DOW camp gives kids a week to learn, make friends and create lifelong memories

This photo of DOW camp counselors is thought to have been taken in 1996. From left are David Pearson, Connie Thompson, John Schaefer, Renee Hambelton (front), Deleana Ledbetter Bolinaga, Jason Strong and Susannah Taber Alms.

Making tie-dyed t-shirts, which are autographed by fellow campers on the last day in a long-standing DOW camper tradition.

Editor’s note: For decades, Douglas, Ozark and Wright (DOW) counties have provided a special week for area children at Hammond Camp, near the North Fork of the White River southeast of Dora. Every year, gifts from individuals, groups and agencies make the camp possible for children who may not otherwise be able to attend camp. Recently, that funding has been in jeopardy, and those involved are asking area residents to help keep the camp alive.

Former Ozark County social worker Karla Smith will celebrate her 30th year of volunteering at the camp this year, and has been collecting donations through a fundraiser on her Facebook page.  At press time, she had collected almost $2,600 from former campers and helpful citizens.

“It takes more than $10,000 a summer to run the camp,” she said. “It costs about $100 per child, and that’s probably low-balling it. It would be nice to have a little bit of cushion each year so we don’t have to worry about paying counselors and that sort of thing. Also, we desperately need a bus!”

After many years working as a social worker with the Children’s Division, Karla has seen firsthand what DOW camp means to children who would not otherwise be able to go to summer camp. “It’s a time for kids to be kids with no worries, great food and the opportunity  to make lots of memories,” she said.

This year’s camp, for children ages 8-12, will be held June 17-21. 

Below, we’re reprinting David Pearson’s thoughts on spending summers at DOW camp and what it meant to him and his siblings. The article was originally published in the Oct. 1, 2014 edition of the Times.

To donate, make checks payable to DOW Camp and send to John L. Harlin, Century Bank of the Ozarks, P.O. Box 68, Gainesville, MO 65655. To donate online, go to Karla Smith’s Facebook page, where she has posted a link to the fundraiser. The link can also be found on the Ozark County Times Facebook page.


When I think of DOW camp, I am flooded with great memories from my youth. I speak from a special place in my heart when I look back on my 12-year experience as a camper and a counselor. DOW camp is held one week every year at Hammond Camp. It’s a small campground where about a dozen cabins are tucked away in the woods of the Ozarks hills. For most of the year, all the cabins are empty, and the woods are quiet. As soon as the warm summer arrives, this place comes to life full of excited campers. 

I spent most of my years in Ozark County; in 2001 I moved to Warrensburg, where I started my own business at age 21. My grade school years were split between Lutie and Gainesville elementary schools, and I graduated from Gainesville High in 1998. 

Every year I looked forward to that one summer week when my destination would be DOW camp.

My first experience at DOW camp was as a camper when I was about 8 or 9. My upbringing was called “humble” by some, but the plain truth is we were very poor. My family didn’t have much and often struggled to have the means to provide for my siblings and me. It was safe to say recreation was not a regular event for us. When you’re a kid, you don’t realize the life experiences you miss out on while other children your age have opportunities to experience so much more. 

When I was just a small boy, good news was about to come to me that would change my life forever. A very special woman, Karla Smith, came into my life. Karla worked with many families in need. She originally showed up concerned for the well-being of my siblings and me; she would play one of the biggest roles in my life. Karla invited my brother and me to go to DOW camp. She told us it would be a chance to swim, canoe and play with other kids our age. 

DOW offers this week for every kid for free or for a small donation. It’s a week when kids can be kids and valuable lessons are learned. I can still remember being nervous when Karla picked me up from my house. My belongings were packed into  quickly fashioned garbage bag luggage, but Karla never said a word about it. She just smiled at me as I climbed into the car. I had no idea a long tradition was beginning that day. 

