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Bedford County camp honors founder for unique and determined efforts

By Tim Saunders, tsaunders@wdbj7.com
Published On: Apr 11 2014 06:05:13 PM EDT
Updated On: Apr 11 2014 09:20:33 PM EDT

Big anniversary for Camp Virginia Jaycee

MONTVALE, Va. -

A patch of land at the foot of the Blue Ridge Mountains is an oasis for kids with special needs.

Camp Virginia Jaycee has operated in Montvale since 1969.  The facility might not exist today without the determined efforts of Bill Robertson, a Roanoke native with a vision.

"We were going to provide this opportunity for people with special needs to have a place where they could run, jump, sing, and play," said Robertson, a retired educator and founder of Camp Virginia Jaycee.

After successfully helping Roanoke schools integrate in the mid-60's, the Virginia Jaycee's organization tapped Robertson to help them open a camp.

They needed $45,000 to make their idea a reality, and Robertson had an unusual idea for raising the money: sell jars of apple jelly for 15 cents each.

"People laughed and said that's the craziest thing we've ever heard of," said Robertson.  "I said listen, let's give it a chance."

For more than a year, he traveled around the state wearing a long white suit and top hat, convincing his fellow Jaycees to go along with his bizarre plan.

His efforts paid off.  The Jaycees raised thousands more than what they needed and the camp was born.

"Bill is an excellent role model and has led the way in raising the funds for scholarships and everything that is here," said Shirley O'Brien, director of Camp Virginia Jaycee.

Although he's lived in Florida for many years, he still returns to Montvale every summer and often brings people with him to work at the camp.

He considers the mountain retreat his true home.

"We're looking forward to a great weekend," Robertson said Friday.

Camp Virginia Jaycee is celebrating Robertson this weekend with a Founder's Day event.

They're inviting everyone in the community to a free carnival at the camp that will be happening from 11 a.m. to 4 p.m. Saturday.