You Never Really Leave a Place You Love

on June 17, 2007
“You never really leave a place or person you love, part of them you take with you ,leaving a part of yourself behind.”

On Thursday I went with the rest of the Stake Young Women’s presidency to visit our girls at Oakcrest Girls Camp. I always have mixed feelings whenever I go back to Oakcrest to visit. I worked in the kitchen there for 8 summers and worked with the Women’s Committee for 6 more years after that. This place is filled with more memories than I could count. Once I am inside those gates and step out of the car and breathe the mountain air, the feeling comes over me and I think “I am home. ” Only I am all too aware that I don’t belong here anymore.

On this visit I took a little time to walk some of the paths by myself. I walked up to the amphitheater, Aspen Grove, sat down and tried to remember all the times I sat there in years gone by not realizing that I was being slowly molded into the person I am today. I realized as I looked among the familiar trees that it was no accident that I spend so many years involved with this place. It’s like God took this awkward 16 year old girl and plopped her down in the middle of Oakcrest Camp where He knew I would learn quickly important life lessons. He knew that I would physically work harder than I ever had before. That I would be constantly surrounded by the Spirit, and people who loved the Lord and tried to love each other. He knew that I would have to learn to deal with all kinds of people from all kinds of backgrounds. He provided me with incredible mentors who would become lifetime friends and teach me more than anything, how to serve and how to lead. As I sat on the wooden bench I was overwhelmed with gratitude to the Lord for all that this sacred ground had given to me.

I walked to the back door of the kitchen and peeked in. I slowly opened the familiar screen door and stepped inside. Ahhh – the smell! It smells the same! An odd mixture of yeast rising, bread baking, and Clorox! I love it. A couple of the girls working there look at me and I ask if I might come in and look around. They shrug not knowing what to say. I ask for the head cook. She comes over in the familiar apron and bandanna covering her hair. I ask if I could look around and explain that I had worked in the kitchen several years earlier. Two others in the kitchen staff are suddenly fascinated and ask me what year I worked there. I smile and say “83, 84, 85, 86, 87, 91, 92, and 93 and 6 years on the committee”. Their eyes get suddenly wide and they ask if I was a counselor. I shake my head, smile, and say “no way – the kitchen is the best place to be.” Their eyes get wider. Unlike others unfamiliar with Oakcrest who think I spent several years at a fun “summer job,” they actual realize that working in the kitchen is a pretty thankless job overall. Plus it’s exhausting. The head cook walks around with me and she tells me that “Big Mama” died. This is the big steam-jacket kettle that you can could large amounts of food in. They still called her “Big Mama.” I walk over to dead Big Mama and open the lid, gently caress her stainless steel sides and say “Big Mama and I were close.”

I notice the front fridge is different and say “you got a new fridge.” She says “yes” and then excitedly tells me about the new warmer they got.  I feel the jealousy for my old self rise in my chest. I would have killed for a warmer! We share a brief moment of excitement and bonding that only “Head Cooks” can understand. I see the cookbook they are using and flip through it. It’s got the exact recipes that I typed several years ago. I notice shelf paper that I put on the shelves years ago. Girls it’s time for new shelf liner.

I think about why I spent so many years of my life involved with Oakcrest. I know why – it’s not a mystery. Those experiences made me who I am.

I remember with clarity the defining moment that I knew my life would never be the same again. It was the first summer I spent at Oakcrest. One evening in the middle of the summer the assistant cook (Aspen) and Yo Yo (one of the other Kitchen Staff girls) and myself decided to take a little hike. We took a path that runs behind all the cabins and goes up to a little summit where there is an incredible view. The three of us sit down to rest as we are a bit tired from the steep climb. The sun is just starting to go down behind the mountains in the distance. I think one of us whispered “It’s beautiful.” We just sat there in the silence all three of us. The most overwhelming Spirit enveloped us as we gazed out. Mountains completely surrounded us and the thought came to my mind from the scriptures “I will encircle you in my arms of love.” I knew at that moment that God knew who I was and that He was encircling me in His arms. It’s not the first time I felt the Spirit, I learned to recognize the Spirit at a young age. But it was the first time I was keenly aware that I was an individual to the Lord and he knew me! Insignificant, faulty, unworthy me! And that He loved me! Amazingly, I wasn’t the only one having this experience. All three of us sat there in complete silence with tears streaming down our cheeks. Eventually we came down off the mountain but I don’t remember when. I do remember that we hugged each other. I don’t know that any of us had words to explain the Spirit we felt – and we never talked about it. But I know something in me at that time changed.

