Executive director Taylor set to retire after 38 years at Shocco Springs

Cory Horton was a brand-new hire at Shocco Springs Baptist Conference Center in Talladega when he got a call that one of the toilets in the Springview dormitory wouldn’t stop running.
“I was on call for the first time that night,” he said. “I tried to fix it, but I wasn’t familiar with the kind of pipe that particular toilet used.”

The next thing he knew, a waterfall burst out of the wall and started flowing off the fourth floor.

Horton had no choice. Embarrassed, he called Buster Taylor, the camp’s executive director, who was off for the night.

He was afraid he might not have a job when Monday came around.

But when Taylor arrived, he patted Horton on the shoulder and told him he would take care of it. He knew Horton was in seminary and had studying to do and also needed some sleep.

“And not only that — he told me I could clock in again on Monday,” Horton said.

Horton, now secretary of Shocco’s board of trustees and pastor of Elkdale Baptist Church, Selma, told that story Dec. 1 at Taylor’s retirement celebration. It was a story that surprised no one. The room, full of friends of Shocco, told story after story about Taylor’s heart and his beginnings.

Working his way up

He first came to the conference center 38 years ago as a maintenance man.

“We came to Shocco from a church ministry job,” Taylor said. “We wanted something a little different.”

He interviewed with George Ricker, Shocco’s first full-time director, in 1979.

“Dr. Ricker said, ‘Why are you here?’ and I told him I would like to apply for a position,” Taylor said. “He told me, ‘We don’t have positions — we only have jobs.’”

Taylor said that was fine by him.

He started out fixing toilets and anything else that broke, a skill that came naturally. He had grown up repairing mechanical things with his father, he said. He headed up maintenance for a while before being promoted to assistant director.

Then in 1989 he became Ricker’s successor.

“It was not an intentional thing,” Taylor said of the long tenure he and his wife, Mary, had at the camp. “We both felt we had been called into the ministry as teenagers, and this was an opportunity to do something different from church ministry for a few years. I never realized it would be a lifelong career.”

But both he and his wife found that the way God changed lives at Shocco was “eye opening,” he said.

“We were out there plunging toilets, raking leaves and making sure people weren’t hot or cold,” he said. “We and others on staff called ourselves ‘distraction eliminators’ — we wanted to keep everything out of the way that could distract them from hearing God while they were there.”

And in the 38 years Taylor was at the helm of Shocco, a lot of people said they heard from God.

About 38,000 made decisions for Christ, either for the first time, to rededicate their lives or to commit to serve in ministry.

He was a strong spiritual leader for the camp, said Wendy Westerhouse, Shocco’s public relations associate. He “quoted Matthew 6:33 more times than I can count,” she said, saying he was always pointing the staff back to their main objective.

The face of Shocco changed a good bit while Taylor was there, too. Twenty new buildings were constructed. The property expanded to more than 800 acres. The annual budget is six times what it was in 1979. The camp sustained a long partnership with Camp Carabobo, a sister conference center in Venezuela.

And in a months-long process in 1999, Shocco transitioned from being owned by the Alabama Baptist State Convention to becoming an entity of the convention.

“That was one of the biggest challenges to walk through,” he said, but he was able to use that experience to help others. Over the years, he has had the chance to counsel other camps in the Southern Baptist Convention as they made similar transitions.

Those challenges may be milestones, but when Taylor thinks back over his decades at Shocco, he keeps coming back to people.

“One word keeps coming to mind — grateful,” Taylor said. “I’m grateful for all the people we have been able to do life with.”

Some of those have been living alongside the Taylors in the Shocco community for decades. Others are new, like Russell Klinner, who will step into the directorship when Taylor leaves Dec. 31. When that happens, he and Mary will move to Jacksonville to be near his mother, as well as his brother, who runs the family business there.

Retirement celebration

During the retirement celebration, person after person told Taylor that he had left his fingerprints all over the camp, and evangelist Phil Waldrep told him that he was “finishing well.”

“Buster leaves one of the best, if not the best, Christian conference centers in the world,” Waldrep said. “There are few men for whom I have greater respect, admiration and love. He has served well.”

It will be hard to walk away from Shocco, but Taylor said he has “no qualms” about leaving.

“We’ve got a great staff that caught the vision,” he said. “They know what it is to serve people like Jesus served and to provide Christlike hospitality. I’m excited for the future.”