A four-time national whitewater canoe national champion who grew up navigating the rivers and creeks around Atlanta and western Carolina, Orr makes each one from distinct-looking wood using lessons learned from five decades of gliding across the water. There is something else in every paddle, a legacy that goes back two generations to early Buckhead and to his grandparents, Fritz and Augusta Orr.
The book-matched wood paddles feature interlocking block letters F, O and C atop one another. It is the same logo that long ago adorned Fritz Orr Club-Camp, the north Atlanta after-school and summer program run by Fritz Orr III’s grandfather on what is now the campus of Westminster in Buckhead. After school, young boys gathered outside E. Rivers Elementary in Buckhead to wait for the Fritz Orr bus, which took them out to Nancy Creek Road. There they played football and basketball, rode horses and canoed.
By the time Fritz III was born, his family had sold the 14-acre Fritz Orr Club-Camp to Westminster and purchased Camp Merrie-Woode in Sapphire, N.C. But the eponymous camp was an important rite of passage for just about all Buckhead boys and girls from 1929 through 1960.
Fritz Orr Sr. was a 24-year-old math teacher at University School for Boys in Midtown when he began organizing after-school sports for boys, according to Franklin Garrett in his book on Atlanta history “Atlanta and Environs.” In 1933, after the club had outgrown neighborhood backyards, several families banded together with Fritz Orr Sr. to purchase a campus off Nancy Creek Road. It eventually included a swimming pool, stables and a gymnasium.
In the book, Garrett said of Orr, “These children are not only taught good sportsmanship, but likewise learned that their superior advantages carry the penalty of heavier obligations to their community and fellow citizens.” That sentiment is reflected in the many future leaders of Atlanta who attended the program, too many to list here.
Fritz Orr III describes his grandfather as an adventurer who was always willing and eager to explore new places. He also said he was equally a teacher who saw the outdoors as one enormous classroom.
Fritz Orr III teaches canoeing at Camp High Rocks in Cedar Mountain, N.C., the same way his grandparents and parents taught him. He calls the basics hard skills and soft skills. The hard skills are strokes, the strength, the steering. The soft skills are problem solving, decision making and communicating. Bringing these two skill sets together is the balance he seeks to instill in his campers. The river is the perfect environment, he said.
The paddles represent the integrity of his grandfather and his grandmother, the youngest Orr said. That is why he uses that old logo as the symbol of his company — Fritz Orr Canoe has the same lettering as Fritz Orr Club-Camp, FOC. That symbol from a bygone era is a connection between a boy and his grandparents, who instilled in him a love of the outdoors and nature he is passing on to the next generation.
Buckhead resident is a sixth-generation Atlantan and can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.