Gelya Camp

August 31st, 1931 - November 20th, 2022

Biography


Gelya Camp, born Gelya Russakoff Anderson in Houston on August 31, 1931, was a very private and independent-minded person who strongly influenced the lives of her three children and of the man who held her heart for over 69 married years, before that heart gave out on November 20, 2022.

Born into the Great Depression and losing her father at age eight, thereby becoming the only child of a working, second-generation immigrant mother distant from other family, Gelya learned to meet many of her life’s early challenges on her own. Then she met Tom in a history class at the University of Texas in Austin, and the rest was, well, history. Gelya was majoring in English and Tom was a pre-Med student who, in contrast to the usual braggadocio of the football stars and scions who had pursued her, emphasized his humble upbringing working on an uncle’s farm, ROTC college scholarship, and beloved Model A Ford named Mehitabel that had seen better days. She was a knock out—a Bluebonnet Belle beauty queen—and smart as a whip. He was smitten; she had to be convinced. Two years of courtship and love poems later, on June 26, 1953, her Tom Cat caught his Snowbird. She would hear the poems he continued to pen and dedicate to her, read and re-read on birthdays and anniversaries, for the rest of her life.

During their college years, Gelya and Tom independently discovered a Unitarian Universalist way to live and, after graduation, a framework within which to raise a family. Over her long life, Gelya engaged deeply in making a home where intellect and creativity, no less than hard work and civic engagement, were valued, encouraged—even expected—in the day-to-day mix and muddle of living. She expressed her own creativity in preparing special meals on a daily basis and planning events for the international folkdance groups that she and Tom founded and taught or joined as they danced their way from Texas to Oklahoma, Virginia, Romania, New Jersey, and New Mexico. She enjoyed changing up the newest house plans drawn by Tom every few years, coinciding with many of their moves until finally they chose a place, first in Austin and later in Lubbock, to walk the long-term care path together.

Gelya often pondered the divergent but fulfilling paths taken by her grown children, taking satisfaction in the guiding role she played in shaping their values if not always their choices. She was an avid reader of literature who also kept up with events in the news, and she was attracted to beauty in its many forms, whether out in nature or in the art of human invention and imagination. Although she wholeheartedly identified with the role of homemaker-wife, she never stopped being intensely interested in the world around her. She expressed her opinions on a wide range of subjects through donations and volunteer work for organizations such as Common Cause and Neighbor for Neighbor.

Most recently, Gelya enjoyed playing long-distance word games with her eldest daughter on an I-pad her son bought and taught her to use late in life. It opened a brief window on ancestry and living relatives and helped her rediscover the lyrics to old songs that she would sing nightly with Tom and monthly with their younger daughter visiting from out of town. In conversation, she took comfort in her husband’s and children’s accolades and accomplishments and in reminiscing about the diverse cultures and countries, as well as places and people closer to home, that she and Tom came to know during their decades of travel for pleasure and moves for work and retirement. She was a person of canny insights who learned, even late in life, to put them to use in loving ways, as Tom, the husband she had relied upon for enduring companionship, drifted into a shadow land of dementia, reversing roles and leading her to learn a new and difficult way to love.

Gelya is survived by husband Thomas Felton Camp, Jr., children Marla, Jena, and Bryan Camp, Bryan’s spouse Susan Gillette, and grandchildren Lillian Hoa Camp, Lorenzo Xocoyotzin Tomás Guel-Camp, and Kunal Alexander Camp.

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About

Name Gelya Camp
Date of Birth August 31st, 1931
Date of Death November 20th, 2022
Home Town Lubbock, TX, US 

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Brenda Lee Huerta published a tribute .

What a wonderful opportunity that I was given when Gelya and Tom lived with us at Windsong. I loved when she came down and shared the wonderful and beautiful thoughts that Tom would write to her through the years. Made me cry. She was so sharp and wonderful. Miss her so, but, I know she's in a great place now.

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Sandra Stowell published a tribute .

I appreciate the photos and information on this site. A wonderful memorial.

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Jere And Marisue Smith published a tribute .

