Camping champion remembered

Ruth Griffiths

A pioneer in Christian camping has passed away, but her memory lives on in those who love Camp Tapawingo. The memorial service for Mildred Agnes Sexsmith (1930-2022) was held today at Saskatoon Funeral Home. The soft smile in her photo illustrates the warm, encouraging demeanour she showed throughout a long life of service.

I first met Mildred through our shared interest in Camp Tapawingo, the United Church summer camp at Candle Lake. Mildred and her husband, Bill, were involved with the camp for decades as staff, parents, and volunteers. Mildred was a board member for 16 years! She spearheaded the camp’s 60th anniversary celebration in 2008. For the camp’s 40th anniversary she wrote a poem that is enshrined in the camp manual. It tells how three families and a Ranger drove along Jack Pine trails to find a lovely beach on Candle Lake. The land was leased for $1 and given the name Tapawingo, a Haida name meaning “a place of happiness.”

I interviewed Bill and Mildred for the church newsletter in 2011. Although she had taught Sunday School, Mildred said church camps have a larger impact on children’s lives. She recalled a young boy saying, “I met God at camp.” My personal experience echoes hers … my son said Camp was the only place where he felt truly accepted for who he was..

The Camp Tapawingo manual quotes Mildred: “Church camping is one place where this ideal can come close to being fully realized. At camp, people of various ages and stages gather to live together in community. They eat together, cook and clean together, work and learn together, fight and laugh together. They swim in lakes, gather around fires, walk in woods, and sit in grass. In the faces of those around them, in the magnificence of the nature that surrounds them, in the stillness of quiet moments alone and in the struggles and joys of community, people meet God. United Church camping is ministry. It is a ministry which touches thousands of children, teens, young adults, and adults every year. It is a ministry that, as the church, we must celebrate and support.“

Bill and Mildred Sexsmith also enriched thousands of lives through their long careers as teachers. Bill taught at Riverside Collegiate, he was a guidance counsellor at Tech and vice-principal when Carlton opened. Mildred taught keyboarding at night school for decades. In retirement, they cherished the lives of their four children and their families.

The closing lines of Mildred’s poem about the founding of Camp Tapawingo is a fitting benediction to a life well-lived:

“Now we thank our God and Creator for the vision of those few,
And pray we’ll always cherish our past and look to the future too!”