Civitans reflect at 45

Recently, a handful of longtime members of the Chester Civitans reflected on the good times they had during the early years caring for and maintaining Camp Baker, a full-service, handicap-equipped retreat facility located on 22 wooded acres perched on a cliff overlooking the mouth of Swift Creek on Beach Road. The civic organization celebrated its 45th year with a dinner meeting held in the dining hall at Camp Baker last Tuesday.

The location, not a regular meeting spot, was a return to a place where many hours were dedicated for the community. Dedicating weekends over a three-month period before the campers arrived and three months in the fall when the campers returned home, members laughed saying they would grab their beer (Pabst Blue Ribbon) and begin sessions of hardy work: Clearing debris, repairing the tent buildings and plumbing and completing other work needed to prepare a safe environment for the campers. The early members had some good stories to tell of their work sessions at the camp. The camp is no longer rustic, due to the many upgrades and renovations that have taken place over the last decade, but the Civitans still remain very active and play a very important role with the program. Charter member Bill Collie has been the representing member on Camp Baker’s board for the last 12 years, and each year it is the goal of the club to give at least 10 scholarships for the camp.

“We would not be here today without the Civitans,” said Dr. Shirley O’Brien, director of the camp.

O’Brien joined the Civitans during their dinner meeting. “Many of the buildings are here because of the Civitans.” The Civitans also led a fight with the county in 1983 when the county wanted to regain control of the land.

The Civitans remain dedicated to Camp Baker and are pumping up their efforts to give their support to the Miracle League of Richmond to help put lights on the Miracle League ball field. During the meeting, Dave Saleeby, president of the club, discussed the club’s next big event that will serve as a fund raiser to work toward the $25,000 needed for the lights.

The club is holding a festival at the Chesterfield County Fairgrounds on Sunday, Sept. 26, from 10 a.m. until 6 p.m. The No Boundaries Festival will have lots of children’s activities, as well as vendors to include crafters and artists. They are currently looking for sponsors, vendors, donations and door prizes to give away throughout the day. Along with helping the Miracle League, monies received from the festival will also benefit ARC.

The Civitans continue to have their established fund-raisers throughout the community. Forty-five year member Collie, owner of the former Chester Business Machines, continues to be chairman of the fruit cake committee. “It’s been 12 years,” he said. “We use to go door to door, but now we have many locations throughout the area that sells the cakes for us.” About 1,700 pounds of Claxton Fruitcake from Claxton, Ga., are placed into local stores and businesses for sale during the holiday season. “You either like fruit cake or you hate it. We do pretty good with the fundraiser.” Collie is also chair of the Halloween candy fund raiser.

Reade W. Shook also was there. He can’t remember if he has been a member for 43 or 44 years, but he does remember serving as president in 1970. What he likes most about his membership with the Civitans is the service they do to support Camp Baker.

Thirty-year veterans Ed Bishop, Jack Hill, Elwood Elliott and Harley Young were in attendance. Young, who serves as the candy chairman, said it was the camp that held the club together. “This camp has been the glue that held us together [as a club],” he said.

The Chester Civitans received their charter with the help of Albert McCants, who was a member of the Petersburg Club. McCants and Paul Adams held the first meeting at the fire station in the village.

The club today has 33 members, with the newest member joining officially during their business meeting in May. Ruth Manor likes the civic organization and said its members have a lot of good ideas.

“The best thing that they do is help the community. The Civitans helps the community period,” she said. “If anyone wants to do something for their community and give back, they need to join the Civitans and be active.”

To club holds its business meeting on the first Tuesday of each month and a dinner meeting on the third Tuesday. Spouses and families are invited to attend. For more information about Civitan or to find out more about the No Boundaries Festival, contact Dave Saleeby at chestercivitans@yahoo.com.

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