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story.lead_photo.caption Patti Simpson after a color run at Camp Fire’s Camp Wotapi last year. Contributed photo

Camp Fire of El Dorado recently broke tradition when they named Patti Simpson the first ever Lifetime Honorary Board Member.

“I’ve been off and on the Board for probably 20 years, so I think Leanne [Harrell, Camp Fire executive director] finally decided to just make it permanent,” Simpson said.

Simpson has had more than a fleeting interest in Camp Fire – she has been involved with the organization since she was a child herself. Originally from Superior, Wisconsin, her family moved to El Dorado when she was about 8 years old and in the third grade.

Her mother led her Camp Fire club for a while but the group eventually disbanded. However, six years later, Simpson joined another club and she has been consistently involved since.

“It was just fun to be with my friends. And then, when we got to junior high and high school, our leaders liked to go camping, and I had never been camping before. And we’re talking out in the woods, real camping,” Simpson said. “They made it fun for us.”

Simpson enjoyed all the hallmarks of the organization: campouts and sleepovers, selling candy and learning how to do household tasks. Once, her Camp Fire club took a snow skiing trip, which she said was a lot of fun. There was only one caveat to the trip: club members had to pay their own way.

“We had to earn the money; our parents couldn’t give it to us,” she said.

Patti Simpson in the craft barn at Camp Wotapi day camp, where Simpson leads the class in activities like making slime. Contributed photo
Patti Simpson in the craft barn at Camp Wotapi day camp, where Simpson leads the class in activities like making slime. Contributed photo

At that time, girls in Camp Fire earned beads for learning skills, completing projects or other achievements. The beads would go toward patches the girls could earn and would often end up sewn into designs on their Camp Fire vests.

“It was fun to challenge yourself to earn something on your own,” Simpson said.

Simpson said Camp Fire was a place for her to grow, learn and have fun at the same time, something she hopes current members are also able to do.

“It was just a fun way to be in a learning situation and just to, you know, be responsible for things,” she said.

In 1979, Simpson was a first-year teacher at Hugh Goodwin Elementary. A co-worker told her she wanted her daughter to get involved in Camp Fire, but said she needed another club leader to help. That was when Simpson rejoined Campfire, and she has not left since.

A special message left for Simpson by other camp counselors at last year’s Camp Wotapi day camp. Contributed photo
A special message left for Simpson by other camp counselors at last year’s Camp Wotapi day camp. Contributed photo

Simpson left High Goodwin in 1983, after her first daughter was born. Six years later, she found herself leading another Camp Fire club for her daughter, Amanda. She also led a club when her second daughter, Jessica, was a child.

Her final time leading a Camp Fire club was about 10 years ago, when another friend’s daughter was entering the organization for the first time. Throughout that time, she became involved in Camp Fire El Dorado’s Board of Directors.

Now, Camp Fire has undergone several changes since Simpson first got involved as a child. In 1985, the organization opened their membership to boys in addition to girls. Simpson also noted that a lot of emphasis is now placed on internet safety.

“We do a lot more with cyberbullying – teaching the kids how to not do it and also what to do if it happens to them,” she said. “Internet safety is a big thing because, you know, they’re out there on their social media.”

Simpson has now slowed down a bit; rather than leading a club, she is involved in several of Camp Fire’s learning initiatives and fundraising efforts.

One such fundraiser is the relatively new El Dorado Haunt, an idea that came from a brainstorming session Simpson had with Harrell. Last year’s event had characters from horror movies tormenting patrons. She said she has already begun planning for this year’s fundraiser, which takes place in October around Halloween.

Camp Fire Executive Director Leanne Harrell and Patti Simpson at the El Dorado Haunt, a Camp Fire fundraiser organized by the pair. Contributed photo
Camp Fire Executive Director Leanne Harrell and Patti Simpson at the El Dorado Haunt, a Camp Fire fundraiser organized by the pair. Contributed photo

She also teaches arts and crafts at Camp Wotapi, Camp Fire’s summer day camp in Parkers Chapel.

“It is fun, I get to do all messy stuff,” she said. “Last year we made slime. We try to do stuff like that.”

Before summer starts, Camp Fire hosts a College 101 class for graduating seniors. The daylong workshop teaches seniors skills like changing a tire, doing their laundry and how to open a bank account.

“I go over and help with the laundry part and cooking … because some of them have never washed their own clothes,” she said.

Simpson said it was an honor to be recognized by Camp Fire El Dorado for her commitment to the organization. In addition to being named an honorary lifetime board member, Simpson also received the HEART award, where HEART is an acronym for Helpfulness, Enthusiasm, Ability, Resourcefulness and Talent.

She said the children are what keep her coming back to Camp Fire.

“I like being around kids. I feel like it keeps me young and gives me something to do. I feel like I’m giving back to the community by helping with that,” she said. “I guess seeing how a lot of the kids really appreciate that you’re giving them time, doing things with them … they seem to like not having to worry about stuff. It’s been really nice to be able to see the kids getting to enjoy it.”

Caitlan Butler can be reached at 870-862-6611 or cbutler@eldoradonews.com.

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