Thanks For The Memories

This year, we invited readers to submit their favorite memories from years gone by. Some are funny, some are serious, and some taught life lessons, but all happened on the grounds that most of you call home. So remember these on a hot, sunny summer day when the beds are full and campers are squealing with delight over the latest round of Color Wars—what you’re doing matters—sometimes more than you realize at the time. But the effects are felt for a lifetime. Thanks for all you do for children across the country. We appreciate you as much as they do.

The Lost Coin Purse
Years ago, a nine-year-old girl would always lose her coin purse at the campfire site almost every night. The leader of the camp would always ask me to help her find the coin purse. When the young lady turned into her teens, she confided in the leader that she just wanted to hang out with me. It is nice and even humbling to know that someone thinks that much of you.

Chuck Wurth
Program Manager
4-H Camp Palmer Inc.
Fayette Ohio
Applause For Esther
Camp is not only for children in the summer—it is for people of any age. This was driven home to me during the first summer of my camp career. During our two weeks of staff training at Camp Kuriakos (Sylvan Lake, Alberta, Canada), we ran a program called Second Sixties for adults in that age group. I will never forget Esther, our oldest camper at 102 years young. She attended camp with her 91-year-old brother and the siblings were chaperoned to camp by her 77-year-old son.

At our talent show, a number of campers gave memorable performances. Esther took the cake when she began reciting a poem in her native Swedish language. The crowd, although not speaking much Swedish, was soon captivated by the epic tale, which continued over several minutes. On and on the story went, until an alarmed look suddenly came over her care aide’s face.

“Oh no!” he blurted. “She’s back on Verse 2!”

Amid the crowd’s stunned smiles, Esther’s aide quickly worked out a plan and put it in to action around the eight-minute mark of her performance. “The next time there is any pause, everybody clap!” We did, and Esther drank in the applause.

Camp is for everyone – especially if you are over 100!

David Bragg
Current Development Director, Kinasao Lutheran Bible Camp, Christopher Lake, SK, Canada
Camp Kuriakos summer staff 1994, Sylvan Lake, Alberta, Canada
Bonding With Yoni’s Brother
I attended Camp Young Judaea in Amherst, N.H., from the ages of 11 to 15. I have so many wonderful memories, but I would say my most memorable was having an Israeli Scout at camp my first or second year (can’t exactly recall). His name was Jonathan Netanyahu or, in Hebrew, Yoni. He taught us outdoor adventure activities and was an amazing young man and role model. Although he was only at camp for one summer, he became good friends to so many counselors and campers. When he came to college in Boston, several of us did see him on occasion! Such an amazing person! When he went back to Israel he became an officer in the Israel Defense Forces. And if you recall, he was killed during the raid on Entebbe to rescue hostages from the airport in Uganda! We were all devastated!

Thirteen years ago, I went to Israel on a Judaeo-Christian Mission.  One of our days there, we had the opportunity to meet and have dinner with Benjamin Netanyahu and his staff members. I introduced myself and told him the connection with his brother and camp (which he recalled fondly) and was so thrilled to meet me! Such wonderful memories of a wonderful young man!

Judy Levine
Summer Camp & Trip Resources
A Positive Impact
RiverTrek is Cincinnati Recreation Commission’s 75-mile, 5-day, 4-night paddling journey along the Little Miami and Ohio Rivers. Around 50 teens get to experience it each year.

A few years ago, I was doing a video interview with a young teen on RiverTrek. It was his first year on the trip. He was 13 years old and had never been camping or canoeing! He had never done anything like RiverTrek. 

As we got further into the interview, I found out that his older brothers were in prison. To avoid going down the same path, he was trying to do things like RiverTrek to help him to stay positive and live a better life.  I remember trying not to get emotional as this kid was talking, thinking that he is exactly who we were trying to reach and that we really are making a difference in someone's life. What we’re doing is working and we are reaching the children who need us the most!

Bunny Arszman
Cincinnati Recreation Commission
A Life-Changing Moment
My first summer, my eyes were opened to servant leadership. I came from the business world and had no concept of the power of Christ like leadership. My discovery 12 summers ago radically changed my life.

Shay Robbins
Kanakuk Camps
Becoming She Captain
K-West Girl Day has become a camp favorite in the last 8 years. There have been all kinds of themes and activities, but a skit with characters throughout the day is a staple. Typically we set sail on the U.S.S. YWUYAAB cruise ship to start the day, then fill the rest of the day with activities.

One morning as we were eating breakfast on the ship deck (lakefront), seven of my staff girls started swimming in after hiding in the water behind the floating dock for 45 minutes! They had been lost at sea, were disoriented, and became part of our ship. They were out of control upon arrival—throwing food, dumping water pitchers on campers, smearing mud all over themselves, not forming complete sentences, etc. The campers LOVED these characters and took them under their wing the rest of the day to train and teach them how to act civilized again.

