Charles Raymond Ackenbom

Gone but never forgotten: Camp Friendship Founder

Chuck Ackenbom leaves behind a wonderful legacy Charles Raymond Ackenbom of Palmyra, Virginia, age 85, passed peacefully in his sleep surrounded by friends and family on November 8, 2023. Chuck passed knowing that he was loved greatly by his family and that he had made a positive difference in this world through his work at Camp Friendship, a summer camp for children that he founded almost 60 years ago. 

He is preceded in death by his father Hugo G. Ackenbom, his mother Dora L. Ackenbom, and his sister Lenora Pearl Mahan. He is survived by his wife Alina Ackenbom, and his children — son Charles R. Ackenbom Jr. and wife Erin Wise-Ackenbom, daughter Kathryn Lester and husband Darius Lester, son Bill Ackenbom and wife Andrea Anes, daughter Skye Ackenbom and wife Sarah Ackenbom, daughter Nika Ackenbom, and son Tyler Ackenbom, as well as his foster son Michael Young and fiancé Lisa Byer, and adopted daughter Ebony Cherry and husband Daryl Cherry. He is also survived by his nieces, nephew, 9 grandchildren and 12 great-grandchildren.

Chuck was born on March 1, 1938 in Lawton, Oklahoma to Master Sergeant Hugo and Dora Ackenbom, who traveled the world while serving in the U.S. Army. His sister Lenora Pearl Mahan was born two years later. For most of his childhood, Chuck was a member of the Boy Scouts of America and would attend Boy Scout camp every summer. He took to heart the Scout Law of being helpful, friendly, and brave and revered his father for having been awarded a Bronze Star during World War II. Another childhood passion was that of building model airplanes, meticulously working with patience and attention to fine detail. 

It comes as no surprise then, that Chuck graduated with a Bachelor’s of Science in Physical Education from West Virginia Wesleyan College in 1961 and went on to serve in the U.S. Navy as a pilot from 1963-1968. After graduating flight school in Pensacola, Florida, Chuck flew the Lockheed P-2 Neptune and was awarded the National Defense Service Medal before transferring to inactive duty and serving in the Naval Reserve until 1974. 

Following his military service, Chuck began working as a high school teacher in Maryland and Virginia. A college letterman in soccer, track, and tennis, he also coached multiple sports during his teaching career. It was then he purchased a plot of land in Fluvanna County and started building his dream, Camp Friendship, a summer camp where children of the world could come to “be and find a friend.” Inspired by his own fond memories of Boy Scout camps and becoming an Eagle Scout, Chuck opened the camp for business in 1966. Every summer since, he welcomed campers and staff members from around the world with open arms. 

Apart from starting his own summer camp, he also became a leader and mentor in the camping industry, serving as the president of the American Camping Association from 1990-1993. He received many awards and accolades for his service to camping, including the ACA’s Distinguished Service Award, the highest award in American camping. His goal in founding Camp Friendship was to create a space where “Children of the world could gather in peace.” With that in mind, he acted as a leader and founder of the International Camping Fellowship where he served on the ICF Steering Committee as the United States Representative and Treasurer for over 20 years.  

Even in retirement, he drew much pleasure walking around his camp, visiting the Rivanna River, and talking with campers and staff along the way. A magnificent storyteller, he radiated calmness and power at the same time. He lit up those around him with his charismatic energy and engaging personality and even the youngest of campers who didn’t know quite who he was enjoyed hearing his stories.

He lived an adventurous life filled with friendship, love, and loyalty and will be greatly missed.  Chuck will be remembered by all as a visionary, dedicated to his dream. He will also be remembered as a great friend, a wonderful husband, and a loving father, grandfather, and great-grandfather. 

A public funeral service will be held at Camp Friendship on Saturday, November 18 at 11 a.m. 

In lieu of flowers, donations can be made to the Friendship Fund, located on the Camp Friendship website at

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