Our evening program last night was a talk with our very own Peg Champney. I’m sure many know that Peg was the founder of FMC, along with her friend Jean Putnam. For those who know Peg personally, you probably know her as someone who listens much more than she talks. So getting to hear her speak about her life and the beginnings of FMC for an extended time was an unqualified delight.
Peg began by telling us about her early years, growing up during the Great Depression. She told us about her time in high school… (“My teenage years were the worst years of my life. I was so worried about what people thought back then.”) …And finding her way to Antioch for college… (“I arrived at Antioch and immediately thought, ‘This is my place; these are my people.'”)
My favorite story from her youth was hearing about her first violin. There was a chance for Peg to buy a violin for about $18 and her parents told her that if she could earn the money to buy that violin, then she could take lessons with a teacher who was offering free instruction. Her father got her an after-school job working at a stand in town. She worked ten hours a week for 33 cents an hour and was able to “save up enough money after not too long to buy that little violin.” Peg told us that seeing that violin for the first time is one of her clearest memories from her childhood. Opening the case and seeing the beautiful purple velvet lining with purple ribbons to keep the bow in place and the little violin, she thought it was the most beautiful thing she had ever seen.
Years later, after arriving in Yellow Springs to attend Antioch, Peg was invited to breakfast by a new acquaintance, Ava Champney. As it happened, Ava had apparently been inviting women over who might be a good match for her son, Ken. As Peg said, “I guess sometimes scheming mothers can get things right because I fell in love with one of the two draft resisters in Yellow Springs, which was a requirement for me.” Ken worked for the Yellow Springs News at the time and, as a conscientious objector, expected that he would eventually be arrested. He eventually spent 20 months in prison early in their marriage. So Peg learned to operate the machinery used to print the Yellow Springs News and dropped out of Antioch to continue printing the paper in his stead. After Ken’s release, they went on to raise seven children, including foster children.
As the Champney children grew, Peg found herself wanting a camp that her kids could attend in the summer. Some of the kids had had great experiences at other music camps so the idea of starting a music camp that also embraced their Quaker values seemed like a natural idea. Peg teamed up with Jean Putnam and the first summer of FMC took place at Olney Friends School in 1980 with 17 campers. After that, the camp grew into what it is today. The campers listening had many questions about what camp was like at the beginning compared to what it is like now. They were amused to find out that janitorial was instituted by a committee of campers, rather than adults. Campers were also the first to request having collection, a short time of silent worship, twice a day, instead of just once.
Peg said many times throughout the discussion that she has often felt that FMC has something watching over it. Despite mistakes and times when things did not go as well as hoped, somehow FMC has always flourished. The right people have been there at the right time to do the right things when they were needed. But without Peg, not only would FMC not exist at all, it would not have continued through 37 years and for many more yet to come. So I’m glad that we have her watching over us as well.