08/28/2013 1:48 PM
08/28/2013 1:53 PM
Lake Norman never had a better champion than Bill Lee. Lee was the chief engineer for Cowans Ford Dam in the 1950s and ‘60s and later served as chairman and CEO of Duke Power Co. Lee was a native of Charlotte and educated at Princeton. He returned to North Carolina in 1955 to help design the dams on the Catawba River that created Lake James, Lake Hickory, Mountain Island, and finally Lake Norman. States Lee, one of three Lee children, says one of his earliest memories is when, at age 5, his father took him camping one spring weekend in 1959. “I remember we were hiking and finally came to the river and a bridge,” says States. “There was a medallion benchmark on the bridge from the U.S. Geological Survey that told us the elevation.” States watched as his dad pulled out levels, measuring devices, and other surveying equipment from a bag. He instructed States to take one of the levels and climb up a nearby hill and hold the level straight up and down on a stump while he took measurements. Father and son continued to work this way, moving from stump to stump through pokeberries and briars until they got back to their campsite. “It took another couple of weekends in the woods before he was satisfied that we had finished,” says States. “He finally took a 16-penny nail and hammered it into the base of a big pine tree. ‘When the lake fills up, it will be two feet below this penny,’ he said. ‘Now we know where to build our pier.’” Every weekend that summer, States and his father went to the campsite in the middle of the woods and worked on the pier. But Bill soon realized he didn’t have the money to build what he really wanted, and it was going to take more manpower than just him and his young son. To help finish the project, Bill recruited several partners, including Bob Dick and Tom Garret. “Bill also realized that to have other families involved would exponentially add to the fun and enjoyment,” says States The Lees and the other families involved in the pier’s construction spent many weekends and summers building what became known as “Camp Lee.” Sometimes there were as many as 30 people in the camp. They added a pagoda and makeshift bathhouse so they could shower and change to drive into Charlotte to work. Lisa Lee Morgan, State’s older sister, remembers that her father organized an elaborate event called Camp Lee 4th of July Olympics, that involved swimming, canoeing and diving competitions. Bill passed away in 1996, but not before he built a house next to the family’s 60-foot pier in the 1980s, where his wife, Jan, still lives. States and his family also live in the area, and along with other siblings and friends, regularly get together to play on the lake and soak up the sun on the pier, which still stands after all these years “He was charismatic and brilliant—a man with a big heart and a big brain,” says Lisa. “And he loved Lake Norman more than anything. If he was still here, he would be sitting outside enjoying the pagoda.”
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