Years back, we were lucky enough to connect with longtime type 1 advocate Ivy Lockett in Georgia, who was diagnosed as a girl in 1949 and later founded a diabetes camp named after her in that state. She served as camp director for 37 years before the camp closed down in 2014, and all who knew Ivy attest to how many lives she touched with her vibrant personality. We were sad to hear the news recently that she had passed away last year (from breast cancer) at age 81, and D-Mom Pamela Heyward who knew Ivy well shares this:
“Ivy Lockett was a great friend of mine. We went from strangers to closest of friends. when I stumbled upon her camp and emailed her… fiery as she was, she immediately called me asking, ‘How did I possibly get her contact info and who was I?’ I explained and then she became my greatest admirer and her mine. We never met in person but spoke almost weekly on the phone. We said, ‘I love you’ upon closing every time. Every time Ivy called she’d ask, ‘How are you doing, Beautiful? How are things? I hope super.’ That very word, SUPER, is now incorporated into most of my conversations. She referred to her camp attendees as her ‘sweet kids’ and upon her death she was no longer ‘sweet’ in that sense but finally free.”
Today, in honor of Ivy’s memory, we are sharing a slightly updated version of our past profile of this remarkable woman who touched so many lives.
The beloved diabetes camp in Georgia called Camp Ivy was named in honor of founder Ivy Lockett, who was diagnosed herself as a 12-year-old girl in 1949 and started the camp in the 70s. The hundreds of children who attended the camp through the years are still fondly known as Ivy’s “Sweet Kids,” no matter what age they are now.
The Early Years
Ivy said the inspiration to start a diabetes camp — dubbed Camp Ivy by the children attending — stemmed from how little Ivy she knew about diabetes growing up. For most of her childhood years, she said there were no support groups or group activities, and even very little research that she knew of in her area.
Remember that back when Ivy was diagnosed, times were different. Those were the “archaic, primitive dark days of diabetes” as she describes them, and in those days patients had to boil their own syringes at home to sterilize them, and there was only animal insulin, which had a less-than-ideal peak curve. Growing up, she wanted to go into the insurance industry but remembers doors being shut professionally when she told them about her type 1 diabetes.
She ended up working in the public relations department at the Keebler plant in Atlanta, and one day she found out she was being laid off. Though she had a chance to keep the job by moving to Ohio, she wanted to stay in her home state of Georgia. (Her husband retired from Delta Airlines, where he worked as an air traffic controller.)
“I was down and depressed about life and my diabetes and that’s when I thought, ‘The good Lord is using me to help others.’ I called my dad and told him I’m going to have a camp for children with type 1, and I’ve kept pushing to do that ever since.”
By that time, Ivy had already delved deep into advocacy. She had founded the Fayette County Diabetes Association and helped provide resources similar to what chapters of the American Diabetes Association have offered diabetics. For years, Ivy gathered a group of people for monthly meetings from the south and metro Atlanta areas of the state. They conducted classes to help educate people, and from everything Ivy learned about diabetes through the years she became a nationally-sought speaker who attended events throughout the U.S.
People in her network were always asking about diabetes activities for kids, and she saw so many children who just didn’t seem to know much about life with diabetes. That’s what really sparked her passion about starting a camp.
Early on, Ivy said she didn’t like how the American Diabetes Association would take kids from Georgia to the ADA-sponsored camp in North Carolina; she wanted kids to experience the beauty of her own region. And she didn’t like how much ADA camp cost to attend, as it seemed like only the wealthier kids and families could afford to go. So, she pushed to create her own camp based in Fayetteville, GA, where she lived for four decades.
Camp Ivy Grows Up
In the first year of camp in 1977, Ivy said she had 10 kids attend. Later, hundreds came through her camp each summer. Mostly, they are ages 3 or older — though she said the youngest was a baby, with a parent staying overnight. Typically, the child had to be old enough to operate an insulin pump if he or she was using one.
Kids came all the way from Florida, New York, and other states to spend a week in the rural setting where they could swim, play games, hike, learn about trees, and just enjoy nature — all the while having diabetes along for the ride.
An important part of camp was that “Miss Ivy” (as her “Sweet Kids” call her) gave it to them straight, without any sugar-coating, so to speak. She was known for talking frankly to the children in plain truths, directly and honestly, in ways that medical professionals may not always do.
In 2011, Camp Ivy became an official non-profit — something Ivy said wasn’t needed for most of the years, because she had help from friends and companies who supported the camp financially. But eventually, that help started drying up because everyone started wanting a federal 501c3 number for tax write-offs.
So, each year, she managed to get enough funding and support to help pay for that year’s camp and rented out a location for the week-long programs. Originally, she rented the Calvin Center in Central Georgia. Then thanks to a connection from a camper’s parent, they moved to Christian-based camp retreat Skipstone Academy to house Camp Ivy and were hosted there ever since.
The last camp was held in July 2013, before the unexpected hiatus for the 2014 season.
Ivy’s Ups and Downs
The 2014 season was a sad one, as it was the first time in more than three decades that the renowned camp didn’t happen. It would’ve been the program’s 37th consecutive year.
It was a blow for many in Georgia and beyond, especially those who are actively involved with diabetes camps nationwide and looked to Camp Ivy for inspiration through the years. Not only for what the camp is and does, but for the simple fact that Ivy Lockett herself was a veteran type 1 who brought a level of understanding and charm to the Southern D-Camp.
When we talked to Ivy by phone at the time, she basically told us that despite recent personal struggles, she was not giving up!
She had a tough time going into specifics, but said life started getting her down and she took that as a sign that it was time to give up Camp Ivy. Soon after making that decision, those in her Georgia D-Community and many of the kids and parents let her know how sad they were to hear the news, and they hoped to see Camp Ivy return.
“Something happened, and I just felt so defeated,” she said. “But the kids were heartbroken, and they asked if it would happen next year. I’ve missed it so much…” She had hoped to reopen the following year, but that didn’t happen.
Staying in Touch
The (then) 77-year-old said that thanks to modern tech like cell phones, she loved being able to easily keep in touch with her kids.
“I’ve been to weddings, baby showers, graduations… I get some of my kids call and are boo-hooing in their beer, so to speak. And I stay on the phone with them while they test, and I am not going to hang up until I can hear the change in their voices,” she told us.
Those connections meant the world to Ivy, and she found herself turning to them in times when she wasn’t feeling the best about her own diabetes. Though she was in excellent health without complications, Ivy said she would get “down” herself at times and need that peer support too.
She began been using an insulin pump at age 75 but wasn’t a fan, and though she might have been interested in trying a CGM, she could not afford one out-of-pocket and her Medicare didn’t cover that (see #MedicareCoverCGM legislation updates).
Her longtime, 40-year endo also had also just retired when we spoke with her, so Ivy was in a transition period while trying to find a new doctor.
To the end, her humor remained well intact, without a doubt: “I’m healthy as a horse, and I’m going to live forever,” she laughed back then, echoing what her endo told her.
“If I do nothing else in my life, at least I have done this — something to help other people with diabetes.”