Skip to main content

Miller Fagley

Miller Fagley & Jim Vaus, 1967

Yesterday, a dear friend of our family passed away. He was almost 98 years old. His name was Miller Fagley and I wrote a chapter, mostly about him, in my book, My Father Was a Gangster. In tribute to Miller, I want to share that chapter with you here. The reference to Camp Champion is to a Christian youth camp my father started in upstate New York for teen gang members from Spanish Harlem. Today it is a Young Life camp and the ministry to youth continues. But it all started largely because of the funding of people like Wall Street wizard George Champion, the vision of my father, and the hard work of people like our friend, Miller Fagley. Here is the excerpt from my book.


Over the years Camp Champion developed into a combination of manicured village, blended with natural wilderness, tended by Miller Fagley’s expert hands. Miller is an amazing man who grew up in a small town in Pennsylvania and as a young naval officer landed on the beaches of Normandy on D-Day. Miller and his wife Dottie, the postmaster of Glen Spey, became part of our family in
many ways. Growing up on the east coast, away from extended family, I referred to the Fagleys as Uncle Miller and Aunt Dottie from my earliest years.

The dining hall was the first building Miller and his team constructed at camp. It sits atop a grassy knoll, which slopes gently
down to the shore of the lake. The kitchen inside was top-notch with five commercial size ovens, long sinks and enough supplies
to feed an army. I especially enjoyed the walk-in refrigerator and
freezer in which a deer carcass would invariably be hanging in late
autumn. The chef back then was Henry Bosch, former chef to
General George Patton.

The original cabins at Camp Champion were set up in villages
nestled in the woods just the other side of the lake. Miller
re-created an early New England covered bridge to connect the
villages to the main part of the camp. The wood was taken from a
neighboring dilapidated barn built in 1790. When the kids from
Harlem needed a raft to float on the lake, Miller manufactured
the U.S.S. Tom Sawyer.

Miller designed it all, including the Lodge, Chapel, Springbrook
(a house for visiting VIPs), the Recreation Hall, Administration
Building and Rainbow’s End. Even the railings around the porches on some of the original buildings are extraordinary, containing silhouettes of arrows pointing toward heaven. One day when Dad asked Miller why he created the railings with that design, he replied: “Isn’t that what this place is all about, pointing people to God?”

It took Miller a while to decide to become the manager of Camp Champion after he constructed the first buildings. He and Dottie had a young daughter, Kathy, and they were nervous about her being around the delinquents from the city. But my father had ingenious ways of talking people into things.

One day Dad said to Miller, “I want you to design the perfect house with all the facilities needed for a resident manager.”

“Okay,” Miller agreed.

“Another thing,” my father continued. “I would like the house to be ready before the end of the year. Be sure that there’s a fireplace, a good kitchen, and comfortable rooms. Just go to it.”

Miller did. And when he was finished Dad said, “How about moving your family in for Christmas?” Miller did move in with his
family and remained as resident manager throughout YDI’s years
of operating Camp Champion.

One of my favorite stories involving Miller Fagley took place the day my father was at Camp Champion and received a letter from one of his former clients, J. Paul Getty. Dad had contacted Getty, asking him for a contribution toward the work of YDI. Dad strolled over to where Miller was standing in front of the Administration
Building and said, “Miller, I have in my hand a letter from the richest man in the world. I wonder what size contribution is inside.” Dad opened the envelope and found a check for $25.

Faster than you could say “Jack Robinson”, Miller Fagley got out his checkbook and started writing a check to YDI. My father queried, “What are you doing, Miller?”

“I’m writing a check to YDI for $30. I want to be able to say that I gave more than the richest man in the world!” Miller really did give more than the richest man in the world to make Camp Champion a reality, not only financially and in terms of his time and talent, but in other ways as well.

The people of Glen Spey thought it was great for there to be a camp for poor kids from the inner city, but they wished it wasn’t in their community. Some were scared. One woman wouldn’t even use the road that passed in front of camp. She would take an alternate route that went far out of her way. Other people were downright nasty. During early construction, the “Lake Champion” sign was torn down and in its place was put a sign which read: “This way to the tax-free n***** camp.” The bottom line was the community did not welcome YDI, so Dad started a campaign to win them over.