We are thankful for the life of Gelya and for our living next door to Gelya and Tom for several years at Carillon. Gelya was always uplifting in her greetings and conversations. We appreciated hearing about some of the places she and Tom had been. She was obviously very knowledgeable about current events and life in general, so conversations were interesting and enjoyable. Jere certainly enjoyed his times with Bryan playing cards and conversing about various events of the present and the past. We pray that God's loving presence will be with the family knowing that He will always provide what we need each day throughout our lives. Sending our love to family.....

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Elisa published a tribute .

Jena, our deepest condolences to you, Lorenzo and your family. I never knew your mother but I know she loved figs because of the times we picked them in my mother’s garden so you could make the long drive to deliver them fresh…no more long drives or guitar serenades for your mom but may those and other memories sustain you all. I feel I’ve got a little taste of her varied interests and travels through her recipes, which you still make and use to channel memories of her. She is at peace, may you and yours also find peace.

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Linda Nenno published a comment .

Marla, what a beautiful tribute to your mother. I only met her briefly in Austin but she packed a punch in the conversation we had. My heart goes out to you and your family as you grieve the loss of your mother. It is a right of passage that runs deep. Sending you love, always.

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Robert Oldakowski published a tribute .

My husband and I bought Tom and Geyla’s Santa Fe house in 2007. Sadly Luis passed away in 2020. I am still living here. It is one of the most remarkable homes I have ever lived in. The one thing that we’ve done is to restore the gardens that Geyla put in all those years ago. Please know that her memories live on.

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Marla Camp published a comment .

Thanks so much, Robert, for your post and for the photo of my parents’ Santa Fe home. Many wonderful memories of our family gatherings there! And I’m so very sorry to hear of Luis’s passing. Am glad to hear that you are still living there and that you both enjoyed the house and made it your home for all these years.

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Jena Camp published a comment .

Hello, Robert. I remember you and your husband from the time I took my son Lorenzo back to see the place and meet you two. This was not long after his father died, so he was at least 10. I am sorry that Luis is no longer with you; it's difficult and stays difficult but for those who love much remains. I am glad you're still living there. Our mother often remarked on how good she felt about the care you two gave the place, and I'm sure that both my parents would have been delighted to know that you and Luis restored the gardens, which Gelya enjoyed so much. She learned to recognize hummingbird moths from the ones that visited the sprays of purple blooms by the side wall. May those gardens and the land beyond help you heal, and may the sky above the Sangre de Cristo and Ortiz ranges continue to scatter the early and late sun's beauty for you.

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Jorge Ramirez published a tribute .

Beautiful tribute to your mom (and dad). I wish I had taken the opportunity to get to know Gelya as well as I got to know your dad (and I didn't know your dad too well, but just enough to experience his sense of humor and humanness). Gelya was clearly Tom's equal. We send you our deepest condolences.

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Bryan published a tribute .

In the upper left corner of the map is a list of everywhere Gelya and Tom lived together. Here's a close-up. Quite extensive!

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Jorge Ramirez published a comment .

Beautiful tribute to your mom (and dad). I wish I had taken the opportunity to get to know Gelya as well as I got to know your dad (and I didn't know your dad too well, but just enough to experience his sense of humor and humanness). Gelya was clearly Tom's equal. We send you our deepest condolences.

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Robert Oldakowski published a tribute .

Santa Fe house

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Bryan Camp published a comment .

This was the fourth of five homes that Tom and Gelya built. The three before were San Antonio (757 Windfield Cir., 1967); Tulsa (2720 E 69th Place, 1969); Alexandria (2005 Windmill Lane, 1985). The last one was on River Plantation Dr. in Onion Creek, Austin. They loved designing homes and over the years developed strong preferences, such as abundant natural light, passive solar, clever cabinetry, and, especially important to Gelya, an efficient and complete kitchen.

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John Miller published a comment .

I visited them in Santa Fe circa 1997. I was struck both by the continuity of design features between the Windmill Lane home and Santa Fe home, as well as the choices they made to blend naturally in the Santa Fe environment. They did love designing and building homes.

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Sandy And Morris Carter published a tribute .

Tom and family, we are sad to hear of Geyla's passing. We miss our times at Austin Unitarian Fellowship and the fun we had at your home.

