Rediscovering Camp Coffman
By JENNIFER BUTCHART
Some family traditions never die. Becoming a Boy Scout or Girl Scout can stay in families for generations, and the network of people met through Scouting is always growing.
At Camp Coffman, Boy Scouts of all ages from across the United States gathered on May 22nd to relive their childhood memories, make new ones, re-familiarize themselves with the camp, and start the final push toward improving the camp even more. The day kicked off with a free pancake breakfast, where nearly 300 people were in attendance.
Jennifer Wesner, a Girl Scout since the age of 12, came to Camp Coffman as a child. “I’ve enjoyed scouting all my life,” said Wesner as she reminisced on the fun times she had at the camp.
“I’ve always wanted the swinging bridge back,” she said. Wesner and her husband, George Shaw, donated money to rebuild the swinging bridge.
Ray Beichner, president of Camp Coffman ministries, remembers coming to Camp Coffman as a Cub Scout of Troop 14 in Oil City. He walked across the swinging bridge—an infamous part of the camp—with his fellow scouts, carrying hand-carved torches to guide them to the natural amphitheatre for bonfires.
Ray even participated in winter camping, called “Operation Eskimo,” and would hand-weave newspapers into mats to help insulate him from the cold. “I had the best Scout Master in the world, R. M. Stewart,” he said.
Ron Knight, another scout, remembers fly-fishing in the creek. “I would wade in until I couldn’t wade anymore,” he said. “It was ice cold, too.”
Vince Beichner, Ray’s brother, came from Kentucky for the reunion. “I remember scratching on tents like bears to scare the younger scouts,” Vince said with a chuckle.
Mike Buckholtz, Scout Master of Troop 73 of McKean, located north of Edinboro, brings his scouts to Camp Coffman in the spring. “I remember the plaques from troops and flags from jamborees on the ceiling in the dining hall,” said Buckholtz. “It’s the atmosphere here, the people, and the staff. The staff was always fun.”
Mike Zentis, Assistant Scout Master of Troop 73, said that the camp “has an awesome setting.”
Tom Spence, the executive director of the Oil City YMCA, commented on the state of the camp, “We’ve done about $500,000 worth of improvements, but we need another $700,000 to get the camp where we’d like it to be.” The first donation of the day, around 250 acres that were once part of Camp Coffman, was presented on behalf of the Clinton Hepler family.
Camp Coffman currently offers a Day Camp for ages 6-12. Activities include sports, horseback riding, archery, canoeing, arts and crafts, fishing, and nature hikes. Families can enjoy the beautiful scenery of the camp by renting cabins on a nightly basis.
The Camp Coffman family tree continues to grow, as it was discovered between Ray Beichner and Mike Zentis that Zentis’ wife is R. M. Stewart’s granddaughter. R. M. Stewart was a Scout Master for 15 years, and received the St. George Award in Scouting. “Like I said, he was the best Scout Master in the world,” said Beichner.
“A lot of money and time was donated here, and it is very well-appreciated,” Beichner said. “It’s exciting to see the camp coming back. I want people to rediscover Camp Coffman.”