“Tex” was the well-known alter-ego of Christopher “Chris” Clark Etheredge, the emcee who charmed blind campers at the camp talent show with a smooth-as-molasses accent. One time as he began the show, a 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 premature, 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, was burning 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 and 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. By clicking his tongue as he moved, he could extend his hearing perception to about 400 feet (122 meters), identifying doorways and other objects.
In 1967, Chris was invited to a week-long overnight camp at Camp Kulaqua by 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, and 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 sessions. 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, located in High Springs, Florida, United States, is affiliated with the Seventh-day Adventist Church, but its 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 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,” Chris said 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. Middag encouraged Chris to attend Southern Missionary College (now Southern Adventist University), and several years later, he graduated with a degree in communication. After 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, 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. He could also sing. One newspaper reported that he inspired the crowd by singing the hymn, “Love Was When” by John E. Walvoord and Don Wyrtzen.
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.
Chris Etheredge passed away on October 9, 2022. He was 70 years old. Brian Carlson is digital media manager for Christian Record Services, based in Lincoln, Nebraska, United States. The original version of this story was posted by the Mid-America Union Conference Outlook.