If you spent a summer at TVRC in the years following 1963, your memories would include standing around a campfire, draping your arms around your friends’ shoulders, swaying side to side, and singing the Teton Valley Serenade. It is a song that brings us joy when we first arrive at camp but also triggers tears as the summer comes to a close. But do you know the history of the Teton Valley Serenade, and how did it become such an integral part of our camp traditions?
While cleaning out a closet on the TV ranch property one cold weekend day, I found a file with old photos and letters. As I poured through, I found a card sent to Mary Ellen Wilson Towne from Rudy Gray. It included the lyrics to the Teton Valley Serenade he wrote the summer of 1963 with some history of the song.
Rudy writes, “I thought you might enjoy a little reminiscence of those great days at the ranch. I had taken a group to Yellowstone National Park and wrote the words to the song on the way back as we were instructed to do. I was pleased the song was later at every campfire.”
To get more information, I contacted Mary Ellen’s daughter, Ellen Wilson, to see what she remembered about the Serenade. She wrote. “When trips went out, we were always asked to bring backstories of the trip to share with the rest of the camp. This evolved into having a “trip song” that was sung by the campers and staff at campfire. The words were put to familiar melodies from other songs. As you can imagine, some were really good, some were hilarious, and some were terrible. We loved them all! One particular trip, led by Rudy Gray, came back singing what was to become the Teton Valley Serenade. It was an instant hit, and as you know, we never stopped loving it and singing it.” The song we sing today has a few small changes and an added verse, but the feeling we get when it is sung hasn’t changed.
Ellen went on to say, “ Rudy Gray would fly his Cessna 150 from Alaska to Jackson Hole to work summers as staff at the camp. He would buzz the ranch, like my dad did, to let us know he was here. Then he would land in the hayfield across the river we lovingly called Kelly International Airport. At camp, he was a counselor and trip leader. He had lots of ideas for making activities and trips fun with stories and songs.”
The Teton Valley Serenade has been a part of TVRC for 56 summers. We hold onto hope for our future by entering the 2020 summer amid uncertainty with the COVID 19 pandemic. Our traditional camp will not be running this summer. However, Teton Valley Ranch Camp will emerge stronger than ever. Campers and staff will once again stand around a campfire and sing.
I know a place where
The mountains spire,
Reach to the sky, to the Heavens above.
Where Cool mountain streams
And the crystal water
Flow through the land
I learned to love.
I’ll always dream of Teton Valley
When I return I just
Want to roam,
Out there o’er the hills
Where the Wranglers wander.
So I can call Teton Valley home.