The same year MTV began airing on cable television, Ronald Reagan became President, the first woman was nominated for the Supreme Court, and the first Space Shuttle launched, Chandler Pruitt started working at LLYC. The goofy youth camp director we all know and love sits down with us for a light-hearted interview to talk his top favorite memories of past summers in the Canyon starting back in 1981.
ECHOES: LLYC began 53 years ago. You came on in 1981. Do you remember that first summer?
CHANDLER: Of course I do. I was 20 years old and a counselor in Cabin 5 at Singing Hills. I was looking for a Christian experience for that summer after my sophomore year of college and that was certainly the case at camp. But it was also an environment of huge fun and adventure that hooked me. And the depth of authentic relationships in an environment with purpose behind it kept me coming back.
What do you most value in your friends from camp?
Depth, just longevity of friendships. Don’t see them for 10 years, then you pick up right where you left off.
Favorite camp program?
Pro wrestlers was one of my favorites. There was this one small counselor and he would pop out of a backpack on the larger wrestler’s back.
Another of the fun ones had an Easter egg hunt at night. They put those inch glow sticks in each of the easter eggs. You turn out all the lights at camp and see every egg lit up in camp.
We had a helicopter that landed in the middle of the Play Field and an Air Force flyby that went way too low into the Canyon.
I mean, I could talk about the programs all day.
What do you do on your days off from camp?
I’ll drive into Leakey, go the General Store, grab a newspaper, get either a half-pound of M&M’s or a roll of raw cookie dough, and then go and sit on the courthouse lawn under the trees. I’ll read my newspaper and eat my roll of cookie dough and then take a nap for the rest of the afternoon. There’s nothing better.
What’s the best camp activity that doesn’t exist anymore?
Gravy train slide. It’s a slip-n-slide but instead of just soap and water, you add cooking oil and dog food. Let it soak for hours and then you have gravy train dog food on the slide.
What is a skill still unmastered?
My dream [was] to be an accomplished musician. I always felt like I should have been a rockstar.
Do you still see your alumni friends from over the years?
I went to an alumni event a couple of weeks ago in Austin. I just see this sea of people, and I know every one of them. One of my co-counselors from 1981 was there. Your lives take turns that you don’t really expect, and his life has taken pretty hard hits. He went through some pretty tough stuff. Just a great guy.
What or who is the greatest love of your life?
Margo, but that’s embarrassing for me to say because it makes me blush.
What’s your favorite restaurant?
There was a time when three out of five days of the work week I’d be eating at Taco Casa.
If you had to pick one camp desert to eat for the rest of your life, which one would it be?
Duh, Corpus Christi Cake.
What cause is dear to your heart?
Right now the one that is front in my mind is something one of my friends is dealing with. He was one of my campers early on. His son has a terminal illness, basically it’s a degenerative disease where you begin to have difficulty walking, a loss of sensation in the arms and legs, and impaired speech. I’ve been thinking about my friend and his son and praying for them.
35 summers. That’s a long time. How do you stay connected to all of those friendships?
There have been reunions of people and groups. There’s an Austin crowd that gets together for lunches on rare occasions. There are other groups that get together and do stuff, too. For all of the negative parts of social media, you can quickly connect with people and find out where they are and what they’re doing.
Echo Valley or Singing Hills?
Oh, I’m not going to answer that.
A Band of Runners treks across the Canyon during their Foundation Camp retreat in November.
Kids from Perez Elementary in Austin encounter themselves in the outdoors.
What bird songs teach us about the health of the Frio River Canyon.
Recapping a lunchtime conversation on hunger and poverty that we hosted in October.