Saturday, September 13, 2008

Autobiography--My debt to the Rev. Frank Buckley

I've neglected this personal blog a bit lately, but for those of you readers who check in from time to time or trickle by, I've decided to start to be a little more autobiographical.

Many a year ago (but not too many) I was a bratty, funny-looking small child. My parents were not wealthy, not by a long shot. They always insisted that we were middle-middle-class, but looking back now, I don't think I would say that. My dad was a wood finisher and unionized in Chicago, so he made a decent-enough wage for someone with no education beyond high school--the kind of job that I understand is increasingly rare nowadays. But sending two children to Christian school was a huge drain on the family finances. So in dealing with my peers I had to contend not only with my own unpleasant personality but also with the odd clothes which were the only things we could afford. For several years, when I outgrew a dress, it became a shirt, to be worn over pants.

I have a tiny, dark, black-and-white photo of myself at age seven or eight, in one of these dresses-turned-shirts, my hair in two ponytails, sitting on the knee of Rev. Frank Buckley, a child evangelist who came every year to the camp we went to in the summers. (As you can see, the photo above is not this one but a clearer one.)

That camp, Camp Manitoumi in Lowpoint, IL, was the most beloved, beautiful spot on earth to me. I won't go on about it at the moment but may do so in a later post. Suffice it to say that my greatest sympathy for people who talk about "patriotism as loving the soil" comes not when I think about my actual home, which was in the ugly and smelly megalopolis of Chicago, but when I think about the place where I spent every possible moment in the summer--Manitoumi.

Pastor Buckley must have been in his forties at that time, though it was hard to tell. His very short, dark hair was just greying at the temples. He loved children as I think it is given to few active, handsome men in their forties to love children, especially when the children are not their own. Every year, year after year, he came to camp and spoke twice a day to large numbers of assembled children for a good, long time. He had a dummy named Charlie, and I never once got tired of their routines, even though I had them memorized after a few years. He led the singing, he did the ventriloquism act, and he gave the sermons. He was the whole show. One man. Occasionally he brought his grown son, and they played snappy trumpet duets, but I don't remember much about the son. As I remember it, Pastor Buckley ran the children's programs for family weeks for many years. That would have been a large age-range, from perhaps seven years old until the children were old enough that their parents took them into the adult services. He did junior weeks for eight- and nine-year-olds, and I was thrilled to find by the time I was in the 11- and 12-year-old weeks that he was doing those, too.

Pastor Buckley was a fundamentalist of the old school. The only type of clothes I can ever remember seeing him wear were dark pants and a blindingly white, starched shirt, sometimes with a tie. As I recall, he dressed like this--without the tie--even when playing softball or riding a horse. There was no air conditioning at camp, and his only concessions to the heat were to unbutton his cuffs, roll his shirtsleeves up, and unbutton the top button of his collar. He gave amusing sermons against women's makeup, sermons that were impossible to take offense at because he wasn't ranting, just telling "stories" (the factuality of which I rather doubt) like the one about the time he said to a woman wearing green eye-shadow, "Excuse me, ma'am, but I think you have something growing on your eyelids." (He had a soft accent that I, Yankee that I was, called "Southern." I would now say it was probably a southern Illinois or a Missouri accent.) Nonetheless, I knew he meant it about the silliness of makeup, and I took it to heart, sort of. When I was twelve, some of the other girls in the cabin shared their eye makeup with me. This insanitary activity made me feel quite grown up and pretty (though I must have looked ridiculous), until I ran into Pastor Buckley. I was petrified. Would he say anything? He wasn't the sort of man you wanted to trifle with. He gave me a hug and chatted a bit. Didn't say anything about the makeup. I was tremendously relieved to think he hadn't noticed. But looking back and remembering his penetrating eyes, I'm pretty sure he noticed everything. And understood, too.

