Primitive Living-What It Was Like in the Early Years—Bob and Jeanne
The initial lease that Mel Friesen got with the Island Company was renewable but only for one year at a time. Because we had no long term guarantees from our landlords, donors were hesitant to give money to the camp. As a result, many of the buildings we created were temporary structures. In addition to cabins designed by Paul Byer, we had tent cabins that included a wooden frame covered with canvas from Army surplus.
In the early years, the camp was open only during the summers. Our caretaker, Harry Troop, watched over the property during the rest of the year. Before month camp for student leaders from around the West Coast started in mid June, we had to open and restock our supplies. That included unpacking and setting up all the tents, putting the dock back in the water, purchasing and transporting provisions to the island, and clearing all the weeds and brush for fire safety. Water was supplied by a spring up the canyon. Pipes ran from the spring to a big 10,000 gallon wooden water tank. Winter storms and mud slides frequently washed out the pipes that had to be replaced.
There was no electricity so we used Coleman lanterns to provide light in the Main Deck, our primary meeting and dining area. After dinner each night we had a worship time and then a speaker. We had to pump the lanterns before the worship but the lights would dim before it was time for the speaker. So each night we took the lanterns down and pumped them again. After the evening session, students took the kerosene lanterns back to their cabins. We purchased propane gas for the stove, refrigerator, and later the lighting system in the Main Deck and transported it to camp by boat in 200 pound cylinders. Those were then floated to the beach and rolled up the fairway to the boat house. Mel later found an old tractor that we could use to carry stuff.
Laundry was done in a Maytag wringer washer run by a gas engine. In those days Jeanne had pig tails and one day her hair got caught in one of the wringers. Thankfully she was able to reach the release valve before something very serious happened.
On another occasion some students wanted to watch a movie. Paul Byer found a 16mm projector and powered it with an old gas generator. But the generator was so loud that no one could hear the movie. To solve that problem, we attached a very long extension cord and put the generator far away.
One summer one of the guys found a used Renault four- cylinder engine and that we hooked up to power the refrigerator. But in the middle of the summer the bearings wore out and the engine died. We couldn’t find a replacement part in town. Bob looked around at lumber that had washed up on the beach and found a good piece of hardwood. He carved a bearing out of the wood and the engine ran another three or four summers.
Overall the work was physically demanding—moving supplies, digging pits, constructing buildings. In fact we used to have a saying. “If there is a harder way to do it, we are looking for it.” But we loved it. We returned each fall to USC looking tan, fit, and rested.
Every August the Island Company sponsored a Marlin Fishing Competition in Avalon. Game fish cannot be sold so fisherman who caught a fish had two options. They could stuff and mount it as a trophy and stick it on their living room wall (over the objection of their wives) or they could give it to a non-profit group like Campus by the Sea. So every once in a while we received a marlin. One summer someone caught a 350 pound sea bass and delivered it to our dock. We had to manhandle that huge creature from the dock into a boat; from the boat to the shore; from the shore up the fairway to a large tree. Using block and tackle, we then hoisted the behemoth and hung it from a limb. We didn’t have knives large enough for the job so one of the fellows used a saw to cut giant sea bass fillets. We then packaged the meat into smaller portions, kept some for ourselves and delivered the rest to folks in Avalon.
Betty Fletcher’s Marine Escort—Jeanne
In the early years, Campus by the Sea was very fortunate to have Betty Fletcher as our Administrative Secretary. She worked closely with Mel Friesen and Paul Byer to facilitate the work in the region. Her husband had died suddenly and she raised her young son Paul on her own. I vividly remember walking through the camp late at night and seeing a kerosene lantern on in the office. There was Betty hard at work.
She was also a dedicated prayer warrior. One day we all hiked up Toyon Ridge. Bob had not yet seen a Buffalo on the island and he was eager to find one. I told Betty and she said she would pray. Well, when we got to the first ridge, there was a buffalo waiting for us. When we got to the next ridge, there was another one. As we neared the third ridge, I said to her, “Betty you can stop praying now!”
In 1969 Betty discovered that she had ovarian cancer. She was very sick and not able to continue her responsibilities at Campus by the Sea. She had served the camp for fifteen summers in a row and was very sad to leave. In all those summers she never saw a dolphin, so when we got on the boat to travel home for the last time, she prayed that the Lord might let her see one. About half way across the channel a whole school of dolphins suddenly appeared. They surrounded the boat taking turns diving in front of the bow—first one group and then another. It was as if they were escorting us home. I have never seen anything like it. Betty was delighted and we sensed that it was the Lord’s special gift to her. She died the next year but the memory of that moment has been a source of encouragement to me every since.
