The origins of the Hill Country Church Camp linked to the escape of World War II


A local institution is celebrating its 75th anniversary this year, beginning with the first summer camp held at the camp and conference center of the Episcopal Diocese of West Texasbut there are other milestones to note in the early history of Camp Capers – and some relate to big events around the world.

Prior to the purchase of the property along the Guadalupe River near Waring, the San Antonio-headquartered diocese held its major meetings in various locations – St. Mark’s Episcopal Church in San Antonio and, for events longer, at Camp Arrowhead near Hunt or the Methodist Encampment, a collection of private cabins near Kerrville. The Presbyterians had the Presbyterian encampment at Westminster from 1906 until 1950, when it was replaced by Mo-Ranch after being purchased in 1949; and the Texas Episcopal Diocese of Houston has had Camp Allen since 1921.

When the Reverend Everett Holland Jones IV became rector of St. the beginnings and early days of the Diocesan Camping Program.

Having seen “the great influences and strength of the camp program at Camp Allen” during his previous posting, he took his new posting as an opportunity to start one here. The following year, Jones had a camp plan, starting with a limited youth summer camp at Arrowhead, then a private girls’ camp, “for a short period before the start of their regular season”.

During this time, a committee was appointed to look for a permanent location not only for a summer camp, but also for meetings throughout the year.

One of the members, Albert Steves Jr., heard of a 75-acre property about 45 miles from San Antonio with half a mile of riverfront, the summer home of the Negley family of San Antonio . “Several of us have gone up and toured the area and been very impressed,” Jones said. “The old building (the summer house) was run down, but we could see the possibilities with the beautiful oak trees and the riverside and the relatively secluded location. So we started moving towards getting this property.

The camp committee took an option on the ground to keep it while they seek funding. Then, Jones recalls, “there is a very dramatic story associated with buying and securing this land.”

One of Steves’ sons, Major Walter Steves II, was an Air Force pilot. As the committee searched for money to buy the camp, Jones said: ‘Walter has been reported missing from his base in Italy. He had taken a flight and had not returned. For several days, the family and all of us, his friends, prayed fervently that this young man would be found and rescued.

Shot down over Austria, as Jones recalled, Walter Steves was captured and taken prisoner by the Germans. While at the camp, run by the German Luftwaffe to detain Allied airmen, “he made contact with some of the other prisoners, and they found a way by which he could escape and get to a nearby airfield where there were several planes.” There young Steves figured out how to fly a German plane and flew to his base in Italy.

After just a few weeks, Jones recalls, news came that the missing pilot was back at his base, safe and sound. “In the joy of the occasion, Mr. Steves came to me and said, ‘The camp property is donated by the Steves family as a thank you for Walter’s safe return.'”

According to Kendall County Deed Records, Negley family members transferred the deed to Albert Steves on January 12, 1945. Steves in turn granted the deed on July 2, 1945 to a then-known entity under the name of “Episcopal Diocesan Camp.”

The first “Camp Capers Day” in local churches occurred on September 16, 1945, when a special offering was collected for a camp building fund.

It will soon be named Camp Capers, after the former bishop who died in 1943 after nearly 30 years in office, during a period of two world wars, unrest along the Mexican border and the Great Depression. During these turbulent times, Capers managed to keep diocesan schools open, start new congregations, and push the diocese to become fully independent for the first time, no longer having to rely on help from the national church.

The renovated farmhouse has been named Steves Hall.

The new camp would have opened its first summer session during the summer of 1946, but an outbreak of “an unusual type of poliomyelitis with a high death rate”, according to the San Antonio Light, on July 15, 1946, had already closed schools in mid-May that year, with most cases occurring among young people between the ages of 7 and 17 – the age group of campers targeted. Thus, the first day of the first session of the summer camp was postponed to June 9, 1947. In the meantime, the field served as the site of parish picnics and meetings of men’s and women’s groups.

By this time Jones had succeeded Capers as bishop. Albert Steves Jr. died just months after arranging the purchase and transfer of the property. His son, the former prisoner of war who had carried out such a daring escape, died at age 55 on June 30, 1972, in a collision on the 410 loop near Airport Boulevard.

Over the years, additional land was acquired, a swimming pool and additional buildings were constructed. More recently, a 2008-2017 master plan more than doubled the size of the campus, remodeled Steves Hall meeting space, and added pavilions, a riverside amphitheater, a health center, and the Lillibridge Dining Hall. . The hall is named after the Rt. Rev. Gary Lillilibridge, bishop of the diocese from 2006 to 2017, and a former Camp Capers camper who received the Hero of Camping Ministry Award for Episcopal Camps and Conference Centers in 2015.

True to its original purpose, Camp Capers is open for meetings, retreats and conferences throughout the year, with several summer sessions serving over 1,000 young people aged 8-18 each year. For many years, scholarships have made it more inclusive, and children from the Diocese’s Good Samaritan Center for Community Service have attended the camp.

A history of Camp Capers is to be compiled and published by the diocesan historical commission, of which this columnist is a member. To contribute memories and photographs for the story and other anniversary activities, email [email protected] A 75th anniversary celebration is planned for the weekend of October 7-9 at camp.

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