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Ligonier camp on path to create new legacy

| Sunday, April 29, 2012, 6:44 p.m.

When the late Alene Claycomb became head cook at the First Presbyterian Church Camp in Ligonier Township in 1949, a family tradition was born.

Claycomb oversaw the preparation of meals for the camp's young visitors through 1955. The next year, her teenage daughter, Sarah, began helping in the kitchen at the 543-acre facility during her summer vacations.

Sarah Shean, who married Kenneth Shean in 1958, became head cook/kitchen manager in 1989, the year the camp's name changed to Ligonier Camp & Conference Center.

"During my time there, our staff specialized in home cooking, from breads to iced sweet rolls, to raisin bread, to doughnuts, cakes and pies. We were known by the campers particularly for our good dessert foods," said Shean, 68, who worked as a kitchen employee for Derry Area School District from 1972 to 2003.

Shean joined about 100 invited guests Saturday at a ceremony for the groundbreaking of the camp's new $2.9 million dining hall.

The hall, scheduled to open in June, is part of "A Legacy of Life," a $5.5-million capital improvement project to enhance summer programs offered to children ages 8-17, said Executive Director Patrick Myers. The current summer program incorporates a variety of one- and two-week sessions pertaining to leadership and teamwork, Myers said.

The difference between the current dining hall and the new facility will be vast, said Mike Pettit, president of the campaign's executive team.

"The (new) dining hall will have one side for campers, a central serving station and the other side will be used for conferences," Pettit said. "The building will also include a unique tower feature that has an indoor climbing wall."

This summer, the camp reached its highest attendance, with 1,730 campers from across America and 13 countries, including Japan. The improvements will better equip 11 year-round staff members and more than 150 summer staff of counselors and counselors-in-training.

Myers asked Shean to serve as a consultant next season to head cook April Pasternak.

"I'll be talking with April about recipes for cooking and baking for large quantities of people," Shean said.

Shean's son, Larry, 42, the camp facilities director since 1998, will aid Pittsburgh-based Burchick Construction Co. Inc. in building the new dining hall.

Also present for the groundbreaking were Lewis Crilley, 78, of Whitehall and Jim Hall, 76, of Mt. Lebanon.

They met as campers in the 1940s and worked together as camp counselors in the 1950s. Their children and grandchildren attended the camp.

"It's quite a legacy, I'll say," Hall said.

Hall's father, the late DeWitt Hall, helped discover the grounds where Christian camping was first offered in 1914. In 1942, the center's property, formerly the Harry Denny Estate, was purchased by First Presbyterian Church of Pittsburgh.

In 18 months, "Legacy of Life" backers have raised $3.6 million, with $1.5 million from the R.K. Mellon Foundation and an additional $1 million from an anonymous donor, Myers said.

It has funded a swimming pool and a sewage pump station, Myers said. Two rooms have been renovated in the lodge, which will be completely redone. Burchick Construction donated time to build a new boys' bathhouse, turning what was projected as a $2 million job into one that cost $60,000.

"Everybody just works together up here to get the job done," Larry Shean said.

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