top of page
Camp Stories

Read stories from other RIVA LAKE Alums!

If you have a story you’d like to share, please email it to

My story is old and long. My first year was in 1952 when we rode the train OVERNIGHT from New Orleans to Dechard on the L & N Hummingbird where the seats were converted into beds. I had never been away from home before, but several friends from Audubon Stables were along so that a was a comfort. Riding was about to be my thing, even though I didn’t know it at the time.

Back then the arena had no trees. Imagine that! The Elk River was still there and we would go on trail rides down to the ford and onto the other side, I know not where. Whoever was riding Jumbo knew to be alert as he would sometimes try to roll in the water. I made new friends who also loved horses and learned not only to ride, but horsemanship and how to care for horses. Nona and Kit shared their depth of knowledge with us, but I was terrified of Emily!

I loved learning camp songs, team meetings, council ring and writing letters to friends during the fall, winter and spring while we waited to return to CRL. I’m sorry Senior Hill and the bridge over the ravine are gone, but campers now have a better place to swim. But most of all, I find everywhere I go, there is a Riva-Lake connection. It is indeed a very small world.

At the end of my first year and at my first Council Ring, I won Kit’s Cup for most improved rider and it retired to me. I still have it and it is my prized possession. I was so proud and felt that I had to live up to it as well as Nona and Kit. They laid the

foundation for my career many years later as I am a certified and credentialed therapeutic riding instructor and mentor at Saddle Up! In Franklin, TN - just about two hours from camp! One of my co-workers’ mother and four sisters went to CRL along with several of our volunteers and their children. The tale is the same - we all loved it, it made us the women we are today and friendships last forever.

Tina Lentz Carpenter
1952-1958 Camper and CIT
I was 8 years old when I first became a Riva-Laker. My 9th birthday was coming up, but I was having so much fun that I’d forgotten all about it. I talked to my parents on the phone that day, and that was a great gift. Having a summer birthday meant that celebrations usually were small, unmemorable, and definitely not recognized at school. Until one day, in the dining hall, I looked up at the doorway to see DeSaix, and maybe Cat Lippman or Elizabeth Sherrill, too, holding a birthday cake. It was adorned with the most delicate and beautifully sculpted yellow flowers- and it had my name on it! I just couldn’t believe it! The entire camp sang “Happy Birthday” to little nine year-old me, and I was so proud and happy to share my cake with everyone. That was just the beginning of my many treasured CRL memories.
Jackie Friend Citerony  1980 -85

My favorite memory as a camper would have to be the night that Julia Schifani and I stole the rope off of the bell, as a prank. We decided it would be a great idea so that we wouldn't have to wake up early the next morning, but the task proved more difficult than we expected. Several attempts and many splinters to the legs later, we were finally able to shimmy up the bell pole and untie the rope. We ran back to Gate Bunk giggling and proud of ourselves, only to be woken up earlier than normal, the next morning, by a parade of younger campers for "Mardi Gras Day".

Erica Hilmas Tucker   
Camper 2005-2010 Counselor/Assistant Director 2010-present

The bus ride to camp via Greyhound from Memphis to Nashville with all the Memphis girls and then jumping on a school bus in Nashville always started the summer off with lots of singing (those poor non-camp passengers).  I have so many great memories from my time at camp, and I think that I enjoyed the downtime more than anything.  Sundays were the best - sleeping in, walks, singing at the Rock House.  I also really enjoyed rest time with my cabin.  However, my favorite memory is from final Council Ring.  We had been pulling trees out of Shang-Ri-La for weeks to build the biggest fire ever.  I am sure it was at least 50 feet tall (in my 14 year old brain).  We were just finished building it when it crashed.  We were devastated!  It would take too much time to re-build  it before team meetings.  As we sat there in tears, here came the Olympian seniors.  They said - let's go, we can get this done if we work together ... and we did!  I honestly don't remember who won the cup that summer, but I remember my friends coming down the stairs on the biggest night of the year.
Catherine Owens Lippman  1979-1982
Board member 2009 - present

My earliest memory from my first summer was being a camper in Close-Up for the 2nd session.  We had a girl named Peggy Weams from (I think Murfreesboro) who had silk sheets and the whole cabin was amazed that she brought such luxury to camp.  I remember watching Richard Nixon resign in front of the TV at Vera’ s trailer.  It wasn’t Sunday night, so I remember Milbrey making an announcement at dinner that the families were to walk together to either Sis or Vera’s house because there was something on TV that we had to see.  I also remember Sis randomly taking kids into town for ice cream… I was one of the lucky ones.  If she was heading out and free period, she would usually just ask whomever was around.


