HAYS — As an all-state high school drummer back in the mid 1980s, Dee Moore had her choice of several large colleges at which to continue her post-secondary education.
But there really was no choice. Moore knew from midway through high school that she would be attending Fort Hays State University.
A major factor for that decision stemmed from a positive experience each year at a summer band camp on campus.
The week-long July event, started in the late 1940s as a band camp, has since evolved into the High Plains Music Camp as orchestra and vocal were added to the agenda.
About 230 students are on campus this week participating in the 70th annual High Plains Music Camp.
Despite battling some health issues, Moore — a 1988 graduate of FHSU — continues to return to her alma mater each year to help with the camp.
“I thought, ‘By golly, this isn’t stopping me,’ ” said Moore, who requires the use of oxygen 24-7 and carries a portable oxygen tank. “I love this camp. This is my favorite thing to do.”
Moore has worn numerous hats throughout her 38 years at the camp, from participating as a student the summer before her sophomore year at Hutchinson High School to working as a counselor as an FHSU student, then working as an instructor for several years before taking over her current administrative duties.
Moore, a longtime music and English teacher at Pretty Prairie High School, also brought all three of her children to participate in the camp.
A full schedule for the campers includes classes and rehearsals and concerts all throughout the week while living on campus.
“It is so rewarding to see youngsters growing into wonderful young adults and great musicians,” Moore said. “It’s a transformation, and I basically get to watch them grow up.”
Like Moore, several campers decide each year to come to college at Fort Hays State after their experience at the music camp. Even though others choose other universities, they still have fond memories of FHSU, and the High Plains Music Camp.
One of those is Jacob Hemenway. One of several students who are in their sixth year of attending the camp, Hemenway will pursue his education at another university but has nothing but good things to say about FHSU's music camp.
“I’ve made tons of friends at the camp, and I’ve invited a lot of people to come here,” said Hemenway, a spring graduate of McPherson High School who plays the French horn. “It’s such a great camp that I want to share it with other people.”
“Everyone here has the same mindset,” he continued. “Come for a week to have fun and make music together. It’s a great mile marker for my growth as a musician.”
Moore said the quality of camp faculty makes “this the best camp in the Midwest of the United States. It’s a diamond in the middle of the country.”
And students are the beneficiaries.
“They get to play and learn under some master musicians,” Moore said. “Besides the great staff at Fort Hays State, we bring them in from California, Georgia, New York, Ohio, all these different places. These kids get to work with them and then hear them in concerts in the evening.”
Hemenway said the faculty concerts are “impressive.”
“Some of these people are high school teachers,” he said. “This is a whole different thing seeing them play in concerts. They get up on stage, and they can do what they talk about in class.”
In a few weeks, Hemenway will begin his college education to pursue a career in music education.
“I always knew I wanted to study something related to music,” he said. “But I’ve been inspired by a lot of people who come to this camp and help out around here, and now I know I really want to teach music.”
Moore said she thinks the camp has been a continued success because of the staff’s ability to change with the times.
“We’ve done a lot of fine tuning over the years, adapted with the students because the kids have changed,” she said. “We’re constantly looking at their needs. Yet we still keep the quality, and that’s what is amazing about this camp.”
“I want to help keep that alive,” Moore said. “I can’t wait until it’s the 100th year.”