Throughout the day, the castaways began to remember who they were and the day ended with a performance to thank the campers for their hospitality. At this performance, multiple Disney princes stormed in, searching for their lost princesses who just happened to be the castaways! While the search party was happening, the girls were changing into their princess outfits and then each prince found his princess! The theme song from each movie played upon their reconnection, and the campers went wild! Imagine Aladdin finding Jasmine and flying on their magic carpet, Belle and the Beast dancing to “Beauty and the Beast” and more!


Well in this whole exchange, I play the role of the ship captain. And the captain of the ship is not a princess, thus she does not have a prince. I simply would run the music for the finale. But not this day. After all the princes reunited with their princesses, one more gentleman showed up. He was wearing aviators, a pilot’s hat and a sport coat. Making a grand entrance, he announced that he was looking for his “She Captain!” My staff girls had arranged for a friend of mine who I didn’t even know was visiting camp to show up and shock me in that moment.

Campers and staff legitimately thought I was getting engaged ... needless to say, I was not! It was the most surprising thing that's ever been pulled over on me at camp. I don't know if I’ve ever laughed as hard as I did that night in this place! To this day, people still bring up the time the “He Captain” showed up!

Lindsay Rother
Assistant Women’s Director
Kanakuk Camps
A Lifetime Of Memories
What life changing moment happened at camp? There were many:

  • I accepted Jesus as a camper in 1981. My wife became a Christian that same summer, as a camper, same term (and we think even same night but not sure ... it was a Joe White talk)
  • I deepened my relationship with Christ as a camper, a chief and a 6-year staffer.
  • I met my wife at camp (we were both staffers in 1990). I proposed to her on Table Rock Lake in a boat by Martin’s Point (on a leadership weekend).
  • I have gotten to see all of my four kids go to camp and develop some of their best friends, and know Christ more. Two sons have now worked at camp as counselors, three of my four kids have been a chief and princesses. One child became a Christian on a family vacation in 1999 in Branson. Both my daughters were baptized at camp 4 years ago by Matt Houston.
  • I volunteered for three years as camp doctor.
  • I have developed a close friend in Matt Houston, who was my CIT in 1991, and good buddy for 25 years.

    Todd Nickel
    Former Kanakuk Kamper
    Clamoring For Cake
    There was an unwritten thing, one you had to know about by word of mouth. One I thought was so fun for all the years, and one that I told my kids about when they eventually were able to go themselves. Every Sunday morning, everyone knows that Sunday means Kanakuk Koffee Cake! One fun and unique tradition (that is no longer there), was to be ready when the morning wake-up sounded. The second that music played, you could sprint to the K-1 fountain and there was the most glorious thing … Kris Cooper standing there with a hot tray of Kanakuk Koffee Cake. There were only about 20 pieces, so you had to be ready to go! We would sleep in our clothes and shoes Saturday night so that we could roll out and get it while it was there to be gotten!

Jordan James
Former Kanakuk Kamper
A 40-Year-Friendship … And More
It was the summer I turned 15 when I first set foot into the camp that would change my life forever. My mother “forced” me to attend Camp Cherith, a two-week, all girls, residential camp offered by Pioneer Girls at Horn Creek in Westcliffe, Colo., at the base of a 13,000-foot mountain. She said that the experience would be good for me. My home life was very dysfunctional and I craved the safety of the known. To say that I was terrified was an understatement. Little did I know that that experience and one very special camp counselor would open doors to my future career.

I was greeted at the registration desk by a group of overly excited camp counselors who worked to get me signed in. I was shocked to learn that my “cabin” would be replaced by a tent.  I and 13 other high school girls would be camped alongside a creek about a half-mile outside of the main camp because there were so many younger campers needing to be served. Things looked grim and I wanted more than ever to turn around and go home. Instead, I was guided to a closet area where the high school girls would keep our belongings for the next two weeks, as there wasn’t enough room at the campsite for us to store our suitcases. It was there that I first met the woman that would change my life. My camp counselor was “Dusky” who saw right away that I was not comfortable with the situation nor being there at all. She assured me that all would be OK and introduced me to several of my tent mates. I said goodbye to my mom and gathered for a walking tour of the camp that eventually ended at my new home-away-from-home … a large, eight-person tent. Hanging on a rope between the pine trees was a huge piece of metal. There was a large stick leaning against one of the nearby trees. I made the mistake of asking what the metal sheet was for and again terror set in when I was told that it was to deter bears from entering our campsite. Bears! Dusky knew that I needed to be distracted and quickly put me to work getting the nightly campfire set up. The laughter and social bonding eased my anxiety as I finally began to settle into camp. After a meal of macaroni and cheese, with a dash of spider tossed in for protein, we all gathered around the campfire to share stories and sing songs. It was the first time in my life that I truly saw stars and even the Milky Way! The first night camping in the tent went well except for an incident where “Allegro’s” air mattress deflated, causing her to roll down on top of me. The laughter over that incident sealed my comfort with the group and the rest of the two-week session I rarely thought of home or the chaos that I had left behind. For the record, we never did have to bang on the metal for the bears. Whew!

