Marillen Bouck, 79, listens intently as Sibusiso Ndhlovu, 10, reads a passage from the Bible during a short study in the chapel at Camp Cascadia on Friday. Although Bouck turns 80 Aug. 5, she is young enough to take over daily duties for her mother, camp founder Esther McChesney, 102. (Dan Bates / The Herald)

Camp founder, 102, opened doors nearly 5 decades ago

EVERETT — She looks out for the little guys.

Esther McChesney, 102, teamed up with a quiet boy at summer camp.

“We did what the Scouts do,” she said.

They carved wood. When campers knocked down the boy’s fort, she helped him build a better one.

McChesney founded Camp Cascadia 48 years ago. She wanted kids in Everett to have the summer camp experience.

Children and teens spent this week at Cascade View Presbyterian Church along E. Casino Road. They learned about world cultures, met new friends and collected stories.

McChesney remembers her first time at camp. She was 12 and living in Everett.

“I was a poor little girl and my mother was a widow. A Kiwanian asked if I wanted to go to camp,” she said.

She hopped on a bus the next day to Big Four Mountain.

McChesney has spent her life helping children.

She worked at the Denney Juvenile Justice Center for 23 years, starting as a probation officer and working her way up to assistant director. She was there at the same time as Superior Court Judge Charles Denney, the center’s namesake.

She gets along best with the 13- and 14-year-olds. “You can talk to them and they’re pretty sensible,” she said.

McChesney once met a girl who was staying at Denney because she wouldn’t go to school. The girl eventually graduated.

“I didn’t let them get away with anything,” McChesney said. “I held them to their promises.”

McChesney’s friends call her feisty. For many years, she drove a light blue 1965 Ford Mustang.

Another girl who was staying at Denney was transferred to prison after her 18th birthday. She sent a letter to others at Denney telling them to mind McChesney, whom she described as “tough.”

After nearly five decades, little has changed at Camp Cascadia.

Nature, crafts and Bible studies are held in bungalows behind the Presbyterian church.

Campers choose a country to study. When they learned about Peru, a camp leader brought in llamas.

“They can see beyond our world,” camp co-director Peggy Jankovic said.

This year, a classroom was filled with books, music and woven baskets from the Philippines. A photo of President Rodrigo Duterte was pinned to the wall.

One woman read “Tuko and the Birds” to a group huddled around a table. The tale takes place on Luzon, an island in the Philippines. Campers took collection during morning chapel for a charity in the Philippines.

Frank Fargo, 64, showed them how to cook meals over a campfire. On Wednesday, they made tortilla pizza and apple cobbler.

Fargo is a construction manager at the Port of Seattle. He took off a week from work to volunteer, his 23rd summer with the program.

The children also learned to churn ice cream. They put the ingredients into a one-pound container, which was placed inside a larger can filled with ice. Then they rolled their cans around the parking lot.

Bud Silliman, a volunteer of more than 10 years, once cooked slugs over the campfire. The thought made some squirmy. He called it protein.

Everyone has to wash their tin plates after eating. “They really grow up a lot,” Jankovic said. “They work as a team.”

At the end of the week, the older kids camp for a night inside the church. Jamison Lockor, 10, stayed up until 2:30 a.m. with his friends last year. “That never happens,” he said.

They also played “wax museum.” Each player struck a pose. Anyone who moved was out.

Camp Cascadia isn’t just for the little ones.

A group of women who volunteer every year have been dubbed “the grandmas.”

Kids recite Bible verses to them and earn stickers. They compete to collect the most.

McChesney attended every day of camp until she was 97. The grounds near the woods became too difficult to navigate. She misses the Friday night skits, with costumes and Biblical scenes. One year when she was introduced at the performances, everyone cheered.

She has enjoyed every minute at camp, she said.

Caitlin Tompkins: 425-339-3192; ctompkins@heraldnet.com.

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