Merry Times campers bounce off of the Blob, into the lake at Camp Ton-a-Wandah. Photo by Pete Zamplas.
The 16th annual benefit tournament is at luxurious, local Champion Hills Club. The format is four-player scramble, with captain’s choice of shots. The shotgun start is at 10 a.m. Registration is at 8:30 a.m. An awards reception is at 3:30 p.m. Most of the 108-player field is filled, but there are some vacancies, Lou Dalrymple said. He heads Friends of Santa Claus and tourney registration.
The entry fee is $225 per golfer. This includes a buffet dinner, lunch on the course and later an open bar. The after-party ticket is $40. Sponsorships are available. Those interested in playing should promptly contact Dalrymple (692-5549).
The tourney helps “cheer the lives of children” facing various challenges from serious disease, he said.
Strictly privately-funded, the non-profit Friends of Santa Claus was begun in 1993 by Ted and Barbara Van Thullenar. He later succumbed to pancreatic cancer. A scholarship in his name awards $2,500 per year for four years to a youth in the program for families afflicted by major and often life-threatening medical conditions — mostly cancer, possibly rare blood or other serious and chronic disorders. Several children in the program are in wheelchairs.
The families are from across North Carolina and also Upstate South Carolina. Children’s ages range from nine months to 18 years. There are nearly 200 children in the program, costing nearly $1,000 per child for the year, Dalrymple noted.
“Special wish” vacations are for children newly diagnosed with a cancer relapse, and can be put into action within a day of the request, Dalrymple said. A child too ill to travel got a phone call from action film actor Jackie Chan. One saw George Strait in concert from the front row, and met the country legend. Another met a MLB team’s players after seeing a game. And another wish was visiting the Give Kids The World non-profit resort in Florida.
The Henderson County-based group’s marquee annual event for two decades is Camp Merry Times. The adventurous break is from daily rigors of dealing with disease or its caregiving. About 70 area children ages 4-17 either with cancer or other serious disease or their siblings get to enjoy four fun days. Normally in May, this year it is Aug. 27-30 and is “all-kids.” The retreat is at Billy and Judy Haynes’ Camp Ton-a-Wandah in Flat Rock.
Further, the parents get $75 to go out for dinner, for their own treat. There is no charge to these families and plenty of emotional as well as financial support for them, thanks to fundraising and volunteering from a group of more than 100 people. Thus, non-golfers can simply donate to the cause.
The children can get out of their shell by performing in the camp-wide talent show, racing a car they built in a model car derby, dancing and singing, creating arts and crafts, climbing a wall or high ropes course, riding a horse, hiking, kayaking or canoeing. They can leap onto the Blob balloon mattress, and bounce off it into the lake.
They can get free golf lessons courtesy of Champion Hills, try archery or gardening, and play tennis and basketball. In the Pinewood Derby, model cars roll down a 24-foot track that is sloped about 30 degrees. The 365-acre residential summer girl’s camp has the lake, trails, streams and a cascading waterfall.
The talent show is put on by Lynn Walsh, “Merry Fairy,” a professional director of children’s plays who flies in from out of state. She gets all children involved, and to realize their individual talent for fun expression and rewarding achievement. Positive reinforcement is abundant.
The camper-counselor ratio is one-to-one for children younger than seven, and two-to-one for those older.
Camp Director Garrett Graham has helped Merry Times youths on the climbing wall and high roses course. “It’s wonderful to see those kids get up there, and do things they think they’re never able to do because of their illness,” Graham said years ago, in his counseling days. “When they slide to the end of the zip line, they get a hug and a big crowd of people is cheering. It’s a great experience for everybody — participants, staff and volunteers.”
Judy Haynes noted “entire families are affected by cancer. Merry Times gives some normalcy to families, and some unusual outdoor and camp activities.”
Friends of Santa derives its name from its Christmas-time carnival for holiday cheer. Yet Santa gives gifts to the children at all of the special events for cancer-affected families. There is a family weekend in Charleston, fun days in fall and spring, and a teen team-building weekend.
In addition, volunteers give hugs, stuffed animals and balloon bouquets to these children when they are treated in hospitals and face hair loss, facial swelling or other side effects.
Donation checks for Camp Merry Times or related projects should be made to “Friends of Santa Clause.” They may be mailed to 68 Oak Gate Dr., Hendersonville, N.C. 28739. To donate or register for the golf tourney, call Lou Dalrymple at 692-5549. Check www.friendsofsantaclaus.org for further information.