The thing about Pastor Buckley was that he stood no nonsense, but he loved the children so much that they trusted and respected him entirely. He never had the slightest trouble with discipline, no matter the size of his child audience. I do not know how it was with other children, because I didn't pay much attention to other children, but I knew that I could tell that he loved me, personally. He watched me grow up to the age of about fourteen or fifteen, when I saw him last. At that time he was still doing the 11 and 12-year-old weeks. I was a worker at camp. That meant, if I could stand the rather physically strenuous regimen, and if I didn't do anything to get myself in trouble, that I could stay there and work all summer long. I remember now playing a piano solo one of those years for chapel. And Pastor Buckley said to the whole group, "I remember Lydia when she was little. All the other kids picked on her. And look at her now." Little did he know (or maybe he did know, after all) that there was still more than a bit of tension between me and my peers. I still had a long way to go to grow up. But the unconditional love and pride in his voice made me feel that I'd come a long way already, and it helped me to keep going.

May God bless all His servants, including Pastor Buckley, who work to bring children to a knowledge of Himself.

Update: I've managed to scan and upload, above, a different picture from the one I describe. The scan of the black and white turned out very fuzzy, and this one is better. I suppose I am ten or eleven here. The quality still is a bit fuzzy. I see from the picture that Pastor Buckley is not wearing the trademark white button-up shirt here, so obviously my memory on that point was faulty.

Update #2: Commentator Lori, below, reminds me, and my parents confirm, that Pastor Buckley's dummy was named Daniel, not Charlie. Extra Thoughts is happy to correct the error, and it's really neat to have someone stop by whose life was also touched by Pastor Buckley.


William Luse said...

Aw, that's sweet. Do you ever wonder where the Pastor is now?

"patriotism as loving the soil"

I'm aware that there are those who say this, but it seems an awful narrow understanding of patriotism, unless "loving the soil" is meant to imply a deep gratitude to God for giving me a home on this earth, among people who treasure each other because they love the truth first. This can happen even in ugly smelly Chicago.

I'd sure like to see that picture of you on Reverend Frank's knee.

William Luse said...

Btw, the link to the Camp didn't work for me.

Lydia McGrew said...

I'm baffled about the camp link. It works for me from more than one search engine (IE and Firefox). It's just

There isn't a whole lot there, especially not in terms of pictures. I'm sorry about that. I'd like to see some panoramic scenes of what the place looks like now.

I think you have a good point about patriotism and people. Home is the place where, when you go there, they have to take you in, as Frost said.

I have twenty-two-year-old address, it looked like in rural Illinois, for Pastor Buckley. I had someone get his address for me when I was getting married to send him an invitation. By my recollection, he and/or his wife wrote a nice note back. I don't actually know how old he was; I would have said about ten years old than my own parents, which would put him in his early eighties now. I should try the address again.

The picture I describe in the post would certainly not turn out well as a scan, because it is so small and dark. But I have a later one of the three of us (me, Pastor Buckley, and Charlie) where I'm perhaps three or four years older. It's in color and a lot clearer. I may see if I can get over technophobia sufficiently to figure out how to scan it and post it.

alaiyo said...

Thanks for sharing, Lydia. We need to write about those people who have touched us to encourage one another to love and good deeds. I love the picture you added!


Shelly said...
This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.
William Luse said...

Looks like you got over your technophobia. And I don't think your "funny looking." You were a kid, and by definition cute.

William Luse said...

uh, "you're"...

Lydia McGrew said...

Bill, you have a good point: Being kind to our younger selves is really part of being adult _now_ and having the right attitude to children generally. If I think of myself as a child as "funny-looking," then isn't this opening the way up to have a similarly dismissive attitude about other children who don't meet some silly cultural notion of beauty? I'll have to keep that in mind.

William Luse said...

I can also see the intelligence in your eyes. It's disturbing.

Lydia McGrew said...

I dunno. I'll tkae your word for it, but it's a pretty fuzzy photo still.

Jeff Culbreath said...

Marvelous tribute, Lydia. One can't read too many of these.

Anonymous said...

