Lifeguard posts at Lake Junaluska were prized
Many young men aspire to become President of the United States or perhaps an astronaut, but in the early days of Lake Junaluska, young dreamers wanted to be a lifeguard. Their role models were summer workers who sat in the sun and rescued damsels in distress — BMOC — big men on campus.
Richard Crowder made his first trip to Junaluska when he was a 15-year- old freshman in high school. He rode a train from High Point to attend a youth assembly at the Lake. The next summer his high school coach was offered the job at Junaluska as Recreation Director for the summer. The coach was allowed to bring four of his football team to be lifeguards—Richard was one of the four.
“Thus began my deep love for the place,” said Crowder.
For six summers, two when in high school and four while at Duke, Crowder worked at the Lake in the summer.
“We taught more than a hundred persons, Waynesville people and summer visitors, how to swim. We had a very active boys club for local and visiting guys,”he remembers. “We were in charge of the Fourth of July activities and had fierce competition in swimming and track events. At night, we were in charge of the fireworks. When the last fireworks were shot in the air, we had a loud speaking system set up the Bath House so everyone could hear Kate Smith sing ‘God Bless America.’ I have never felt more patriotic than when she sang, ‘From the mountains. . .’ Chills ran up and down my spine as I looked at the mountains with moon overlooking the Lake.”
After three summers, Crowder’s high school coach chose not to return to the Lake. The superintendent asked him to be director. He was allowed to choose two lifeguards and the superintendent chose the other two. Richard chose Tom Stockton (who later became Bishop) and roommate, Tank Lawrence; the superintendent chose Joe Jack Wells from the Bethel community and Bill Royster, a teacher from Nashville. Some folks were so anxious to become lifeguards they forgot to mention they couldn’t swim and one was Royster. That summer the lifeguards had to double up on duties while Royster sold candy and manned check-in duties.
“We heard some of the finest preachers in the world at that time,” Crowder said. “Billy Graham already had become one of the great preachers of that time. He had preached to thousands at crusades in New York City, Los Angeles, and London. He was spending a vacation at his home in Montreat and drove over to preach in Stuart Auditorium. Because of his popularity, people came from far and wide to hear him. The auditorium was packed. The superintendent asked me to meet Graham and bring him around the back of the auditorium to avoid the crowd. That short ride was one of the highlights of my young life.
“When I drove him back to his car, out of the clear blue he asked, ‘Young man, have you ever considered ministry as your life’s profession?’
“In 1959, when I was a sophomore at Duke, I felt the Lord was calling me to preach. The following fall at the annual conference, I received my local preacher’s license and thus began my becoming a fully ordained Methodist preacher.”
When Crowder was a lifeguard six summers at Junaluska, they ate their meals at Sunset Inn —21 meals a week for $16. The coronation of the Queen at Lake Junaluska was a big event for the lifeguards. They were in charge of setting the stage at Stuart Auditorium to fit the coronation theme — sometimes working until the early hours of the morning.
“I cannot think of any better place to spend one’s youth than Junaluska, “ Crowder said. “I attribute the atmosphere, influence, and inspiration of Junaluska and the wonderful friends I made during those formative high school and college years as having everything to do with my choosing ministry as my life profession. So much do I love this place that we built our retirement home here in 1964 and became permanent residents in 2004.”