By Amee Bohrer
The Active Age
Emmie Barron, 12, crawls into the loft of her grandparents’ camper to admire glow-in-the-dark stars on the ceiling. Cousin Jett Haberly, 11, sits next to her and they dangle their feet over the ledge, laughing.
“They spoil us,” Emmie said of her grandparents, Jan and Ken Haberly. “They did this for us.”
The Haberlys bought a 1996 Ford Shasta camper that had been stolen from its owner and found abandoned several months later. By then, the camper reminded people of something out of two popular TV shows – “Hoarders” and “Breaking Bad.”
Initially, the Haberlys thought they might clean, repair and remodel the camper for their own children. But another plan took shape. They fixed it up for “Grandcamp,” the grandkids-only getaway they’ve taken since 2013. There are now eight grandchildren. Each year gets its own theme and all participants get matching t-shirts made by Beth Barron, mother of Emmie, Alice, 9, and Julia, 11.
“Our family has a t-shirt for every occasion,” Beth said.
For the past two years, they’ve taken the camper to El Dorado Lake as well. “I like that we have a bathroom,” Jan said. “I’m not good at roughing it.”
Making the camper safe and hospitable became a family project. For some jobs, everyone donned medical grade paper safety suits, gloves and masks to deal with serious mold and a toilet that probably qualified as a biohazard.
“We kept uncovering more that we wanted to do,” Ken said, from new flooring and electrical work to re-covering upholstery and sanding, scraping and painting walls. New red, white and blue curtains were installed all over.
“I like that we all helped fix up the camper,” grandson Jett Haberly said. “It was pretty dirty inside. It was old!”
Because of the coronavirus pandemic, it was impossible to book a weekend this summer for Grandcamp 2020. Instead, they decided to hold it over three weekdays this month.
This year seems extra special, after having gone so long without seeing each other while maintaining social distancing. Alice Barron could not understand why her grandmother could not give her a hug for so long. Jan said she has a cherry theme in her kitchen and that Alice sent her a card saying, “I’m cherry mad at you.” On Mother’s Day, Jan relented and hugged her.
Jan, who works at the Lord’s Diner, and Ken, who sells restaurant equipment, live in Wichita. Their children and grandchildren are split between here and Kansas City.
There’s one key rule for Grandcamp: phones and other electronic devices are only allowed on the drive there. Once arrived, everyone must put them away and focus on family, Jan said. The kids happily comply.
Jake Haberly, 14, says he enjoys the various activities that take place during Grandcamp, such as painting with pudding, experimenting with soda and Mentos candy and camping outside in a sleeping bag. Last year, a severe storm forced he and Emmie back inside the camper by 2 a.m.
“Lighting struck a tree,” Jacke said. “That’s bad luck.”
His favorite way to sleep in the camper is across the driver’s and front passenger seat, even though the dinette and couch fold out for additional sleeping.
“This has been something that’s really impacted my boys’ lives,” Ann Haberly said of her sons, Jake and Jett. “The addition of the camper is great because they all have a little niche and grandpa and grandma make it that much more special.”
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By Amee Bohrer