A History of Leaders in the Making: I Will Never Leave You

Over 35 years ago, one man’s visit to an abandoned academy in the mountains of north Georgia would be the beginning of something spectacular. Having known many students who were already winners, S. Truett Cathy wanted to create a program to help shape them for life. The following post is a glimpse into the history of WinShape Camps as written by our first Director of WinShape Camps for Boys, Rick Johnson, in the book ‘A History of Leaders in the Making.’

I Will Never Leave You

A long drive is a good time to think, and when Truett Cathy drove the family’s brown station wagon out of the driveway in the summer of 1963, he had plenty to think about. For seventeen years, he had operated his Dwarf House restaurant in Hapeville, Georgia. A second Dwarf House, which he had opened in 1960, and its replacement, one of metro Atlanta’s first true fast-food restaurants, did not allow the personal attention to customers that Truett had been accustomed to providing. Rather than disappoint patrons, he sold the second restaurant.

In the midst of his business challenges, Truett was diagnosed with colon cancer, requiring two surgeries to remove it. During the long weeks of recovery, he thought often about his relationships and his responsibilities to his wife, Jeannette, and their three young children: Dan, Bubba, and Trudy. He fell on his knees before God many times during his ordeal, thanking Him for his life and the blessings he received.

The experience led Truett to a deeper relationship with Go and to a level of trust for his creator than he had never known. “I learned the true value of life and was changed by that understanding,” he later wrote of the experience. “Certain things happen in life that strengthen our faith and remind us of our need to put our lives in the hands of the Lord. I came out of the hospital a new creation, prepared to take on whatever life dealt, for I knew God would be with me.”

He relied on that trust as he and Jeannette drove their children to camp for the first time in June 1963. Truett and Jeannette had learned about Camp Ridgrecrest and Camp Crestridge through their church, First Baptist Church of Jonesboro. In its thirty-four years, Ridgecrest had been the place of thousands of “mountaintop experiences” for boys, many of them away from home for the first time, experiencing God in the beauty of the high North Carolina mountains. Ridgecrest’s sister camp, Crestridge, had been founded only eight years earlier, the same year Trudy was born, but it already earned a reputation for providing a great camp experience.

The camps ran two five-week sessions, meaning that when Truett and Jeannette drove away, Trudy, who was seven and a half years old, Bubba who was nine, and Dan, who was ten, would not see their parents again until the middle of July.

They were more concerned for Trudy, who was small for her age and would be by herself at Crestridge. Dan and Bubba, even if they weren’t in the same cabin, would see each other often and could encourage each other if either became homesick. Truett and Jeannette had hoped that the closeness of the two camps would allow the boys to see Trudy occasionally, but when they arrived, they realized that Interstate 40 separated Crestridge from Ridgecrest, and Trudy would most likely not see her brothers for the entire five weeks.

They didn’t need to worry about the little Trudy, who recalled later, “I think the only time I felt homesick was at night when I’d get in bed. We had to be quiet, and there was nothing else to think about, so I would think about home and Mom and Dad, and wonder what my brothers were doing at the other camp.

“Sometimes it would be really cold up there in the mountains at night. We had screens in our cabins and I would hear the creek running nearby. I vividly remember listening to those sounds, and I’d curl up in my blanket sometimes and get homesick. I probably even cried a few times- I cried myself to sleep. But I didn’t dare let my counselor know I was homesick because I didn’t want to run the risk that they might send me home. I wanted to stay really badly. So I would just suck it up and hang in there.”

Trudy and the boys kept up with each other by writing letters back and forth between the camps, and she received a lot of letters from home. She loved everything about camp. On Sunday afternoon, two weeks into the session, campers were allowed to call home for the first time. Truett and Jeannette waited by the telephone for their three calls. Each time a counselor would place the call and then put the child on the line. They heard good reports from Dan and Bubba at Ridgecrest- about swimming, archery, crafts, and about how much they missed home. Then Trudy called and her first words were “Can I stay for second session?” After just two weeks, she wanted to stay for the whole summer. Of course, Truett and Jeannette said no way, they wanted their little girl back home in three weeks, not eight. Her call reminded them, however, that they had entrusted their children to God’s care, and He could always be relied on to fulfill His promise.