My favorite thing to do as a child was to horseback ride and I loved being around animals – especially horses. I took riding lessons, helped out (as best I could) at the local stables, and I’d spend a few weeks during my summers at a horseback riding camp.
One summer was different. I was about eleven or twelve years old and my parents announced they were traveling to Missouri during the summer. They would find something appropriate for me to do while my dad attended to some business and my mom explored Branson and relaxed at the hotel. I was going to camp – a new camp.
On the car ride out, I recall drilling my parents about horseback riding. “What about taking care of horses?” I asked skeptically. The assured me there was swimming and other sports; plenty of pools and activities in which I could engage. I recall throwing a pre-teen temper tantrum, which mostly meant a few tears, eye-rolls, and then the silent treatment.
At Kamp Kanakuk there certainly was a plethora of activities, pools, and lots of kids for me to meet. Although I missed the equine part, I met a couple girls I had something in common with and we formed a little friend group.
Swimming was a large part of the camp culture (kulture, if you will) and after our pool time we’d head off to the showers. Being at sleep-away camp before, I knew about poor water pressure, cold water, occasionally unkempt bathrooms and a lack of privacy. However, Kanakuk had communal showers; all of them were that way. No privacy. In prior summers at camp I always had an option to shower privately – in a stall with a curtain.
Fortunately, my friends were of the same opinion about privacy and we lingered as long as we could at the pool, comparing pruned fingers and toes. We’d shower with our swimsuits on, only taking them off quickly to change into dry clothes.
That was not the only thing that happened. Our cabin had some sort of issue. I want to say a bed squeaked or was wobbly, so we needed some maintenance. Our counselor called for someone to come in and check it out. Two men appeared later, with one of the men carrying some tools. He went to work repairing what needed fixing. After he was done he looked around our cabin, giving glances that were longer than appropriate to a lot of the girls. It felt weird.
The tool guy, who seemed to be a bit older than the counselors, was somebody I saw in the subsequent days. I saw him come by the pool, walk by our seating area, and even near our cabin again. I didn’t think much of it at the time, as he worked there, until he spoke to me.
A day or two later I was walking near the pool. I had on a swimsuit. He told me I had a “swimmer’s body.” Not that what he said was the worst or any obvious harassment, but it made me feel super awkward. Was he looking at my body? Was he noticing things he shouldn’t? It was gross. I told my friends about the comment and they said they had gotten a creepy vibe from him too. We called him “Creepy Corbie.”
Camp was over and my family and I traveled back to our eastern U.S. town and summer resumed and years passed. I was able to go back to my equestrian camps and eventually become a counselor myself and I rode dressage. Soon, decades passed and camp became a distant memory.
Then one day I saw ‘Kanakuk’ in the news. It looked familiar. I checked out the article and was surprised to see the publicity it had gotten. Pete Newman, among others, had been investigated for sexual abuse. Upon a deeper dive, I saw it had gone on for quite some time. Scrolling down I immediately recognized the face and name of Corbie Dale Grimes and my stomach went cold. He was the one who liked to look a little too long at me. He had made me feel embarrassed and uncomfortable.
Although I did not see other counselors or camp leaders at Kanakuk engage in abuse when I was there, it didn’t surprise me about the culture, now that I think about my time spent at the camp. Part of the ‘kamp kulture’ I recall, was that the older kids would go skinny dipping after hours. I had heard about it and laughed, as pre-teens do, but it makes so much more sense now. The culture was there as far back as the early 80s and likely before. I remember the older kids (age 14+) hanging out at night and us younger kids wondering what they were doing and if it was any fun.
I realize now I’m lucky, I didn’t encounter abusers like Pete Newman, but I find myself questioning if I should have said something about the awkwardness. I was so young. One thing I did tell my mom was the shower situation. She called about it and asked, but I cannot remember if anything ever came of it.
The survivors of Kanakuk’s abuse have inspired me to write this. They will have challenges ahead – both expected and unexpected. With each obstacle faced, they will grow stronger. I pray each day that they will find their path to healing. We need way more of this. Expose pedophiles, expose mistreatment, and demolish the NDA. This needs to be heard far and wide. Above all, support the survivors. Be there for one another, help each other, and have faith.