The YMCA has long been committed to providing programs that build healthy spirit, mind and body for all. Since our founding in 1915, Camp Wood YMCA has shared this commitment to inclusion and welcomed children of diverse backgrounds and experiences to camp every summer.
As part of our commitment to inclusion, we’d like to share the inspiring story of one of our earliest camp leaders, Walter L. Hutcherson—for whom camp’s chapel is named.
In a time when most African-American and other minority youth felt unwelcome in this country, Hutcherson and fellow YMCA leaders created a place known for respect and inclusion, offering a desegregated summer camp experience at Camp Wood YMCA in rural Kansas. Their commitment to inclusion was guided by the YMCA mission to provide programs for all and by the personal friendships these diverse leaders formed with one another.
Walter L. Hutcherson was born in 1895 in Amherst, Virginia. He went on to graduate from the renowned Tuskegee Institute and later served as Field Secretary to Booker T. Washington. During World War I, he served as a Captain in the 92nd Division, the only all-black division of the United States Army. After the war, he married and moved to Buxton, Iowa where he ran the local YMCA.
YMCA work leads to Kansas
In 1921, Hutcherson and his wife, Avannia, moved to Wichita where he became Executive Director of the dilapidated Water Street YMCA—the city’s “colored” YMCA. There, he became good friends with philanthropist and YMCA leader, A.A. Hyde, a white businessman who was also an early Camp Wood leader. Together, the two men oversaw the completion of a new YMCA facility for Wichita’s black population.
Living the YMCA commitment to offer programs for all.
In Kansas, Hi-Y programs were created by the YMCA to teach leadership skills, develop character and encourage academic achievement among high school boys. These Hi-Y clubs began holding camps at various locations throughout the state and it was their popularity and effectiveness that led state YMCA leaders to seek a permanent location for a summer camp. Their search resulted in the creation of Camp Wood YMCA in 1915.
Upon his arrival at the colored YMCA of Wichita, then known as the Water Street YMCA, Hutcherson would organize the first Hi-Y club for African-American boys there in 1921. That summer, he brought them to Camp Wood YMCA to experience summer camp and leadership formation alongside their white peers.
Later in 1925, when girls first began attending Camp Wood YMCA through the Girl Reserves (the female equivalent of Hi-Y), girls of every race would be welcomed as well.
Leaving his legacy
Hutcherson became known as one of Camp Wood YMCA’s early leaders and it was said that he instructed more boys in Riflery than almost any other man in Kansas. He had a rare talent for leadership and Camp Wood YMCA would not have been quite complete without “Old Hutch”, as the campers called him.
After his time in Wichita, Hutcherson was called to the Tulsa YMCA where the city was experiencing intense racial tension. There, he continued to work with African-American young people and encourage peaceful relationships between all races. He died following a surgery in 1931. In 1934, construction on Camp Wood’s chapel was completed and was dedicated as “Hutch Hall” in Hutcherson’s honor.
In addition to Hutch Hall, branches of both the Wichita and Tulsa YMCA were named after Hutcherson. The Tulsa branch still bears his name.
Today, Camp Wood YMCA remains committed to inclusion and welcomes children from diverse backgrounds to camp every summer. We believe this diversity is one of the greatest strengths of YMCA camps like ours, which welcome children regardless of gender, income, faith, sexual orientation or cultural background. Friendships forged between campers from diverse backgrounds form the foundation for caring, respectful relationships as adults. We believe these strong relationships are the building blocks for strong communities.