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Tracy Coffman published a tribute .

Camp Family,
My deepest condolences on the loss of your mother, grandmother, and remarkable woman. May God grant you peace during this time of grief.

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John Miller published a tribute .

I first met Gelya nearly fifty years ago the first time I went over to Bryan's house when he and I first became friends. I remember her taking quite an interest in me and inviting me to do this weird (to a high school sophomore boy) thing called folk dancing. Over the years she and Tom became occasional surrogate parents to me, and on at least two occasions I took advantage of the opportunity to visit them when I happened to be near where they were living at the time. They invited me into their nightly scrabble game, which, if I recall correctly, Gelya kept a running score over many years.

Tom and Gelya were also my introduction to Unitarian Universalism, which became my adult church of choice and the one in which I raised my children. They were such admirable representatives of the generation before me in the church ... tolerant, welcoming, and always interested in ideas beyond their immediate experience. I can only hope that I reflect those same values.

I did eventually learn (and forget) a few folk dances. What I will never forget is Gelya and Tom's warmth. Gelya lived a long and meaningful life and continues to live on in her influence on all of us and our memories of her. I will miss her, but always have a place in my heart for her. Lynn and I extend our love cocoon to all the Camp's and those close to Gelya.

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Florence Bunten published a comment .

Geyla and her family first showed up at folk dancing about 1964. I quickly became friends with her eldest daughter, Marla, who was 11, same as me. Tom was a doctor in the military and Geyla had a dress she made out of an orange parachute that Tom had found.They were a wonderful family who made me feel welcome in their home. Geyla had a great sense of humor, and often made us laugh. What a lovely lady.

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Jena Camp published a comment .

Florence, thanks for this memory! Maybe the orange parachute dress was for a folk dance party? We'll add some photos of the zany costumes she invented for their Tulsa and Virginia folk dance parties as well as other moments of dance.

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Marla Camp published a comment .

John, thanks for your moving tribute. Makes a difference knowing how Gelya made a difference in so many people’s lives.

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Patricia Williams published a comment .

I am one of the many grateful dancers who have enjoyed the Alexandria (VA) International folk dance group that Gelya and Tom founded in 1975 and led for 15 years. The group continues to meet on a regular basis both virtually (due to the Pandemic) and in the Mount Vernon Unitarian Church. I love learning more about her rich life through this webpage and honor her memory with gratitude!

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Bryan published a tribute .

Gelya's life was full of travel. Here is a map of the world with pins showing everywhere she and Tom lived or visited.

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Jena Camp published a comment .

Here's the key she asked me to make to accompany the map on the wall in her room:

Places we lived (all black)
Childhood: Lockney (…); Houston
University: Austin 4 yrs.
Med School: Galveston 4 yrs.
Internship: Oklahoma City 1 yr.
Residency: Dallas ’54-’60 (black)
England, first tour of duty AF 60 (Tom)/61(rest of us)-63
San Antonio ’63-’68
Tulsa ’68-’75
Mt. Vernon, VA (near Washington, D.C.) ’75-’89
Leavenworth, KS ’89-’90
Monmouth, NJ ’90-’93
Santa Fe, NM ’93-’03
Austin, TX ’03-‘15
Lubbock, TX (’15-Now!)

Travels from/to…

Yellow: from England to Great Britain, Greece, Italy, countries in N. & W. Europe

Pink: from San Antonio to Monterrey, Saltillo, Big Bend, Padre Island, Palo Duro Canyon…

White: from Tulsa to Canada’s Southern Pacific RR ’74, Seattle, Olympic Peninsula, Vancouver Island, Ozarks…

Orange: from Mt. Vernon to Romania, Baton Rouge, New Orleans, Atlanta, Cumberland, Ft. Lauderdale, Savannah, Nova Scotia, Providence, Boston, Flagstaff, Fred??ton (Maine), NYC, Philadelphia, Cape Hatteras, Newport News, Norfolk, Toronto, Buffalo, Nebraska, Rapid City, Corner of Wyoming, NE Yellowstone, Cheyenne, San Francisco, Monterrey (California), San Diego, Ensenada, Las Vegas, Grand Canyon, Ann Arbor, Niagara Falls, Shreveport

