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Echo Hill Ranch Welcomes Campers Again After 13 Years

Minnie, Marcie, Bebe and Tom Friedman pose with the Echo Hill Ranch welcome sign in 1965. Photos courtesy of Echo Hill Ranch.

Story by David Norris

The year was 1953 and Texas was in the middle of one of the worst droughts in its history. About 18 miles southwest of Kerrville along an old dusty road, Tom Friedman, a decorated war hero, and his wife, Minnie, were about to embark on an adventure of a lifetime.

They’d just purchased nearly 300 acres of rough Texas backcountry land. They called it Echo Hill Ranch and already had a vision of turning it into a summer camp for kids. The dream was a big one and likely filled with lots of risk, yet Tom and Minnie pressed on. There’s no way they could have known, but that decision would end up changing the lives of countless children in the coming years and create memories to last lifetimes.

Generations of families would come to be known as Echo Hill campers. Families like the Markmans. Nearly 70 years later, Melisa Markman recalled some of those lasting memories she and her family made at the camp.
“My mother was a charter rancher, which means they were here the first year that Minnie and Tom Friedman opened the camp in 1953,” said Markman.

Markman and her brother grew up to become campers themselves and Markman eventually went on to become a camp counselor. Now her children are learning the beauty of Echo Hill Ranch.

“When my children were old enough, they also came out to the camp,” she said.

Texas has seen a lot of changes in the decades since Tom and Minnie founded the camp. New buildings and homes seem to be going up every day as the old Texas backcountry slowly loses its original luster. Markaman said all that growth seems somehow to stop at the ranch.

“You look around and see the hills are the same, the flag ring is the same, the dining hall is one of the original buildings,” said Markman. “A couple of new buildings go up, but the place doesn’t change and that’s really special.”

About a decade after Tom and Minnie first opened the gates to Echo Hill Ranch, the family stood on a patch of dried grass next to the entrance sign to pose for a photo. Tom and Minnie are in the photo along with their young daughter, Marcie, and their dog, Bebe.

“That’s a classic photo and one of our favorites!” said Marcie, who’s all grown up now. “The dog was one of our beloved Echo Hill Ranch dogs.”

Marcie and her brother, the well-known singer and songwriter Kinky Friedman, grew up at Echo Hill Ranch. Together, they watched as the camp changed lives from one generation to the next. Sadly, they also watched as the camp closed its doors for good in 2008.

“My parents sadly passed away. They ran it successfully for 60 years,” said Marcie.

That could have been the end of it, but Marcie and Kinky weren’t about to let the legend of Echo Hill die.
They wanted to reopen the camp, but they’d need help to do it. Marcie, who’d served overseas as a foreign service officer with the U.S. State Department, knew just who to call.

“I’d made some very special partnerships with a number of our special operations forces,” said Marcie. “When we decided to open the camp, we had some very close military partners from the beginning.”

In the summer of 2021, Marcie and Kinky reopened the Echo Hill Ranch summer camp. This time with a new mission. The camp now serves children who’ve lost a parent while serving in the military, also known as Gold Star families, and children of fallen first responders.

The camp offers several activities, including swimming and hiking, but Friedman said the most popular is the horseback riding program.9.jpg

“The horses add a special touch. The children interact with the horses and they really help the ranch style part come alive,” she said. “From children who are expert riders and love being able to ride the beautiful trails to children who have never touched a horse.”

In July, Echo Hill Ranch received some extra help for the horseback program from the BEC Foundation with a $5,000 grant. Marcie said the money was very much needed and will go a long way to helping the children.
“It enabled us to rent the horses and all of the gear and have the horses with all their food and medicine trailered in,” said Marcie. “There are even some special horse pavilions that you have to put up so the horses can relax in the shade. It really helped to fund all of that.”

Marcie said she and her brother have a lot to live up to, but they hope to do justice to the Echo Hill Ranch tradition that began so many years ago with Tom and Minnie.

The camp will host several activities in the future, including possibly for camp alumni. To learn more about Camp Echo Hill, visit EchoHill.org or send an email to info@echohill.org. For information on the BEC Foundation and ways to give, visit BanderaElectric.com/Foundation.



Posted: 9/1/2021 12:28:48 PM
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