William Clarence Ross, or “Bill,” died peacefully at his farm on September 15, 2015. Bill was a Western North Carolina camp legend and he helped start and run three summer camps in the Green River Valley, including Green River Preserve.
Let me back up a bit…Bill was born in Henderson, NC, and grew up at Thompson Orphanage in Charlotte, NC. At the age of 16, he joined the Merchant Marines and then later, the US Marine Corps with whom he proudly served his country.
Bill spent military leave time for many years directing the waterfront at the Kanuga Conference Center where he met his wife, Bootie. In 1953, he graduated from The University of Virginia and began a career in education at Porter Military Academy and the Gaud School in Charleston, SC. Later he served as Head of the Middle School at Porter-Gaud School when the two schools merged. Bill and his family moved to Spartanburg, SC, in 1966 where he served as head of the Middle and Lower Schools at Spartanburg Day School until his retirement in 1991.
During the summers, Bill and Bootie worked at Sky Valley Camp, owned by the Perry Family on Pinnacle Mountain Road adjacent to Green River Preserve. Bill helped Mr. Perry start Sky Valley Camp which ran for a number of years and today is leased out as a therapeutic camp.
In 1965, Bill and Bootie opened and directed Flintlock Camps in Tuxedo, NC, off of Bob’s Creek Road. Camp Flintlock was operated on land in the Green River Valley owned by the Rice Family of Charleston, SC. Each day, campers went out with their counselors to hike the land all over the Valley, including the land known today as the Green River Preserve. Sandy’s father, Alex, gave Bill permission to use the Preserve for his hiking camp, but he couldn’t fish the river.
While at Bill’s memorial service, I ran into Camp Flintlock alumni, Bob Stephenson, father of GRP alumni, Henry Stephenson. Bob wanted me to know he had trespassed on GRP that morning. I asked him where he was and he said, “Upper Bald.” I naturally asked him how he knew where it was, and he said it was the pinnacle hike when he was a camper at Flintlock – a total of 21 miles in a day to and from their camp! Bob went to Flintlock for 11 summers. He said when he woke up the morning of Bill’s service, he wanted to be in a place where he could reflect on his years at Flintlock and how much Bill and the camp had impacted his life. He immediately thought of Upper Bald. I asked him if he knew the names of all of our hikes. His answer was yes – they were Flintlock’s hikes, too. At this point, we were both shedding tears.
When Sandy was 15 years old he spent a month at Flintlock as a Camp Aid. Bill Ross told Sandy that he wasn’t worth the $10 a week he was paying him because he ate so much! Sandy slept in an old log cabin that sits by the Flintlock Lake. That cabin is still there today and is probably around 300 years old. While hiking all over his family’s land and the Green River Valley that summer, Sandy began to imagine a summer camp on his family’s land. It was a dream that he held onto for many years.
Around 1987, the Rice Family decided not to renew the lease on the land for Flintlock, and Bill and Bootie were forced to close the camp. Little did Bill know that his once-upon-a-time Flintlock Camp Aid, Sandy Schenck, was contemplating leaving his job in the real world to start a summer camp. Sandy immediately sought Bill’s help in starting Green River Preserve and Bill happily jumped right in. Bill’s wisdom and knowledge of camp and of people in general were worth their weight in gold. Sandy assured Bill that Camp Flintlock would live on in Green River Preserve. The program day for Flintlock was spent hiking the Green River Valley with a group of campers and their counselors. Camping trips in the valley were also an integral part of the camp session, as was fly fishing and horseback riding…traditions and legends of the valley were passed on, as well, and the rest as they say, is history. Flintlock was melded into GRP.
Bill Ross served on the Green River Preserve Board of Directors from the time the camp was founded until his death. He was our mentor. He was gentle, but firm; wise and caring; a true Christian and an avid fly fisherman. He was a gentleman of the first order and he rarely minced his words.
Amazingly, over the last few months, Camp Flintlock has come into our lives many times. The week prior to Bill’s death, the people of the Green River Valley came together against the Henderson County Sheriff’s Department plans for a shooting range at the old Camp Flintlock site. Recently, on a vacation trip with my daughter, we met the Lee Brothers of Charleston who went to Flintlock for 5 summers with a group when they were boys. They shared so many stories of their summer hiking all over the Green River Valley. They told me the names of all of the hikes…I was amazed! It has been such fun to see the influence of Bill Ross, a true camp legend, and Camp Flintlock in Green River Preserve.
Bill’s memorial service was held at the Kanuga Chapel. It was a beautiful blend of the Episcopal prayer book and camp traditions. Readings from Flintlock’s opening and closing campfire were shared, along with hymnals and campfire songs. The service concluded with a bugler playing taps. I am sure there was not a dry eye in the chapel. Bill’s presence was felt by all and I knew from the many alumni and families there that day that Camp Flintlock does live on in Green River Preserve.
Green River Preserve, along with Bill’s children, are in the planning stages of a 2016 Camp Flintlock reunion in memory of Bill. More to follow later.