DFW personalities share memories of summer camp

Summer camp gives children the opportunity to learn more about nature and themselves.
Summer camp gives children the opportunity to learn more about nature and themselves. Getty Images/iStockphoto

Camp fires and care packets from Mom, first kisses and forever friendships. These are the memories that come to mind when people reminisce about their childhood summer-camp experiences.

We asked Dallas-Fort Worth personalities what the experience was like for them. Their stories are sure to make you nostalgic — even if you never went to camp.


Radio personality

A lot of kids get homesick at summer camp. I had the opposite experience.

When I was in high school, living in Hawaii, I got a job one summer at a Boy Scout camp. It was eight weeks as a counselor — so it was eight weeks away from home. The camp was maybe 35 minutes from my house. But I loved it so much, had such a great time, that I never wanted to leave.

On the weekends, our summer camp would end on Saturday afternoon around noon and you’d be off until Sunday. Most people would go home, but not me. I would just hang out on the beach with the other counselors who didn’t go home. I was having the time of my life, a little taste of freedom at age 16.

Then one day I’m in the staff lounge playing foosball and someone says, “Hey, Mark, your mom is on the phone.” So I get on the phone and my poor mom is saying, “Mark, are you ever going to come back home this summer?” That’s when it clicked. Not once in four solid weeks had I even thought about calling.

I felt a little ashamed. But it wasn’t that I was blowing her off. I was simply having so much fun.

Mark Louis Rybczyk, aka Hawkeye, is the host of “Hawkeye in the Morning” on KSCS-FM 96.3. He is a supporter of Cook Children’s Medical Center in Fort Worth and its summer camp for cancer patients, Camp Sanguinity, and the author of “The Travis Club,” a historical thriller.

Christy Stratton

TV writer/producer

I went to cheerleading camp in 1987 at SMU for a week or so. I remember crying a lot, because we had to practice our routines in 100-degree heat and tensions were hella high. We couldn’t even build pyramids well, as we were sweating so hard that girls kept sliding off of other girls.

Our cheer sponsor said her goal for the season was consistency, but hitting the routine was difficult with sweat stinging our eyes and everyone smelling like goat. This was the only cheer camp I had ever been to, as I had finally made the squad on my fourth try.

Truth be told, I was in over my head. I just wanted to wear the cute outfits and get asked out on dates. I didn’t expect that getting into screaming fights and nearly passing out from dehydration would be part of the bargain. It was literally blood, sweat and tears.

We co-won the competition at the end, which qualified us for NCA national competition in Dallas that December, where there would be more yelling, recrimination and arguments over hair bows. But I am still BFFs with half a dozen of those gals almost 30 years later, believe it or not!

Stratton is a writer and producer from Fort Worth whose credits include “King of the Hill” and “Raising Hope.” Stratton’s Web series, “Everyone’s Crazy But Us,” which she wrote, produced and directed, is available on

Lisa Whelchel


I don’t know if it was one Girl Scout camp in particular or an amalgamation of them. But my juiciest memory of camp is my mother sending something in the mail every day, just so that I would get mail every day while I was away at camp.

She even sent something the day before I left so I would get something the first day that mail was delivered to our cabin. That touches a deep place inside my soul as I think about it. What a thoughtful, fabulous mother!

I remember, specifically, she sent a box of homemade cookies. They were wonderful little boxes of treasures for me to share with my whole cabin. There was also always an encouraging letter inside.

There also were many years when I went with my mother because she was the Girl Scout leader. Those were awesome, too. All the girls loved her. She was the best Scout leader. She was just the best.

Whelchel, who grew up in Fort Worth, is best known for playing Blair Warner in “The Facts of Life” (1979-88). She next stars in “Hearts of Spring,” premiering April 9 on Hallmark Channel.

JT Hodges

Country music artist

My best memory from summer camp is I had my first-ever kiss underneath a shed at Camp Ozark in Arkansas. I was probably 12 years old, but I remember everything about it. I remember the girl, I remember her name, I even remember where she was from: Shreveport, La.

Everybody was like, “Oh, you guys need to go kiss. … Kiss, kiss, kiss!” So we went under this little shed place and I stared at her while she stared back at me for a good five minutes because I was so nervous. Then, finally, I just went for it.

Hodges, a Fort Worth native, is a songwriter and recording artist who released his “Locks on Doors” EP in April 2015. He’s currently recording a new album, which he plans to release in early summer.

Ramon Diaz

TV sports anchor

I was a Boy Scout leader when I was a teenager. One time, we were camping out, different groups of Scouts in Mexico, all the tents making a circle facing to the center. It was time to go to bed, but the kids didn’t want to go to sleep. It was hard to make them calm down, but we finally got everyone to be quiet.

Then, I don’t know how it started, but one kid decided to throw a shoe. Everybody kept their shoes outside of the tents. Then somebody else threw a shoe. And someone else threw one. And before we knew it, we were in the middle of a huge shoe fight. Shoes were flying everywhere. It was crazy.