We used boats to haul supplies and transport passengers. Mel found an old fishing boat, The “Pirate,” which we used to haul supplies from Avalon. Over the years we acquired an odd collection. Mel also bought a number of used wooden row boats. Every morning my kids had to bail them out. Someone else gave us a used twenty-five foot yacht which we christened “The CBuS”. Later the camp bought an old shore boat.
On two occasions private boats crashed on our beach. In one situation the sailor had set his boat on automatic pilot and fell asleep. When he collided with the Rock Jetty, he awoke. We patched him up and sent him off again the next day.
On another night a great big sail boat pulled up to the dock. The captain, who was a rookie seaman sailing alone, told us the yacht belonged to his boss. His first question was, “Where am I?” When we said, “Catalina Island,” he was dumbfounded and replied, “That can’t be. I was trying to sail from Long Beach to Santa Barbara.” He was out of gas so we gave him enough to get to Avalon where he could fill up. Since he didn’t understand nautical terms, when I sent him off I said, “Sail that way for a couple of blocks and look right. You will see Avalon.” His reply was, “You’re sending me to my death!” We found out the next day that he made it safely.
Then there was our adopted son Michael Peters. He loved boats and while at CBS he learn how to build and repair them from one of the volunteer staff Bill Waldon and his brother Dick. Bill was a high school shop teacher and Dick was a boat builder. They taught him to use all the tools. Michael then built a small dingy on our back porch in Los Angeles. He later went on to study engineering and naval architecture. He now designs award winning yachts and power boats in Florida.
My Favorite Memory—Jeanne
Late one night I walked back to our cabin on the beach. Bob was in the hospital in Avalon being treated for staph infection at the time. As I got near the water, I could hear the row boats banging on the rocks—their tether lines untied. I yelled for Paul Byer who was staying in the cabin right above us. He came roaring down the hill and the two of us plunged into the water up to our knees, grabbed the boats and pulled them to safety on the shore.
While standing there in the moonlight on the beach, we looked up the canyon to see the only other light on in camp—the office lantern. As usual Betty Fletcher was hard at work. Paul, who I affectionately called Boss Man, said, “Now we know who cares most about Campus by the Sea—you, me, and Betty.” Next to my husband Bob, Paul Byer was the greatest guy I ever knew.
Campus by the Sea in the Movies
One fall the Island Company contacted us requesting permission to use the Gallagher’s Cove as a movie set. This was after World War Two and the film was to depict the Japanese invasion of a South Pacific Island. The movie company arrived and painted all the rocks on the beach green. They installed a giant green screen as a backdrop to create the impression of a heavily forested island. Actors were dressed as Japanese soldiers. The only clues that the setting was not the South Pacific were the leaky Campus by the Sea row boats used by the Japanese soldiers to paddle to shore.
Formation of the Campus by the Sea Committee—Bob
During the 1960s young men were being drafted and sent off to an unpopular war in Vietnam. Student unrest on college campuses was at its height. InterVarsity was struggling to adapt to a new generation of Baby Boomer students. Attendance in the campus groups fell and as a result attendance at CBS dropped accordingly. A very small team of InterVarsity staff were struggling financially to keep the camp open in addition to fulfilling all of their on campus responsibilities. 1968 was a time of crisis. After much deliberation the InterVarsity staff in the region decided that to move forward they would need to close down CBS and give up the lease.
Others of us, however, felt that the location was just too good to give up. So InterVarsity alumni and a few staff gathered to think and pray about the situation. To relieve the burden on the InterVarsity staff we decided to form a committee to operate the camp. We wrote a proposal to the InterVarsity Board of Trustee saying that if they agreed to maintain the lease, we would take full fiscal and operational responsibilities for the camp. An agreement was reached. The original committee is pictured below.
We got so far in the hole financially that first year that we couldn’t quit. 1969, 1970, and 1971 continued to be difficult. In 1971 I was appointed Dean of Students at USC and suddenly I was no longer free in the summers so I had to leave the committee. But I am grateful for those friends who courageously stepped in the gap during those crisis years. They sustained the ministry of Campus by the Sea for several years until InterVarsity was strong enough organizationally to assume responsibilities again. And during that time InterVarsity figured out, especially with the help of Paul Byer, how to minister to the baby boomer generation. Chapters began to grow again and in turn attendance at Campus by the Sea increased dramatically. God is good.
The original CBS committee consisted of Bob Sharpless, Betty Fletcher, Jim Rutz, Walt and Dottie Herbst, Jim Perry, Bill Waldon, and Bob and Jeanne Mannes (Chair)