So should you ever happen upon Oakcrest Camp in Woodland, Utah take a minute to look around. If you look really hard you will see gently swaying in the breeze, a piece of my heart.



14 responses to “You Never Really Leave a Place You Love

  1. Tiffany says:

    i loved reading this. i think we figured out once that you were not cooking when i was a camper, but i still like to think that you did. i have a semi-fictional memory. thanks for all the great food, deann!

  2. Kim W. says:

    What a wonderful thing to run across…

    Today we sent our oldest daughter to Oakcrest – needless to say she was way excited! It was 24 years ago this year that I was at my first year at Oakcrest…funny thing is it was 1983! So to see the picture of the 1983 cooking staff brought back a lot of good memories. I loved Oakcrest and was able to attend 83 & 84 with my best friend Wendy. Those were the days. My daughter asked me what I remembered about camp and the best thing I could do was show her my scrapbook of all the fun things we did and I gave her my tapes of the songs. The most wonderful feelings of camp came through songs- especially the spiritual ones the leaders and girls sang together. It truly is a very special camp for Young Women to go to! I hope my two younger daughters are able to experience this too!!!

    Thank you for sharing!

    Kim W.

  3. Michelle "Duzz" (Davies) Wade says:

    I’m not even sure who I’m writing this comment to but I was searching on the internet for anything or anyone that had anything to do with Oakcrest…I found your posting/blog. First of all, I loved reading what you wrote…LOVED IT! I too served at Oakcrest on the Women’s Committee for 5 years & during that time frame, as Director for 2 yrs. So, alot of your comments hit home to me as well! My other reason for leaving a posting is that Oakcrest is turning 50 this year…YEAH!!! I’ve been contacted by the Committee and asked to help spread the word about the reunion they will be having this summer…and to help collect email address as well as physical address’…just so we can let everyone (past Staff members)know about the reunion. If you would be so kind, I would love for your information…you can send it to or you can call me, if you’d like…801-231-8818. Writing this, I’m thinking it might come across a little strange but I assure you, that your information wouldn’t go any further than those on the Women’s Committee so we can contact you. Also, if you have any other past Oakcrest Staffees you’ve kept in contact, I would love their information as well. Also, just so you know, the date that has been set for this event is July 11th at Oakcrest. I look forward to hearing from you!

    Michelle Wade
    801-231-8818 (cell)
    801-619-9529 (home)

  4. Celena (Skittles) says:

    I received the post card about the 50th Celebration of Oakcrest girls camp and came across your site when I did a google search on Oakcrest. I worked in the kitchen too. I think I was there the summer of ’84. I recognize Sparkles, Cocoa, and Honey from the photo above. It was a great summer and I loved the experience. My testimony grew so much that summer. I was the youngest on the staff that year just barely 16. Now 24 years later – I have five kids and I am YW President and have been to girls camp twice with the girls in our ward and stake of which three of those are my own daughters. A few times I have ran into Sparkles over the years. She has a darling family. We used to be in the same Stake in Boise, ID. Small world.


  5. Debbie Hemsley Rawson (Thumper) says:

    My mother told me about the Oakcrest 50 year reunion and I was grateful. I served as a counselor in 1979 and came to the 50 yr reunion. There were 7 of us there out of our staff of 36 girls. Rascal, Poppy, Pattycakes, Cricket, Buffy, Ziggy, Thumper. Thank you for whoever organized it. I live in Idaho and it was a spiritual treat to visit, renew friendships, and walk through the camp after 29 years. Just to feel of the wonderful memories and love that radiates from heaven through that wonderful camp was a humbling and appreciated experience. If you look close enough you will also see my heart somewhere out there flappin’ in the breeze too. It’s a good place to leave part of my heart. Thanks Thumper ’79

