Camp Nakanawa will welcome more than 500 alumni to their grounds July 19-20 to celebrate 100 years of friendship, good will and memories.

"They believe in Camp Nakanawa," Pepe Perron, camp director, said of the alumni who continue send their own children to the camp summer after summer or return year after year to serve as counselors. "They believe in the values it stands for."

Based on a fictitious Cherokee word, Nakanawa has developed what it calls "The Spirit of Nakanawa," based on themes of goodwill, service, loyalty and sportsmanship.

The weekend will feature the historical displays, camp hikes, memorial services and a special centennial program on the shore of the lake.

Alumni have also gifted the camp with two special additions — a covered arena for the junior camp and a waterfront plaza made with Crab Orchard Stone for the senior camp.

Perron looks forward to time with camp alumni, who will spend the weekend reconnecting with old friends.

"It will be a special evening," Perron said. 

Campers and alumni will share traditions formed over the past 100 years, including singing the camp alma mater, with selected lyrics below.

'A Spot We All Hold Dear'

Col. L.L. Rice opened the camp in 1920. While there had been residential boys camps across the country for some time, the idea of a camp for girls was a new idea. Rice had served as headmaster of Castle Heights Military School in Lebanon, a boys preparatory academy. He also served on the state committee for the YMCA and had opened a boys' camp that closed after a few summers.

"He was for women taking part in outside activities," Perron said.

Rice found 1,000 acres on the Cumberland Plateau. The property included old growth forests and a 150-acre lake. He began building the dining hall, barn, infirmary, bath house and the now-historic WigWam to welcome the first class of campers.

The camp opened with 165 girls and 28 campers. They traveled two days by train to the Mayland Depot of the Tennessee Central Railroad.

Rice remained camp director until Elizabeth Mitchell took over the camp in 1947. She welcomed thousands of campers throughout her tenure, including her niece, Ann Mitchell Perron. When Mitchell decided to retire in 1981, she turned the camp over to Ann and Pepe, who relocated from Georgia and made Cumberland County their home.

"I don't consider this a job," Pepe said of his 38 years at Nakanawa. "I like seeing the girls grow, mentally and spirtually. We teach values. They cut across any religious line."

The camp has seen a number of changes through the years, from the shorter camp sessions to accommodate school schedules to activities available. For example, the camp offered one of the first climbing walls in the county, with a zip line across the lake. 

"Girls are wanting more challenges," Perron said. "We want to help girls develop self-confidence. We're goal-oriented and ask them to do their best." 

The camp is also respite from technology that continues to seep into every moment. All campers are unplugged for the summer.

Camp Nakanawa also offers a chance to explore nature and the environment, and archeology. 

Kettle Rock is an archeological find, with about 100 holes ground into the large rock where ancient people ground chestnuts, acorns and hickory nuts. 

About 112 solar panels provide energy generation, and the camp carries out a recycling program all year.

"We have an environmental impact plan," Perron said. "For little guys, we're doing quite a bit, and every little bit counts. And it shows how you think. 

"And the children think about it, too."

'Friendships True We Make"

Today, more than 300 campers and another 100 or so staff members occupy the junior and senior camps during the summer. Nakanawa hosts two-week and a four-week sessions, with classes covering tennis, swimming, drama, nature, arts and crafts and equestrian. 

The campers represent about 30 states and several international locations. 

Since the beginning, camp teams have been formed based on Norse and Greek mythology. Campers choose their team the first night at camp, and they stay with that team every summer they return. The camp also allows girls to join the team of their mother or grandmother.

"Some decide to choose a new team, but most of the time they end up drawing the same team their family was part of," Peron said.

While the two teams compete against each other, the groups mingle througout the camp experience.

"They have classes together. They're best friends together," Perron said.

Karen Hale, head camp counselor, attended Camp Nakanawa from 1974-'80. She's been returning as a counselor for 31 years from her home in Texas. 

"It's giving back," Hale said. "I was a very shy, nervous child. But that's gone!"

She said she gained confidence and met "the best friends I've ever had."

"They still have my back to this day," Hale said. 

'All our hearts are filled with love and lasting loyalty'

Campers through the generations developed their own traditions. The camp library serves as a museum of the camp's history. Families have donated camp scrapbooks, trophies and photos that stretch across the generations. 

"They mean a lot to us," Perron said.

A replica of the camp and the train that helped bring campers to Nakanawa operates in the library. It was created by the Crossville Model Railroad Club.

History is also found around the camp, from the cabins that replaced the senior camp tents, called Tent Row to this day, to the WigWam that serves as a gathering place for senior campers. 

The WigWam was designed and built by Perry O'Neil, Rice's son-in-law. The wood for the 12-sided structure came from local sawmills and was delivered by mule-drawn wagons at a cost of 2 cents for each wooden slab. Today, it is listed on the National Register of Historic Places for its architectural signifigance. 

The crafts people of the camp and community are also part of the history. Dolls carved by local renown dollmarkers Polly Page and Helen Bullard are on display, as are a collection of carved birds made by local artists Bonnie and Ken Lawson.

Carson Tays, who served as the camp caretaker for years, carved charms depicting different camp activities. Many of the charms serve as treasured camp mementos and are also on display in the library.

"He's revered for the crosses he carved," Perron said. "The campers and staff pass them down from person to person to person." 

Leon Shannon has served as the camp cook for 68 years, feeding hundreds of hungry campers three meals a day throughout the summer. In honor of his long tenure, and the many wholesome meals, his likeness was added to the museum following a celebration of his 60th year at camp with a custom bobblehead statue.

Heather Mullinix is editor of the Crossville Chronicle. She covers schools and education in Cumberland County. She may be reached at hmullinix@crossville-chronicle.com.