Texas Summertime Tradition 10

Camp Longhorn, after nearly 80 years, continues to provide unforgettable memories.

An old African tradition prompts a different response for the simple greeting of “hello”. Instead of responding likewise, the person says “I see you”, in recognition of the greeter’s personhood and individuality. The profundity of this simple salutary response is readily apparent: as human beings, we all want to be seen and heard. Too often in everyday life, most people feel lost in the crowd, just another face that blurs against a background of work, school, conversation, and all the distractions of the modern world.

Children can feel the impact of this phenomenon even more acutely than adults. Chances are that all of us, at least at some point, felt invisible as children. This may have happened at school, when a teacher refused to hear our point of view; or among peers, when we were left out of some game or party; or with our parents, when our youth carried with it a lack of agency among “adult” affairs.

For children lucky enough to attend Camp Longhorn, summer brings with it an annual reprieve from this invisibility. More than that, attendance at the camp has an outsized impact on the rest of the year. Whether a camper for one week or three, across a couple years or the entirety of youth, those who experience Camp Longhorn testify to broad positive impacts. Located across three locations in the Texas Hill Country northwest of Austin, Camp Longhorn has served up summers of fun for nearly 80 years. Today, attendees and parents alike know that “everybody is somebody” at Camp Longhorn. Though a lot has changed over the years, this golden principle remains paramount, and underlies everything that happens in the cabins and recreational centers spread out around Inks Lake.

Today, the five children of Camp Longhorn founders Pat and Tex Robertson have assumed control over the daily affairs of this Texas treasure.

“Camp Longhorn was founded in 1939 by my mom and dad,” says John Robertson, general manager of Camp Longhorn. “My dad was a coach at the University of Texas, and had caught the camping bug as a student in Michigan, where he worked at summer camps.”

After his experiences as a student, Tex Robertson’s dream was to one day have his own summer camp. The opportunity arose right before World War II, when he and his wife discovered the plot of land on the shores of Inks Lake that would eventually form the genesis of Camp Longhorn.

“He and my mom came out to the Hill Country with virtually no resources and a beat-up old car,” says John. “They found a piece of land and started the camp that first year with two campers. He used his UT swim team members as the counselors. That first year, we had 17 counselors and two campers.”

The early iteration of Camp Longhorn got placed on hold with the outbreak of World War II, as Tex Robertson left to serve in the United States Navy. After the war ended, summers in central Texas resumed the normal pace of life, and Camp Longhorn picked up right where it left off. The camp’s growth began in earnest in 1951, with the addition of a girl’s camp. The second branch of Camp Longhorn, Indian Springs, opened in 1975. This expansion occurred in the woods of the Texas Hill Country, and counts two private, spring-fed lakes as the centerpieces of its paradisiacal setting. In 2016, C3, Camp Longhorn’s third camp, opened. Situated on once-rugged lakefront ranch land, this newest iteration of Camp Longhorn caters specifically to one and two-week campers.

With so much history under its belt, Camp Longhorn has preserved a clear fidelity to the principles and approach that have served it well. Despite this, the camp has evolved to serve changing tastes. While this balancing act could become difficult for many organizations, Camp Longhorn has never stumbled.

“The balance between tradition and change is one that we in the youth camp world obviously struggle with,” says John. “After all, the environment in which we all live has changed radically. We stay true to what has always made Camp Longhorn great, however. The goal here is that each and every camper is someone special, and that they’re the best they can be.”

In line with this ethos, Camp Longhorn preserves a non-competitive spirit, in which campers are encouraged to do the best that they can do. A merit system rewards youngsters for good deeds and exemplary action, and a camp store allows for the use of merits for purchase. No cell phones are allowed at Camp Longhorn, in order to preserve the sanctity of the camp environment, and to prevent against distractions. In fact, students can’t bring anything that has internet connectivity, or needs re-charging. Parents can send e-mails to campers, but this communication is one-way; two-way “check-ins” are restricted to the old-fashioned pen and paper.

“At Camp Longhorn, we place a premium on one-on-one communication, looking someone in the eyes and responding to a question,” says John. We try to get back to those basic communication skills, because from those it’s not too difficult to build teamwork skills. We’re about having kids build friendships, which is the most valuable lesson and takeaway from camp. It was that way in 1939, and it’s that way in 2017.”

Fort Worth’s Allison Jones knows perfectly well this most valuable lesson of Camp Longhorn. Allison attended Camp Longhorn for 10 years, starting at the age of 9 as a camper, and “graduating” to camp counselor.

“I probably would have stayed there forever if I could,” says Allison. “It was my favorite thing about growing up, and I looked forward to it every year.”

When asked to pick a few favorite memories, Allison struggles, as the entire camp experience occupies one giant, golden memory in her mind. The friendships take pride of place, however, and she credits some of the closest relationships in her life to her time spent at Camp Longhorn.

“I still know every word to every song. It’s such a wonderful place,” says Allison. “It may as well have been written in my wedding vows that my own kids would go to Camp Longhorn. Our oldest Annabelle, is about to start.”

As for lessons that she’s excited for her children to learn, Allison highlights a sense of independence and good old-fashioned manners.

“The independence and manners and life values you learn there are amazing,” says Allison. “At the time, I wasn’t even aware that I was saying ‘yes ma’am’ and ‘no ma’am’, but you learn without really being aware, and gain an incredible amount of confidence.”

At Camp Longhorn, they have a slogan: everybody is somebody. Parents who want to best utilize their children’s summer vacations should take note, as you don’t often have the opportunity to forge lifelong friendships and craft valuable life skills, all while having a blast in the great outdoors. To learn more about Camp Longhorn, or to submit your child’s application, visit www.camplonghorn.com.