This month, thousands of cars will snake up Standing Stone Mountain on a tight, winding road creeping toward Camp Greenville. A dense canopy of hickories, maples, and longleaf pines lines the way. The falling waters off Lake Rotary signal arrival, along with dozens of cheering counselors. This YMCA facility has welcomed boys and girls for 105 years, but this summer, a new era begins.
Golden Days // Monk Mulligan (above middle) was Camp Greenville’s director from 1944 to 1967. He and his wife Sudie were instrumental in transforming the camp from its primitive beginnings to a more modern design.
“It’s about restoring camp physically and traditionally,” explains executive director Cory Harrison. Although having only 15 months on the job, this is the first summer that camp life will navigate solely with the new leader’s compass. “We’re looking forward, but not forgetting where we came from. Our history and our heritage are important, and it’s what led to our success. A phrase used almost from the beginning is ‘Magic on the Mountain.’ So, I’m using that, too, and our theme for this summer is ‘Make More Magic.’” Last year, Cory prompted counselors to ask their cabin-mates to think of the unthinkable, and then make it happen.
Magic Moment #21
“Give me all ’yer booty!” With the break of dawn, three scruffy pirates donning eye patches, torn scarves, and vintage military jackets storm the boys’ cabin. Flashing swords slice the cool mountain air. “Wake up, I say, wake up!” Kiddos scramble from their bunks shaking sleep from their eyes, to find the colorful seamen pilfering all the cabin’s tennis shoes, bathing suits, and towels. “These will be useful on the high seas. Now get movin’, lads! We’ve got a full day ahead.” Smiles grow as wide as the ocean.
The spirit of Camp Greenville is embedded in the bones of Gally Gallivan. Four generations of Gallivan men have stood atop the mountain, to watch the sun rise on one side and set on the other. “It’s meaningful to me,” says the second-generation camper, recalling golden days on the Blue Ridge. “It’s the most beautiful spot in Greenville County. I always had a great experience.” Old stories pour from his lips, as if he’s back around the campfire.
One of his favorite tales dates to the 1930s, when his father got homesick as a boy, and snuck into the backseat of a visitor’s car headed toward Greenville. “As they turned onto Pinckney Street, he saw his parents driving out. They were going to camp to see him,” Gally continues with a chuckle. “Naturally, when they arrived at camp he wasn’t there. When they got home, they had some stern words.”
Despite that initial bout of melancholy, Gally’s father returned to camp again and again. Gally himself was nine years old during his first visit. “We had activities like riflery, archery, and swimming,” he reminisces. “We’d take trips to Cherokee and watch outdoor reenactments of the Indians.” He loved Camp Greenville so much that he hauled his wife and three sons to Family Camp in the ’70s, until the boys were old enough to attend by themselves. “Oh, we had a fantastic time,” he shares. “We didn’t have to worry about them at all, and they made a lot of friends over the years.”
Just when “Taps” could start playing over his camp career, grandkids came along . . . and there he was back at Family Camp in the new millennium. “It brings out the very best dynamic in our large family,” shares Gally’s daughter-in-law Katie Gallivan. “Knowing this was something that meant so much to my husband’s family when he was a child, and then with our own family, makes it that much more memorable. Finding a camp is not hard. Finding one that’s meaningful to multiple generations of your family? That’s rare.”
Cabin Fever // Established in 1912 at Blythe Shoals, Camp Greenville relocated to 1,400 acres atop Standing Stone Mountain in 1925. Back then, campers were housed in five frame cabins and nine tents. Today the site features adventure, lakeside, and ridgetop cabins, with a new line of treehouse cabins currently under construction.
Katie describes loading up her four small boys for the annual Labor Day outing, while friends called her crazy. Who brings a three-month-old to camp? Duh, the Gallivans. “I was lying on a bunk bed, with wood digging into my hip, nursing him, thinking this is nuts! But there’s nowhere else I’d rather be.” That says a lot given Katie’s pedigree. She’s attended numerous camps across the Southeast as both camper and counselor. She points out, “There are lots of different types of fancy and simple camps. Camp Greenville’s connection through the family is the thing that sets it apart. Camps are made by people, not amenities.”
“It’s some of the most fun I’ve had in the summer time. When I was young, I couldn’t wait until I got there.” Will Younts, an IT support specialist, pulls back from his computer screen. Camp Greenville features his life’s trailhead. “It played a big part of me loving the outdoors and outdoor activities. I would go for the three-week Adventure Course, where we’d go backcountry camping, rock climbing, white water rafting. Camp offers something for everyone, including those who want to go off the grid.”
After graduating from Clemson University, Will moved to Colorado seeking outdoor opportunities in the Rockies. Time and again, he found himself using team-building and survival skills acquired at Camp Greenville as a third-generation legacy camper. The 31-year-old admits the pleasure he gained retracing the steps of his dad and grandad. “It was really neat. We swam in the same lake, hiked, and looked at the same mountains. It’s cool to know that.”
His grandfather, Melvin Younts, is honored, and proud. The head of the family opens up, saying, “Knowing all three generations have enjoyed camp so very much, that’s special. We knew our kids would go. It’s beneficial and religious, also. We tried to raise our boys in a Christian atmosphere, and they cater to that.” Melvin first walked the grounds in the ’40s for a service at Pretty Place, the camp’s outdoor chapel.