Hi Lydia,
I was looking for information on Rev. Buckley tonight and came across your story...I was 7 at camp when I accepted Christ after listening to a message Rev. Buckley gave. I remember him well. Oh, by the way his dummy's name was Daniel, (I'm pretty sure)
At this young age I hoped to have my own Dummy and go on the road. Funny memory! Thanks for writing about him.
Aloha, Lori

Lydia McGrew said...

Thanks for stopping by and commenting, Lori. By golly, you're right! His dummy _was_ named Daniel. I should update the main post. In fact, I just saw my mom and dad today on a day trip to their city, and they even confirmed that the dummy was named Daniel. Memory after the age of, er, right, is not always reliable.

By chance, I met yet another person today who had seen Pastor Buckley speak when he was a child, in his case at Winona Lake.

Brenda Varanasi said...

I loved Buck Frankley, as we called him. One time he took Chris Boyd (Sproles) and I to the A&W in Metamora and as we left he told us to walk backwards and say hello as we left, so they would think we were just coming in and not give us a check! To me that was so funny and I have used that many times.
One year at campI was on my usual diet and had lost quite a bit and he sent Chris to town to buy me a new dress from him and his wife, that was so nice of him!
They had their son Bruce later in life, used to joke that their kids didn't give them grandkids, so they had their own!

The First Baptist Church of Littleton said...

Thanks for the memories. Pastor Buckley was an amazing man.

There are more camp pics available at

We are planning another camp staff reunion for May31- June 2 this year.

There is also a Manitoumi Staff Alumni page on Facebook with lots of pics.

Larry Lindow

Lydia McGrew said...

Brenda and Larry, thanks so much for commenting!

Brenda, that story about walking backwards and saying, "Hello" is so much like Pastor Buckley!

Larry, I did subsequently find some of those pics at the alumni page and also on a Facebook page. What someone like me who has been away for so many years is always wanting to know is, "What has changed? What looks different?"

It's a joy to me just to know that the camp continues.

Lloyd said...

I too was saved under Frank Buckley and "Daniel".

The First Baptist Church of Littleton said...

By the way I learned this summer that it is no longer politically correct to refer to Daniel as a "dummy" rather he is a "manikin american" :-)!

Lydia McGrew said...


Tim Ahlgrim said...

My cousin and I would fool around and he'd sit on my knee. He was Daniel and i was Frank Buckley. We sang"I keep in touch with JESUS and He keeps touch with me..." One of his quotes have followed me around too. "Jesus in shoe leather"is what living for the Lord looked like. I have other stories but they can wait.

Thanks Lydia, Good to hear from you.

Lydia McGrew said...

Thanks for stopping by, Tim. Your stories area always welcome.

I used to love the way he'd make Daniel talk after putting him away in the suitcase. It really sounded like the sound was coming out of the suitcase. Don't know how he did it.

I think about all the genuine talent that went into children's ministry at that time. Ventriloquism was one thing; we also had talented chalk artists who came to be the children's speakers at camp. I wonder if technology has replaced those things now.

Lydia McGrew said...

If any of the new commenters on this post should happen by again, you might also like this post about Uncle Walt from camp:

Anonymous said...

I grew up with Frank Buckley coming to the churches that my dad pastored and he was a family friend. I remember many of his jokes and songs by memory. I am wondering Lydia if this is the same Lydia that has a hymn sing in her home. We home school in Kalamazoo and if this is the same person we have been to the hymn sing at your house. It was quite a few years ago.

Anonymous said...

What an amazing man and servant of God, Frank loved kids and was never in doubt of where God's perfect will was for him. I remember the summer vacation bible schools under the tent at Bible Baptist in Romeoville and Frank and Daniel performing so well that the thunderstorm outside was barely a distraction. Daniels line of "Look at all the girls" never wore out and the coveted trip to the treasure chest was always a joyful experience. God bless him and you for writing about one of God's great saints.

John Scott

Anonymous said...

