Douglas M. Hoy
Its name is Camp Frances and let me re-introduce you to this marvelous local facility, part of the past and the caretakers of its future. These two women are lifelong residents and are involved with its past and where the future may lead.
Mary Hall is a multi-decade Camp Frances board member and volunteer to many young women who have grown up in Charlotte. Likewise, Cathy Bogner also has lived in Charlotte all her life, been part of the Camp Frances heritage and is a devoted board member.
When Charlotte leased the land in 1954 to build Camp Frances, Mary Hall was not a member. Fortunately for the facility, in 1962, Mary sensed a need, became involved and would become one of the most-revered active board members. She originally was a volunteer as her first, then her second, daughter became a member of the Camp Fire Girls. Many young girls benefited from the facility during the time period from the mid-1950s to the early 1980s, as the Camp Fire Girls were a very sustainable organization in Charlotte.
I asked Mary where she obtained this overwhelming desire to help young girls. She quickly relayed the story of her time attending one of our, then local, country schools. Her graduating class consisted of six kids. Upon attending the seventh grade at our downtown “large” high school, she felt lost as the security of knowing everyone in her small country school was gone. Those early days of the seventh grade never left her. She always felt the isolation – not belonging to the larger student mass. This was a terrible feeling she did not want any young woman to experience.
Listening to Mary speak of her beloved camp, it was easy to become captured by her enthusiasm. It was easy to tell of her passionate caring for young women during that time period. And, in the end, all the stories came back to the young women. Many times she became lifelong friends with those girls whom she had helped. Being active and on the board of almost any worthwhile organization, these types of enduring bonds are just bound to happen.
Of course, the most heartbreaking recollection of her time connected with Camp Frances was the 1971 fire, which totally destroyed the building. However, in life much good can come out of such a terrible occurrence. As an active member of Camp Frances, she helped seek the backing of the most supportive Charlotte citizens, donations from various sources and help from local contractors. The new building was approved and built in record time.
Time moves forward and personnel naturally change. Cathy Bogner is the new chair of the Camp Frances board. Her roots and heritage are firmly ensconced within Charlotte. Cathy wants to keep the momentum moving, as the camp is constantly trying to achieve and maintain viability. As times have changed, the Camp Fire Girls Organization, along with the United Way, are no longer affiliated with our local hidden treasure.
Cathy also gave me an exceptional tutoring of the history of Camp Frances. But it’s the future where her interest lay. Like all other entities, the facility has bills to pay. The main source of income now comes from renting the building, the grounds, at a most reasonable price. Over the past few years, the area campgrounds located in Bennett Park have become most popular. This growth in Camp Frances’ reputation is not confined to just the summer months, as winter bookings are now becoming popular.
Cathy speaks of the future for the camp in most eager terms. She knows it will take work and a constant promotion, but that is simply what is required. It will not be easy, but Cathy says it will be done.
The board has much to promote. There is a 1,200-square foot building fully equipped with a full basement sitting on about three acres of land located in our own unique Bennett Park. For the rental fee, it is a most exceptional value. It is still thriving, thanks to women such as Mary and Cathy.
The Camp Frances Educational and Recreational Center can be found online at campfrances.org.