|Afton UMC mourns girl
who died in fire
Camp endowment will help other children
By Annette Bender
Last summer Jessica Dawn Guthry, 13, attended Buffalo Mountain Camp for the first time. She came back talking about the fun she had, the boys she met, and her wish to return to camp next year. Someday, she told her youth leader, she wanted to become a camp counselor.
Jessica won't return to camp next summer. On Sept. 16, she and her brother, Corey Wampler, 8, were victims of an early morning fire that swept through their duplex home in Mosheim, Tenn. Corey died immediately. Jessica suffered burns over 30 percent of her body and was flown to Vanderbilt Medical Center in Nashville. She died there on Sept. 20.
Now, the Johnson City District congregation that watched Jessica grow up has established an endowment in her memory. Members at Afton United Methodist Church hope the scholarship fund will allow them to send other children to Buffalo Mountain Camp for years to come.
I remember when she told me about church camp, I wanted to go back myself, said the Rev. Roy Fowler, pastor at Afton UMC and Stone Dam UMC. Jessica so inspired the youth and even the adults in her congregation about Buffalo Mountain, it was obvious that whatever was done to remember her, it had to involve camp, he said.
Child of Holston
The great-granddaughter of retired Holston minister, the Rev. Clyde Ricker, Jessica was raised by her great-grandparents for the first eight years of her life, family members say. Today, Clyde and Carmen Ricker still live across the street from Afton UMC.
She was at the house everyday, said Carmen Ricker, director of Community Ministries Food Bank in Greeneville, Tenn.
The Rev. Ricker, 78, served Greeneville Greystone Circuit for 18 years before retiring in 1988. He is now recovering from cardiovascular disease, his wife said.
Jessica's stepbrother, Corey, also attended Afton UMC when he wasn't visiting his father, Ricker said. Corey didn't attend camp last summer because Afton had limited funds and decided to send only the junior-high students in the church. Four Afton students, including Jessica, attended a younger youth session at Buffalo Mountain during the week of June 22, according to the Rev. Christina DowlingSoka, camp director.
I remember that group because the church went to so much trouble to get them to camp, DowlingSoka said. While some parents can afford their children's camp tuition, many churches pay for their young people to attend camp, Ricker said.
Camp is just about financially out of reach for families. I can say that because of the people I see every day, the food bank director said. If churches aren't financially able to send those kids, many of them can't go. In 2003, a typical week of camp for 7th and 8th graders cost $285.
With a worship attendance of 45, Afton struggled to send even a few children to camp, Youth Leader Rebecca Adams said. The Jessica Dawn Guthry Endowment Memorial at First Tennessee Bank will be used to send Afton children to Buffalo Mountain in the future, Adams said.
If a surplus of funds was available, the church would send children from outside the membership to camp, Adams and Fowler said.
Sabra Hinz was Jessica's counselor at Buffalo Mountain. Like many people, she remembers the teen-ager as an enthusiastic, happy girl who loved camp activities.
She and the other girls in the group really enjoyed singing before the meals and Thursday night campfire, Hinz said. It made me sad when I heard about what happened. I thought about the other kids who came with her and prayed for them and their families.
Both Adams and Fowler described Jessie as a mother hen who looked after her little brother as well as younger children at Afton UMC.
I can hear her to this day say, Corey, sit down,' Adams said. Jessica always joined Adams' teen-age daughter in participating in Lord's Acre Sales and other church events.
Jessie was brought up in the church. She was there every time to help, Adams said.
Today, Jessica's mother, Dawn Guthry, is still active at Afton but misses her children so much, she just can't go inside the church right now, Fowler says. Dawn and Jessica used to clean the church together but we had to get someone else. Both Jessica and Corey were acolytes, Fowler added.
During the week of Oct. 5-11, Greene County firefighters observed National Fire Prevention Week by distributing smoke detectors to more than 100 families who needed them. The dramatic response was prompted by the tragedy involving Jessica and Corey, whose home did not have smoke detectors, according to The Greeneville Sun.
Family and church members hope the endowment fund will spread Jessica's enthusiasm for camp to future participants and help the members of her youth group who miss her.
We feel Jessica would be extremely happy and pleased with this, Fowler said. She was a sweetheart. All the kids loved her.
To contribute, mail checks to the Jessica Dawn Guthry Endowment Memorial, Afton UMC, P.O. Box 485, Chuckey, TN 37641.