When we think of camp, we think blue skies and laughs. But sometimes it rains or people get sick or someone breaks a bone. This is called a wrench and sometimes one gets thrown into the summer. In the summer of 2009, however, a full on hardware store was plopped on the Canyon when the Swine Flu full-on shut the joint down. We caught up with Kiri Issac who was on Work Crew during that summer for a flashback to the infamous Swine ’09 fiasco.
Kiri shares, “The thing I remember most was that we originally named it Zuber Flu because a camper with the last name of Zuber actually brought it with him to camp. He was patient zero. So before we really knew the extent of it staff jokingly called it Zuber Flu. Until the kid heard a counselor call it that and had a melt down thinking he broke camp.” Kiri remembers how empty the new, much larger pavilion was for Round Up. “When I was a camper we had Round Up in the old arts and crafts pavilio, so this new, spacious pavilion felt so empty.”
Amid the chaos, there was some humor. “One of my crew mates, Katie, and I were two of 5 girls that made it all the way to 4th session without getting sick and I vividly remember hiding in the walk-in freezer having a mild break down and trying to hide from the heaps of pots and pans over flowing from back pits.”
Still, God was glorified through this semi-apocalyptic summer. Kiri says, “I remember walking into the clinic to get a vitamin c pill in a very last minute effort to not get sick and watched a very sick counselor give up a bed for a blanket on the floor so a camper with a mild fever could have a bed. This is all while another counselor comforted campers between dry heaves.”
In the end, it was literally a summer of laying down everything.
The summer had such an impact on Kiri that she went on to write about the experience for a dual credit English class during her senior year in high school. Enjoy the adventure below!
Kiri’s Work Crew
I was on Work Crew in 2009. If you were in the Canyon that summer, you probably remember it as Swine ’09.
A Singing Hills camper brought in an un-described flu the beginning of third session. We didn’t know it was Swine Flu. In fact, after a few kids got sick, we named the flu after the camper in jest, absolutely certain that God and the Frio itself wouldn’t let Swine Flu into the Canyon. Ha – we were so wrong.
After the first week of third session, half of Singing Hills was sick. So sick, in fact, that Central Staff placed a strict quarantine on the Hills. Campers, Staff and Crew were pretty much forbidden to pass the camp entrance road. Walkie-talkies were the hottest commodity. John Kerr ran messages between camps on his ATV. The kitchen crews weren’t allowed to be at the barn at the same time and I think it even evolved so far as the Alans (Blaha and Soth) delivering Singing Hills our grocery runs.
As SH crew, we were not allowed to take off days with our friends (most us had been campers together for 8+ years) and the Echo Valley Crew and Program Crew weren’t allowed in the Hills. Work Crew was doing our regular duties – cleaning the ranch house, doing dishes and managing the kitchen while ALSO doing PC’s duties (trash runs, filling coolers and setting up/tearing down events). For all intents and purposes, we were our own little self-sustaining compound… Until the second wave hit.
It took dang near 85% of The Hills out and so, about 3 days into the second week, the decision was made to call parents and send campers home early so that *A HOSPITAL SANITATION CREW* could come into the canyon and clean everything before fourth session. Kids were picked up and the kids who rode on the bus were driven to their drop off in a camp suburban. I know because I helped drive.
I had developed a little cyst in my eye over the course of third session and actually ended up having to go back to Houston to have minor surgery to get it taken care of. Another counselor, Eric Palmer, and I loaded 4 kids and their luggage in one of the camp Suburbans (the only one that had AC) and drove them home. We stopped in San Antonio and Houston and then headed back to camp the next day.
Our cars were on the bluff and we both needed stuff out of our cabins for the remaining days left between third and fourth session – after all, is it even an LLYC without Quatro?
We parked the suburban near the compound and camp was silent. In all my 15 years at LLYC, I’ve never heard silence like that. Usually you hear kids screaming, Chandler’s dogs barking and music blaring in the Ranch House. That day, all you could hear was the rocks shifting on the hill, wind rattling cabin screens and the faint noise of the Frio ebbing and flowing. Even at night, camp is not silent – the air is filled with hushed giggles and crickets chirping and dance parties off in the distance. For it to be a beautiful summer day and camp to be 100% silent, vacant, and void was incredibly eerie. About the time Eric made a joke about how the rapture occurred while we were gone, a lone donut (you know, those giant, foam, primary-colored insurance liabilities) blew across the infield.
I asked Eric to wait for me to go to the bluff because I was legitimately too creeped out to go up alone.
Fast forward three days, it’s the day before 4th session. We were given explicit instructions to not return if we had so much as a runny nose. Work Crew was tasked with deep cleaning the kitchen to remove any lingering chemicals left behind from the hospital crew as well as wash every single fork, knife, spoon, plate and bowl – just to be safe.
At the beginning of second half, our Work Crew had 12 crew members and 2 bosses. Three days into camp, one girl decided it wasn’t her bag and left. No big deal, we were 11 strong, able-bodied girls and two incredibly gracious, strong, and encouraging bosses. Only one girl got sick during third session – I vehemently believe the amount of bleach and 409 we were using was keeping us healthy.
We started Quatro with 5 on crew.
That’s it. Five.
Our bosses had caught Swine while attending a wedding in Colorado and the other SIX girls caught it on the tail end of third session. The counselors stepped up in a big way. They were all tired from fighting through third session and also getting new campers to love on, but they showed up for us. Girls Staff helped make sure tables were cleared and the ranch house was clean (and kept an eye on all the campers) and Guys Staff put on monogrammed aprons to get elbow deep in the pits and scrub the kitchen. Chandler actually called in two former Crew Bosses and had them come and be interim crew bosses (Shoutout to Blair and Anna) and slowly our Crew recouped, recovered and returned.
When you sign up for crew, you’re vaguely aware that half of your summer will consist of cleaning to the point of callouses, referring to a dish washer as if it’s an old friend (lookin’ at you Hobart) and being generally tired. There was zero indication that you become the designated vomit mopper, be asked to watch cabins while counselors grab a bit of their sanity back or run triage in the clinic so the nurses can breathe.
That summer was unforgettable.
I grew up going to LLYC — I think my first summer was 2000. The Canyon has always been a really safe place for me. It was a refuge the summer my parents divorced. It was a haven while I learned my identity in high school. I still talk to/keep up with a majority of my counselors. From Laura Rose when I was a Cabin 2 Delta Babe to Stephanie Peverill who was my Cabin F counselor turned Crew Boss, Laity Lodge has undoubtedly shaped who I am.
That summer I learned about what serving looked like. I learned that vulnerability is the stuff that builds lifelong friendships. I re-learned truths that I had forgotten in darkness. I had a front row seat to counselors literally giving every ounce of themselves to show kids a glimpse of Jesus. I saw Kingdom shaking and mountain moving and hearts being won.
I also got my first look at how pandemics work.
Wash your hands, kids.