By William K. Alcorn
Lyder led Camp Fitch from a summer camp to a year-round operation.
YOUNGSTOWN — “In the early days, I more than once awoke to find my Volkswagen bug in the middle of the camp dining hall,” said William L. Lyder with a laugh, as he recalled with great fondness his 42 years as director of the Youngstown YMCA’s Camp Fitch, located on Lake Erie between Conneaut, Ohio, and Erie, Pa.
Lyder, 66, retired from the position Jan. 20, after leading the evolution of the camp from a nine-week summer camp to a year-round facility that, in addition to camping, offers outdoor education classes for 65 or 70 area school districts each year, and many specialty camps.
Lyder, a member of the first graduating class at Beaver Local High School in Columbiana County in 1959, began his career with the “Y” while attending Youngstown University full time, when the Central Y provided physical education classes for the university.
He was an honor student at Beaver Local, where he was a three-year starter on its basketball team, and was active in Rogers Methodist Church, of which he is still a member.
Lyder said he started in electrical engineering at YU but was “bored to death.” He also had considered going into the ministry and loved sports and decided the “Y” offered a perfect combination of his interests — sports and Christianity.
He expanded the Hi-Y and Tri-Hi-Y clubs to the point that it was necessary to rent school facilities to accommodate their physical education programs because the Central YMCA didn’t have the time or gym space for them.
Then, in 1965, he became an assistant director under Halbe Brown at Camp Fitch and also the director of its Boys Camp.
A year later, Brown left, and H.H. (Swede) Hunneke, Youngstown YMCA chief executive officer, hired Lyder as executive director of Camp Fitch, which was a department of the YMCA at the time.
Camp Fitch soon achieved branch status, and in 1968, when its facilities were winterized, went to year-round camping.
At the same time, Lyder also was named community extension director for the “Y” and started programs in Columbiana, East Palestine and Lisbon. Within three years, the Columbiana County extension program had 3,000 members, he said.
With both programs growing, however, Lyder had to choose between the two, and he chose Camp Fitch.
He said he took his wife, the former Darla Watson, whom he had married Aug. 11, 1961, “kicking and screaming” to live at Camp Fitch. She was a stay-at-home mom at the time and had been head bookkeeper for Firestone Bank in Lisbon,
“I told her it would be a good summer living on the shore of Lake Erie. We had one room with two bunk beds and a kitchenette we had to share with the rest of the staff,” he said.
Despite her early misgivings, “Darla quickly became involved in Camp Fitch and was very valuable to us over the years” as business manager, he said.
“I loved it. I was probably as sad, or more so than my husband when we left. You make so many lifelong friends,” Darla Lyder said.
Lyder said they plan to travel during their retirement, but he expects they will “motel it. I don’t think I’ll be able to get her to go camping,” he said of his wife.
“Our kids all accepted camp very well. I think they enjoyed it, but my oldest child, William [who they call Brett] confessed after he was grown and married that he had resented a little not being able to be involved in organized summer sports at home,” Lyder said.
He said Brett and his daughter, Michele, however, became counselors and village directors for various age groups at Camp Fitch.
Michele Ericson, Brett, and the Lyders’ other daughter, Heather Burkett, all live on the same road in Elkrun Township in Columbiana County.
The evolution of Camp Fitch has been amazing, not only in programs but in physical facilities, Lyder said.
Many buildings were added for year-round activities, the old dining and recreation halls were renovated, and all other buildings either were renovated or replaced, he said.
“Most of the last 10 years of my career was spent on fundraising and construction to put the facility in good condition for the next 40 years,” Lyder said.
A recent campaign raised $5 million to build a new dining hall and remodel the old dining hall into a multiple-use facility, with a kitchen in between them which can serve 1,000 people at one time, he said.
“I feel blessed to have been a part of it. Camp Fitch has had so many people who believed in its missions. Everything was done with private donations. No ‘Y’ funds or fees were used,” he said.
The facility has changed, but the traditions and spirit have not, he said.
“One of my joys is to hear returning alumni say the camp is modernized, but it feels the same,” Lyder said. “I’ve had a dream career. It let me be a kid all my life, with young people around me.”