With these remarks, Frankie prepared to pass the leadership of Illahee to others. When asked about what she viewed as one of her greatest achievements as director she is quick to answer that “Illahee was left in good hands and it’s still there.”
In the off-season Frankie would walk the woods of Illahee and over the years she reckoned that she must have walked every foot of ground on camp property. It was on one her many walks in the woods that she began to wrestle with a difficult decision: should she sell Illahee? She consulted with Kitty Coleman Tindall Neff about her decision to sell to see if she might have any suggestions for her. Over the years Kitty had remained active in the life of Illahee, first as a camper, then as a college-aged counselor and finally as a “Mama” counselor when her children were small.Her daughters, Julia and Catherine spent many summers at Illahee as a campers and eventually as counselors and even Kitty’s son, Frank, spent time at Illahee as a small boy. Her love for Illahee was deep and persistent and it wasn’t long before she began to talk with her son Frank and his fiance, Elizabeth, about the possibilities of their becoming owner/directors of Camp Illahee. They were interested and decided that this was their future together.
On October 1, 1984, by now newlyweds, Frank and Elizabeth closed on the purchase of Illahee and on October 2nd they moved into Pinecrest, their new home. That evening after a long, tiring day of moving it dawned on them that they now owned a camp and it was their responsibility to make a go of it. They looked at each other and not knowing exactly what to say they both uttered the words – “Now what?” But what they lacked in experience they more than made up for in optimism and enthusiasm. It was a whirlwind of a year but one that set their course and the course of Camp Illahee for the next 17 years. Looking back on it they would say that the most amazing thing about it all was that they were barely older than most of the counselors they would work with those first few years.
“As I leave these hills, this land of waterfalls and love, I feel my throat begin to tighten. My heart is flowing with a love that I long suspected to exist. Everything I leave behind me is too great for words. It is more valuable than anything I could own in this world. My integrity, my maturity, and my security; my experience, my friends, my faith and my love; my passion my truth, my answers, myself. All these things have come forth from this land. The seeds were planted in my soul and have been nurtured through the past ten summers – My vanity, my doubt, my fears, my loneliness, hatred, my resentment, my regrets. They have all been lost, perhaps as I walked quietly through the woods one day or as I talked to a friend one night. Maybe I left them behind as I rode a horse or swam in the lake. They may have burnt in the campfire or they may have washed away by tears of a parting friend. Yet as I leave, I hear the bells of children’s laughter in my ears. I feel the squeeze of my friend’s hug. I perceive the sweet perfume of pine needles. I see everything more beautiful for the love in my heart. The Lord has blessed this place. There is magic about it not to be found elsewhere on earth. It is a feeling that invades you if allow it and rules your way of life forever. I pray that the Lord will keep this place as it is so we may rekindle the fire we have built in our hearts. I hope that somewhere in our travels someone feels our warmth and learns from it.”
– Carla Vera, Venezuela, 1989 staff
One day while looking over some of the old photos taken of Illahee in the 1920s, Frank noticed a long slide that began on the hill over the banks of the Swim Lake in the area now known as Heigh Ho. This monster of a slide slipped through the trees on the hill and ended with a precipitous drop into the Swim Lake. The McLeods knew a good thing when they created it and the Tindalls thought that it was time to bring it back. When the girls came to camp in 1985 their attention must have been attracted to the shiny new metal slide supported by wooden beams known as The Streak. It would soon become one of the girl’s favorite waterfront activities.
This was not the only new addition to the Swim Lake. On the opposite bank, connected to a muscular limb of a large Oak tree, was a rope swing known as the Tarzan Swing. Girls participated in this old-fashioned fun by holding on to the rope and at the apex of the swing they would let go and drop, shrieking with joy, into the water.