I don't even know why I Googled Frank Buckley and Daniel, but yours is the article that came up. I'm glad to see others have fond memories of this man and his talents, and equally fond memories of Camp Manitoumi.

I remember morning Reveille and cabin inspections, the boys side and the girls side, morning mess hall, and the commissary down below and behind the mess hall. Archery, making things out of copper plates, and the last night bonfire. Yes, I officially had my first date there and even got to hold her hand.

I also remember that very hot big center chapel, Bible drills, and the big fan overhead of the pulpit. I also remember a dive bomber crow we all named Pete who would terrorize that chapel. However, Pete got his due one day when we were there in chapel when he decided to go through that fan. He did, but not in one piece.

However it should be pointed out that Manitoumi came up well into the history of the camp. At first it was called Camp ILLMO, for being at or near the Illinois/Missouri border. Pastor Warfield was the first camp director, and my parents knew him well, as he had been the pastor of the Baptist Church in Deerfield Illinois earlier. The official first year was supposed to be age 8, but the folks got special permission for me to go a year earlier.

The first year we were there, there was only the girl's side, and we had to divide up by cabins. After that, the boys side was built and all the cabins were named by bird names.

But getting back to Frank Buckley, the man was quite amazing. And I don't remember him ever without a white shirt and tie either. I have no recollection that he was or was not married, but I don't think he had kids.

I loved that man so much that I wanted to name my baby sister Frank Buckley, though of course Mom would have none of that. I tried to compromise on Daniel, but she didn't think much better of that. I felt like this refusal was quite the slap in the face to this dear man and his dummy. So whether Frank had any juniors or not, I don't know. But he at least had one kid that wanted to give him one.

Thanks for the trip down memory lane.

Lydia McGrew said...

Thanks for stopping by. Yes, he definitely was married, and I can even picture his wife but don't remember her name. Tall woman who would be called "handsome" in old-fashioned books. She had surprisingly short hair, possibly because of the summer. He also had a good-looking son, his "spittin' image" who came with him and played trumpet duets with him some years. I would say Pastor Buckley's son was probably in his early twenties at that time.

I remember that it was Camp Ill-Mo at first as well. The boys cabins all have animal names (Lynx, Otter, etc.). The first year of family camp they tried putting all the women into women's cabins rather than allowing families to stay together. That didn't work too well, so after that they put partitions between the cabins and each family could rent a cabin. We brought a tent after that first year.

Manitoumi is still going strong and has a Facebook page. The one sad thing to me is that they no longer have horses. :-( They say the kids didn't ride them anymore. What's wrong with kids these days!

But they have put in a new zipline just this year.

Brian and Gail Clover said...

Thanx for the memories. I remember playing trombone with Rev. Frank. I did find out he had passed away. He set a high standard for evangelism. Brian Clover

Walter Stucke said...

I attended First Baptist Chuech of Lockport, IL. That was one of Pastor Buckley's home churches. I remember him and Daniel well. I remember Daniel calling me by name on my fifth birthday during a building dedication at our church. Pastor Buckley died on April 4, 2002 at age 72. His wife, Margean Buckley, died on August 3, 2003 at age 69. I miss them both.

Lydia McGrew said...

Thank you, Walter.

Remembering men of God is one way to honor them and to thank God for the gifts he has given to the church in such men.

Sherry Strawn said...

I got to see Pastor Buckley a lot as a child.. we used to go to Winona Lake in Indiana every year and he would be there with Daniel.We also attended his church in Lockport,my parents were friends of his so we would go over to the Buckley's house.
I was blessed to take both of my daughters to see him when they were little before he passed away. I remember being able to pick something out of the treasure chest.Great childhood memories!!!

Lydia McGrew said...