The most influential man in that campaign was Miller Fagley. He was well known and respected in the community. Miller and a local insurance man invited some of the townspeople to dinner as camp guests. After the meal Dad told them he had heard the rumors floating around, that an ex-gangster was opening a camp for delinquents from the city. Though that was true, Dad tried to convince the crowd that it wasn’t as bad as it sounded. He shared
his life story and then cast the vision of YDI. My father assured
people from the community they wouldn’t see city kids running
wild through town; they had enough room for them on the 360-acre campsite. Dad didn’t win any enthusiastic support that night, but it bought him some time to prove to the community that YDI could fit into life in Glen Spey.

Youth Development did its best to be a part of the community. As a tax-exempt organization they didn’t have to pay local taxes, but YDI made contributions to the volunteer fire department and the highway fund anyway. Slowly, Dad earned Glen Spey’s respect.

The most important thing was that Camp Champion had a powerful impact on the lives of inner city youth. Prior to camp, the most that these kids had seen of the wilderness was Central Park. At camp these teens learned how to swim, canoe, and handle themselves out in God’s creation.

One moonless night two camp counselors were taking a group of kids on a hike through the woods. The leaders stopped for a few moments to decide which trail they would take back to camp. The kids walked on. Suddenly they realized their leaders were not with them.

“Where are we?”

“How do we get back to camp?”

“What was that noise?”

The counselors caught up with the boys and listened in on the conversation waiting to see what these young men would do. Finally, one guy said, “Let’s pray.” The counselors were silently
thrilled. A boy named Felix was elected to say the prayer: “Please
God, help us out of this darkness. Lead us your lost children, back
to camp safely.” Each boy added his own “Amen.” After a golden
moment of silence one voice pierced the darkness: “O.K., now
what the f*** do we do?”

I know that is a funny note to end on, but I think Miller would appreciate the humor. If you would like to know more about my book, you may click here: My Father Was a Gangster

Comments

Popular posts from this blog

C. S. Lewis on Homosexuality

Arthur Greeves
In light of recent developments in the United States on the issue of gay marriage, I thought it would be interesting to revisit what C. S. Lewis thought about homosexuality. Lewis, who died in 1963, never wrote about same-sex marriage, but he did write, occasionally, about the topic of homosexuality in general. In the following I am quoting from my book, Mere Theology: A Guide to the Thought of C. S. Lewis. For detailed references and footnotes, you may obtain a copy from Amazon, your local library, or by clicking on the book cover at the right....
In Surprised by Joy, Lewis claimed that homosexuality was a vice to which he was never tempted and that he found opaque to the imagination. For this reason he refused to say anything too strongly against the pederasty that he encountered at Malvern College, where he attended school from the age of fifteen to sixteen. Lewis did not rate pederasty as the greatest evil of the school because he felt the cruelty displayed at Malver…

A Prayer at Ground Zero

Christmas Day Thought from Henri Nouwen

"I keep thinking about the Christmas scene that Anthony arranged under the altar. This probably is the most meaningful "crib" I have ever seen. Three small woodcarved figures made in India: a poor woman, a poor man, and a small child between them. The carving is simple, nearly primitive. No eyes, no ears, no mouths, just the contours of the faces. The figures are smaller than a human hand - nearly too small to attract attention at all.
"But then - a beam of light shines on the three figures and projects large shadows on the wall of the sanctuary. That says it all. The light thrown on the smallness of Mary, Joseph, and the Child projects them as large, hopeful shadows against the walls of our life and our world.
"While looking at the intimate scene we already see the first outlines of the majesty and glory they represent. While witnessing the most human of human events, I see the majesty of God appearing on the horizon of my existence. While being moved by the ge…

Sheldon Vanauken Remembered

A good crowd gathered at the White Hart Cafe in Lynchburg, Virginia on Saturday, February 7 for a powerpoint presentation I gave on the life and work of Sheldon Vanauken. Van, as he was known to family and friends, was best known as the author of A Severe Mercy, the autobiography of his love relationship with his wife Jean "Davy" Palmer Davis.

While living in Oxford, England in the early 1950's, Van and Davy came to faith in Christ through the influence of C. S. Lewis. Van was a professor of history and English literature at Lynchburg College from 1948 until his retirement around 1980. A Severe Mercy tells the story of Davy's death from a mysterious liver ailment in 1955 and Van's subsequent dealing with grief. Van himself died from cancer in 1996.

It was my privilege to know Van for a brief period of time during the last year of his life. However, present at the White Hart on February 7 were some who knew Van far better than I did--Floyd Newman, one of Van's…

Mentoring

The first of four posts by yours truly is now up on the Next Leadership Blog. Check it out by clicking here: Mentoring.