Magic Moment #152
Dusk’s turned to dark, and Lindsey leads her cabin of 9-year-olds into the bushes behind the camp director’s cabin. It’s true! Cory bakes cookies each night, and there they are cooling on his porch. Dogs start barking inside, but the girls are not deterred. They scramble up the steps and pocket every chocolate chip, leaving only crumbs on the plate. Emboldened by their escapade, they knock on the door and dash off into the night. The next morning at breakfast, they overhear Cory asking if anyone knows about his missing cookies. Lindsey and her girls can’t help but giggle as they lock eyes with each other, and continue eating their cereal.
He quickly returned for a summer term, and remembers idling the days away canoeing, camping, and playing softball. “I’d been to another camp, and Camp Greenville was much superior. They had nicer facilities, better instructors, and more activities. When my children came along, I insisted they go, and they all enjoyed it.”
Will’s insisting his son, due any day now, go too. “I can tell him stories about it, like when your grandpa was there, or your great-grandpa was there. Nowadays, they have more of the thrill-seeking adventures like zip-lining, too. You get to be outside. You’re away from home, and it’s exciting. I want him to know that.”
No matter the family, or generation, all alumni mention the same two names with reverence: Uncle Johnny and Monk Mulligan. Both served as directors in the early years, and literally carved long-standing traditions into the mountain. After opening in 1912, Camp Greenville hosted a couple of dozen boys in tents at various locations, before landing on a spot in Blythe Shoals. That’s where John “Uncle Johnny” Holmes took over operations post World War I. He quickly created a committee to secure a permanent campsite above Caesar’s Head. In 1925, Camp Greenville relocated to the 1,400 acres where it stands today. It’s the fifth-largest Y camp in the nation, featuring a 150-foot waterfall, two spring-fed lakes, and dozens of trails.
Magic Moment #351
Flashlights pop on and off as the boys hunker down inside sleeping bags around the flag pole. Blankets and pillows are strewn about, and nearby, a pile of Chacos grows taller. Last night they slept on the tennis courts. The night before that, the Nature Center. And the night before that, Pretty Place. It’s become a point of pride. They hear the whispers . . . they are the cabin that’s NEVER slept in their cabin . . . not once . . . for the entire term!
Uncle Johnny retired in 1944, after tapping Walter B. “Monk” Mulligan to succeed him. Stories of Monk’s love of camp are legendary, showcasing how he and wife Sudie transformed the place from primitive to rustic, and then modern. No one could avoid his efforts. Monk even persuaded an innocent, 9-year-old Gally Gallivan to ask his grandpa to subsidize indoor plumbing for the cabin carrying the family’s name. Gally recalls with a laugh, “Our cabin was the only one in camp relying on an outdoor two-holer. I pointed this out to grandpa at Sunday lunch, in front of the whole family. You could have heard a pin drop. My parents were embarrassed. But camp got the $300, and Monk gave me a plastic trophy that I displayed in my bedroom for a long time.”
There was only one thing Monk loved more than camp, and that was the children. He was a director, but he was also a friend, encouraging each to strive to meet their potential. His command to “Be a Great Boy” still hangs on a huge sign above Lake Rotary, alongside “Be a Great Girl,” which went up when the camp went co-ed in 1986.
“He’d tell them, ‘Don’t wait to grow up to be great. Be a great boy now,’” explains Cory Harrison. Today’s director gains inspiration from the beloved duo. He’s even writing upcoming chapel messages from a book he unearthed that Uncle Johnny wrote almost 100 years ago. “How cool is that?” he asks. “It was like finding the motherload. Camp is about the voices of the past crying out to you, people who have stepped on this mountain. This summer, we are going to be doing sermons from our history that I’ve updated with modern analogies.”
As much as Cory pulls from the past, he knows he must produce for the future. A camper at heart, he’s a businessman at mind, running a $2.5 million dollar operation. Camp Greenville now offers base and equestrian camps, adventure trips, as well as military family and special-needs sessions. While more than 1,500 kiddos will pass through the high-season of June, July, and August, staff also greets environmental and education groups September through May. To maintain the facilities and raise $195,000 in scholarships for low-income kids, Cory fundraises up and down the mountain. “We have so much going on.” He quickly breaks it down, adding, “We’re in the middle of a $14.3 million building campaign, with $5.5 million of construction happening this year. We just built this office and Welcome Center, and a state-of-the-art Health Center. Treehouse cabins are coming in the fall, and we’re building a massive quarter-of-a-million-dollar treehouse in the middle of camp where kids can just go up in the trees and play.”
Good Heavens // The breathtaking view of the Appalachian Valley from Pretty Place (above)— the name for the Fred W. Symmes Chapel at the far end of the camp—has remained unchanged since the chapel’s construction in 1941; activities at the camp center around fellowship, bonding, and Christian values.
Anchoring the far end of camp: Fred W. Symmes Chapel, better known as Pretty Place. Campers have used the open-air house of worship for Sunday Services since 1941. It’s popular with the public as well, averaging 400 visitors a day, and 100 weddings a year. As young and old sit on wooden benches and gaze beyond a simple cross toward the Appalachian Valley, the view is breathtaking. It resonates in the soul of a half-million alumni, including Melvin Younts and Gally Gallivan. Both patriarchs admit Pretty Place enchanted them on their first visit, enticing them to return session after session. Katie Gallivan knows her children, and someday even grandchildren, are the beneficiaries of that spirit . . . a love of this mountain getaway that winds its way through the generations, lingering long after the campfire’s embers fade to black: “It’s about the emotion here. It’s beautiful. I love it, and knowing the depth of that feeling for my family makes it magic.”