With his standard uniform of T-shirt and blue jeans, and with several pounds of keys jangling from his waist, Chuck Wurth was a stalwart presence at 4-H Camp Palmer in Fayette for over 40 years.
As the camp’s program manager, Wurth was everywhere, supervising outdoor activities, training program specialists, collaborating with school districts’ outdoor education programs, and basically teaching youth to challenge themselves and build self-confidence.
“He had a great love for camp, for the outdoors, for just making a difference in people’s lives,” said Bill Goodson, Camp Palmer’s executive director. “He always encouraged people to take an extra chance, to challenge themselves, and to see what they could accomplish.”
Wurth, 64, died Feb. 26 following a fall about 10 days earlier at a high ropes construction site at the camp on County Road MN. A funeral Mass was held March 3 at St. Michael’s Church in Kalida, Ohio, with burial at the parish cemetery.
He left behind seven siblings, a large extended family, and numerous friends. Goodson said Wurth’s tremendous work ethic, loyalty, and compassion for young people is his legacy to Camp Palmer and all who knew and worked with him there.
“It’s a hole in our hearts here. He will be greatly, greatly missed,” he said.
The camp hired Wurth in 1977, where early on he served as a naturalist in the summer and for the maintenance department in the winter. Armed with university degrees in wildlife management and educational technology, he became an OSU Extension program manager at the camp in 1993. It was a multi-task position that included training specialists in canoeing, shooting, team building, and high ropes, which he championed. He also led Super Camp.
Wurth worked as well with band camps, Scout troops, and church retreats at the camp, as well as the outdoor education programs for the Swanton, Delta, Archbold, and Evergreen school districts.
Camp Palmer is owned by 4-H members of 11 counties in northwest Ohio. Goodson estimates that during Wurth’s career he trained over 500 leaders and positively impacted the lives of roughly 350,000 people.
“He was an avid outdoorsman. He was extremely loyal to 4-H and to Camp Palmer, and he was certainly a friend to all,” he said. “He was very patient, and loved teaching about the great outdoors.”
In fact, Goodson said, Wurth’s quiet nature and humbleness brought a sense of calm to everything he did. “He was very patient, even-keeled. He had a style of asking people questions to get them to think critically. He had a lot of hidden talents. (But) he was modest, a servant and teacher of the public.”
And he had a special way of communicating with young people, showing them how to apply their activities and accomplishments at camp to life in general, Goodson said.
“He had a gentle way with the kids. Not only did they enjoy Chuck’s leadership, he would introduce them to so many new experiences.”
One of those experiences the children especially enjoyed was Wurth’s ability to teach them to tie various knots.
Paul zumFelde of Wauseon previously led Fulton County 4-H duties and worked with Wurth over four decades. That included joining Wurth on committees through the Camp Palmer Board of Trustees.
“We became extraordinarily good friends because of our love of nature and the outdoors,” zumFelde said. “He was a very intelligent, very intuitive man who cared deeply for young people, and had an amazing ability to connect.”
zumFelde agreed that Wurth had a talent working with youth. He believes that may have grown out of Wurth’s experience being bullied as a child due to his small stature.
“He exhibited a compassion for young people. I came to have a tremendous regard for his capacity to connect with young people,” he said.
Wurth was committed to outdoor education, and made the high ropes course his pet project at Camp Palmer, zumFelde said.
“From 1990 on, that was kind of his baby at camp,” zumFelde recalled. “We all knew that Camp Palmer needed a ropes course to teach kids how to overcome any adversity they had in life and build self-confidence, and build teamwork.”
On a personal level, zumFelde and Wurth became close friends and made trips to California, Washington State, Colorado, and other locales for canoeing and climbing. Their discussions ranged from religion to politics to ways to help youth.
“He found all the goodness in people. He very rarely said a negative thing about anyone,” zumFelde said. “He had an ability to talk to people from all walks of life.”
He said Wurth gave everything he could muster to Camp Palmer.
“Literally, that was his life,” he said. “His devotion and his Christian duty was to as give as much to young people at Camp Palmer as he could.”
Reach David J. Coehrs at 419-335-2010.