Bio: Member of a Episcopalian retreat for teenagers from Memphis, TN who stayed at White Grass in 1965-66. Descriptor: Discovering God in the Tetons, Father Dan Matthews as her childhood facilitator and ashes at the Chapel of Transfiguration.
Julie’s Story: White Grass and Dan Matthews made me the person I am today.
My name is Julie Bonds (Greene) and I was raised in Memphis, TN and attended an Episcopal girl school and church during my teenage years. When I was 8 yrs old, I met Dan Matthews, who was in charge of the children’s ministry at Holy Communion Episcopal Church. That day changed my life.
I, like most young girls, loved horses! I was lucky enough to get my own horse at 11 yrs old. It was my dream come true, (I thought!).
But when I was 14 and 15 yrs old, Fr. Dan provided me an opportunity to attend WESTWARD HO, a camp for teens (that he organized) to experience the west and address teenage issues in a safe and positive group. In order to do this it was necessary to make the trip across the USA to Moose, Wyoming in a bus with 40 other teenagers from across Tennessee. What is wrong with this man? Cooped up with all the teenagers, both male and female on a bus! I remember sleeping in the overhead luggage bins (we were small enough to do that at that time!) and in the floor ways! What a life! The trip itself was wonderful and then……….
We arrive at White Grass Dude Ranch at the foot of the Tetons! I remembering getting goose bumps and thinking when we got off the bus, “THIS IS GOD’S COUNTRY so there definitely is a GOD!”
It was too beautiful to put into words but I KNEW it would change my life.
It was PERFECT…we were assigned small cabins with wood stoves to keep us warm. I had never been responsible for my own heat, much less a wood stove; having to get up during the night and stoke the fire, but what an adventure!
When we first arrived, the wranglers determined what level of a rider we were. I was excited because I was assigned the more challenging horses because I had been riding for years. I later was told by Fr. Dan that Mr. Galey allowed us to come out to the ranch before the tourist season opened so we could ride the horses after a winter of free range. So, we were the group that got them ready for the upcoming guests “because teenagers will do anything”. I, along, with many other young girls, had a crush on a REAL COWBOY, a wrangler name Willie. I think he was American Indian and very handsome.
After the day’s activities, we often played football in the huge field in front of the lodge. I have pictures of us building a pyramid as high as the Tetons! After dinner, we would have discussions on all types of issues facing teenagers. Fr. Dan was a man before his times, and he would discuss actual topics we needed to hear but no one would talk about. He discussed religion, sex, dating, marriage, kindness, respect, etc. These discussions did a world of good for me, since I was a shy, sheltered teenager.
We attended Sunday church service at the Chapel of the Transfiguration. This experience, also, was melted into my mind. Going to a log cabin church, in JEANS, with just a picture window behind the altar, showing off the beautiful creation of GOD, the Grand Teton!..Yep, God lives here, no doubt!
We went on a float trip down the Snake River with Barker Ewing Float Trips and floated for 10 miles, learning about the wildlife and the geological history of the area. The next year, the second timers got to learn how to mountain ice climb. We were taken high in the mountains, where there was still snow and ice, given an ice pick and told to fall down and slide down the mountain, stopping ourselves with the pick. At first, I thought this would be the end, but then I found out how wonderful and exciting it was. Again, another self esteem boost that Fr. Dan knew would affect teenager lives……POSITIVE self esteem!
At White Grass, I learned the importance of everything God made and could easily appreciate that statement just by looking around. I learned to respect NATURE as well as all people. The beauty of the area was a teacher in itself!
Now, how has White Grass and Dan Matthews continued to influence me approximately 55 yrs later?
White Grass has always been in my memory and I often thought of it during the many years. Dan Matthews confirmed me; married me 2 times; performed the memorial service for my husband; and has been a close friend for 55 years. He is still as dynamic as he ever! Ironically, he and his wife, Deener, (who was also a camp chaperone), currently live 25 miles from me. I keep in touch with them and will see them tomorrow when he preaches at a nearby church.
As a result of loving the area, my husband and I moved to Jackson in 2003. My dream had come true! White Grass was in disrepair but it was a great place to go in the fall to listening to the elk bugle! While living in Jackson, several things were connected to my Westward Ho trip….1. we attended The Chapel of the Transfiguration and in the summer, we were in charge of communion, greeting guests, and collecting the offering. I also ran into another couple who had been counselors at Westward Ho, and had decided to move there also! 2. I also worked for Barker Ewing Float Trips (the same one we went on when I was 14yrs old) and became friends with the owners. 3. We often went to the Pink Garter Theater, when Fr. Dan took us to see an old west CAN CAN show! 4. We moved to NC in 2008 but have returned every September to Jackson so we could hear the elk bugle. This September, my husband’s ashes will be buried in the Memory Garden at the Chapel of the Transfiguration. There is no more perfect spot in the world to place your earthly remains! I, too, when it is my time, will have my ashes buried there too. I will be back home!
Thank you Reverend Daniel P Matthews for introducing me to White Grass and the Jackson Hole area. It changed my life more than any other experience I have had!