“Tex” was a well-known alter-ego of the emcee who charmed the campers in front of him with a smooth, molasses accent. As he began the camp talent show, one girl shouted out, “How ya doin’, Tex?”
“I’m as frisky as a speckled pup on a frosty mornin’, darlin’,” he replied. Everybody roared with laughter.
This past month, friends and family gathered to honor the incredible life of Christopher “Chris” Clark Etheredge (aka “Tex”), an animated, friendly guy with a generous heart who had a larger-than-life impact on the people around him and through Christian Record Services for the Blind.
Born three months prematurely, Chris’s tiny two-pound body was given supplemental oxygen. What the medical professionals didn’t know at the time was that this oxygen, although saving his life, burned his retinas, resulting in blindness. His parents didn’t know what to do with a child who was blind, so they raised him like any other child, showering him with love, affection and teaching him independence.
He was the first kid on his block to ride a bicycle without training wheels, a feat facilitated by painting the family’s driveway white so he could recognize his own house. Chris also compensated for diminished sight by developing extremely acute hearing, and by clicking his tongue as he moved, he could extend his hearing perception to about 400 feet, identifying doorways and other objects.
In 1967, Chris was invited to a week-long overnight camp at Camp Kulaqua by Elder Norm Middag, and despite an initial reluctance, he agreed to join 22 other campers who were blind for what became an unforgettable experience. They rode horses, played baseball with a beeper ball, paddled canoes in erratic lines, hiked in the woods, rode in the ski boat. Chris, braver than most, attempted to water ski for the first time, and on his seventh try was successfully skimming across the water.
Near the end of the week, Chris entered the talent show and showed off his impersonations and sound effects. His performance stole the show. And this camp experience changed the trajectory of his life.
The next summer, Chris joined the staff at Camp Kulaqua, where his duties included answering phones, running the switchboard, making announcements on the public address system, and doing his impressions during the Campfire. His parents were glad for the opportunity for their son, but they were also skeptical about the religious affiliation of the camp and cautioned Chris to not “let them make an Adventist out of you!”
Camp Kulaqua is affiliated with the Seventh-day Adventist church, but camps have always been open to anyone, regardless of their spiritual background. As the summer progressed, Chris began to ask questions, and ultimately, he was convinced that the Seventh-day Adventist church was right for him. A few years later Chris was baptized at the lake at Camp Kulaqua by Elder Middag.
His baptism was the first at what would become National Camps for Blind Children, an important program of Christian Record Services. His connection with this ministry began in his teenage years, but it didn’t end there. Chris believed in the power of the camp experience and wanted to keep giving back.
“It’s a marvelous experience for young people,” said Chris in an interview. “The campers do not engage in activities often; this is the only opportunity they have to participate in this magnitude. Blind kids, like everyone else, need the opportunity to succeed or fail. The camp provides a holistic approach for the campers, to help them function as well as possible. One of the goals at camp is to instill the campers with self-worth.”
After his baptism, Chris continued to work for Camp Kulaqua, as well as traveling around to other camps and connecting with campers. Elder Middag encouraged Chris to attend Southern Missionary College (now Southern Adventist University) and several years later, Chris graduated with a degree in communication. After a working as a police and fire dispatcher, Chris was invited to work at Christian Record Services as the switchboard operator.
Chris spent many decades representing Christian Record Services to churches, schools, and social clubs, inspiring and showing what people who are blind can do. He was well-known for his keen intellect, his outgoing personality, and his ability to create animal sounds.
Chris could also sing. One newspaper reported that he inspired the crowd by singing the hymn “Love Was When” (Jon E. Walvoord, Don Wyrtzen). The lyrics from the last part of the song go like this:
Love was when Jesus met me now it’s real
Lovingly He came; I can feel he’s real.
Love was God; only He would try to reach,
To love one such as I.
Thanks to National Camps for Blind Children, the heart of a 15-year-old boy who was blind was changed forever. And so were each of the people who met him during his life.
Brian Carlson, Digital Media Manager at Christian Record Services, Inc. with appreciation to John Treolo and Norm Middag for preserving Chris's story through their writing, some of which was helpful in compiling this article.