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Camp Verde Bugle | Camp Verde, Arizona

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12/2/2010 3:17:00 PM
Friday Feature
Heaven-sent: Camp Verde man's kindness opens a lifetime of adventure
Courtesy photo
California resident Gabrielle “Gaby” Dolphin (left) and Florida resident Jacqueline “Marie” Dolphin enjoyed an unplanned reunion with former Sheriff’s Deputy Tap Parsons, two weeks ago, when they stopped in to thank him for all he did after an ill-fated hiking trip back in 1963.
Courtesy photo
California resident Gabrielle “Gaby” Dolphin (left) and Florida resident Jacqueline “Marie” Dolphin enjoyed an unplanned reunion with former Sheriff’s Deputy Tap Parsons, two weeks ago, when they stopped in to thank him for all he did after an ill-fated hiking trip back in 1963.
VVN/Steve Ayers
The Dolphin sisters read an article in The Bugle about the restoration of the old town jail and realized the officer that had helped them nearly 50 years ago, Tap Parsons, was still around.
VVN/Steve Ayers
The Dolphin sisters read an article in The Bugle about the restoration of the old town jail and realized the officer that had helped them nearly 50 years ago, Tap Parsons, was still around.
Quote
"We were young and the experience was frightening. Terrible things could have happened, but they didn't. When I met Tap I felt instantly safe. He was kind. His eyes were gentle. And he treated us much like a father would."

-- Gabrielle Dolphin



Steve Ayers
Staff Reporter


CAMP VERDE - The last time Jackie and Gabrielle Dolphin arrived in Camp Verde they did so in the back of a pickup truck -- hungry, tired and watched over by a dog of uncertain demeanor that had just saved their lives.

Jackie and her sister Gabrielle, who is 13 months younger, had spent the first part of that unforgettable day lost among the rugged hills, braided streams and dense underbrush, somewhere along the Verde River, lost, scared and alone.

The year was 1963. They were 14 and 13 years old, respectively.

The story of the Dolphin sisters' unplanned stop in Camp Verde began three years earlier when newly elected President John F. Kennedy wrote an article for Sports Illustrated, urging Americans to get in shape.

Three years later, when he announced that a 50-mile endurance walk would become part of the physical fitness regimen for all members of the armed forces, many Americans were inspired to take the same challenge.

Among those accepting were Jackie and Gabrielle.

Making plans

Looking over maps of Arizona, they chose what they thought to be a practical route for a 50-miler, from a campground outside Camp Verde, south through the Mazatzal Wilderness Area, around Horseshoe Lake and on to Bartlett Dam.

The route offered plenty of water and a well-defined pathway. And, besides, they had hiked along the lower stretches of the Verde River for years.

By today's standards, the notion of letting two young girls wander off into the wilderness alone is considered irresponsible. But to Jackie, Gabrielle and their parents, it made perfect sense.

"We had been raised since we were babies to go camping - rugged primitive camping. We had learned how to swim, use a compass, a bow and arrow and how to rock climb. We were very much a family caught up in Kennedy's 50-mile hike initiative," Jackie says.

Every detail of the three- to five-day trip was planned.

They took a compass, a canvas knapsack full of food (including a much treasured box of Trix cereal), a metal canteen, one sleeping bag (to save weight), a road map of Arizona (Scotch-taped to the back of the knapsack) and a big knife.

Not as planned

On a perfect spring morning they said goodbye to their parents, Vernon and Harriet, their younger sister and two younger brothers, and headed off to meet the President's expectations.

The first day and night went as planned. The second day did not. Finding the vegetation and rocky terrain near the river difficult in spots and impassable in others, they struck for higher ground.

There they found themselves mired in slippery gray clay that was as impossible to crawl through, as it was to go around. Forced back to the river, they soon became lost in a maze of brush-covered, rocky islands.

Finally, with nowhere else to go, they were forced to ford a deeper channel. Halfway across, with their sleeping bag and knapsack held above their heads, they both slipped on the mossy rocks beneath. In seconds everything they owned was soaked, including the box of Trix.

By the time they got up the next morning it occurred to them they may be lost. The road map's lack of detail rendered it worthless and all attempts to figure out where they were ended in argument.

Then, around noon, about the same time they also realized they were running low on food, they spotted a mountain lion traversing a nearby hillside.

Jackie fell apart. Frightened and sobbing, she fell to her knees and prayed a simple prayer. "Please, Jesus, just get us out of here."

Saved

Gabrielle, equally scared but less inclined to petition a higher power and more so to grab the knife and protect them, says they suddenly heard a familiar sound.

