf son, requested the Lions help establish a deaf camp. The Governors got together at a Council Meeting to approve MD-4 endorsement and start the wheels in motion to align the camp with Lions Clubs International. Official incorporation on Sept. 10, 1981 finalized the procedure. Roger Adams became Executive Director. The first officers were elected in December 1981. PDG Roy Buddhu (L 6) was President in ’81 – ’83 followed by PDG Walter Cornell (A6) in ’83 – 84. In 1984 PDG Bill Billeci (C3) took the presidency.
Camp was first held at Avery, CA. in the mountains above Angels Camp. Kids from as far away as San Diego benefited. The first camp staff and all support was made up of boy scouts. But, in 1982 the new staff was proficient in sign language. Four hundred children applied for camp, but, only 258 could be accommodated. West Torrance Lions Club was the largest supporter donating $5,000, fishing gear and a charted bus. Donations of approximately $42,000 in contributions came from Lions and Lions Clubs. A campership was $185.
The first “Visitors’ Day” was sponsored by Bethel Island Lions Club in 1982 and for many years there after. In 1984 it was named “Harry Aslan Day” in honor of MD-4’s own International President and in appreciation for the produce donated by Aslan Packing Co. It took 6 round trips from Fresno that first year to transport fruit and kids.They continue to donate even though the plant was sold in 2000. In 1983, Bethel Island Lioness sewed neck scarves and donated $3,500. The camp was held at Avery for five years then at Bucks Lake near Quincy in 1986. It was held at the Odd Fellows Lodge East of Sonora for 2 years after that. Finally, a week at beautiful, scenic, high mountain Camp Sylvester at Pinecrest became available for lease from the Farm Bureau in 1989. North Camp was held there until 2003. From 2004 to 2006 the camp used a facility operated by the Clovis Unified School District called the Regional Learning Center located north and east of Sonora. In January 2007, a camp near Nevada City, California, owned and operated by the Optimist Clubs was acquired on a lease to own basis. Improvements began immediately and was ready for use by the summer season. Previously known as Camp Ross Relles in honor of Optimist camp founder and long time Sacramento Host Lion, it was renamed the Gold Country Lions Camp-Ross Relles. Originally built for handicapped children, It continues to be an outstanding camp for the Deaf and many other programs.
In southern California, a camp at Ojai was obtained and money collected for upgrades. However, problems arose that could not be surmounted and Camp was never held there. Camp in the south was also held at various rented sites including Arbolado, until 1994. Then Camp Teresita Pines near Wrightwood in the Angeles National Forest was purchased by Wilderness Camp. Improvements began to get the camp into shape and by 1998 it was turned over to a Lions management group formed to handle the increasing rentals, upkeep and improvements in exchange for free use of the facility for the Deaf Camps. Clubs in the area adopted cabins. Lions upgraded the facility into a desirable year round camp. Deaf Camps have been held there every year since.
PDG Matt Hunyadi (L4), was instrumental in the acquisition while he was President in ’94-’96. He was preceded in that office by the aforementioned and; PDG Tim Miskel (A3), PID Bill Iannaccone (C3), Ron Wilson and PDG Al Neblett (C7). Jack Moore (C3) came after, in ’96-’98, then Earle Ford (C2) in ’98-’00 and Richard P. Kirchner (C3) in ’00-’01. Mike Laws (L2) ’01-’03 was followed by PDG Bill Johnson (C3) ’03-’04, Diana Halsey (C5) ’05-’06 and Roy Rinaldi (L4) ’06-’08. William Arnold (C3) was the longest serving President ’08-’13 then PCC Richard Wilmot (C5) ’13-’14 and Seanne Carrigan (C3) ’14-’16. Currently, Danny Raymond (C3) elected in 2016 is at the helm.
Many other Lions contributed to the camp’s success through the years. If you and your Lions Club want to be a part of the legacy of Wilderness Camp for Deaf Children as it begins the new millennium, tell your District Chairman, a Director or Officer you can help by donating (camperships, food or supplies), or by volunteering.