Wednesday, June 15, 2011

The Big Fire

I am cleaning out my files--looking for some pictures actually; I need them but cannot find them. I’ve needed to do this for a long time, rid out a lot of old papers I’ll never use again or that are simply claiming space.

What I found is this vignette from Warner Memorial Camp--early fifties before the camp transitioned, reconfigured, and updated. Current campers will find it hard to imagine but it brings up old memories for me. :-)

Written in longhand by Andy Bos, a former Kalamazoo camper, it arrived via Andy’s niece, Barb Akright, both longtime acquaintances. It happened in that interim after I left home and then pastoring out in Texas, but after my recent involvement of 38 years n camp life I easily visualize it and those mentioned (I also remember 1953 as a stormy summer with several destructive tornado’s from Texas to Mich.). Here is Andy’s verbatim:

“We, Andy and Helen Bos had purchased a cottage at the ‘old Camp Ground.’ As often as we could we drove out to Grand Junction (about a 35 mile trip) and stayed over a night or two. We played around, enjoyed the lake (Lester Lake), fishing and swimming.

“It was the year of 1952 or 1953 that a severe storm struck during the night, a storm that could have destroyed the entire camp. The camp store, the dormitory and about ten cottages surrounded the Tabernacle, so, if a fire got started it could spread from building to building and so burn the entire camp including the tabernacle.

“It was a Friday evening, we with our four children, Dave, Ron, Jer and Ben had driven out to the cottage. We enjoyed a swim and a visit with a retired minister and his wife, Rev. and Mrs. Adrian De Ward. Then, Helen fixed a delicious supper. As we tucked in to bed we said, the sky looks stormy.

“It was after midnight that the thunder and lightning illuminated the sky and rain was pouring down. Soon after the storm hit we heard someone pounding on our door. It was old Rev. De Ward. He said, lightning has hit Merle Underwood’s Cottage, its burning fiercely and the wind is blowing flames toward Arend Bos Cottage, we need the Fire Dept!

“Helen and the family were up as Andy and Dave drove downs the road to find a house with a telephone, so we could call the Pullman Fire Dept. In the early 1950’s telephones were scarce and those people who had phones were on a party line with 10 or 12 other family’s.

“Andy and Dave roused a neighboring farmer who called the Pullman Fire Dept. They said, its not our district, and, even though they were only 4 miles away they would not come. The farmer finally got the Bangor Fire Dept. to agree to come to help us. The Bangor Fire Dept. was 10 to 12 miles away and they didn’t know where the Church of God (Warner Camp) was, so, Andy tried to give them directions.

“The party line was noisy and crackled, but, they said they would come. We promised to be downs the road with flashlights to help them find us. It was now about 2:30 a.m. and the Merle Underwood Cottage was burned totally and the Arend Bos cottage was burning. We continued to look for the fire dept., but, they were not in sight. The rain was pouring down, but the Arend Bos Cottage was burning furiously.

“The next cottage in line belong to the Rev. Hank Hartman. This cottage was shaped like a small chicken coop about 14 ft x 14 ft. and it sat on cement blocks. About 4:00 a.m. some neighbors came over to watch the big fire, We suggested the possibility of tipping the Hartman Cottage over, thus stopping the progress of the fire.

“So, Andy, Dave, Rev. DeWard and a few neighbors agreed to try to roll it over. It was about 4:30 a.m. when we finally rolled the Hartman Cottage over. We watched the Arend Box cottage burn to the ground and the rain continued to pour down on the fire and we thanked the Lord! The fire was stopped!

“The Bangor Fire Dept. drove into the camp about 5:30 a.m., but, the fire was out. It had beebn a wild night and we must have looked like drowned ratws. We wee all soaking wet and dirty and smoky.

“We stood around looking at each other and smiled and admitted that we were utterly exhausted and paused to thank the Lord … the camp did not burn down! Yes, we were exhausted, but, none of us got hurt! All we needed now was to take a bath in Lester Lake, then a little breakfast and some sleep.

“As we stood thanking God, Rev. Cironi walked up neatly dressed in his good suit, white shirt and necktie and raincoat and umbrella. He looked at Rev. De Ward whose felt hat was drooping down over his dirty face, his muddy shoes and dirty, smoky pants and shirt spoke of a wild night. Rev. Cironi said, Brother, I’ve been praying for you all night. Rev. De Ward lifted his rain soaked hat, looked at Rev. Cironi and said, “Faith without works is dead brother” (s/ Andy Bos, Dec. 2004).

From Warner’s World, Camp grounds and Camp Meetings are much different in today’s church life. However, Brother De Ward’s brotherly rebuke of their Pastoral Leader, Joe Cirone, (longtime pastor at Wayne St., Jackson) remains a fitting bit of wisdom even today, Faith without works is dead (cf book of James/Bible).

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