We were trying to make the kids stop, but I have to admit it was funny to see all the shoes flying — and we couldn’t help smiling because all the kids were enjoying themselves.

Finally, once everyone settled down and went back to their tents, we all went to sleep. But the next morning it was such an interesting problem: Imagine — nobody could find their shoes!

Diaz, sports director for Telemundo 39, can be seen during newscasts at 4:30, 5 and 10 p.m. weekdays. The Emmy-winning sportscaster joined the KXTX team in Dallas-Fort Worth in 2006.

Marc Fein

TV news anchor

My greatest summer-camp experience was working as baseball coach at the Ron Fraser Sports Camp at the University of Miami. It was my first job. I coached my own team of kids, usually 7- and 8-year-olds, and I had responsibilities as a teenager that most kids that age don’t have.

It was fun being in sports and teaching the kids, but it also was a great life experience in communicating with people and being responsible for all these kids every two-week session.

As far as I know, none of my kids ever went on to have a significant career in baseball. But one of the kids I coached was Brian Griese, who went on to have a very good career as a pro football quarterback. He was maybe 11 at the time and I doubt that he would remember me, but I remember him.

Fein co-anchors NBC 5 Today from 4:30 to 7 a.m. weekday mornings. He joined KXAS in fall 2011. He still coaches youth baseball, out of Triple Creek Academy in McKinney.

Mike Rogers

Radio news anchor

My favorite summer-camp memory is as a parent. One year, we went to pick up our oldest daughter, Maggie, at Sky Ranch. They had passed out Super Soakers [water guns] to some of the girls as a “last day of camp” treat. They were all having a ball, except for one little girl whose father insisted that she go inside and finish packing before she could join in the fun.

At the time, Maggie had one of the Super Soakers and it was fully loaded. So the girl called Maggie over, pointed to her father and said, “Shoot him!” Next thing I knew I was airborne, leaping across the deck, to stop my daughter as she drew a bead on the poor guy.

Rogers, a Dallas native, is a 21-year veteran at KRLD NewsRadio 1080. He co-anchors the KRLD Morning News from 5 to 10 a.m. and produces his daily feature, “The Other Side of the News.”

Lori Wilde

Romance novelist

I went to a Bible school camp in Oklahoma when I was 9. It was run by a pastor who was quite charismatic and different from any church leader I had ever had. He was very open-minded about other belief systems — as opposed to the “my way or the highway” approach to religion I had always seen.

One day we went to a Native American reservation and learned about their culture. The next day, we did a scavenger hunt to find items hidden in the forest. These items were from different countries and cultures — and when we brought them back, the pastor would tell us about those countries’ religions.

There was never any judgment made about the different religions. He was merely telling us about different points of view. For me, at 9 years old and growing up looking at things only one way, it was very eye-opening. The way I had been raised to see things suddenly had been turned on its head.

Wilde, who lives in Weatherford, is a “New York Times” bestselling author with more than 75 novels to her credit. Her latest, “Love of the Game,” the third installment of her “Stardust, Texas” series, comes out April 26.

Kaley O’Kelley

TV news anchor

Some of my best childhood memories take me back to summer camp. The new friends, long hikes, great conversations, fresh air and campfire songs still make me smile. Oh, and the food: those warm, gooey s’mores!

Speaking of food, I have one cringe-worthy camp memory. It was our cabin’s turn to clean the kitchen after breakfast and our middle-school minds formulated the fantastic idea to cook some eggs on the gas range. Unfortunately, our middle-school minds did not know how to properly light the gas range.

One of my friends lost her eyebrows in the process! Rest assured, they eventually grew back. Looking back on it, we were blessed that no one was seriously hurt. We certainly learned a valuable lesson.

But perhaps most of all, summer camp taught me the true value of being open to adventure. That’s something I never want to forget. Come to think of it, is there a summer camp for grown-ups? If so, I’m in!

O’Kelley is co-anchor of the CBS 11 News at 5, 6 and 10 p.m. The six-time Emmy-winning journalist joined KTVT in January 2015.

Brenda Strong


In high school, I was a counselor in a science/nature-centric camp for inner-city sixth-graders. My childhood was spent in Oregon at the foot of Mount Hood. Nature was my back yard. So camp was an opportunity to share what I knew with a group of kids who knew nothing of the environment.

The experience affected my young-adult psyche in a profound way. But it didn’t start out altruistic. I just wanted to get out of being in school. But sometimes when you give, you end up getting something important in return.

My favorite lesson to teach was how to become one with your surroundings by becoming very still inside. I told them if they were loud, no animals would come near us; we would frighten them away. But if they were present to their surroundings, they could take in all the sights and sounds of nature around them.

We taught basic skill sets that are very helpful in respecting the environment. And teaching how to light a fire or follow a trail or see the stars at night was a magical experience.

For three years, Strong was a cast member on the 2012-14 version of “Dallas,” which was filmed in North Texas. She next stars in “Love By Chance,” premiering April 16 on Hallmark Channel.