Summer Camp in the Past

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WITHOUT THE COMFORTS


Reprinted from the 1965 Chicago Tribune, Camp Minoqua is featured in the article andis the summer camp that Jeff went to when he was a boy from 1966-1972.

BY BEVERLY PLUMMER

Television, telephones, and mother-love are all great things In the winter, of course, but next summer, more than 4 million school age youngsters will trade them for tents, rain, poison Ivy and unforgettable times,

 

IT GETS COLDER and colder. The rain comes down like the sky is broken. The tent leaks all night and break- fast is bread and rain water eaten under the Dicnic table.

Is this "Ah, Wilderness!" or "Aaarg, Wilderness!"? Only the boy or girl scrunched damply under the table can tell you. But chances are [even tho it had to be said thru chat- tering teeth] he d say it was GREAT! For this wet, cold, shivering youngster is one of 4 million school-age American children who look forward ea- to camp every summer. Why should a child be so anx- ious to go to camp that he s willing to go without six months' allowance to help foot the bill? Or get up at a snowy 5:30 a. m. to deliver the morn- ing papers so he can buy a new snorkel for camp?

It's not the creature comforts he s seeking-that s for sure. For comforts such as television, telephones, and five-course din- ners are better provided at home than on a 100-acre tract of trees and bushes.

Actually what this child is seeking, even if he s not con- aware of it, is a sense of adventure. A chance to be a conqueror rather than a spec- tator. An opportunity to create

his own security in a strange atmosphere. And where, in to- day s chrome-plated world, can a child find such an opportu- nity except in the wilderness?

As an American, he still has something of the early pioneer in his bones-the pioneer who slew his own dinner, stitched up his britches, and then fought off the enemy before he went to bed.

A note from a city-bred 14- year-old to his parents last year states proudly, "Besides clearing three campsites out of the bush, setting up a compass course, and assisting the sur- veyor map the boundary lines of camp, we got to help skin a 125-pound bear and cut logs for a new kitchen floor." This glowing letter was written by a lad who lived 10 stories up in a plush apartment where a maid laid out his clothing every morning!

There have been camps of one kind or another almost from the beginning of America -even the first settlers were campers of a sort The first organized camps began to ap- pear on the east coast as early as the 1860s, but it wasn't un-til the very late iBO0s that camping grabbed a really firm foothold for itself. It was evi-dently firm enough, for today there are more than 13,500 organized camps scattered thruout the United States.

The first organized camp in the midwest was started by a young doctor. [just graduated from Northwestern university medical school] following the worst typhoid fever epidemic Chicago has ever known. Dr. John Perley Sprague had been raised in the lumbering coun- try of Maine and had never quite got used to the ways of the city. It bothered him that so many children were growing up with no intimate knowledge of nature, so in April, 1903, he set out for upper Wisconsin be- fore the ice was even out of the rivers and lakes to find a spot to set up a camp.

What he finally settled on was a point on Lake Toma- hawk near Minocqua, which still stands today and is still in operation under the direction of his daughter, Helen, and son-in-law, Jack Broomell. Boys who go to Camp Minocqua today board the train at Chi- cago s North Western station

and arrive at camp about eight. hours later.

The 15 campers who went north with Doctor Sprague in 1903 were not so fortunate; but when this story is told, many a boy declares he d give his right arm to have been in that first group.

We took a train from Chicago," Doctor Sprague wrote Conrinued CAMP For City-Dwellers: A Place in the OpenIn camp craft classes such as bowl-making, boys can create with their own hands.

in his notes, "and when we woke up in the morning, we had only gone about 200 miles be- cause a bridge had washed out. It seems there was a lot of flooding that year. There was no diner on the train and they took the sleeper off, too. During the afternoon they fixed up the bridge and we went on, only to be stopped again when the tracks disappeared under water at the Wisconsin river. But they decided to try it and we got across and kept right on going to Mosinee, where the tracks were under water again. And we had to stop once more."

At 4 the next morning, Doc- tor Sprague got everybody off the train and they got up a game of baseball in the grass beside the tracks. Hungry to the desperation point, they finally found a boarding house cook who fixed breakfast for them for a hatful of coins that had been collected. The rest of the trip was made partly by box car and partly by hand-car.

"Finally," Doctor Sprague said, "an engine came down from the north and picked us up and on the third day we finally got there."

