Man rebuilds chapel for son who died 50 years ago in lightning strike

August 15, 2014
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Photo provided by John and Joann Harris
John Harris stands next to the memorial plaque for his son, Timmy, who was killed by a lightning strike while on a Boy Scout camping trip at Camp Anawanna in 1964.
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Photo provided by John and Joann Harris
The Timmy Harris Memorial chapel before it was renovated
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Photo provided by John and Joann Harris
The renovated memorial to Timmy Harris, who died July 26,1964, after he was struck by lightning on a Boy Scout camping trip.
Image description
Photo provided by John and Joann Harris
The plaque at the memorial to Timmy Harris

Fifty years ago, John Harris’ 11-year-old son, Timmy, was struck and killed by lightning on a Boy Scout camping trip at Camp Anawanna in Amity.

In honor of Timmy Harris, his Boy Scout Troop No. 4 built an outdoor memorial chapel on the campground with money collected by John Harris’s friends and neighbors in the months following Timmy’s death July 26, 1964.

John Harris moved to North Carolina nearly two decades ago and seldom visited the memorial, but when he stopped last year, he was disappointed to see it had fallen into disrepair.

Now 83 years old, Harris and his wife, Joann, Timmy’s stepmother, decided to restore the chapel.

The result: a renovated chapel featuring a large wooden cross and a memorial plaque marking the date Timmy died. Wooden signs installed along a trail lead to the chapel.

“After I saw it last year, I thought it was a shame that it is was rundown. I figured I’d fix it up,” said Harris. “I didn’t like to see it in that condition. I’m getting older, so I hired a man to help get it done.”

Washington contractor William Beam replaced broken cinder block that supports the cross, cleared overgrown brush, repaired the damaged concrete floor and replaced a wooden railing.

Russell Brothers of Washington donated cinder blocks and other supplies for the project.

Dave Russell of Russell Brothers is a former Eagle Scout who has known Harris for about 60 years.

“When I found out what he was doing, I had to get involved and give him a hand. It’s terrible to lose a son like that, so young,” said Russell.

Timmy was on his first camping trip when he was killed by a bolt of lightning that injured six other Boy Scouts. The boys had just arrived at the camp and were finishing up putting up their tents when Timmy was struck.

Harris said he was at home relaxing near his swimming pool with Joann when he received a telephone call that he needed to go to Washington Hospital. When he arrived, a doctor told him Timmy died from the lightning strike.

“It’s been 50 years, but it’s still hard to talk about,” said Harris, his eyes tearing up. “Timmy was a good kid, easygoing and a nice kid.”

Camp Anawanna serves mainly Scout troops in Washington and Greene counties, and is used for weekend scouting trips and day trips. A Boy Scouts spokesman was out of the office and could not be reached for comment.

Beam and Harris worked out an agreement that calls for Beam to visit the chapel twice a year to do maintenance and any repair work that is necessary.

“There are a lot of people in the Washington area who contributed money to the chapel when it was originally built. I want people to know it will be good for 50 more years now,” said Harris. “We’re going to preserve it, as long as I’m around.”

Karen Mansfield is an award-winning journalist and mom of five who has been a staff writer for the Observer-Reporter since 1988. She enjoys reading, the Pittsburgh Steelers, a good glass of wine and nice people.

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