Family seeks to send kids to camp in son’s memory

Nathan Willis was always happiest outdoors.

His parents, Maxine and Francis Willis, described their son—who died unexpectedly last September—as a “passionate outdoorsman” more comfortable in shorts and hiking boots than the tie and sweater he was required to wear as a teller at TD Bank in Granville.

Francis said his son frequently spent his weekends—even in winter—camping in the forest surrounding Black Mountain.

“He’d go up on a Friday and wouldn’t come back until Sunday. He loved it. And the more snow there was, the better,” Francis said.

A 2002 graduate of Granville High School—he also attended Whitehall—Willis was pursuing the Adventure Sports Leadership and Management certification at SUNY Adirondack. He had earned qualifications in Wilderness First Response, River Safety and Swiftwater Rescue.

Nathan’s passion for the outdoors was fostered, in part, by week-long excursions spent at Skye Farm Camp and Retreat Center, a 400-acre summer camp in Warrensburg operated by the Upper New York Annual Conference of the United Methodist Church. 

“He went to horse camp three years and regular camp two years,” said Maxine, who along with her husband, lives in Whitehall and is a fixture at the Whitehall United Methodist Church. “He loved that place.”

The camp, which sits on the shores of Lake Sherman, offers more than 30 different programs for children ages 6 to 18.

“It’s (the camp) very secluded and very beautiful,” Francis said.

Campers can learn to fish, explore animal husbandry, pursue the arts, kayak and canoe, earn their life guard certification and much more.

“There are all types of camp,” Maxine said. 

The camp, however, can be expensive, with weekly rates of $400 or more.

As a child, Nathan was fortunate enough to have his trips to the camp sponsored by people from the church and the Willis family is hoping to pay that forward.

“We would like to keep that going,” Maxine said.

In order to “keep that going,” the family has established a fund in Nathan’s memory that helps pay tuition for other campers.

“Last year, we raised enough to send six kids to camp,” Maxine said.

Most of the money used to send those kids to camp was raised during a basket party held last fall, and this year’s event will be held on Saturday Sept. 14 on the second floor of the Whitehall Volunteer Fire Company Firehouse.

“We’re hoping to make it an annual event,” said Diane Rice, a family friend and the mastermind behind the basket party.

As of last week, organizers had received 35 baskets—donated by local residents and businesses—and were hoping to have 100 by this weekend.

The baskets cover a wide spectrum of tastes and interests from kitchen and bathroom themed baskets to pet, kids and Christmas baskets.

“We got everything covered,” Francis said.

“Anything you could imagine that would fit in a basket,” Maxine added. “People get real creative.”

Doors will open at 11 a.m. and drawings will begin at 1 p.m. Besides baskets, organizers will raffle off a fleece blanket and an afghan. There will also be a 50/50 raffle and lunch will be available for purchase.

All proceeds will be used to send kids to camp next summer.

Anybody who would like more information, or would like to donate a basket, is encouraged to call 932-1434.

“The more the merrier,” Rice said.

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