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A Camp is Its People

So much that makes a camp a camp is the people. Here is the story of the people who turned Heart O’ the Hills Inn into Heart O’ the Hills Camp.

Heart O’ the Hills Camp was born of dual tragedies. It’s actually sort of a phoenix story, because it began when the inn burned down in November of 1947, and it ended up becoming more beautiful than ever.

As I mentioned in the previous blog, hunters were staying at Heart O’ the Hills Inn, when on the night of Nov. 7, 1948, an ember went up the chimney and set the roof on fire. The building was a total loss.

But let’s back up a bit further. The inn’s owner in the 1940’s was Col. D. Harold Byrd, a larger-than-life Texan of some renown. Legend has it that Col. Byrd always stayed at the inn when he came to the Hill Country. He was so miffed by discovering one time that there was “no room in the inn,” that he purchased it on the spot!

Enter Kenneth and Velma Jones

When he did, Col. Byrd wooed longtime friends Kenneth and Velma Jones to come and manage the inn. The Joneses did, bringing with them their two daughters, Jan and Jo.  After the fire in 1947, Col. Byrd decided that his involvement with the inn had reached a good stopping place. He sold his interest to Kenneth and Velma, who by that time were affectionately known by all the inn guests as Mama and Papa Jones. They were the perfect fit.

The Joneses rose to the challenge, and knew they needed to have the inn back to capacity before summer in order to make it work. This meant that within six months, the Lodge had to be demolished, cleared, reconstructed, furnished and marketed. Plans were put into high gear, and Mama and Papa made sure that every detail of the Lodge was top quality. The inn was enlarged, made fireproof with thick plaster walls and other fire resistant materials, and finished out with the very latest of elegance.

But the Jones family travails didn’t end with the big fire. Or with the pressure of rebuilding. Unimagined by them, a worse occurrence was still in store.

Tragedy #2 befalls

On the evening of March 17, 1948, Jo, who was a freshman at Tivy High School in Kerrville, attended a formal event of the Rainbow Assembly. She wore a white evening dress and gave a lecture on “immortality” before leaving. She and her companion, a day student at Schreiner Institute who made his home at the inn, were riding back to Hunt together when they were hit by a truck at the intersection of 39 and 27. Both were killed instantly.

Jo’s personality was much like her parents’. She never met a stranger, and lit up every room she walked into.

Mama and Papa certainly had their hands full in getting the Lodge rebuilt. But the loss of their lively, outstanding daughter, and

Summer campers in the 1950’s

her love of summer camp, had planted the seed of an idea. Why couldn’t the Heart O’ the Hills Inn become a camp?

Why not a camp?

To be their camp director, the Joneses contacted Kitty Magee, an instructor at Texas State College for Women (now Texas Woman’s University) who had been a counselor and director for more than a decade at a nearby camp until the birth of her daughter. Kitty said no.

The next thing she knew, Kitty began receiving congratulatory phone calls and letters from friends about her new endeavor as Heart O’ the Hills Camp director! She couldn’t let the Mama and Papa down.

Di Baker and Kitty Magee

Kitty recruited a handful of seasoned friends with their own range of experience in camping, most notably Mary Butterworth and Diane Martin Baker.

Every weekend these visionary women would meet at The Heart and thoughtfully flesh out every detail of the program: what would the themes be? What words would be spoken at the ceremonies? Which songs would be sung? How could their lyrics be meaningfully adapted to fit the new camp?

These ladies chose the locations—and cleared the cedar from—what would become Pawnee and Shawnee Hills, and located spots for the instructional and ceremonial activities. What fun! And what a lot of work! There were signs to be painted, brochures to print, staff and campers to be recruited.

The dream becomes reality

The camp first opened with a single session in 1953. It was a junior camp, for girls 6-12. The following summer, and for most years thereafter, two sessions were held. The exception was a period from 1995 to 2011 when there was a shorter Third Term for girls 6-11.

Jo Jones

But the Joneses wanted the camp to be a place for character growth, to honor their daughter who had been so outstanding. They pinpointed her virtues, that we now call the Eight Traits—courage, unselfishness, purity, faith, goodness, honesty, truthfulness and trust—and established a Sportsmanship Award in her memory. Each session the girl who most embodies the Eight Traits is recognized with this award.

Soon the girls who were aging out began clamoring for more summers of camp! Kitty and Di initiated the Holiday House program, a sort of finishing school touted as a

Jo Jones Memorial Sportsmanship Award

“complete program of beauty and self-improvement” with training in “the fundamentals of wardrobe planning, care of clothes, proper selections of color and accessories, fit and facts about Foundations.” “Foundations” in modern parlance would be shapewear, folks!

It wasn’t long before one age group was added year by year until the oldest campers were 16. Holiday House went away, but the traditions of table manners for all campers, a trip to the local Point Theater for Senior campers, and to Raleigh House (now to Riverhill Country Club for Teen campers, have remained.

Next blog will go into subsequent ownership of Heart O’ the Hills, bringing us to the present.

About the Author

Jane Ragsdale

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Jane Ragsdale (Mrs. Dick Howell) is the director of Heart O’ the Hills. She was a Heart camper and counselor, and served as program director from 1978-87. She has been one of the owners since 1976, and director since 1988.


  1. Jane, your posting brought back many memories…….the Jones, Kitty, Butter and Di. Di was from Beaumont and the reason I attended Heart O’ the Hills. How well I remember the emphasis of table manners and being sung to for having my elbows on the table. To this day my elbows never rest on the dinning table! Thank you for sharing.

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