Camp Alinocqua is much the same today in spirit as it was 60 years ago; the ultimate aim of its directors always has been to provide the child with a natural atmosphere in which he can grow in all directions. This is the aim of all good camps today.

"There was no 'baby-sitting' in those days," Helen Broomell says. "It was primarily an op- portunity for boys to spend the summer out-of-doors . . . it wasn't even supposed to be a 'character-building' experience

except as the good influence of the men rubbed off on. the boys."

Minocqua would be classified today as an "all-around" camp with a good solid emphasis on individual growth, altho the program includes a liberal choice of everything you might consider important to camping: riding, sailing, crafts, archery, etc.

There are so many camps to- day which, altho they main- tain social orientation as the ultimate goal, are highly spe- . A few examples: folk- singing camps, language-of- your-choice camps, all-sports camps where a child chooses one major and one minor sport and works on proficiency in these areas all summer long. There are pioneer camps, camps for the psychological- ly disturbed, riding camps, and tours-of-Israel camps.

The rivalry between different types of camps is much like the rivalry between competing high schools. One group of boys came back from a visit to a neighboring camp with these words of disgust: "It's a chicken camp. Everybody wore identical T-shirts, and there were these 'Gung ho' loud speakers that blasted out in- structions all day long - just like in the movies. All the '' had to do was sit on their duffs while 'big brother' told them what to do over the loud speaker."

The kids often compare other camps they ve attended, too.

"All I got out of camp last year," said a pony-tailed girl of 12, "was saddle sores.""I was in this one camp," said a teen-. 'where it

 

CAMP-The Counselor Must Love Children. Nature

was like downtown New York. Everything was paved! You couldn't get dirty if you want- ed to."

For some children, being able to get good and dirty with a bunch of other guys is reason enough to go to camp. They come from big cities where they have no close companions, even in their own family group; often they don't even sit down to dinner with their parents, but eat in the kitchen with the maid.

This was a real revelation to one of the foreign-exchange counselors who came to this country thru the efforts of the Committee for Friendly Rela- tions Among Foreign Students. He was surprised at the bad table manners of some of the boys from wealthy families. He referred to the children in his cabin as "small gang- sters," but this was a term of real affection for he was com- pletely charmed by their warmth and maturity.

"An American camper is not as well disciplined as the Swedes," the counselor later observed. "He is less bashful and somewhat more matured than his Swedish mate. But you very soon get acquainted with him and after two hours he de- clares he likes or hates you more than anybody in the world."

He was judging only boys from a small segment of Amer- ican life, however, because un- less a child has a wealthy ben- or well-to-do parents, he can t afford a summer at

a private camp. Rates begin at about $575 and go on up.

Private camps are only a small part of the organized camp picture, tho. Only 3,000 of the nation s 13,500 organized camps are privately owned and run. Most of the rest are agen- cy and day camps. A "season" is more flexible at these camps, running from one day to sev- eral weeks and costing as little as $15 per week.

Many find it hard to under- stand why anyone would choose to work at a summer camp, but the conclusion can only be heartening to any par- ent considering sending his child.

Because the pay is poor, the hours are bad, and working conditions sometimes - nable [such as an "overnight" in a leaky tent], it can only be assumed that counselors take these jobs out of a love for children and nature.

One of the toughest jobs a director has is selecting good counselors. At one time these young people were chosen be- cause they possessed some spe- cial skill, but today directors seek well-rounded, emotionally mature persons. In addition to counselors, the director hires cooks, kitchen boys, stable boys, a camp-mother, a doctor and/ or a nurse. Each staff mem- ber is selected with infinite care, because it takes a special kind of person to be able to live so intimately with so many children or young adults for such a length of time. U

WHAT TO LOOK FOR IN A CAMP

A PARENT interested in finding the best camp for his

Achild should consider the following points:

1. A good ratio is one counselor for every eight campers; an ideal ratio is one to four.

2. A good director will ask for a personal history of your child. U he doesn't, forget him, because if he doesn't feel he needs to know such things as the fact that Sally still wets her bed or is afraid of the dark, he isn't very interested in her.

3. A good camp has a rigid code of safety and health, but a flexible and adaptable daily program of recreation.

4. Fees alone do not make a camp bad or good, and in no way indicate what a camp is really like.

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