Camellot History 1“A law was made a distant moon ago here…”

The year was 1966 and Mel Bishop, the legendary musical director for Southwest High, Barstow, Pembroke and Sunset Hill Schools in Kansas City, was listening to a young student extol the wonders of her experiences while attending a summer music and art camp at the University of Kansas. The young student was Gina Bikales, a Kansas City native who had just spent four summers falling in love with the theater, making life long friends, and even meeting the man that she would eventually marry. Mel was deeply inspired by her eulogy and wondered if they could create the same type of experience for young performing artists in Kansas City? With the support and financial backing of Rev. William Cameron and Sally Tourtellot, the seeds of Camellot were sown.

In honor of Bill and Sally, Mel combined their two surnames (Cam-eron and Tourt-ellot) and came up with the camp’s name: “Camellot”. A board of directors was assembled that included Gina’s father, Dr. V.W. Bikales, and they began to raise money. The following summer Camellot opened its doors at Unity Village in Lee’s Summit with an enrollment of eighty high school students and ten faculty members. In addition to Mel Bishop, the faculty included Ron and Paula Highley, longtime principal singers with the Kansas City Lyric opera, and Gina Bikales as the camp’s drama teacher. From that summer forward Camellot expanded and changed to include the Junior Division (K-3rd Grade), the Senior Division (4th-8th Grade), and for a time, the Apprentice Division (9th-11th Grade). The Junior Division expanded more fully in 1983 when camp alum Trinda (Young) Crow became its director. Gina’s sister Vida Bikales joined the ranks of Camellot, first as art teacher and then as President of the Board. Gina went on to earn a degree in Theater Education from KU, eventually becoming the Executive Director of Camellot from 1966-2006 and also the Director of Fine and Performing Arts at the Hyman Brand Hebrew Academy from 1978-1999.

Every summer Camellot hosted hundreds of campers who every week honed their skills in performance showcases, in addition to the yearly production of a Junior, Senior, and Apprentice Division show. During the years while the Apprentice Division was active, the students had the opportunity every other year to travel abroad to experience the art and cultural centers of Europe. They were able to visit Italy, London, Germany, France and Scotland during this time.

In 2006, Gina said farewell to Camellot after 40 years and relocated to California. The Executive Director role was then bestowed upon Trinda Crow, and Marsha Oyer stepped up to become the Assistant Director. Throughout the years, Camellot has had several homes – Unity Village, Sunset Hill Campus, Barstow, St. Thomas Moore, KI, Loretto, Rockhurst – but no matter where camp is located, Camellot has always been a kingdom of magic. And throughout all of these years, there are some traditions of Camellot that remain steadfast. The daily visit and whimsical poetry of the White Knight, Whoopoosoopoos, our showcases and the singing of our camp song “Camelot”.

Over the past 49 years, Camellot has introduced the arts to thousands of children. Each child is a special gift to us and we are dedicated to nurturing their growth and well-being. Our faculty, many of whom are Camellot alums, are teachers, fine art professionals and students of the arts who give unconditionally of themselves to continue to provide the magical environment of joy and camaraderie that has been the trademark of Camellot.

To find out more about our current faculty, please visit our Who We Are page by clicking here.