The week was full of fun and many firsts for me. My first time canoeing, my first time sitting around a campfire, my first crush on a girl and my first time sitting down for three meals in a day. I will never forget my first time dancing; it was to the song “She Drives Me Crazy.” For some reason, the power of that circle of cute teenage girl counselors inspired me to cut my best rug. 

Every day was full of new and fun group activities. Over the years, my experiences and love for DOW camp would multiply. Early mornings we gathered around the flagpole to honor our great country and sing everyone’s favorite camp songs. Then we all lined up and headed into the mess hall for the meal together. Most days we would break into groups for age-appropriate play or some other activity, arts and crafts, or an educational lesson. I loved to sit and watch all the kids, seeing how each one had someone who was engaged in their learning or activity. There is no hiding at DOW. You are noticed and cared for by the counselors, nurse, cooks, staff and volunteers. A smile is part of the uniform there. There are so many highlights for me to recall. I probably loved being a counselor most of all. It was a great character-building lesson for any young man. Each counselor boy or girl would get an age group and list of campers. I had a blast from the moment I got my list. My cabin of boys always knew I was all about having fun and being their friend. There was no judgment; just grab a bunk and let the boys be boys. 

It was very important for me to use my experience as a former camper to relate to them and the experience they could have. Many co-counselors became my lifelong friends. Most were campers who had grown up to become counselors; then the next generation would continue the long traditions. 

One highlight of the week was that every cabin had to put on a skit for the entire camp. Not to brag, but I was known for putting on some of the best skits in my era. My cabin was three-time champs, to be exact! One of my favorite memories was counseling with my brother Bobby. Our skit consisted of Bobby’s bald head being used as a fortuneteller’s crystal ball and I, the fortuneteller, using it to see into the campers’ future. This was a truly great memory shared with my brother Bobby. Though I cannot remember all of the campers’ names, I still see their faces and hope they are doing well. 

Although every year I was a camper and a counselor was different, that familiar family of faces never changed. The week always ended too soon; it almost seemed unfair to not have a few more days. I still can picture all the teary eyes, hugs and of course, the passing of the marker to sign each other’s tie-dyed shirts. The most often-asked question was, “Are you coming back next year?” 

That’s when it would hit you, the impact one week can have on a young boy’s or girl’s life. For myself and for others, it was the best week we had all year. I would receive dozens of letters from campers, and anytime I saw a camper somewhere he or she would ask, “Will you be at DOW next year?” For 12 years, I could always answer “Yes!”

I simply cannot adequately described my experiences at DOW camp and what they meant to me and those I shared them with. 

DOW camp is not a place to just read about or hear about. It’s a place that needs to be experienced. So many people have dedicated a week of their life each year for these kids over the decades. I was truly concerned when I heard about the possibility that DOW camp might go unfunded and not be able to continue. I realize we all have a lot on our plates in life, and giving is not the easiest thing to do, but I am starting this year’s campaign with a donation from my family to help raise funds for DOW camp, and I urge you to join us in this campaign.

Along with many others dedicated to this amazing camp, I am asking those in the community – churches, business, clubs, anyone –to get involved. DOW camp was formed for our youth of all ages and classes; it should be there for many generations to come. So many talented people down home can help with organizations, fundraisers and donations. I have carried this passion to help those in need all my life. I have seen the positive impact you can have on a child’s future. Please contact Karla Smith at 417-683-7489 ( to find out what you can do. 

To those who have been associated with DOW camp, I want to thank you for what you have contributed over the years to make DOW camp what it is. You are truly amazing for what you have given to so many. I could only share a short version of the impact that DOW camp week had on my life each year. My story is only one of the thousands that could be shared by DOW campers. 

Now I’m 34 years old, and I owe DOW camp, and all the great people who made it possible all those years, a debt of gratitude. 

You gave me a week to be a kid, a week to learn, a week to forget and a lifetime to be loved. 

Ozark County Times

504 Third Steet
PO Box 188
Gainesville, MO 65655

Phone: (417) 679-4641
Fax: (417) 679-3423