Thursday, July 17, 2014

Happy Birthday, Bob McDowell

Bob McDowell, director of Warm Beach Camp for 21 years, with son Ed,
current camp director
(Photo from Warm Beach Camp archives)

I was a teenager when Bob McDowell hired me the first time. It was during the years that he was Christian Education Director for the Pacific Northwest Conference of the Free Methodist Church and he was on the board for the Greater Seattle Sunday School Association. (You should have seen their cool logo, with the G pointy like the mouth of a fish, all the Ss the fish's body and the A the tail! Too bad I couldn't find it on Google Images.) The annual Sunday School convention was coming up and Bob was the director for the event. He needed someone to stuff envelopes, make phone calls, and assist with office details. He worked out of his home office, so that's where I went for my job. It was the first time I'd ever seen a home phone with two lines, and I could buzz the family upstairs if a call came for any of them! I was so impressed.

Back at the PNW office, the AV library was a mess. There were dozens of filmstrips, 16 mm movies, and other audio/visual teaching tools that needed to be sorted and catalogued, so I spent several weeks helping out, bringing some order to a room much in need of order.

(Photo from Warm Beach Camp archives)

Still later, when Bob was the director of Warm Beach Camp, my favorite place on earth, I called and asked if there might be work for me one summer. I'd just finished a stressful year of teaching and Warm Beach seemed like the perfect fit for me. "Well," Bob told me, "I can promise you part-time work for the summer, but after that there's no guarantee." That was fine with me. I hired on as an assistant to Muriel, Bob's wife and administrative assistant. I filed, answered phones, did registration and room assignments, helped in the print shop, managed the mailing list, and became the first bookstore manager. Needless to say, I never ran out of work, and I stayed three years.

Man, canBob McDowell play the piano! He knows all the old hymns and he plays them with his heart and soul, fingers running up and down the keyboard. Much of his life he has led the congregation in worship from the piano, melting from one hymn into the next, drawing people to the feet of Jesus. His granddaughter Christina says, "This is how I think of my Grandpa -- at the piano, leading all the singers, everyone gathered around him. This is my fondest childhood memory." She in turn is doing the same thing with her family.

Bob, leading his family in music from the piano
(Photo by Christina Bentley)

But it wasn't only at church or with his family that Bob shared his music. How well I remember those old days when, at youth retreats or camp staff events, we'd gather around the piano and sing our hearts out as Bob played. With Bob supplying the piano and me supplying the words (I love the hymns, as you may remember, and know most of the verses; I can't help it, it's just me) one song could go on for quite a while. And there were plenty of songs.

I remember one particularly raucous evening, after the planned program had finished but no one was ready to call it a night, that we gathered around Bob at the piano and started jamming. It was loud, and everyone was wailin'. Well, nobody was playing the string bass so I lifted it up on its peg, and started wildly plunking strings, my fingers jabbing at what I hoped were somewhat in-tune notes. "Ginger, I didn't know you played the bass!" Bob said. "I don't!" I replied. But it was sure fun trying!

Today is Bob McDowell's 84th birthday. I wish I had a video of his piano playing to share with you. But since I don't, I found this one with Greg Howlett playing Jesus is All the World to Me. (And no, that's not me in the orchestra.) Bob, thank you for your love for Jesus, lived out loud for all the world to see. Happy birthday!


Unknown said...

Happy Birthday Bob,,,Your ministry has touched so many lives, many you may not even know! Warm Beach is very special place to me also and memories of you are important and leave such a legacy. Paula Witt Haakenson

Ginger Kauffman said...

Thanks for sharing your comment, Paula. There are indeed so many lives that have been impacted by the ministry of Warm Beach Camp and its influence has been felt all over the world.