Editor’s Note: This is the fourth installment in our Camp Alleghany Awards Series for the blog, detailing the history and stories behind each of our yearly camp awards. See all the installments here.
Gail Bryson Cupps Memorial Award for Wild World
Getting back to our Camp Awards Series, today I’d like to tell you all about the Gail Bryson Cupps Memorial Award for Wild World.
This award is given each year in memory of an alum and former staff member who so deeply experienced — and expressed — the spirit of nature and the love of nature that is celebrated in our Wild World activity offering.
Gail’s life, work, and love of nature
Gail Bryson Cupps was a camper, young counselor, and later a return counselor at Camp Alleghany.
But she was also a mom, a Physical Education and then Special Education teacher, gymnastics coach, a volunteer coordinator for the Red Cross and a battered women’s shelter, a wife, and a friend!
Her daughter, Anne Bryson Doyle, an alum and parent of two campers today, sees a strong link between her mother’s work and vocational devotion and who Gail was as a person, saying,
I think the list of jobs she held is a good illustration of her character. I grew up spending the majority of my weekends volunteering alongside her.
But no matter what she did, nature was always a first passion for Gail, a joy that was woven into all of her work whenever possible. Anne described this, saying,
She loved the outdoors and longed to be among the hills and mountains. She was born in Tennessee and still has cousins who live there. Even though she was raised in Pittsburg and then moved with my father to Texas I believe her soul always longed for the mountains.
When we would go camping she could name every tree plant and animal. She could build all types of fires and would tell us why she was stacking the logs in different ways: ‘Teepee, Log Cabin, Reflector, Star Fire, Lean-to, etc…’
Gail reveled in the joy of nature, but also was devoted to its stewardship. Anne recalls that Gail,
…was ahead of her time in regards to recycling, making our family the crazy family who spent our evenings crushing cans to bring to the recycling yards.
Everything she did was from the heart and she taught every step of the way.
Always a place for camp
Camp was a huge part of Gail’s life, from childhood, into her young adult days, and then again as a return counselor when her own daughter, Anne, was camp age. Anne describes this:
Mom was first brought to camp by Uncle Bill Keister who was a friend of her family’s.
She was a camper, and then held a number of counselor positions from 1964-1969. In 1969 she was Upstart Mom and Head Hopper.
In 1990 my mother, my grandmother and I took a road trip across the East Coast. When driving up from Tennessee to Pittsburgh mom told us story after story about Camp Alleghany.
When we were close to camp she asked my grandmother and I if we would mind taking a detour to see the Greenbrier River. We enthusiastically agreed (who could resist after all those stories), and not long after that we were riding the barge across the river into the arms of Franny and a scolding from Cooper about how it was unacceptable that I was not yet a ‘Ghany Girl.
The next summer mom heeded Cooper’s words about my camp-negligent upbringing (ha ha!) and sent me to camp while coming back herself as the head of Wild World. It was a perfect position for her as a teacher and a lover of nature. She loved every moment of it!
Memories from a camper and kindred spirit
Another alum also shared thoughts about Gail that I’d like to add to this blog.
Francie Webb reminisced about Gail, recalling that for her, Gail was “…a kindred spirit for me. A true teacher!” She went on to say,
Gail was much older than everyone else who taught Wild World or interacted with us in our camp classes.
She was my teacher in the second year of Wild World. And she loved it so! She just adored being outdoors, and she clearly loved sharing it with us.
She was a lover of things I loved — just the air and the quiet and moving through nature.
She was so grounded. Now that I know what I know about life, I would say she was always so PRESENT.
We really love giving out this award every year because clearly, with Camp Alleghany being in the heart of the mountains, pierced through by a river, watched over by sunny and starry skies, whispered to by the wind, full with fresh air, and surrounded by the richness of forests and meadows and all of nature’s creatures, we do indeed camp in a Wild World — and we wouldn’t have it any other way.
This is exactly what makes camp so special, and the love of that made Gail so special.
— Elizabeth Dawson Shreckhise, Assistant Director, Camp Alleghany for Girls