  6. Debbie Hemsley Rawson (Thumper) says:

    My mother told me about the Oakcrest 50 year reunion and I was grateful. I served as a counselor in 1979 and came to the 50 yr reunion. There were 7 of us there out of our staff of 36 girls. Rascal, Poppy, Pattycakes, Cricket, Buffy, Ziggy, Thumper. Thank you for whoever organized it. I live in Idaho and it was a spiritual treat to visit, renew friendships, and walk through the camp after 29 years. Just to feel of the wonderful memories and love that radiates from heaven through that wonderful camp was a humbling and appreciated experience. My testimony grew so much that summer and continues to increase each year. Now all these years later we have 7 children and multiplying. I have enjoyed service as a full time missionary in Iowa. My husband has taught seminary and institute for 19 years, is voice on the radio for sounds of sunday stories and is currently helping with the Joseph Smith Papers project hosting the TV show. We have been so blessed to have had opportunities of service in the Lords work. If you look close enough you will also see my heart somewhere out there at Oakcrest flappin’ in the breeze too. It’s a good place to leave part of my heart. Thanks Thumper ’79

  7. Jana Riska Shakespeare (Jabber and Cadenza) says:

    Okay. I really need to get to work, but I just have to say that your blog entry made me cry!! Seriously, it exactly matched my feelings for Oakcrest. The woman I am today was forged at Oakcrest Girls Camp–from my days as a camper when I felt the love of God in a way I so needed to my days on the kitchen staff when I found myself and was totally changed forever and then the summer before my mission when I was a counselor and cried over and over giving my heart to try to give those girls the same experience I had. When I went on my mission, I kept waiting for this amazing, life-changing experience to happen that I’d heard so many talk about, but it never did. I then realized that it had already happened when I was 17 years old on the kitchen staff. I was never so tired as I was that summer, but I left there a different person. Thanks for reminding me why I love that place so. My heart is hanging in the trees as well even though it has been 17 years since I was one of your KD’s on the kitchen staff.

  8. Jana Riska Shakespeare (Jabber and Cadenza) says:

    Oh, and I gasped to hear that Big Mama died. I’m grieving now. 🙂

  9. Lafter 1998 says:

    I was at Oakcrest as staff in 1998…oh it was GREAT. I have a cute girl in my ward who’d like to go up as staff this coming year…do you know where I would get an application?


  10. Katydid says:


    I happened across this while looking for the pinecone legend (found it on the Brighton camp website). Thanks for your circle of (Oakcrest) life story. You are right…Oakcrest will always be apart of us as we are of it whether it was as a camper or as staff.

    So….miss KD….do you have the recipe for ash cakes?

    Katydid, ’84

    • Amy says:

      Thank you! Thank you for this post. I am leaving for girl’s camp with my ward on Tuesday and on my evening walk I found a ton of perfectly shaped pinecones. You just made my night.

      Spunky, ’91

  11. sandrar says:

    Hi! I was surfing and found your blog post… nice! I love your blog. 🙂 Cheers! Sandra. R.

  12. Tammy [Lunnen] Clark says:

    What a pleasant surprise to find you on the web and it brought back a flood of pleasant memories. I was a counselor at Oakcrest in 1981 [Echo]. At that time I was a Co-ed at Ricks college and answered a want add for camp counselors. I had never heard of Oakcrest as I lived in Oklahoma during my YW years. It was a wonderful summer and I learned many new things as an 18 year old guiding rambunctious groups of beehives through all the fun activities in those beautiful mountains. I am now a mother of 4 [mostly grown] and have served many years in YW and at camp and professionally I am a school counselor/therapist. I have used games, songs, skills aquired at Oakcrest, with my own kids, in YW, Girls Camp, Primary callings and now as a therapist with emotionally disturbed children. I love Oakcrest for what I learned and how it touched my life. I hope I helped other YW grow during the short time I had them as campers. LOVE to you all. Tammy/Echo

    p.s. if anyone reads this from 81′ I am on Facebook
    [Tammy Denton Clark] and would love to hear from you.

  13. Tamara Wheeler says:

    I ran across your blog post while looking for information about Oakcrest. I too went to Oakcrest, and was searching information to share with my daughters about the fabulous place that Oakcrest is.

    And then I saw the picture of the Kitchen Staff you posted. One of them is my Sister in law, who married my brother. If the names are corresponding with the people, then it would be Yo-Yo. And her oldest daughter just started at Oakcrest as a Counselor a few days ago. (which is what made me start looking for things about Oakcrest to begin with.)

    Just amazing to find that on your blog and wanted to share. 🙂

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