Scenic view of trees at camp

Celebrating the Life of Bill “Red Baron” McKenzie

by Pine CovePosted Aug 29, 2019

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“I didn’t have any special ability—only my availability. I didn’t know any better than to believe God. I remember praying, ‘Lord, I give You my life today. I will go where You want me to go. I will do what You want me to do. I will say what You want me to say.’” —Bill McKenzie

Pine Cove’s founder Bill McKenzie went home to be with Jesus on Tuesday, August 27, 2019. He was 89 years old.

More than one million campers have experienced camp at Pine Cove in the decades since Bill felt the Lord’s urging to create a place for people to get away and focus on God’s Word in a beautiful outdoor setting. Bill remained involved in Pine Cove’s ministry his entire life, even up through this past summer, attending the opening of new cabins at the Woods family camp and several weekly closing ceremonies.

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Bill grew up in Tyler, Texas, and it was during his time there that he began to develop an appreciation and passion for camping. During his high school years, Bill’s family acquired a certain piece of property on the outskirts of Tyler, not knowing the great plans the Lord had in store for that 78 acres of land.

Bill attended college at Oklahoma University, and once he graduated in 1951, he secured an engineering job back in Texas in Fort Worth. He married his wife, Sharon, in 1956, and they had three children: Jill, Steve, and Allison.

While working with the youth at his church, Bill began bringing groups of students to Tyler to enjoy retreats at his family’s lake house. Soon, though, the lake house grew crowded, and Bill proposed that his father give him a portion of the land in order to construct a few buildings.

Bill began to dream of turning that land into a camp, and prayed over the property, committing it to the Lord. In 1967, Pine Cove was officially established as a non-profit organization.

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“My family and I feel very fortunate and humbled by God for allowing us to be available in His great work through the ministry of Pine Cove. I have often likened its growth to the young lad in John 6 who gave what he had—five loaves and two fish—and the Lord mightily multiplied it. In the beginning we gave five buildings in total and 200 acres. He multiplied it through His supernatural power.” —Bill McKenzie

Bill soon handed off leadership of Pine Cove to a board of directors and an executive director, but he in no way remained detached. Through the years, he continued to give graciously of his time, resources, and ideas. Bill was a large part of the growth that has taken place at Pine Cove throughout its more than fifty-year history.

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In 2007, Bill and Sharon moved to Tyler, which allowed him to be even more involved at Pine Cove. He could often be spotted at opening days and closing celebrations at camp, and would frequently appear at staff orientations to pray over the college students.

Bill published a book called “Live for What Outlives Youin 2015 which details his life story, how God called him to form a Christian camp, and the legacy he hoped to leave. We can say with full confidence that Bill, you have left a legacy that will definitely last. You lived for what outlived you.

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“Even though my camp name is “Red Baron,” I haven’t sat behind the controls of an airplane in some time. However, every once in a while, I look up to see a blue sky above me and feel a deep longing to soar into that beautiful deck of white clouds. And someday—I will.” —Bill McKenzie

In honor of Pine Cove’s 50th anniversary in 2017, Bill shared the story of how God used him to create a showplace for His glory. Watch Bill walk through the land that he founded back in 1967, and hear him talk about his conclusion that there’s nothing more important than living for Christ.

“Only eternity will tell the full impact of Bill McKenzie’s life. Bill and his family’s generosity, vision, and commitment provided the context for innumerable life-changing and eternity-changing events. Campers, summer staff, year-round staff, and fellow board members all benefited from his creativity and tenacity. The ripples effect of his life will be felt far and wide for many years to come.” —Dan “Yodel” Bolin, Former Executive Director of Pine Cove (1983-1997)

Apart from my own family, I was as close to Bill as I have been with anyone. We dreamed together, we prayed together, we cried together and we rejoiced together. Bill was a great visionary, a man of God, who led his family well and loved his wife Sharon. They were married for almost 64 years. Bill, you will be missed by so many! —Mario “High 5” Zandstra, Former President & CEO (1998 – 2015)

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If you have a photo of Bill you’d like to share with us, please email it to stories@pinecove.com.

At the family’s request, if desired, donations in honor of Bill McKenzie can be made to Pine Cove, Green Acres Baptist Church’s music department, or Hospice of East Texas.


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