Raymond L. "Curly" Johnson

“He walked before God as an adventurous life. He loved youth and taught them the joys of camping, the thrill of learning, the wonders of nature… the seeking of faith. But most of all, he loved them and listened to them.” - inscription at Curly's Chapel

Raymond “Curly” Johnson in the 1930s
(Photo courtesy of the Vindicator)

Curly (1901-1935) was the Youngstown Y Boy's work secretary, four square member, and Camp Director from 1928 until his untimely death in 1935. He is the author of our Candlelight Service. Curly's Chapel is dedicated in honor of him.

Curly was born in Youngstown on August 18, 1901 to Mr and Mrs. Alfred Johnson. He became a football captain at South High School where he played on the same team with Dwight "Dike" Beede, Al Davies, and Randy Beede. He also started as a center on the basketball team and ran track. [1] He graduated high school in 1921 and attended Ohio Wesleyan University. His football career as both a center and a back was cut short by a near fatal football injury at Wesleyan that he never fully recovered from. After his injury, he left Ohio Wesleyan.[2] Curly became a gym teacher at Princeton Junior High School.[3]

He returned to Youngstown and in 1926 he was appointed Boys Secretary of the Youngstown YMCA. In 1927 he married Mary Belle Smith and they had two children, Jo Anne Johnson and Phillip Lee Johnson.[2] Many years after Curly's death, Mary Belle would remarry to the also widowed and fellow Camp Fitcher Dike Beede.

Camp Timeline

Curly was in the first group of campers in 1914.[4] He became a tent leader in 1918 under Paul Davies when camp was still located on Little Beaver Creek. This was the first year camp was named “Camp Fitch.” He was appointed camp director in 1928. Paul Davies was promoted to General Secretary of the Central Branch in 1928 and could probably no longer justify spending the summer at camp.

Curly was the first director to have purpose built buildings in camp. Kane Lodge and McCleary Lodge were both built in 1930. Kane Lodge replaced the Holliday Homestead as a new dining hall. Advertisements that years were quick to point out camp had running water, clean toilets, and 93 acres with a quarter mile of beach front.

As camp director in 1931, Curly oversaw the creation of a 7 acre garden at camp irrigated by an underground pressure water supply. Campers each worked one hour every five days in the garden as part of their camp duties. Camp was able to produce its own vegetables all summer including corn, potatoes, radishes, spinach, carrots, lettuce, peas, cucumbers, onions, beans, asparagus, tomatoes, cabbage, and melons. Surplus harvest was sold to visitors on Sundays. The garden remained a source of fresh food for years.[5]

By 1933, Camp was proud to advertise such modern equipment as electric refrigeration, gas stoves, and a ladies restroom. Like today, campers slept on concrete platforms with seven campers and one counselor, though it was inside a tent, not a Cabent. The activities had expanded to include tennis courts, archery, boating on Lake Erie, shuffleboard in McCleary Lodge, nature hikes, volleyball, baseball and a single pony. In addition to daily activities, boys attended health talks and character meeting during the day. They also attended morning church services, tent devotions, and candlelight services at night.[6]

Lake Erie continued to be one of the greatest assets of Camp Fitch. Curly greatly expanded the waterfront program in 1934 with the procurement of a motor boat, 5 12ft boats, and 4 18ft boats before the start of the camping season that began July 1st. A bulletin book was created that year to help advertise camp. It was created by William Texter and Myron Curtis. Walter Bartz took the pictures. Douglas Woodward designed the cover and drew the cartoons.[7]

Curly's personality is largely credited for a massive boom in enrollment during his tenure. Those who worked for him recalled that he never acted like a boss, instead he just seemed like one of the boys. He made such a large impact on the city of Youngstown, that his death in 1935, after a long battle with illness, was announced by two separate articles on the front page of the Youngstown Vindicator. Campers and leaders held a twilight service at Twilight Point the Wednesday after his death to honor him.[3] Jack McPhee stepped in to help as an in interim camp director in 1935 while Curly was ill. After's Curly's Death James M. Williams was hired as his successor.



Many of Curly's campers would go on to have great influence on the future of camp. This list, which in no way is inclusive demonstrates the influence one man can have on both future generations and the future of Camp Fitch.

See Also


1. a Youngstown Vindicator, November 25, 1960. 40 Yeas Ago. Vindicator Printing Company.
2. a, b Johnson, Phil, August 2014. Email.
3. a, b Youngstown Vindicator, June 22, 1935. Curly Johnson Taken By Death. Vindicator Printing Company.
4. a The Y.M.C.A. Spotlight. Youngstown YMCA, 1928.
5. a Youngstown Vindicator, April 18, 1931. Boys at Camp Fitch to Raise Own Food. Vindicator Printing Company.
6. a Youngstown Vindicator, June 29, 1933. Camp Fitch on Lake Erie to Open 20th Season. Vindicator Printing Company.
7. a Youngstown Vindicator, May 15, 1934. Buy Boats for Camp. Vindicator Printing Company.