A boyhood trip to summer camp changed Joe Brunson’s life. In 2005, the chairman of the board and chief executive officer of Team Worldwide in Winnsboro decided to create a place where other kids could have life-altering experiences. Under the umbrella of the Team Family Foundation, a non-profit corporation, Brunson and his employees opened The Purley Gates Camp and Retreat on 600 acres in Franklin County. “The main reason I wanted to build The Purley Gates was because I was saved as a kid at a camp and have never forgotten it,” Brunson said in an e-mail interview. “It is very important now that kids have places to go where they hear about God and hear His word, especially since our kids no longer hear and learn about these things in school.”
Jason Bruson, a member of The Purley Gates board of directors, agrees with his grandfather.
“All of us remember the joys of going to camp for the summers,” the younger Brunson said. “There is just something great about being able to break away from the daily routines and be surrounded by God’s creation.”
Joe Brunson moved to Winnsboro in 1983, bringing his fledgling transportation company, called Team Air Express at the time, with him.
In the beginning, the company had two offices, one in Dallas, the other in Houston, and they employed 6 people.
Today, they have 46 offices worldwide and employ approximately 100 people in the company’s headquarters in Winnsboro. Brunson’s son, Bobby, serves as the corporation’s Executive Vice President.
“Out of the six original employees, three are still with us,” said Vice President of Marketing LaWanda Smelley.
Last Friday, Team Family Foundation held an open house to highlight new construction at The Purley Gates.
In addition to the original meeting hall, swimming pool, small cottage and recreation room, they have added a new dorm, an extra meeting hall that can accommodate up to 200 people, a 50-acre lake and a new lodge, with a meeting hall named by using the initials of Joe Brunson’s parents – GAB – with 20 private rooms and a beautiful vista of the surrounding countryside.
“Now that we have GAB Hall and the Lodge completed, we can work with young married couples and corporations and associations to bring kids in that don’t have a church family or the means to attend [camp] on their own,” the elder Brunson said.
Jason Bruson said the foundation developed the camp “to provide a safe Christian encampment facility at an affordable rate. … No one should be prevented from learning about God’s love and grace because their group is unable to afford it. It is our goal to provide high end camp facilities at affordable rates.”
While offering a summer camp is the main focus of The Purley Gates, the retreat is not limited to kids.
The facility has been used for family reunions, prom parties, weddings and corporate retreats. The ladies from the Red Hat Society spend two weekends a year at the camp. The Hemphills, of gospel music fame, have also come for dinner. Winnsboro High School’s classes of 1973, 1974 and 1975 booked their annual combined reunion at the facility for June.
“This weekend, we have the Cotton Strippers Quilting Club from Hunt County staying with us,” said Camp and Personnel Manager Belinda Riley. “They’re coming in on Thursday and leaving Sunday. They’ll stay in the dorms and set up their quilting in the big meeting room of the Ron Smith Building.”
Click here to see more pictures of the Cotton Strippers and to purchase photos for download.
This is the second time the quilters have held a retreat at The Purley Gates.
“We have the best time,” said event organizer Debra Hager of Greenville. “We get to quilt all weekend, and we don’t have to cook.”
According to Liz Mabry, kitchen and banquet manager, the 35 ladies will be eating well.
“Tonight, we’re going to have chicken spaghetti and peach cobbler,” Mabry explained. “For the vegetarians in the group, we’ll have some special garlic pasta.”
If the ladies get tired of quilting, there are other options available to them.
“Now that the weather is getting warmer, we have a lot of things to do here,” Riley said. “We have access to the horses stabled at Duke Land and Cattle. The property adjoins The Purley Gates, but we usually bus our guests and campers over there.”
Duke Land and Cattle has just completed construction on a 150 ft. x 275 ft. covered riding arena.
“As soon as they put the finishing touches on everything, we’re going to offer riding lessons,” said Margerite Carr, who serves as a wrangler - among her many duties - at Duke Land and Cattle and The Purley Gates.
During the summer, Riley, Mabry and Carr put in long days.
“Someone has to be here 24 hours a day,” Riley explained. “It’s a lot of work, but it’s a lot of fun, too.”
When asked to comment on the staff at The Purley Gates, Joe Brunson said, “Having a caring and committed staff is critical.”
Jason concurrs, saying, “When our staff is committed to the work of the organization, they give others confidence. …It becomes a matter of ‘walking the walk,’ not just talking the talk.
When the facility opened in 2005, two buildings were named in honor of Team Worldwide family who have died.
The main meeting hall is called the Ron Smith building after the late president. Smith was a Team Branch owner from 1980-1986, and who served as president of the corporation from 1987 until his death in 1995.
The camp’s recreation center is named after Ken Chestnut, one of the branch owners from Jacksonville, Florida, who died in 2001, and the 50-acre lake is named in honor of Leo Frances Lyons, a branch owner from Massachusetts, who died in 2003.
The Corey Ray dorm honors the memory of LaWanda Smelley’s son, who was killed in 1992 at age 16.
“It [naming the dorm] literally floored me with a range of emotions; so sad, but so happy,” Smelley said. “What can you say when someone honors a person you love so much and gives you the opportunity to see his name memorialized?”
While The Purley Gates is an opportunity for children to enjoy the Christian camping experience and for adults to enjoy quality time together, the facility also offers great rewards to its owners.
“The best thing so far, that really got to me, was when some of the foundation’s board members went out to visit with a group from Arkansas, and we were asked to stay while six of their kids were baptized,” Joe Brunson said. “That sight really moved me – it gave me goose bumps.”
Jason Bruson says “the reward is being part of a larger work. … the connection being made in a child’s mind and heart of who God is and what He has done for us, makes all the work well worth the effort.”
For rates and availability, see The Purley Gates’ website at:
or call 903-860-3329.
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