The two weeks ended and it was time to go home. I didn’t want to leave. It was a surreal experience and the transition back to the daily grind and home was a difficult one. Dusky kept in touch and we saw each other at camp the following year. I committed to becoming a Counselor in Training and eventually graduated to be a full-fledged counselor for the camp when I turned 17. Camp offered me a place to grow and connect to the person that I was inside. I had found a safe haven, a place to focus my energy and develop my skills. Most importantly, I found a place with people that were role models, people that could offer me another way to look at life outside of the dysfunction that was home.

I was about to graduate from high school with no thoughts of attending college. No one had ever approached me about attending college—not my high-school counselor, not my parents, not anyone. I went to visit Dusky at her parent’s home for a weekend. During a picnic in the nearby mountains, she asked me what my plans were after I graduated. I told her I did not have any and thought I would keep working at my job at the nursing home where I worked as a Certified Nursing Assistant. We talked more and she asked if I would like to tour a nearby college to see what it was like and visit with them about admissions. I said yes and we did. I returned home to my parents and shared my desire to go to college. After some intense discussions about finances, I enrolled in a nearby community college for a semester and eventually transferred to the college I had visited with my former camp counselor. I ended up transferring to another college, due a change in major that was not offered at the original college, and graduated with a degree in Parks and Recreation Management, focusing on working with kids and adults with disabilities.

You would think that that would be a good ending to the story, but it gets even better. I became a Certified Therapeutic Recreation Specialist and worked in the field for 15 years in both community and clinical settings. During that time, Dusky and I kept in touch and continued our friendship. I later went on to earn my master’s degree in Gerontology (the study of aging) and eventually my doctoral degree in Leisure Behavior with emphases in Gerontology and Family Studies. I now am entering my 12th year of teaching Parks and Recreation Management, Therapeutic Recreation, and Gerontology at the university level. I have taught over 700 students about the profession of parks and recreation and I am always sure to include reference to my life-changing experiences at camp.

I carry with me a lifetime of memories and am eternally grateful for meeting a camp counselor who saw in me what I was not able to see in myself. Dusky believed in me, inspired me, and taught me to believe in myself. I would not be where I am today, touching the lives that I do, promoting the profession of parks and recreation and camping if it were not for this “forced” two weeks at camp and meeting Dusky. We see each other every summer when I teach an exploratory recreation class nearby where she lives. This past summer, we realized that we have now known each other for over 40 years!

Sue Myllykangas, Ph.D., CTRS
Associate Professor
Northwest Missouri State University
Maryville, Mo.
We’ll Speak In The Morning
My first year as a staff member in 1979 almost didn’t happen. In hindsight, what led up to it may have been one of the strongest contributing points to eventually becoming a camp director.

At Camp Sussex, in Sussex, N.J., I attended teen camp as a camper in 1978 and like so many who attended camp and eventually worked there, I found a place where I finally felt like I belonged. I loved it. The sports, the crazy counselors and ultimately the friendships which have lasted since then are those I count as my closest.

The teen session was two-and-a-half weeks and for 14 of those days, I was a model camper. Not that I was trying to be. The camp and I just seemed to click. I met a girl. Hit the game-winning shot in a basketball game. Hit homeruns against the rival camp in softball. I was having a blast and then …

It was the third-to-last night of camp. I was 15 and in the oldest teen bunk. Other campers in my cabin convinced me that there were girls who wanted to meet us, who were from the oldest teen girls’ cabin, and they were going to be at the softball field at 1 a.m. At first, I refused, but the peer pressure mounted and eventually we were on our way.

We thought we were smart by each carrying one of those old gray itchy woolen blankets around us, long before there was a Harry Potter invisibility cloak. We reasoned that it was dark and the blankets were dark gray, so who could see us? Of course, we arrived at the softball field only to discover the girls stood us up; we wanted to know why. The only way to find out was to sneak onto the girls’ campus and into their cabin—a feat only a select few were brave enough to try and sly enough to pull off.

The oldest girl’s cabin—Bunk 17—was all the way on the top of the hill on the campus. It was the farther away from everyone and therefore, the longest distance to travel, but we crawled and slithered until we safely arrived at the door. Success!

As we slowly opened the door, a large, tall figure was walking towards us. It was the girls’ head counselor. He was a 6-foot 6-inch former college basketball player—a man who prided himself on being able to outsmart and outrun any poor teen camper who thought he could match wits with him.

