Sunday, May 20, 2012

I’m not a stroke survivor. What am I doing here?

by Chuck Jones

I get asked at almost every camp why I’m volunteering my time and “muscle” for Retreat and Refresh Stroke Camp. What is my connection with strokes or the camp? Why am I attending these camps? I haven't had a stroke. I don’t have a relative Survivor attending these camps as most do. There has been at least one stroke survivor in my family history but that was a long, long time ago. I am not an employee of any medical institution that works with stroke survivors. So, why am I here?

To explain my interest, I always start out with a short history of my association with John and Marylee.  For you, I will go into more detail. And really, this is not about me, primarily, but about Marylee and John Nunley, the founders of this camp.
As you may know John and Marylee Nunley are the founders of Retreat and Refresh Stroke Camp, founded in 2004. I am friends with both and I started out helping on camp weekends on Saturdays only. At that time, there was only one Stroke Survivors camp a year at the Living Springs Camp Ground near Lewistown, Illinois. Lewistown is about 45 miles south west of Peoria, Illinois.  John and Marylee live in Peoria.  Why did the camp start out at Living Springs Camp Ground in Lewistown 45 miles away? Well, that could be a topic for another blog article…some day.
John and I both worked at Caterpillar, Inc back in the 70’s. I'm not sure when John started at Cat but I started in 1970. John started out in Joliet, Illinois, which is about 128 miles north of Peoria and I started out in East Peoria, Illinois -  the Heart of  Illinois - which is about midway between Chicago and St. Louis.  John started in the factory and worked his way up into computers and finally ended up in Caterpillar’s Information Services Department in East Peoria in building AD.  I started out in computers in building A, in East Peoria, in May 1970, as a Tape and Disk Systems Programmer. Yes, we actually used tape in those days. Also, punched cards that contained our program code. I don’t remember exactly when John and I met but it was in building AD in East Peoria after it was built in 1979 to house Caterpillar’s Corporate Information Services staff. John and I, if I remember correctly, ended up in Database Application Support together in that building, supporting similar applications. So that’s how I met John.

We parted ways for a few years as departments fragmented and permutated but, eventually, John and I ended up together again in the IMS Database Support section. John has a commanding knowledge of computer application languages and IMS databases. IMS is a hierarchical database product developed by Caterpillar and IBM back in the 60’s. (okay, wake up. I didn't mean to put you to sleep) I will tell you, if I had my own Database company, I would need only one John to have a successful business (well, maybe two, because one thing I've learned in the computer business, it’s always prudent to have a backup).

John married Marylee in 1996, and in January of 2001 John began to have a series of medical complications with pancreatitis. During that terrible time I coordinated the IMS team, and others who knew John around Cat, to provide visiting and other needs, such as grass cutting, leaf raking, etc. to help them. Those who have met John know how much a likable person he is. He has a lot of friends at Cat who were willing to help him and Marylee through such tough times. John was well on the way to recovery from pancreatitus when in September of 2001 he had a stroke. If you are involved with a stroke survivor in any way you know what that means.
Against her wildest dreams of how she saw John and her future unfold after their marriage, Marylee became involuntarily involved in the stroke survivor recovery process. She immediately noticed several shortcomings involved in that process. Who provides an environment where a survivor feels like a person again? Where can a survivor feel something like normal again, if only for a weekend? Marylee, being the person she is, decided there was a need for something like that and maybe she could do something about it. She and John had some past experience with running a camp for children so they decided to give it a try for stroke survivors.
Marylee, and her sister Sarah and her husband Boyd, had previous experience with running camps for kids with Cystic Fibrosis (thus the connection to the Lewistown location) so her logical conclusion was, why can’t this work with stroke survivors? Okay, if you’re still with me, you won’t find it too difficult to see how the now current camps evolved.

That’s the detailed history lesson I promised. Today we’re looking to have 25 camps a year plus a few MegaBrain exhibits thrown in for education. I don't know about you but to me that is some awesome growth! If you want to know more about the MegaBrain click on February in the Archives area to the right of your screen.

Now the reason for this blog article - Why am I involved? As I stated earlier, I began because of my friendship with John and Marylee. After attending a couple of these camps I was able to see how much of a positive effect the camp had on the well being of the survivors AND their caregivers. Not only the camp as a whole, with themed activities, crafts, and fun and games, fishing, and rock climbing, but what impresses me the most is for an hour or so all the survivors get together in one room and all the caregivers gather in another to share their progress, hardships, experiences, encouragement, and hope. And you wouldn’t believe the benefits, emotional healing, and hope that leaves those two rooms.

I'm proud to be a part of that.


  1. chuck, I cry tears of joy and thankfulness for Stroke Camp. The two hours I get at Camp with other caregivers give me the strength and hope to continue for another day, week, month and year. Thank you.

    1. Joan,
      It is so good to hear that. But it's people like you who make this whole thing work. Without the care and patience caregivers sacrifice for their survivor we wouldn't be able to do the things we do. So thank you for helping us succeed. And I'll bet there is another caregiver who has drawn that same strength from you.


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