Nestled on the shores of Lake Wylie, South Carolina, YMCA Camp Thunderbird is a place known to deepen your Christian character and grow your relationship with nature; and if you’re one of the hundreds of young adults who have worked there as a counselor, it just may sweeten your summer with an unexpected bonus.
As retired camp director Bill Climer puts it, “Sometimes sparks fly.”
Cue the wedding music. Since its opening in 1936, dozens of counselors and other summer staff have found their future spouse at YMCA Camp Thunderbird. The very name of the place stirs hearts, minds and memories of lovebirds everywhere.
In the summer of 1971, Nancy Eyster-Smith was about to become one of those lovebirds. A 20-year-old from Louisiana, she was working at camp for the first time, teaching sailing. July 24, she went to a staff party on a blind date with a young man from Charlotte named Doug Smith. Doug first came to YMCA Camp Thunderbird as a camper at age 10 and was working as a counselor and ski instructor that summer. They talked for hours that night, and the conversation helped Nancy make her first connection to camp, and so much more…
On July 24, 1975, four years to the day after their blind date, Nancy and Doug were married – in Alex Hemby Chapel at YMCA Camp Thunderbird. Their camp friends formed the wedding party. Bill Climer, ordained in The United Methodist Church, conducted the wedding. Asked about his memories of that July day, he thought a moment and said with a smile, “Hot!”
“They just connected,” he remembers of Nancy and Doug, and all the others. “It was great to watch and a true privilege being part of a camp that brings people together for life.”
Nancy, 64, and Doug, 65, settled in Waltham, Massachusetts. She taught biology at Bentley University until she retired. He’s in computer programming. Though they’re 30 minutes from Boston, Lake Wylie is never far away, with well more than half their lives revolving around camp.
Nancy and Doug celebrated their 25th wedding anniversary on July 24, 2000 at, you guessed it, YMCA Camp Thunderbird. Their two sons, Sheldon and Martin, joined them. Both boys attended camp.
On August 22, 2015, Nancy and Doug were back at camp to celebrate its 80th summer. Their wedding party, all camp people, joined them. “Camp Thunderbird,” says Nancy, “has become family to us. It just feels good to be there.”
Cue the wedding music one more time. Bill Climer, 72, who ran camp for 21 summers, met his wife, Mary, in 1969, the summer she worked as a counselor. Current camp directors, Kaye and (Cap’t) Bill Carraway, also met and married at camp, as did their kids.
“It’s a magic place,” Bill says.