We still had our cloaks on and immediately decided there was no way he could have known who we were and if we each took a different path back to our cabin, he not only couldn’t keep up with us, but wouldn’t have known where we were ultimately trying to get to.

I couldn’t have run any faster than I did that night. As a 15-year-old athlete and at least half this guy’s age, I decided I had it in the bag. I took off behind all the girls’ cabins, thinking he would never follow me there and began to make my way back to boys’ campus. I quickly learned that each cabin had water pipes coming out the back and the pipes were about the same height as my knees. In the pitch black, I didn’t miss one of them. The pipes each seemed to have thorn bushes wrapped around them. Those, too, found their way onto my arms and legs.

By the time I arrived at my cabin, I was full of sweat and seemingly bleeding from just about everywhere. I laid in the grass about 20 feet from my cabin, wondering if even after all the cuts and scrapes, I had beat him back to the boys’ campus and I was in the clear. It was eerily quiet. No one had come running by. No one was outside looking for three campers. There was no reason for me to believe that the 30-something-year-old man could have made it back and known who he was chasing.

I slowly made my way to the front door of my cabin. Tried to open the old creaky door as quietly as possible, so as not to wake anyone inside or give myself away to anyone who may be running by from the outside. My bed was the fourth on the right. In the dark, I couldn’t see if my two accomplices were back in their beds or not, but I did see a figure in the darkness. A long, tall figure that at each step closer to my bed, became more in focus. When I finally arrived, there he was, sitting at the foot of my bed waiting. Not even breathing hard. Not even sweating and what he did next was provide a lesson that would stay with me as a parent and I would use countless times as a camp director.

He stood up, towered over me and looked down to utter those famous camp director words, “We’ll speak in the morning.” I remember that sinking feeling like it was yesterday. Those words would haunt me for the rest of the night. How did he know it was me? How did he beat me back to the cabin? And what kept me awake all night:  What was he going say or do to me in the morning?

I learned the next day that I had already been voted “Best Camper” and with this came a $100 bond. What upset him the most, as he would later tell me, was that he now had to go to the bank and get a different camper’s name on the bond because unfortunately, I was being sent home. The rule was clear—no boys were allowed on the girls’ campus. Nothing I accomplished the previous two weeks was going to get me out of this one.

The lesson—besides never again underestimating the speed of a former college athlete—was that of providing second chances to those deserving of them. I was allowed back the following summer as a junior counselor, although not permitted to work the teen session. The thinking being that campers who knew I had been sent home the previous year would then think they could do what I did and be allowed to return. I understood, but hated to miss those two-and-a-half weeks.

I ultimately became great friends with that girls’ head counselor who would then become my camp director and an invaluable mentor. We laugh about that night now and how proud he still is for getting to my cabin before me. I have used, to my advantage, “We’ll speak in the morning,” countless times and more importantly, returned the favor of a second chance to so many who deserved it. I owe that to him. In part, I owe where I am now to him as well. However, the question remains—Why was he in the girls’ cabin at 1:30 in the morning? The mystery continues …

Joe Smith
Camp Louemma
Two Game Winners
1.       As director of Camp Winnebago, the competitive season, which lasts the entire summer, came down to a softball game with the 11- and 12-year-olds. The whole camp was watching the game.

In winning the game, the victors caused a tie season. The spontaneous cheer and mobbing the field came from both teams of the camp as they could celebrate the victory of all in a hard-fought season.

Though it happened 20 years ago, it brings a rush of emotion that the campers could be so generous and caring toward all.

2.       As director of Camp Sizanani in South Africa, the buses carrying the 96 campers had just pulled out. The staff (half of us American, half of us South African) looked around, formed a circle with our arms around each other, and burst into tears at the enormity of what we had just achieved by having our first camp.

Philip Lilienthal
Global Camps Africa
Reston, Va.
Thanks For The Comfort
I worked two summers at a camp in California where we all had Indian names. (Not very politically correct, but that’s how it was in the 1970s!)

I was your typical goofy counselor, doing my job the best I could. Then, 36 years later, (yes, 36 years!) I got this email from a camper who tracked me down. It shocked me, but also taught me the impact counselors have on campers. Hope you can use it!

Dear Silver Moon,

I’m sure that you don’t remember me, but I was a 6th grader at Indian Village in 1974. I thought I’d let you know that you helped a very scared little girl during that week at Forest Home. We had a terrible family secret, and I was able to talk to you about it. My 15-year-old sister had been diagnosed with leukemia and she was dying. We were not allowed to talk about it, as my parents did not want her to know what her condition was. I felt safe at Forest Home and I did talk to you about it. You didn’t know me or my family, so I thought I could talk to you about it. I don’t remember what was said, but I do know that you comforted me. I remember that even though it was 36 years ago. You helped by being there and keeping my confidence. Thank you.


[Name Withheld]

Silvana Clark
Speaker, Author, Brand Ambassador