"We both yelled it at the same time, 'That's a dog!' We knew where there was a dog, there would be humans. Fortunately for us he was a non-stop yapper," Gabrielle says.

The dog's barking led them to two fishermen who, after hearing the story of President Kennedy, the 50-mile hike, the unforgiving terrain and the mountain lion, offered to take them to Camp Verde.

It was there in the late afternoon that the fishermen and their dog turned the girls over to Deputy Tap Parsons. Like the two fishermen, Parsons figured they were runaways.

Motel or jail?

Denying those assumptions, the two told Parsons the story of President Kennedy, their 50-mile hike, the unforgiving terrain, the mountain lion, the dog and how to contact their parents.

Parsons, who was nearing the end of his career and had heard it all, took them to Shaw's Café for a hamburger and a Coke, and he made them an offer. He said he would put them up in the motel under lock and key, or they could go to jail, until their story checked out and their parents were called.

For the record, Jackie preferred the motel, Gabrielle the jail.

Sometime during the night, their neighbors from Tempe arrived and drove them home.

Coming back

On Nov. 22, 2010, 47 years later, Jackie, who now lives in Tampa, Fla., and Gabrielle, who now lives in Oakland, Calif., came back to Camp Verde.

"Our plan had been to take our mom on a trip to Jerome and Sedona and back home through Camp Verde, while we were visiting over Thanksgiving," Jackie says.

Those plans changed when Jackie ran across an online article from The Bugle about the restoration of the Camp Verde jail.

"I couldn't believe it," she says, "The deputy in the story, Tap Parsons, was the same one who had been so kind to us. He was still alive. We made a beeline for Camp Verde as soon as we arrived."

Through the diligence of Camp Verde Visitor Center volunteer Carolanne Moore, the two were reunited with Parsons and given a tour of accommodations they (or Jackie at least) had turned down.

A day in the life

However, as life changing as the incident was for the Dolphin sisters, that mild spring day in 1963 was just another day on the job, says Parsons.

"To be honest, I don't remember much about it other than a couple of fishermen brought them in, we all thought they were runaways and someone came and picked them up," he says.

The girls understand why it wouldn't have been such a big deal for a man Jackie describes as Camp Verde's Andy of Mayberry.

But, they say, whether he knew it or not, Tap Parsons' kindness that day had an enormous influence on almost every day of their lives afterward.

Aftermath

Jackie, who now goes by Marie, eventually joined the Peace Corps and spent two years in the South Pacific. She has traveled extensively all her life while spending the rest of her time helping the poor. She now administers low-cost housing programs for the City of Tampa.

Gabrielle went on to weather a revolution in Ethiopia as a Peace Corps volunteer, lived in Yemen, Ukraine and Russia, worked as an archaeologist in Africa and Israel and has degrees in anthropology and nursing, and, although she once looked down on her sister for praying, a doctorate in ministry.

"We were young and the experience was frightening. Terrible things could have happened, but they didn't. When I met Tap I felt instantly safe. He was kind. His eyes were gentle. And he treated us much like a father would.

"My life could have gone either way after an experience like that. I could have held up and never lived the life I am eternally grateful to have lived. But ever since that day I have believed there would be another Tap out there, if he were needed. He has no idea, but he was and is an angel."



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Reader Comments

Posted: Friday, December 3, 2010
Article comment by: Eric Wilson

Steve,

In my unbiased opinion, this is one of the best pieces you have ever written. It not only describes the ordeal that these younsters experienced, it also illustrates and characterizes the Camp Verde in which I spent my formative years. The residents of Camp Verde were and still are, kind, caring and considerate of not only their friends and neighbors, but of the visitors to our community, like these scared, lost girls. The concept of, "it takes a village to raise a child" is nothing new or unique to Camp Verde, it has always been the standard and practice. Thank you for reminding me of kinder days gone by and why I cherish my time growing up in Camp Verde.


Posted: Friday, December 3, 2010
Article comment by: Johnny Montezuma

Steve's well written words sure brought a lump to my throat and put a mist in my eyes. Obviously, the story existed in its own right. However, no one would have ever known about this story if Steve hadn't stepped into the soup to craft a classic. Stories exist but they don't really become REAL stories until someone takes time to tell them. Thank You, Steve, you played just as vital a role in this story as the protagonists did themselves. Pat yourself on the back and pin yer another gold star on your Life Chart today! YA DUN GOOD!

Posted: Friday, December 3, 2010
Article comment by: Wayne Ranney

Another fine story written well. Those girls grew up to help others in ways most of us don't. People like them are the real heroes of our country

Posted: Friday, December 3, 2010
Article comment by: Sherry McMahon

Another great article by Steve Ayers. Keep 'em comin'.



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