This comment by Cindy Cline Rogerson was accidentally deleted when I was attempting to moderate it to post. I am posting the content here. My apologies for the mistake, and thank you for the comment. LM

Hi, My name is Cindy Cline Rogerson. Frank Buckley and his wife, Marjean along with his two children, Brenda and Bruce were my next door neighbors for year years while I was growing up. We all lived in Burlington, Iowa. This was before they had their third child, Brian. I have such wonderful memories of playing hours on end with Brenda and walking to school together. My brother was great friends with their son, Bruce. We have old home movies of our two families together. I remember when Frank was constructing Daniel. I also remember when he decided to become a youth minister and use Daniel. They sold their house and moved to Chicago so that Frank could go to Moody Bible college if I remember correctly. I was heart broken at the time and so was Brenda. I believe my mother told me that both Frank and Marjean had both passed away. I know Marjean had cancer and I am not sure about Frank. I think their daughter, Brenda became a school teacher and I think their son, Bruce taught band. I never knew there youngest son, Brian because he was born long after they moved but I remember my mom telling me that they had a baby and they named him Brian because my younger brother's name was also Brian.

Joan Arnold said...

Hi. My name is Joan Arnold and I grew up in Sioux City, Iowa. Frank Buckley came to speak at our Baptist church for a week of special services, two years in a row if I remember correctly. I believe he was friends with the pastor at the time, Sanford Ricker. I was 11-12 years, a very awkward age for me. I'd grown about 5-6 inches in one year, meaning at 5'9" I was taller than most others my age, even some adults. (To give just one example, when I went trick-or-treating with other friends from sixth grade, we went to a house where the woman wouldn't give me any candy because she thought I was too old. Truth was, I was the youngest in our group. Needless to say, that was the last time I went trick-or-treating.)

One night Frank Buckley asked me on stage during the meeting to help him with something. He had taken my hand and was swinging it back and forth, while we stood there, in an exaggerated way. No doubt this was intended to be cute and amusing for the audience, but I didn't like it. Wasn't mad or anything, just didn't like it since it was just on the edge of being an embarrassment. So at the bottom of the next swing, I pushed back against the swinging and stopped it. He looked down at me, surprised. I have no idea what expression I had on my face, but he smiled at me and didn't try to keep swinging my hand. And after that, he remembered my name and spoke to me in as if we were friends now.

I've always appreciated that he was willing to respect the wishes of a kid, and on top of that, like you for sticking up for yourself. That wasn't often the case, at least in my experience. I did a search today to see if there was any information about him. I am sorry to see he and his wife have passed. Thank you for this post and the comments, so I could learn more about him.

God bless,

Joan Arnold said...

Wanted add one more thing. I don't remember anything he ever said, but I remember he was really good at both the ventriloquism and the magic tricks he did while he was at our church.

Joan Arnold

Drew D. said...

In conversation this evening the subject of Frank and Daniel came up so thought I'd goggle to see if I could find anything out. We were so blessed to run into this blog and sweet memories of Frank and Daniel. We had many occasions to see them at various churches and Winona Lake. Thank you for this post - God Bless!

Lydia McGrew said...

Thanks, Drew! Guess who I ran into just a couple of weeks ago?

Pastor Bob Searles, who was so involved with Manitoumi in the 1970s!

I was speaking at Allendale Baptist Church here in Michigan at a conference, and Pastor Searles's daughter came up and asked me what my maiden name was and whether I used to sing when I was a little girl at Manitoumi. She went back and told Pastor Bob, and he came over and recognized me. He was so happy to see me again after all these years and told the whole audience during question and answer that he remembered me from when I was a little girl.

There are Facebook pages for both Manitoumi and for Manitoumi Staff Alumni. The only reason I didn't post about it on the latter is that I'm on a long (indefinite) Facebook hiatus right now. But you might want to check out the Facebook pages.

Unknown said...

My sister's and I all went to Camp Manitoumi too! We all lived Pastor Buckley and were so excited when we could go during his weeks! Thanks for the sweet memories. (We found your blog while discussing, via texting each other, the name of Pastor Buckleys dummy)

Lydia McGrew said...

Ha! As you see, I got the name of the dummy wrong at first myself!