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      Mississippi River cabins a steal of a deal--graffiti encouraged

      Father Mike Quinn offers mass for campers at Oko Tipi.
      Just off the shore of the Mississippi River at Saverton, Mo., sits a haven among the hillside woods. Camp Oko Tipi has hosted generations of families who make that nostalgic trek back to their childhoods.

      Camp Oko Tipi was established clear back in 1935, a gift from the W.B. Pettibone family. It was established as a camp for the YMCA, Boy Scouts, Girl Scouts, youth groups and families. That remains its mission today.

      â??I think if I could take one week of vacation every year, I'd take it at Camp Oko Tipi,â?? Chase Hickman told me.

      Hickman runs the board of the non-profit camp. He first visited here about 50 years ago as little guy at YMCA Summer Camp. Later, he became a camp counselor. For the past 28 years, a group of his family and friends has spent a week there each summer. Today, he brings his grandkids to Oko Tipi.

      â??I just think it's a beautiful area,â?? Hickman said. â??It gives kids a chance to run around in the woods without getting off the beaten path. It's a place I go to relax and refresh. I'm not exhausted when I come home like I am with other vacations.â??

      Sitting around the campfire is probably the top form of relaxation for adults, but there's plenty of activities too. The 80-acre property has a ball field, swimming pool, gym/multi-purpose building, craft lodge, dining hall and seven rustic cabins.

      Our family joins about 10 others every June at Oko Tipi. For our children, it ranks right up there with Christmas. It's a technology-free getaway where the kids run amok in the woods and the only thing we worry about is ticks. One of our inviolable rules: kids eat all the popsicles they want, no questions asked. They think they're really getting away with somethingâ??and if a cavity forms on the spot, it's a chance we're willing to take. Besides, we have a dentist who camps with us. In fact, this year one of the kids did lose a toothâ??Oko Tipi is out of the way, but the tooth fairy can find it.

      Our group likes to do communal family breakfasts and suppers. We'll play some kickball, play games inside if the weather's bad, we'll belt each other with water balloons, plan some competitions at the pool and generally just lounge around. We have Father Mike Quinn come out to say mass and then he'll stay for some hands of euchre. The kids like to pull pranks on Saturday night. They'll sneak around for hours with their flashlights. This year, girls dominated the camp, so pranks involved ribbons, feathers and candy. Pretty harmless stuff.

      Because it's so secluded, Oko Tipi is sometimes the target of vandals. Just before our arrival, some block-headed punk stole the pots, pans, and silverware. However, there is one form of â??vandalismâ?? that is actually encouraged at campâ??graffiti. Since its earliest days, kids have scrawled their signatures on the cabin walls. You can spend hours finding familiar names or learning who loved whom back in '56.

      Another remarkable feature about Camp Oko Tipi is the cost. It's just $175 to rent the whole shebang for a weekend night, plus two-bucks-a-day utility fee. That's all seven cabins and the amenities, split between the campers. Our three-night visit ran us $67.50. Not a bad price to pay for a vacation...and when it comes to the value of the nostalgic lifetime family memories...well, that's just priceless.

      Take care~Sarah D.