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Buffing Up the Image of Nudists : Freedom Rings at Mountain Camp

TIMES STAFF WRITER

Jeanne would rather not reveal her last name, but she’s perfectly comfortable sitting among casual acquaintances and family, bare-chested in the picturesque Santa Ana Mountains.

A blue blouse tossed over her left shoulder, the 67-year-old government employee often wonders how people would react if, when she sat down to audit their books as she does most work days, they knew she is a nudist.

“I don’t think my bosses would be too thrilled,” Jeanne said. “Some people would think that I was a lecherous old lady. . . . So many people equate nudity with sex, and it really isn’t.”

It is a lifestyle, Jeanne said, that shatters phony images constructed by people with double-breasted suits, designer clothes, pantyhose and heels. Nudism also inspires a certain irresistible freedom, some say, that attracts government workers, doctors, nurses and retired TV executives to a rustic campground near Cleveland National Forest called McConville, the only such camp in Orange County.

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“Everybody who comes here, their first reason is freedom,” said Larry Waughtel, a retired TV stage manager who welcomed about 100 guests to the camp’s annual Western Days fall festival this weekend. He was attired in little more than a western scarf and cowboy boots.

“We’re not hiding behind anything,” he said. “It feels so damn good not to have to put something on. When you get up in the morning, you’re dressed. When you are ready to go to bed, you’re dressed for that too.”

Always regular visitors in the past, Waughtel, his wife and two daughters made McConville their home in 1979 after his retirement from a network-affiliate station in Los Angeles.

Waughtel, 60, said his colleagues thought he was “crazy” when he told them of his plans to live year-round at the camp.

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“Most people who have a problem with nudity just don’t seem able to separate nudity from sex,” he said, leading a tour of the property. “You’ll find that the morals are awfully high in a nudist camp.”

Tucked well off the winding Ortega Highway near Lake Elsinore, accessible only by an anonymous dirt road, the camp was founded in May, 1933, by Pete McConville and a Los Angeles psychotherapist, Dr. Hobart Glassey.

McConville, according to camp residents, worked as a New York grocer before moving to California and establishing the camp. He had reportedly been introduced to nudism while growing up with relatives in northern Australia.

“Their dream,” according to a publication that charts the early days of the McConville and Glassey property, “was to assist people by providing a place where the pressures of our artificial civilization might be removed.”

Except for the additions of a bathhouse, swimming pool and tennis and volleyball courts, Waughtel said, much of the site, now owned by Flo Nilson, has remained as it was when McConville and Glassey founded it.

Guests are housed in small cabins, which rent for $8 to $20 per night. Few are wired for electricity. Other facilities include a sparsely equipped recreation room and main dining area.

“It’s cheaper than going to Disneyland, and people in Lake Elsinore don’t even know we’re here,” said Waughtel, the camp spokesman.

Guests are admitted past the front gate only after making application with the camp, he said. Camp officials are most wary of single men.

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“You watch them like a hawk,” Waughtel said, adding that most members are very mindful of maintaining security. “If there is any suggestion in acts or in any remarks that are inappropriate, that person is gone. We have children and women to protect here.”

A recent eviction occurred, the spokesman said, when a single man by the pool began “moving his chair constantly so he could get a better glance” at a young woman.

“He wasn’t around long,” Waughtel said.

About a half-dozen children, ranging in age 5 months to their late teens, live year round on the grounds. On Saturday, sans clothes, they were happily wheeling their bikes along dirt paths.

“Children are natural nudists,” Waughtel said. “They are so happy to get out of their clothes. We have to force them to get new clothes.”

The swimming pool is the center of most camp activity, but on Saturday guests waged high-intensity volleyball games, hiked or rode horses through the forest. Others, wearing Western hats, vests and boots, simply milled around a camp chuck wagon, where they dined on bratwurst sandwiches.

On most Sundays, the group, affiliated with the 7,000-member Western Sunbathing Assn., travels to Lake Elsinore, where a local bowling alley closes to the public in midafternoon, covers the windows and opens to nudists.

Waughtel said the weekly event lures nudists from similar Southern California communities, who come just to bowl in the buff.

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“People who have never been here should come here and see what’s going on here,” said Jacob Flesher, a native of Brazil who said that just four days ago he stood before federal authorities in Los Angeles and was welcomed as a new citizen of the United States.

“In the United States, you have the freedom to be who you want,” he said. “I told the judge that in Los Angeles that you even have the freedom to take off your clothes. I am proud to be a U.S. citizen.”


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