A Look Back At Camp Good News
By: Mary Stanley
Last week, the national media descended upon a sleepy corner of Sandwich to cover the suicide of Charles R. Devita.
Mr. Devita was the focus of an investigation into reports of past child sexual assaults at Camp Good News, the 214-acre summer camp on the shore of Snake Pond, where Mr. Devita worked for many years. Mr. Devita was found dead last Wednesday inside his pickup truck parked in a wooded section of the campground, just one day after The Boston Globe broke the story about the investigation. The cause of Mr. Devita’s death, investigators say, was a single gunshot.
This was the second time in three months that the camp was linked to reports of sexual abuse. In February, Senator Scott Brown revealed in his autobiography that he had been molested while a camper at a “Christian camp” on Cape Cod. It did not take long for the media to find out that Sen. Brown had attended Camp Good News as a child.
Most people reading these stories in the newspapers or watching the coverage on television had heard little, if anything, about Camp Good News before this. Even many in town had no hint of the long and rich history of this Evangelical Christian camp.
The camp celebrated its 75th anniversary in 2009, with former camp director and retired local pediatrician Hope W. Brooks, who ran her pediatric practice next door to the camp, serving as one of the hosts for the event. Some of the first campers to stay at the camp showed up for the celebration. According to information from the town archives, they reminisced about the early days of Camp Good News during the Depression era, when kerosene lamps were used, and campers stayed in tents rather than cabins. With no running water, Snake Pond served as the camp’s bathhouse during those first years.
Under the name of Society for Christian Activities, W. Wyeth Willard, a pastor at the Forestdale Baptist Church on Route 130, purchased 20 acres of land on Route 130 in 1928 for $500.
According to the town’s archives, Mr. Willard said when he decided to open the Christian camp, he was a “successful businessman torn between becoming a millionaire or a poor preacher.” He chose the latter, saying, “many Americans are for sale to the job that pays the most money. But, we’re supposed to worship God, the creator of the universe.”
Initially, the camp bore two gender-differentiated names: Camp Good News for Boys and Camp Good Cheer for Girls. Male campers stayed during the month of July and female campers stayed during the month of August. Now under the single name of Camp Good News, boys and girls attend the camp together—boys’ cabins are at one end of the property, and the girls’ cabins are at the other.
Whether Mr. Willard intended for the summer camp operations to span four generations of his family is unclear. But that is exactly what happened.
While Mr. Willard was serving as a Naval chaplain with the US Marines during World War II, his wife, Grace Willard, took over as the camp’s director. Over the past 75 years, the camp operations were overseen by two more generations of the Willard family. The couple’s two daughters, Dr. Hope Brooks and Faith Willard, and Dr. Brooks’s daughter Jane Brooks have all, at points in time, assumed the role of camp director.
During the summer of 2009, a fourth generation of the family, Dr. Brooks’s granddaughter Emily Aviles, took over the waterfront programs.
Over the years, the Society For Christian Activities expanded on the 20-acre property and the camp now boasts 214 acres with half a mile of shoreline, valued at $9.7 million, according to town assessor’s records.
During the camp’s beginnings, there were no permanent sleeping quarters. Campers slept in tents. Mr. Willard leased a building on the property next door owned by the Forestdale Men’s Club for use as the camp’s dining hall. Today there are 50 permanent buildings on the property, which include sleeping cabins, a dining hall, and offices. From an enrollment of 80 campers its first year, last year the camp hosted 300 children in its day and overnight camping programs. Campers range in age from 6 to 15 and come from all across this country and from around the world.
While the physical aspects of the camp, such as its acreage and buildings, have grown and evolved, the core mission of Camp Good News has remained.
According to the camp’s website, the Christian camp is open to campers from a wide variety of religious and non-religious backgrounds. “Camp Good News desires to be compassionate and encouraging rather than judgmental. Camp Good News endeavors to help young people discover the relevance of the Bible in our culture and assist them in exploring the awesome meaning and direction for living.”
Bible teachings and prayer services that were a part of the camper’s experience back in 1935 have continued to be a part of a camper’s experience into the 21st century.
The camp’s website states that a camper’s typical day starts with breakfast at 7:30 AM followed by a one-hour chapel service. From there, activities such as canoeing, swimming, and arts and crafts are offered.
A Bible study is scheduled again in the afternoon, which is followed by more camp activities, including campfires at night. The day ends with “devotions,” or evening prayers.
Over the years, Mr. Willard saved letters and newspaper clippings sent to him from former campers who had succeeded in their fields. Mr. Willard said, “The fruits of Camp Good News have been tremendous.”
In 1981, when an 18-year-old woman who was considering taking a position as a camp counselor at Camp Good News sent a letter to then-Town Archivist Russell Lovell asking if the camp was legitimate or a kind of “cult,” Mr. Lovell responded, saying, “It is a bona fide Christian camp with a fine program and good people.”
Up until February of this year, when Sen. Brown revealed in his autobiography, “Against All Odds,” that he had been molested while a camper at a “Christian camp” on the Cape, a revelation that threw the camp into the media spotlight, the biggest controversy to surround Camp Good News was a 1995 automobile crash in Welles, Maine, involving a van owned by Camp Good News that was carrying nine campers and two counselors, who were on their way for an outing at Saco River. Nobody was seriously injured in the crash.
This will mark the first summer since 1935 that the camp will not open its gates to campers.
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