C. S. Lewis Tour--London

The final two days of our C. S. Lewis Tour of Ireland & England were spent in London. Upon our arrival we enjoyed a panoramic tour of the city that included Westminster Abbey. A number of our tour participants chose to tour the inside of the Abbey where they were able to view the new C. S. Lewis plaque in Poets' Corner.


Though London was not one of Lewis' favorite places to visit, there are a number of locations associated with him. One which I have noted in my new book, In the Footsteps of C. S. Lewis, is Endsleigh Palace Hospital (25 Gordon Street, London) where Lewis recovered from his wounds received during the First World War....


Not too far away from this location is King's College, part of the University of London, located on the Strand, just off the River Thames. This is the location where Lewis gave the annual commemoration oration entitled The Inner Ring on 14 December 1944....


C. S. Lewis occasionally attended theatrical events in London. One of his favorites w…

C. S. Lewis's Parish Church

The first time I visited Oxford, in 1982, the porter at Magdalen College didn't even recognize the name--C. S. Lewis. I had asked him if he could give me directions to Lewis's former home in Headington Quarry. Obviously, he could not and did not. (Directions to Lewis's former home are now much easier to obtain. Just click here for directions and to arrange a tour: The Kilns.)
Things have changed a lot since 1982. Now Lewis is remembered all around Oxford. At the pub where the Inklings met, at Magdalen College, and not least--at his parish church--Holy Trinity Headington Quarry. The first time I visited the church I only saw the outside and Lewis's grave, shared with his brother Warnie.
Since that first visit I have returned to Holy Trinity a number of times and worshiped there. Father Tom Honey is a real gem. Under his leadership the congregation has grown and now includes a number of young families. I was overwhelmed by the number of children who came into the sanctuary…

A Christmas Psalm

Psalm 110
The Lord says to my Lord:
"Sit at my right hand
until I make your enemies
a footstool for your feet."

The Lord will extend your mighty scepter from Zion;
you will rule in the midst of your enemies.
Your troops will be willing on your day of battle.
Arrayed in holy majesty,
from the womb of the dawn
you will receive the dew of your youth.

The Lord has sworn
and will not change his mind:
"You are a priest forever,
in the order of Melchizedek."

The Lord is at your right hand;
he will crush kings on the day of his wrath.
He will judge the nations, heaping up the dead
and crushing the rulers of the whole earth.
He will drink from a brook beside the way;
therefore he will lift up his head.

C. S. Lewis, Reflections on the Psalms,
Chapter XII, paragraphs 4 & 5:

"We find in our Prayer Books that Psalm 110 is one of those appointed for Christmas Day. We may at first be surprised by this. There is nothing in it about peace and good-will, nothing remotely sugg…

Fact, Faith, Feeling

"Now Faith, in the sense in which I am here using the word, is the art of holding on to things your reason has once accepted, in spite of your changing moods. For moods will change, whatever view your reason takes. I know that by experience. Now that I am a Christian I do have moods in which the whole thing looks very improbable: but when I was an atheist I had moods in which Christianity looked terribly probable. This rebellion of your moods against your real self is going to come anyway. That is why Faith is such a necessary virtue: unless you teach your moods 'where to get off', you can never be either a sound Christian or even a sound atheist, but just a creature dithering to and fro, with its beliefs really dependent on the weather and the state of its digestion. Consequently one must train the habit of Faith." Mere Christianity


Many years ago, when I was a young Christian, I remember seeing the graphic illustration above of what C. S. Lewis has, here, so eloquen…

C. S. Lewis on Church Attendance

A friend's blog written yesterday (http://wesroberts.typepad.com/) got me thinking about C. S. Lewis's experience of the church. I wrote this in a comment on Wes Robert's blog:
It is interesting to note that C. S. Lewis attended the same small church for over thirty years. The experience was nothing spectacular on a weekly basis. For most of those years Lewis didn't care much for the sermons; he even sat behind a pillar so that the priest would not see the expression on his face. He attended the service without music because he so disliked hymns. And he left right after holy communion was served probably because he didn't like to engage in small talk with other parishioners after the service. But that life-long obedience in the same direction shaped Lewis in a way that nothing else could.
Lewis was once asked, "Is attendance at a place of worship or membership with a Christian community necessary to a Christian way of life?"
His answer was as follows: &q…