Green: from Leavenworth to Durango, Mesa Verde, Four Corners, Taos, Los Alamos

Red: from Monmouth to Albany, Montpelier, Ocean Springs (Mississippi), Canaveral, Miami, Key West, Orlando, West Palm Beach, Virgin Gorda

Gold: from Santa Fe to Guadalajara, León, Mérida, etc., Spain & Portugal, the Azores, Tucson, Arizona-Mexico border, El Paso, Ciudad Juarez, Gallup, Reno, Winnemucca (Nevada), Salt Lake City, Denver, Colorado Springs, Jasper, Banff, West Coast of Oregon between Eugene & Salem, Crater Lake, Yellowstone, Alaska, Michigan

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Bryan published a tribute .

Here's a close-up of Gelya and Tom's travel in Europe.

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Jena Camp published a comment .

Here's the key I made for her that was beside the map in her room:

Travels from/to…

Yellow: from England to Great Britain, Greece, Italy, countries in N. & W. Europe

Pink: from San Antonio to Monterrey, Saltillo, Big Bend, Padre Island, Palo Duro Canyon…

White: from Tulsa to Canada’s Southern Pacific RR ’74, Seattle, Olympic Peninsula, Vancouver Island, Ozarks…

Orange: from Mt. Vernon to Romania, Baton Rouge, New Orleans, Atlanta, Cumberland, Ft. Lauderdale, Savannah, Nova Scotia, Providence, Boston, Flagstaff, Fred??ton (Maine), NYC, Philadelphia, Cape Hatteras, Newport News, Norfolk, Toronto, Buffalo, Nebraska, Rapid City, Corner of Wyoming, NE Yellowstone, Cheyenne, San Francisco, Monterrey (California), San Diego, Ensenada, Las Vegas, Grand Canyon, Ann Arbor, Niagara Falls, Shreveport

Green: from Leavenworth to Durango, Mesa Verde, Four Corners, Taos, Los Alamos

Red: from Monmouth to Albany, Montpelier, Ocean Springs (Mississippi), Canaveral, Miami, Key West, Orlando, West Palm Beach, Virgin Gorda

Gold: from Santa Fe to Guadalajara, León, Mérida, etc., Spain & Portugal, the Azores, Tucson, Arizona-Mexico border, El Paso, Ciudad Juarez, Gallup, Reno, Winnemucca (Nevada), Salt Lake City, Denver, Colorado Springs, Jasper, Banff, West Coast of Oregon between Eugene & Salem, Crater Lake, Yellowstone, Alaska, Michigan

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Bryan published a tribute .

Here is Gelya's wedding portrait from 1953.

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Jena Camp published a comment .

Her mother made the dress and cap from a magazine photo. She kept it, and I wore it for Lencho's and my wedding, just shy of 37 years later.

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Angelina Bencomo published a tribute .

Jena,
I am so very sorry for your loss. Your mother’s biography was so beautifully written. I wish I could have met your her. What a lovely love story…
Sending my love, thoughts, and prayers to you all!
Abrazos,
Angelina

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William Varney published a tribute .

Dear Marla, Jena, Bryan and of course Tom,
"A mother is with us always, first in her lifetime, then forever in our memory." A mom, to one who bears the sweetest name.... no one can replace our mom. Sending each of you my deepest condolences and peace.

Hundreds of stars in the pretty sky,
Hundreds of shells on the shore together,
Hundreds of birds that go singing by,
Hundreds of birds in the sunny weather.
Hundreds of dewdrops to greet the dawn,
Hundreds of bees in the purple clover,
Hundreds of butterflies on the lawn,
But only one mother the wide world over.
Gelya Camp will live on through each of you....
Bill Varney

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Holaya Ponce Acosta published a comment .

She was a beautiful lady. Jena, I can see the resemblance. Sending you and your family my most sincere condolences.

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Bryan published a tribute .

Here's a close-up of their travel in the US

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William Varney published a comment .

Wow, what an Amazing life she and Tom had to share with each of you.....

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