KINGSTON – Ruben Pittman had never been canoeing before Wednesday and was exuberant as he described how he and his new friends successfully docked their canoe in the lake at Walcamp, a Christian retreat.
Ruben, 10, of Sycamore, is spending the week sleeping in a tree house, playing tag and shooting off rockets, thanks to a scholarship he and his sisters, Grace, 9, and Violet, 7, were granted through the Maria Ridulph Memorial Fund.
Maria was 7 and in second grade at West Elementary School (the same school Violet attends) in 1957 when she was kidnapped from outside her Sycamore home and killed. Her older brother, Chuck Ridulph, established the memorial fund in 2015, using seed money from proceeds from his book, “The Impact,” which includes reflections and prayers about loss through homicide, as well as sales of Charles Lachman’s 2014 book, “Footsteps in the Snow.”
“This camp was pretty much free,” Ruben said. “We wouldn’t have been able to afford it.”
Wednesday was water day at Walcamp, and the campers convened to canoe and splash in the lake. After water games, the group started a game of “Blob Tag,” where children tag each other and then link arms, resulting in a massive group of children all scrambled together by the end.
“They’ve got canoeing, that was really fun,” Ruben said. “We actually got to get in the boat, go out on the water and just start paddling. You have to start out going backwards and that just makes everyone in the boat feel weird! No one tipped over. And then we actually docked pretty much perfectly.”
Since 2015, the memorial fund has sent children selected by the West Elementary School principal to camp. Ridulph, 73, a pastor at Trinity Lutheran Church in Hampshire, came to Walcamp on Wednesday to meet the Pittman children. He said he and his family wanted to bring something positive out of the tragedy of Maria’s death.
“We all experience tragedies in our lives,” Ridulph said. “[The Impact] is about how God intervenes, not only carries us through but lifts us up above, how faith is practical. I love that word.
“When we were talking about trying to find the good in all these things, there was so much,” Ridulph said. “And that’s true for these kids, too. It isn’t like when I grew up as a kid where we didn’t have immediate access to everything that’s happened. These kids are getting bombarded with tragedy just as much as the adults, and they, too, need something to hold onto.”
While her brother enjoyed the quaint experience of sleeping in a treehouse, Grace Pittman decided to go to Horse Camp, and said she looked forward to another full day of riding her horse, Casey. She had her own water fun, too.
“I found clay in the lake,” she said. “I just had to dig really deep in the sand where the water came, and then there was a lot.”
The youngest Pittman, Violet, was having fun at Classic Camp, with more general summer camp activities.
“One time, my cabin mom threw me in the water,” Violet said, “and I felt like a fish!”
Camp Director Bill Indelli said Walcamp is growing steadily. The camp’s overnight groups, such as the ones the Pittmans took part in, remain popular, and while they had just a handful of day campers in 2018, this year there are dozens. He said that because of Give DeKalb County Day this year, a number of campers also received financial aid. Indelli said summer camps are an important part of youth.
“Kids have lost the idea of an acquaintance, whereas with camp you kind of get that,” Indelli continued. “You’re with each other the whole week.”
To contribute to the Maria Ridulph Fund and help keep sending children to Walcamp every year, send funds to Chuck Ridulph at 129 N. Cross St., Sycamore 60178.
Source: The Daily Chronicle