by Jenny Lay Posted Jun 22, 2021
Even in Pine Cove’s earliest years, lakes served as a hub of activity. Sun-soaked, water-logged, laughter-filled memories have been made for more than 50 years — from the small lake at Pine Cove’s original camp in the late sixties to, in more recent years, Lake Hartwell at Chimney Point in Pine Cove’s Southeast region… and several other bodies of water in between. At Pine Cove, where you find a lake, you might find boats. Where there are boats, we find some of our favorite people: Pine Cove boat drivers! Cue the cheer: “Hail to the boat drivers, boat drivers, boat drivers, hail to the boat drivers, boat driver men.”
In the East Texas region, there is a tradition almost fifteen years in the making. When Jeff “Rawhide” Olchesky, now the Vice President of Operations and Risk, took over as Waterfront Director in 2006, he grew the idea of bringing a few former boat drivers back to train current boat drivers into an annual tradition.
“With as many as twenty guys to train… I couldn’t give them enough oversight, training, or driving hours in a safe manner on my own. Like any specialized skill, you must have knowledge and practice to become proficient,” explained Jeff. “I needed instructors in the boats with the newly-hired boat drivers to ensure they were being well trained to meet the standard of excellence Pine Cove requires to safely take campers on the water.”
For years now, “boatie” alumni have volunteered time out of their schedules, away from work and family, to come back and train the college staff. During training week, the boaties-in-training spend hours out on the water pulling wakeboards, tubes, skis and banana boats.
Pat “Urbaño Cowboy” Ryan served on summer staff as a boat driver in 2012 and head boat driver in 2013 and has returned the past several summers to help with training week. When asked what they do for those hours on the boats, he answered, “We’re teaching them the Pine Cove way of driving boats – a very specific way, a lot safer than the way most people drive.”
By the end of the week, the former boaties have trained the new ones so well that they are confident in their driving abilities.
But it wasn’t just instruction that Jeff hoped to pass along. It was the boat driver culture. Michael “Bird” Atkinson, Administrative Director for Pine Cove’s East Texas Region, served as Waterfront Director for six years starting in 2013. He described the culture that is passed along. “Guys [get] to spend hours with alumni who are godly men, hard workers, and who believe in and have seen the ministry of the Pine Cove waterfront. That’s a big part of setting the culture – telling stories of what they have seen happen in the lives of campers and staff, and how what they learned makes them better husbands, fathers, employees, and leaders.”
Simply put, boat drivers through the years have been deeply impacted by their role. So what does it mean to be a boatie? Several former boat drivers described the experience as a brotherhood. Luke “Wok N Wo” Friesen served on summer staff from 2001 to 2004 in several capacities, including boat driver and “dock daddy.” He explained the boat driver culture: “It was a brotherhood of dear friends who worked together from the crack of dawn until late in the evening, day after day, for an entire summer. Being a boatie forged deep relationships.”
Masen “Bat to the Bone” Himmelreich was a boat driver during the summers of 2014 through 2018. When asked what he observed in the alumni who came to training week, he talked about how his perspective changed over the five years he served on summer staff. Initially, he recognized their presence was a great testimony to the quality of the boating program. But as subsequent summers went by, he was able to see there was more to it.
“Each of them had their lives changed on that dock. In one way or another, the time they spent on the dock, the long hours working in the sun, and the brotherhood they formed with the other boat drivers [gave] them the opportunity to interact with Jesus in a real and unique way. The giving of their time was a testament of what God has done,” explained Masen.
Why do these alumni come back to serve? Luke, who has come back to train boaties for ten out of the past 15 years, explained his motivation. “Psalm 145:4 talks about one generation declaring God’s works to the generations that follow. I’ve now reached the point where the youngest current summer staff were one year-olds when I started driving boats for Pine Cove back in 2001. It makes me feel old, but I keep coming back to invest in the next generation of staffers. I hope to pass on the skills of being an excellent boat driver, but also to give them a vision for the impact that their camp experience can have on them and others.”
This past summer, Masen, who spent many years on the receiving end of alumni training, had the chance to give back. “The reason I came back this summer,” he explained, “was because of what God has done. He has changed my life through that dock and the summers I spent on it. My hope is that the next group of boaties have the same opportunity to faithfully serve and that God would work in and through them as they put on the boat program for camp.”
What impact are these alumni having on the summer staff? Josiah “Social Cue Ball” Beshear served as a Timbers boat driver this past summer. When asked how he felt about these alumni volunteering to help train them, Josiah replied, “It’s amazing. Time is one of the most valuable things, and they sacrifice time away from their families and jobs. It shows how much they believe in the boating program and in Pine Cove… They were big on safety and clear on purpose: to influence people for Christ.”
Josiah shared that the alumni helped cast vision for how powerfully water can be used to minister. They pointed out that much of Jesus’ ministry took place on or around the water. “It clicked for me. We can use [boat-driving] to present the Gospel.”
We are grateful that these boatie alums dedicated themselves to Pine Cove’s ministry not only during the summers they spent on staff, but also now as they return to camp and continue to give back. They gave selflessly of their time and their energy, all in service of Christ and His Kingdom. To God be the glory!