Author gives grandmothers ’how to’ host their own camp

Anne and Don Dierks of Hot Springs Village try on some of the sophisticated and off-the-wall hats their grandchildren wear at Granny Camp.
Anne and Don Dierks of Hot Springs Village try on some of the sophisticated and off-the-wall hats their grandchildren wear at Granny Camp.

HOT SPRINGS VILLAGE, ARK. — Avery Dierks of Tampa, Fla., sounds like a sales rep when talking about her Arkansas grandmother’s new book about running a granny camp.
“It’s a wonderful book and it has a lot of great ideas for people who may want to do it. I bet a lot of people will really like it,” the 12-year-old said.
That’s what Anne Dierks of Hot Springs Village hopes, too. “Granny Camp! How To Bond With Your Grandchildren” goes to press in August. In many ways, the book reflects the Catholic faith, family and community values of Anne and her husband, Don Dierks. They attend Sacred Heart of Jesus Church in Hot Springs Village.
“That’s one of the main reasons for Granny Camp,” Anne Dierks said, “… that grandparents have special values to pass on.” She also wanted her experiences to be passed forward to Baby Boomer grandparents who are about to start retiring and may soon be spending time with their grandchildren.
Work on the book began about five years ago. Dierks, mother of four children and 14 grandchildren, retired as the full-time Diocese of Little Rock respect life director in 2005, although she has continued to work as the Project Rachel coordinator.
But the origins of Granny Camp began in the mid-1990s. Dierks offered to watch three of her grandchildren while a son and daughter-in-law were busy with the arrival of baby number four. Everyone enjoyed the time together so much that Dierks asked to host the grandchildren the following year at “Granny Camp.” She picked the phrase because it sounded fun. Her grandchildren don’t even call her Granny. They call her Grandmother (although there is a funny story in the book about another name Anne Dierks once was called by a grandchild).
In a few years’ time, Anne and Don Dierks realized they needed to be more organized like a summer camp director.
“I can’t have seven little girls jumping at my feet saying, ’What are we doing to do today?’” Dierks said.
What grew from their experiences were full instructions for other grandmothers to repeat the fun themes of Granny Camp experiences. Who can forget Purple Day, where jelly, grapes and hearing the “Purple People Eater” song are part of the day’s agenda? Then there’s the High Tea Day when she teaches the female grandchildren about the finer points of table etiquette and wearing fancy hats.
Red, White and Blue Day focuses on patriotism. For a number of years, the children visited a local nursing home and performed their various showtime skills to the delight of residents.
Annually, the children learn “Grandpa’s G’s” — another chapter in the book — which includes the Golden Rule, Genealogy, God, Great Virtues, and other “g” titles.
There are plenty of tips in the book to turn any grandmother into a Granny Camp director. The book is a how-to manual about the importance of organizing each child’s belongings from the point of arrival to the point of departure.
The book teaches about the need for camp directors to have medical forms for each child, in case of emergency. Dierks made sure to include several tips for recipes, songs, games and field trips. Camp directors have a page of reminders for them like re-charging a cell phone at the end of the day.
Dierks also learned a few rules over the years. Granny Camp campers must be potty trained in order to be invited to come to camp. There are rules of conduct that the grandchildren must follow when they visit grandmother’s house, too.
Leafing through the book, it’s apparent that the focus is on finding fun ways for grandparents to share their love with their children. The values are communicated through family Olympics, going to church and praying together every day. Campers have done service projects in the past, too.
Six granddaughters and two grandsons, ages 8 to 12, are attending Granny Camp in the Dierks’ home for 12 days. It ends Aug. 1.
The choice of the Cedar Mountain Books name is another way that the Dierks share a value that is important to them: where they live. Their house stands upon Cedar Mountain. In a twist of irony, it is the same mountain that a much younger Don Dierks walked while working for the family forestry business, Dierks Lumber and Coal Co. (bought by Weyerhaeuser in 1969). Don Dierks has begun writing a book about the company history and anticipates its publication soon.
But both say their attention now is on getting “Granny Camp” to press so that they can begin step two of writing a book: marketing it.
Avery Dierks has given her grandparents their seal of approval.
“I really appreciate my grandmother’s doing that every year for us because there’s about 14 grandchildren and for her to get it all together and do all the things we do is really great,” she said. “It’s really fun because it’s the one time of year where I get to see all of my cousins.”
“Granny Camp! How To Bond With Your Grandchildren,” by Anne Dierks; illustrated by Mary Candyce Sanders, formerly of Hot Springs and now of Charlotte, N.C. 144 p. $19.95. Order: www.grannycamp.com. Churches and schools: inquire about using the book as a fund-raiser by writing Dierks directly at: anne@grannycamp.com.

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