My next best memories are from my CIT year (1981).  I remember sneaking into KK at 5 AM to watch Lady Di marry Prince Charles.  I remember Becca and I took Stefani Greer Evans’ mattress and linens up to the barn and spying on her from Top Notch when she got back to her cabin that night… the commotion…”my bed, my bed, where did they take my bed?"


My absolute best memories are from my Jr. Counselor years because we had the run of the place.  My last summer posse included Blair Collier, Becca Peay, Polly Handrahan, and Laura Leigh Findley.  We had the best night outs.  Yvonne would drive us into town and we checked into the Frazran for A/C and tub baths (and $.25 vibrating beds).  We walked down to the Pizza Hut for food.  I remember Laura Leigh’s dad brought her a car (with no radio) and after our final night closing up camp (drinking and smoking in the Farm Barn), we were off to Destin.  I spent that summer on the lake, primarily as the Sailing Instructer and had the best tan of my life.  1981 or 82 was also the years that Scarlett ran away and Polly’s canoe trip was lost on the river.  

Marie-Claire Stahel Mears 1974-1982

One of my best memories is a canoe trip as a senior with Lawrie Canale and Allison Donnelly as our counselors. We rode in the back of the truck with the canoes. A storm blew up with lightning, thunder and rain. We had to pull the aluminum canoes out of the water and wait until it blew over. We sang songs - probably not near as concerned as we should have been. I'm sure we made the mandatory stop at DQ before returning safely to camp. I'm sure if it had been a bright, sunny day I wouldn't have remembered it!

Janie Entrekin Hughart
Camper 1969-1974, Counselor 1975-78, Board Member 2005 -2017
When you start camp at 8 and go for 8 or 9 weeks every summer for 9 years, that’s a year and a half worth of crazy, wonderful memories. Picking one best memory would simply be impossible. From the joy as a tiny munchkin of having the amazing Lynne Farrar Robertson as my big sister and ultimately remaining an incredibly important mentor for my growth as a person and team leader through all my camp years & beyond, to the friendships I made each session which insured I would HAVE to come back EVERY session to see everyone (M.C. Briggs Yates & Dabney Sloan to name merely two, but there were so many more!), CRL played an oversized role in my formative years and instilled a confidence through sport and friendship that fortified me during more difficult times in my life. We may debate the “competitive” side of camp, but honestly it was that teamwork and striving for a common goal that really motivated me & I loved it, compelling me to try and master activities I would never have imagined, and seeing myself improve helped me learn to believe in myself. That said, my most poignant memory was getting pulled out of camp to go visit Sis at the hospital. She still had a little stuffed elephant I had made for her in Arts & Crafts, the “Patchwork Elephant.” It was truly a pitiful representation of a stuffed animal or a gift, but the fact that she kept it meant the world to me. I also will be forever grateful for the crew that took it upon themselves to restart camp after the 2001 reunion; this act of sacrifice and love meant my daughters have experienced the place I cherish, and were able to continue the legacy of their great-grandmother, Hazel Butcher, grandmother, Sally LeBlanc, DeSaix and me. All of my CRL love, 
Holly Brinkley Lyons  
Camper/CIT 1975-83, Board Member 2010-2018

