77 years of summer camp at Friendly Pines in Prescott

Megan and Bebe May of Friendly Pines Camp attend Raising Arizona Kids magazine’s 14th annual Camp Fair AZ. Photo by Rick D’Elia.

Bebe May is the matriarch, heart, soul and owner of Friendly Pines Camp in Prescott.

At 82, she still lives on the grounds of the camp her parents, Bud and Isabelle Brown, founded in 1941. She and her husband Jack, a former fighter pilot and businessman, assumed ownership in the 1960s and ran it together until he died in February 2012.

Until that year, we’d often see May at Camp Fair AZ, the magazine’s annual summer-planning event for families. When she wasn’t there, I made a point of checking in with Kevin Nissen, the camp’s director, to find out how she was doing. He’d always grin. “She’s amazing!” he’d say, as we both shook our heads in awe.

At this year’s Feb. 25 event, I looked up from my post at the exhibitor breakfast area to see May ambling up to grab a cup of coffee. I didn’t know she was coming and was delighted to see her. Nissen, she explained, was busy performing in a theater production that weekend.

Her voice is softer, but you can still see the passion in her eyes and hear the joy — and gentle humor — in her words.

The Friendly Pines website says “every phase of the camp operation receives her scrupulous personal attention.” May describes it a bit differently. When she pops into the camp’s administrative offices, she says, “Kevin will give me something to do. Well, at least he lets me think it’s something important to do.” She smiles.

She has no need to prove her value to this traditional summer camp, where generations of children have fallen asleep to the sounds of swaying pines after long, happy days spent outdoors.

Twenty-four years ago, May was in the delivery room when her first and only granddaughter, Megan, was born via emergency C-section. The joy and pride she felt that moment still shines in her eyes as she watches Megan deftly and enthusiastically answer questions from parents at Camp Fair AZ.

Megan was a Friendly Pines camper for 10 consecutive summers, then spent five more as a counselor-in-training and then an assistant counselor. She attended the University of Arizona, where she studied physiology.

She took three summers off to explore health-science career options, “but kept wishing I was at camp,” she remembers. She realized what truly motivated her was making a difference in people’s lives.

“I had the ability to do that right here at Friendly Pines,” Megan says. “I’ve talked with women in their 60s who tell me how much they remember and enjoyed the Friendly Pines experience. I am seeing the impact, in a very tangible way.”

May thought she’d never have another chance to see a family member on staff at Friendly Pines.

“I am very blessed,” May says. “She’s a natural. I’m so proud of her.”

Friendly Pines Camp Open House

Tours of this 77-year-old overnight camp for ages 6-13 include wagon rides, marshmallow roasting, zip-line rides, drawings for prizes, refreshments and more. 11am-2pm Sat Apr 1. Free. Preregister. Friendly Pines Camp, 933 E Friendly Pines Rd, Prescott. 928-445-2128 or friendlypines.com.

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