by Evan Roberts Posted Oct 30, 2018
We sat down with Timbers camp director TJ “Philly” Connor this summer to get to know him a little bit better, and his stories had us laughing in no time.
My Pine Cove story is different than most. I grew up in Philadelphia, and for college I studied camp ministry at Lancaster Bible College in Lancaster, Pennsylvania. My brother happened to go down to Texas and visit Pine Cove. Matt “Cha-hua-hua” Edwards (current COO of Pine Cove) showed him around, and my brother told me I had to check Pine Cove out for myself. So I did, and I got the opportunity to spend a day with each director at every camp. I even spent time with people like the head pool person at Pine Cove, Rudy Perez!
I learned a lot through my visit. After that trip, I knew I had to work at Pine Cove. In fact, I even wrote my senior thesis on Pine Cove. I started as a senior counselor during my first summer at Pine Cove with Camp in the City Team C in 2013! When Week 7 rolled around, I got a call from Hannah Carter, who was the Director of Camp in the City at the time. My goal was to become the Site Director of my Camp in the City team, but Hannah offered me the position of Assistant Director over all of Camp in the City! The next year, Dutch called me. I thought I had dropped the ball, to be honest. But as it turns out, he offered me the position of director of the Timbers! That’s where I’ve been for the past four years.
I’m married to Chelsea “Hive Impact” Connor, who is the Marketing Coordinator at Pine Cove. We started dating when I had just begun my time as director at the Timbers and got married in the fall of 2015. Now we are expecting a baby boy this November! Also, we have a dog named Coach. Our best adventure would have to be going to Chicago with Andrew “Get Smart” Boshell and his wife. We loved seeing all the sites, and just walking around the city itself was cool. We ate a lot of deep dish pizza too.
My full camp name is “Philly-Atric Cheesebreak.” The “Philly” part comes from the fact that I’m from Philadelphia and I love Philly cheesesteaks. The “Atric” is a play off of the word “geriatric.” I lived with two old ladies when I was in college. Seriously, ask me about it! The “Break” also originates from a story in college. I was hauling a piano in a big box truck for a friend, and accidentally rammed the piano into an overpass on my campus. I totally destroyed the piano.
I used to be a luger. Like, I competed in luge. I was on the junior U.S. national luge team for a while… then I got cut. But I practiced at the U.S. Olympic facilities and everything.
I wanted to be an NBA basketball player. Fun fact: I played basketball in college!
[laughs] So, in a big basketball game in high school, I sealed the game with two free throws. The next day, my town’s newspaper wrote an article about the game. They said something like “TJ ‘Iceman’ Connor iced the game last night,” and the name stuck.
My first year as a senior counselor, I ran skits. The only problem was that I had never really seen or been in a Pine Cove skit before that. If you know anything about Pine Cove skits, the first thing the crowd asks you is “Who are you?” Then you respond with your skit character’s name. Well, I didn’t know what to do, so I just shouted “Who are you?” right back at them. It went south really fast. We went back and forth for a few minutes until a counselor told me that I needed to say my name. So I said “I’m Philly!” Not the best way to start my first summer.
I have two. One that meant a lot to me when I was first starting out at Pine Cove was Matthew 16:24 – “Then Jesus said to his disciples, ‘Whoever wants to be my disciple must deny themselves and take up their cross and follow me.’” This verse puts the whole gospel in perspective for me. It’s taught me to deny myself, and that this life is not about me.
My favorite verse currently is Galatians 2:20 – “I have been crucified with Christ and I no longer live, but Christ lives in me. The life I now live in the body, I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me.” This verse serves as a cool reminder that whatever I accomplish through this ministry is not my own doing, but Christ who is working through me.
I would say the boats at the Timbers are my favorite. Shoutout to the boat drivers! It’s fun, and it seems like it’s popular with everyone. I think getting out there on the water and hanging with campers is an awesome way to build relationships. There’s nothing cooler than seeing a camper get flung off something, then come up out of the water smiling.
Last summer, we had this camper that was ticked that he was camp. He didn’t want anything to do with the Timbers. He fought against every activity, every staff member, and all the cheers. He kept saying that all he wanted to do was play video games. One day, I caught him getting really angry with a senior counselor, so I asked him to take a walk with me.
We walked to his cabin and sat on the front porch for like an hour and a half. I tried talking to him, but he wouldn’t listen to me. All he would say is that he didn’t want to be here, and that he was going to pack up his stuff and leave. I found out his favorite candy and drink from the camp store and had it brought to us. After a while, I took him to his next activity class. He told me to call his mom, and that if she said he had to stay, then he would stay.
So I called her. His mom told me to tell him, “I love you, and that’s why I sent you to Pine Cove.” After that, he totally changed. He was so much more involved and responsive. He even started doing cheers! Fast forward to closing celebration, he came up to me and said that he had found a new friend that lived on his street. Even better, he told me that he had surrendered his life to Christ.
Pine Cove means community to me. It keeps the main thing the main thing. It’s so fun to work for a place with people that push you to grow spiritually and that set the bar of excellence. I love that here we are able to make people feel like they’re worth a million bucks! Also, we can get both campers and staff out of their normal routine in order to help them grow in new ways.