MATTHEWS – Two years after graduating from Sun Valley High in 1974, Ron Springs contacted three Christian summer camps about becoming a counselor. Only one replied and Springs has never looked back.
Springs, then a sophomore at UNC-Chapel Hill who was thinking of becoming a youth minister or a music minister, accepted a job in the summer of 1976 at Ridgecrest Summer Camps, which operates two Christian camps — Camp Ridgecrest for Boys and Camp Crestridge for Girls — in Ridgecrest, which is located just outside Black Mountain.
“Some of my buddies in Chapel Hill were working at camps and it sounded like a good thing to do,” Springs said. “We didn’t have the computers back then, so I went down to the library and found two or three camps that looked interesting. Ridgecrest was the only one that got back with me.”
Springs was a counselor at the boys camp that summer in 1976 and he has been associated with the Ridgecrest Summer Camps ever since. He became the assistant director at Ridgecrest in 1980 and the executive director five years later. He will soon begin his 34th year in that role.
“When I first got here (in 1976), I just fell in love with the place,” Springs said. “I had planned on it being a one-time thing being a counselor. But 43 years later, I am still here. The more I kept coming back to camp, the more I wanted to stay in camp work.”
Ridgecrest Summer Camps are owned and operated by LifeWay Christian Resources of the Southern Baptist Convention but is open to all denominations or to those without a church home. Its mission statement says it “seeks to impact lives for God’s glory through discipleship and adventure.” The boys camp was founded in 1929 while the girls camp was founded in 1955, and each offers over 25 different activities for campers.
Springs said it takes a special person to be a counselor or staffer at Ridgecrest Summer Camps. The girls camp has a staff of around 160 while the boys camp has around 145 staffers.
“We are looking for counselors that love kids and love Jesus,” Springs said. “A lot of our staffers were campers and they want to come back and be on staff. Our staffers also go back to their colleges and they know what we are looking for and they will spread the word to their friends. I feel we have a very strong staff because they want to be here for the right reasons. Our staffers are with the kids 24/7.”
As executive director, Springs wears many hats, including when both camps are in session over the summer. The summer is broken down into four two-week sessions, although a camper can also spend four, six or eight weeks at Ridgecrest.
When Springs started, there were 20 cabins and about 200 campers each two-week session. There are now 48 cabins at the girls camp with a maximum capacity of 480 campers every two weeks. The boys camp has 42 cabins with a capacity of 420 campers each session. Some summers sessions already have waiting lists.
“I like playing two-square,” Springs said with a laugh. “But one of my favorite times, and I do it at each camp, is the singing for campfire time, a devotional time when we get together. I do enjoy the campfire time.”
Springs also enjoys seeing how former campers and staffers have used their camp experience to become successful in life. Back in 1976, Springs had a young camper in his cabin named Brad Johnson. Johnson went on to become a quarterback in the NFL for 15 seasons, helping lead Tampa Bay to victory in the 2002 Super Bowl.
“That was Brad’s first year to come to camp,” Springs said. “There are a number of them that have achieved some sort of fame. It’s fun to see all of them grow up and see what they have become.”
Springs said he has no plans to step away from Ridgecrest anytime soon.
“I have said I want to keep doing this until I feel I am not useful anymore or I don’t enjoy it anymore,” Springs said. “I still enjoy it and I still feel I am useful. I love being around the young people, and I love seeing what our staff does for our campers. I love seeing the difference that camp can make in the lives of both our campers and our staff.”
A lover of all University of North Carolina athletic programs, Springs kept tabs on the recent success of the Sun Valley football team, especially star quarterback Sam Howell who has signed with the Tar Heels.
“It was a great high school,” Springs said. “I loved it, and it was much smaller then and it was kind of out in the country when I went there. I had a great group of friends. I grew up Presbyterian. When I got to Sun Valley, the friends that I made went to the Baptist church. So, that is when I became a Baptist.
“I am excited about our Sun Valley quarterback going to UNC. When I was at Sun Valley, I was in the marching band and I didn’t play football but I think in the four years that I was there I think we won about two football games.”