This is really really hard as camp was such a part of my life growing up. Some of my earliest memories are in the late 60’s when I was 3 or 4 being put on a pony under Kit and Nona’s eyes while Barbie Smith had the lead rope. I loved horses but was severely allergic to them so it was a quandary for my mother. Some of my favorite  memories are always arriving at camp about a week before it started and flying down the steps to the kitchen to see Vera and Grace and the other cooks. It was also the time when I would stay with Sis and Monie and I always got to mingle with the counselors before camp. One of my favorite counselors as a young kid was Marietta Canale. And then always waiting for all the buses to arrive to see my friends. I was always so excited the day that camp opened. To find out what cabin I was in…to see my friends from across the country. Camp was such a confidence builder, a place to find strength you didn’t know you had and to develop a sisterhood with other campers. I really don’t know that I can choose one single moment that is my favorite. But as you do want one I think it was the beginning of camp; renewing friendships and seeing friends that you hadn’t seen for 10 months; yet it seemed like it had only been a week since you’d seen them!

Tina Hamm Hilmas
Camper/Counselor 1972-1982
Board Member 2007-2009, Camp Nurse 2008-present

Driving down what seemed like the longest dirt Camp Riva-Lake road, which is now paved, and finally seeing the Camp Riva-Lake Sign. Your car getting bombarded with friends old and even the new ones joined in. Hearing which cabin you were in, the crunch of the gravel underfoot as you chatted non stop hugging everyone along the way. I loved the structure of going to different types of activities that I had never tried before nor would I ever had the confidence to try on my on - horseback riding, sailing and even archery.  I moved around so much in my childhood and knowing that the same friends, cabins, teams, activities with a sprinkle of new campers/counselors to mix it up a bit built my self esteem. Looking back it was all about BELONGING and not worrying about fitting in that is what camp was/is for me. 
Caroline Jones Silva
Camper/Counselor 1974-84; Director 2005-2010

Board Member 2005-2017

I have so many memories, but I’ll say that my favorites were the nights that, after blinks, we all got together on a sheet in the middle of the field and just stared at the stars. It was so peaceful.

Amberly Kelley-Dotson
Counselor 2007-2012, Board Member 2016-Present

My favorite memory is the first time I got to solo my own sailboat and look across the lake at the trees in the distance.
Sam Bowie
Camper/Counselor/Assistant Director 2008-2017, 2019
Assistant Director 2019-2020
Board Member 2021-Present

My favorites span 45 years. 

From my first day as an 8 year old in Close Up, I have vivid memories of standing outside the door of the cabin for 1st period and wondering where to go for Tennis.  Camp seemed so big and intimidating!  It was a dark and stormy night (truly) for my first team meeting when we elected officers - we were in the back of the Playhouse with the fireplace lit and as we had our heads down to vote, I was peeking through my thick head of hair to try to understand what was going on! 


As a senior, sailing on the lake- hiking out with said hair streaming in the water as the boat was almost on its side; and 10,000 dents in the dock from practicing dock landings. 


My most joyous moment of re-opening was the first day when stormy skies turned to blue, the campers arrived and we had the girls at the lake for their swim test.  Someone snapped a picture of Lawrie and me in that moment, wishing the rest of our opening crew were there, but thinking "we did it!".  Pure joy, and totally naive in how much work the rest of the summer would be! 


Then there were the skunks in the kitchen, the great laundry mix-up, the year without a cook and more laughs than I can count in the Rock House with Caroline, Lawrie, Nonnie and Claudia.  With the weight of caring for the campers always on our minds, we still managed to let the CRL spirit, silliness and sisterhood shine through!

DeSaix Brinkley St. Charles

Camper/CIT 1975-83; Board of Directors 2005-Present

I rode horses at Audubon Stables from age 9. I learned about camp and begged my parents to send me.  My sister, Deb, and I started camp in 1961.  I was 10.  We rode the train.  We spend the night in the pullman car bunks.  

I love camp from the moment I passed through the gates.  Camp was beautiful.  There were many more acres and buildings before the lake.  There were many more species of birds, reptiles, and insects.  I couldn't walk from Top Notch to the dining room without dodging many jumping frogs.  

In 1961, the field where the silo and archery range are now was a peach orchard.  My favorite treat was eating a cold peach that had been sitting under a ledge of one on the small waterfalls in the Ravine.  The Ravine was one of my favorite places. 

I learned my values from camp.  I strived to be the personification of a CRL girl.  I improved every year.  

