Rehoboth remembers Steve Elkins

CAMP Rehoboth co-founder dead at 67
March 17, 2018

Steve Elkins, the co-founder of CAMP Rehoboth in Rehoboth Beach, died March 15 after a lengthy battle with lymphoma. He was 67 years old.

Elkins had been battling the disease since the fall, undergoing chemotherapy treatments at Thomas Jefferson University Hospital in Philadelphia. He is survived by his husband, and fellow CAMP founder, Murray Archibald.

“We’re gonna feel this loss for a long, long time,” said CAMP Rehoboth President Chris Beagle.

Beagle was appointed president of the board after Elkins was forced to step away due to his illness.

In a Facebook post announcing Elkins’ passing, the organization posted, “We extend our heartfelt condolences to his husband, Murray Archibald, and their family. Steve’s passing is a tremendous loss to them, to CAMP Rehoboth, and to the entire community.”

Beagle said Elkins was a pioneer for the LGBTQ community.

“The life we enjoy was inspired and influenced by Steve and Murray at CAMP Rehoboth. Their leadership and their vision has brought us to a level of respect,” he said.

Writer Fay Jacobs worked with Elkins on CAMP’s house publication, “Letters From CAMP Rehoboth” and other projects, for nearly 25 years. She said looking back through old issues of Letters from its beginning, as a four-page newsletter, to a 100-page magazine, shows the evolution of diversity in Rehoboth.

“Steve and Murray’s founding of CAMP Rehoboth, and their nurturing guidance, was paramount in making Rehoboth what it is today. Steve’s quiet diplomacy and determination to reach out and invite people to get to know Rehoboth’s LGBT residents and visitors was his calling card, and a gift to our hometown,” she said.

Jacobs said Elkins was more than just an editor.

“Although I had been writing since high school and had a pre-Rehoboth career as a newspaper editor, Steve gave me the chance to be out and proud, and write authentically as myself. Without him I would not have had my career as an activist, published author or comic storyteller. For me, his impact was huge, and knowing him was a joy - and I imagine it is the same for hundreds of others grieving with this loss,” she said.

At their March 16 regular meeting, the Rehoboth commissioners held a moment of silence for Elkins and displayed an In Memoriam message on the commissioners’ room display screens.

Mayor Paul Kuhns said, “I look at Murray and Steve and what they’ve done for this community. Bringing so many people in, making Rehoboth a place for all. The things they have added to this community, the people they have brought into this community - he’s going to be sorely missed.”

Kuhns said he served with Elkins on the board of the Rehoboth Beach Historical Society, and considered him a friend whom he could always talk to about what was going on in the city.

“The community is really going to miss him. It’s a very sad day,” he said.

Elkins and Archibald had vacationed in Rehoboth for years. In the late-1980s and early 1990s, there was tension between the gay and straight communities, personified by bumper stickers stating “Keep Rehoboth A Family Town.” In 1988, Elkins and Archibald hosted the first Sundance event, which was originally intended to celebrate their 10th anniversary and raise money for AIDS charities.

In his last interview with the Cape Gazette in August prior to Sundance’s 30th anniversary, Elkins said he was amazed by the volunteers and sponsors who helped make the event what it became.

“They don’t take credit for it. It’s amazing,” he said.

Sundance evolved into CAMP Rehoboth, which Elkins and Archibald started in 1990 with the mission of establishing room for all in Rehoboth. The organization grew into an advocate for LGBTQ rights; in 2011, Elkins and Beagle were among those who appeared at Legislative Hall in Dover to testify in support of the bill legalizing civil unions in Delaware. Gov. Jack Markell eventually signed the bill at CAMP Rehoboth on Elkins’ birthday. When the U.S. Supreme Court ruled that same-sex marriage was legal throughout the country, the first marriage in Sussex County was at CAMP Rehoboth’s Community Center, uniting Beagle and his husband, Eric Englehart.

Beagle said the night of Elkins’ passing, CAMP Rehoboth held an event at the community center for new volunteers. Beagle said he wasn’t looking forward to speaking, having said his goodbyes to Elkins at the hospital. But once he saw 45 to 50 volunteers staring back at him, he got energized to continue the legacy Elkins and Archibald have built.

“Steve would have loved seeing that room with those faces,” Beagle said.