“Here comes Sam Dawson, walkin’ down the Cottage trail…”
“Bonnie Dawson you’re the one, always having so much fun…”
Sam and Bonnie are retiring! Yes, it’s true! The summer of 2023 will be Sam and Bonnie’s last official summer working at Alleghany. And we have all the feels!
Sam and Bonnie are icons at camp, staples, and it’s hard to imagine camp without them. But they are not getting any younger, and they would like to spend some time traveling and enjoying leisurely summers during this last chapter of their lives.
Bonnie just celebrated her 75th birthday, and Sam’s 75th is coming up – on Mini Camp’s Opening Day, which is also Father’s Day! So with both of them being three-quarters of a century, you can say they’ve earned their retirement.
We’re planning to celebrate and honor them this summer, starting now with this blog.
First, let’s take a look at their history at camp …
Sam began his time on the Greenbrier River at Camp Greenbrier, where his father, Cooper Dawson, Jr., was a part-owner. Legend has it that Sam actually took his very first steps at Camp Greenbrier! He went on to be a camper there from 1957-1959 years, and when his father purchased Alleghany in 1963 Sam decided to be on the Green Team. He worked at Alleghany in this capacity for 3 years, until meeting and marrying Bonnie in 1970.
He and Bonnie visited Alleghany and attended Family Camp in their early years of marriage, but it wasn’t until 1984 that Cooper approached Sam about being his Associate Director. Sam was between jobs at the time and thought – sure, why not? This will be a great temporary job until I get my next job. Well, wouldn’t you know, he never left!
Sam officially became the Director in 2005, and then passed the directorship to his daughter, Elizabeth (me), in 2018. He now serves as the Owner, President, and Director Emeritus, and has continued to take on some of the behind-the-scene tasks such as taxes and insurance (so fun!). He’s also enjoyed continuing to be at camp these past few years helping in any capacity he’s able (his favorite being a Rifle instructor on the range!).
Bonnie first set foot on Camp Alleghany in 1969. She and Sam were both in summer school and took a bus from Farmville to Lewisburg to visit for a weekend. It was very different from any place she’d ever been; everyone seemed so happy! The “Whip-poor-will” song was sung to Sam at every meal, and Bonnie didn’t understand the significance of this. She recalls it being very dark at night, and that she slept in the Infirmary as her guest room.
They enjoyed Family Camp together in the late 1970s, and again in 1980 with Elizabeth as a baby, and then in 1981 with toddler Elizabeth and baby Cooper IV. When Sam joined on as Associate Director, Cooper Jr. convinced Bonnie to help in MANY roles over the years. Those roles include Head of Campcraft, Head Hopper, Head of the Store, Head of Drama (her all-time favorite), and she was even a tent counselor in Senior Camp in the summers of 1991-1992.
She eventually took on the role of Program Director, and more recently Bonnie’s role has been Head of Special Events, which includes Banquet, Babies’ Boats, Candlelight Campfire, and the Mini Camp Show of Shows. She also took over the church services, and campers sure do love “Bonnie Church”! She’s the queen of the NCCC Campfire, as well as emergency procedures and risk management. She’s enjoyed teaching etiquette classes to the LITs, hosting the Upstarts for Tea in recent years, and planning and executing 10-year dinner and Counselor Banquet. She wears many hats, and they will be hard to fill!
They’ve been married for over 50 years now (coming up on 53!) and are still going strong. They’ve been together through thick and thin, partnering together in this crazy camp life. And of course, everyone will remember their iconic Sonny and Cher impersonation! (we’re hoping for a final swan song this summer!)
I sat down with Sam and Bonnie to discuss what summers will look like moving forward for them.
They are very excited to make plans to travel to visit family they haven’t seen in a long time, or even little ones – such as great nieces and nephews – that they’ve never met! They look forward to traveling to some of the more northern parts of the country such as Buffalo, NY and Madison, WI to visit friends and family where summers aren’t quite so hot.
They also have already scheduled a trip with their dear friends to see WWI and WWII battlefields in England, Belgium, and France.
And of course, they look forward to relaxing in the summers, and not packing up their whole lives and moving out of state ☺.
Feelings… Nothing more than feelings…
A lot of people have asked me how I feel about this news and these changes, and I think many people will share in my feelings of excitement for them, but sadness for us and for camp. It’s bittersweet for sure! It’s the end of an era… the closing of a long chapter in camp’s history. It will absolutely feel weird not having them at camp next summer! But that doesn’t mean I’m not thrilled for them to try new things, travel, and enjoy the summers at a leisurely pace. And I know they’ll still be willing to help out if needed (and we sure do hope they’ll come to visit!).
How do Sam and Bonnie feel?
They have mixed emotions as well! They are excited about all of the above plans and excited to have summers to themselves after all these years. But they are absolutely going to miss the campers, the staff, the mountains, and camp life and rhythms in general.
Sam expressed that he’s not even really sure what it will look and feel like! He knows he certainly won’t have to work as hard – that’s what retirement is all about, right? – but he’s apprehensive in some ways and not sure exactly how he feels quite yet. After spending most of your life on the Greenbrier in the summers, I can understand why it would be hard to visualize what life will be like when that changes.
You can be sure we’ll be honoring and celebrating Sam and Bonnie all summer as we bid farewell to them and wish them all the best. And again, we’re very much hoping for one final appearance of Sonny and Cher at the Counselor Show ☺. If you have any special well wishes for them, please leave a comment, or email them to me at Elizabeth@campalleghany.com.
“Oh Sam Dawson, we love you”
“Bonnie Dawson, we love you!”