I had problems in school and in my family.  I counted the days every year until I could be back in my safe place, Riva-Lake.  I would not have survived my childhood without going to camp every summer for 2 months.  

One very special relationship I developed was in 1965.  Margot was a riding counselor.  I talked with her about my family.  She was kind and understanding.  At the end of the summer, Margot gave me a horse picture.  One the back, Margot wrote a beautiful description of my positive qualities and the effect they had on others.  I was deeply touched.  My sister was also close to Magot.  We spent Thanksgiving at Margot's family's Saddlebred Horse Farm.  I wrote to Margot every day for a year.  I visited her for years.  She was the most important person in my life for many years.  

My last year as a senior was 1967.  I worked very hard.  I passed my first test and/or finished every activity except tennis and crafts.  I passed my 3rd test in those two activities.  I missed my Laurel by 2 second tests.  

I started camp as an overweight, awkward kid with learning disabilities.  In 1974, I was Co-Head Counselor with Tootsie Black.  I was head of Archery and Woodslore.  I loved archery.  There was an hour between the end of the 2nd and 4th periods and the meal.  I had open shooting after the 4th period.  I loved teaching archery.  

At Council Ring in 1974, Sis started speaking about a counselor who embodied CRL values.  She described the counselors wonderful qualities,  Sis was giving the counselor a special award.  I thought how wonderful this person was and wondered who it was.  The person next to me poked me in the ribs and told me to go up because Sis was giving the award to me.  Sis gave me a Riva-Lake ring.  I felt honored.

Riva-Lake is in my heart and soul.  When I go to camp I find time to sit at my favorite spot, the table and bench near the dining room.  I meditate.  I feel the wisdom and energy of generations of  women who came before me.  I try to live by the values Riva-Lake taught me.  Riva-Lake helped me find my highest self.

Thank you Riva Lake and thank you to the generations of women who gave their wisdom and energy to camp. Riva-Lake is a sacred space now and I hope for generations to come.  Penny Pigman 1961-1974

Penny Pigman Camer/Counselor    1961-1974

Where to begin...I was learning to ride at Audubon Stables w/ Kit & Nona. I was “forced” to camp for an 8 wk session 1970; never having been able to spend the night away from my mother, an overweight, shy,

nerd, & DUFF(if I would’ve had any friends). I was MISERABLE—poor Sis, Kit, Nona allowing me to call 1-2xday for my short stay; hanging out at the Rock House instead of activities (but riding);my counselor in

Far Sight, Penny Pigman,  was “asked” to get up early & take me fishing in a futile attempt to distract me & the barn people to spend as much time at the barn as possible.


I think I lasted 10d then my mother drove up to collect me.  B/c of my barn affiliations in N.O. I was encouraged to go back in 1971-the beginning of the end of this mama’s girl. 1971-1974 couldn’t STOP me

from camp. I brought my horse(s) with me, my mother gave ‘Mo to Sis as a puppy & friend for Vickie......


I know camp saved me.  Being part of the Barn Crowd had its perks; special overnights at Kit/Nona's before leaving for a show, showing, hanging out w/ Timmy, Sid, Tudor, Barbe, the Farm Barn, etc. I

actually fit in somewhere, had friends & excelled (in everything but tennis) to finish top levels in all activities.


I remember Ann Archer & Adelaide Farrar leaning over & under the stalls below the Sr. Cabin attempting to teach me how to use tampax!! Imagine. Trips to the stream to smoke w/ Janie Entrekin & others,

falls mills, church on sundays, sunday walks, Nixon on Sis’s TV resigning, camp outs etc. I grew/matured into a risk taker, (but always polite) teenager. I reveled and grew in it ALL....returned in 1978 as a counselor however had to cut my stint short when my father died.   I went back as Nurse Grif for one session around 2010 w/ my 10 y.o daughter MEG as she went to camp for her first time.  Olympian spirit passed on to her, my nieces & a cousin or 2.


I made friends & memories I have to this day. I cannot imagine life

w/o my CRL times....

Erin Burks Camper, Counselor, Camp Nurse
                     1970-1974, 1978, 2010
bottom of page