Kathy Friedman

Kathy Friedman Kirchner, now 71, of Aurora rides a horse at Red Raider Camp in the early 1960s. She is one of five campers on the reunion committee, planning several events in July. Reunion activities are being planned for the former site of the horseback riding camp in Russell Township and at the Chagrin Hunter Jumper Classic in Moreland Hills the weekend of July 13-14. The classic begins on July 4.

“I’m Red Raider born and Red Raider bred,” is a verse likely to be shared next month by dozens of former Red Raider Camp alumni at a special reunion.

The three-day gathering begins July 12 with some activities during the Chagrin Hunter Jumper Classic at the Cleveland Metroparks Polo Field in Moreland Hills. The reunion is sure to draw generations upon generations of horse lovers who attended the popular riding camp.

One of them will be Sally Burton, 56, who started at Red Raider soon after she was born. Both of her parents worked at the camp in Russell Township.

“For me, it was heaven on Earth and [there was] no place I would rather be,” the Bainbridge resident recalled.

She was a day camper until age 13 riding in camp horse shows and taking lessons year-round.

Camp activities didn’t stop at horseback riding. She recalled the hours of swimming with snakes, archery, crafts, hikes and playing capture the flag. Ms. Burton said that she still holds these memories close to her heart. She recalled singing on the bus ride to and from camp, including the coveted Red Raider song.

“I lived and breathed camp. It was the best time of my life,” she said.

The camp began in the early 1930s when Shaker Heights gym teacher Ralston Fox Smith leased 158 acres in Russell Township for kids to explore the great outdoors. It later became known as Red Raider Camp. Mr. Smith eventually bought the land and by 1954 owned 214 acres and more than 50 horses, according to reunion committee member Peg Weissbrod. More than 500 riders came every summer for lessons and 600 kids came for camp.

Ms. Weissbrod said that Mr. Smith also partnered with local school districts to bring kids for a week-long school camp. By 1970, Red Raider Camp owned more than 100 horses and created an equine assisted activity and therapy center. She said that Red Raider Camp became a place where every camper, rider and counselor learned responsibility and self-control while experiencing the Red Raider spirit.

“Fox and Billie Smith created something really special and it shows because decades later so many generations of people still talk so fondly about their days at Red Raider,” Ms. Burton said.

The reunion begins on July 12 with dinner and cocktails at ThornCreek Winery in Aurora. On July 13, former campers will be treated to an afternoon tour of the stables on the former camp grounds in Russell Township.

Sally Koepke, a trustee for the horse show and member of the camp reunion committee, helped secure the Polo Field for two reunion events. The Red Raider Reunion Dinner is July 13 at 5:30 p.m. Proceeds will go to Fieldstone Farms Therapeutic Riding Center in South Russell. Dinner will be catered by Warrens Spirited Kitchen, a horse-themed restaurant in Burton. The grand prix brunch on July 14 has been named in memory of Fox and Billie Smith.

Ms. Weissbrod said that reunions have been few and far between, with the last one taking place in 2008 at the West Woods Nature Center in Russell Township. Ms. Smith attended that reunion and died later that year.

The camp property was sold to a developer in 1980 and Transcom Builders created a housing development known as Red Raider Trails, according to the Red Raider Trails Homeowners Association.

Visit chagrinhunterjumperclassic.org/spectator-fun/ for more details or to make reservations for Red Raid Camp reunion events.

Julie Hullett has been a reporter for the Chagrin Valley Times since August of 2018 and covers Gates Mills, Hunting Valley, Moreland Hills, Orange, Pepper Pike and Woodmere. She graduated from John Carroll University with a journalism degree in 2018.

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