My Camp Hunt Story
For photographs of this era go to our Camp Hunt Memories Album.
At the start of the summer of 1959 I was not yet ten years old but I was going to Camp Hunt and I was excited about it. I could see in my head a moving picture of me and the other boys laughing and telling stories in one of those big old army tents. In my imagination there was a light bulb hanging down in the middle of the tent giving light to the jovial group. That was the scene in my head. You see I had been to Camp so many times with my parents but never as a full-fledged camper. I wasn't old enough yet. I still wasn't officially old enough but exceptions were sometimes made. My mom and dad had been involved with the Camp work ever since before I was born. Dad was on the board of directors; sometimes he was treasurer, sometimes secretary, sometimes president. But he was always a builder, fixer-upper and an all-around Camp Hunt supporter.
In my childhood we typically went to all the Camp work days. These were spring and early summer days when people from different churches volunteered for tasks that would make the place habitable for the dozens of children, teenagers, college kids and all who would arrive in mid-July for three sessions of two weeks each.
We had stayed the night many times, sleeping on a saggy bed in the old New York state farmhouse we called Bonnie Lodge. I can remember the smell of the old horsehair plaster, the creak of the floor boards on the upstairs landing. But then I was my parents' child; now I was a real camper. I remember looking at my dad and asking permission about something (I don't remember what) but, since my new camp counselor was right there and he was about to leave, he said for me to ask him. It was a new feeling, my dad handing me over to another authority - but that's what he did. So they left and I stayed; whether I stayed one week or two I don't remember but that was my first year at Camp Hunt.
By the way, as I guess you know and as I soon found out, there were no light bulbs hanging from wires in the boys' tents (or in the girls' cabins either). And no fooling around at bedtime. But I was one of the guys and it was at Camp Hunt that a new stage of life began.
John Scott was camp director then. His wife, Jo, had the "same name as mine". I would keep hearing my name and turning my head, only to find that I wasn't being spoken to. The Scotts had two sons that I remember, Johnny and David. David collected Nehi bottle caps from the canteen and kept them in a drawer in their little apartment on the far side of Bonnie Lodge. They were all colors and they clinked and clanked when you handled them. I thought he was rich because of the bottle caps but I found out later he left them and so, on an after camp visit with my family, I inherited his bottle caps when I found out they weren't coming back.
Walter Wells was my counselor. I don't remember much about him but his name. I do remember some guys doing a campfire skit about a guy yelling bologna and and the echo kept getting it wrong, yelling salami, and then the punch line was, 'Walter Wells is the best skier in the world.' and the echo finally said 'baloney'. But that's all I remember about Walter Wells.
I remember some New York City kids - some with Dutch names, some with Hispanic, some Eastern European. One day an older boy offered me a soft drink from the cooler in the dining hall. I said no. He drank one anyway and got in trouble. He might have got sent home, don't remember exactly. I didn't tattle, honest.
Years later my dad, who was on the board of directors in those days, told me George Gurganus (the founder of the camp) advocated "sending one home" to set the tone for the session. George was a real go-getter but could be too harsh, in the view of some if not most. Once in the early days he wanted to vote Norman Dart off the board because Norman hadn't been quick about finishing his duties. Dad said he and most of the others voted against George on that point and the ouster failed. In dad's exact words, "Norman was a sweet guy". He got things done, just not quick enough for George. (To read about the founding of Camp Hunt in the words of Irene Gurganus go to this web page and scroll down about two-thirds of the way: Irene Gurganus' Story)
Back to my story, I remember a guy saying earnestly, in a meeting of all the boys and the counselors, "What I did was wrong, dead wrong." I don't remember what he did. I don't think I knew what he did even then. But I sure do remember the tone of his voice and his apparent earnestness. I remember a kid named Bobby Bitanovich popping into our tent saying, "Have no fear, Bobby is here." I thought Bobby had a dangerous last name because if you mispronounced it you might have accidentally said a cuss word.
In '59 we had to travel several miles in cars to go swimming in Poolville Lake. And it seemed like camp counselors always drove too fast, especially when they didn't know the way very well. Anyway, my recollection is that summer was a cold one. One of the things my mom disapproved of was the fact that we never skipped swimming no matter how cool it was. Also the campers never had enough blankets with them. New York, Philadelphia and Baltimore were always hot in the summer so those kids didn't have a clue how cold the upstate summers could get. (Dad said he remembers that it got down to 42 degrees during camp one year.) I remember once when I woke up in the morning with one of those army mattresses on top of me. My counselor said I was shivering in the night so he threw it on me to keep me warm.
I remember 1960 much better. Bob Thomas was our director. He came down from Idaho where he was a teacher at Magic Valley Christian College. He brough a bunch of Pacific Northwesterners down to work as counselors. Keith Miller was my counselor in 1961; he came from Portland, Oregon. Gary Shira, my 1962 (I think) counselor, was from Nampa, Idaho. How do I remember these things? Gary had a beard on his chin. I thought that was cool. Another counselor I had was Dave Tidwell, although I don't remember where he was from. Oh yes, Jerry Miller was from Wilmington, Delaware. He came to camp at seventeen years of age in 1960 for what he thought would be his last season as a camper but he was pressed into service as counselor.
Bob Thomas was a real Renaissance man. Besides his administrative skills he was a competent choral director and storyteller. His daily singing classes were challenging and enjoyable. We learned our harmony, sight-singing, and music appreciation from Bob. As for his story-telling ability, anyone who had ever heard him tell his famous "hitch-hiker" story can attest to that. Bob also stood out in that he stood six feet, five inches tall and so was, like King Saul, head and shoulders above most of the rest of us.
Now I am trying to sort out the years. I know Bob was there for at least two years. And I'm sure that John White was director in '64. Can anyone help me here? Was there another director in between Bob and John White? Recently (circa 2002), Bob retired from his administrative duties at Pepperdine University where he capably supervised the enlargement and maintenance of the campus. Alright, Bob!
John White came from West Islip on Long Island. He was a high school math teacher, I think, and was hired to be our director in the summer of 1964. I remember his arrival at our house prior to camp. Because dad was a board member and because we lived in Utica, our house was often an alternate base for camp contacts. He spent the night as my "roomie" and we drove down to camp with him the following day. His friend Rob Smith was the first counselor to arrive ... in a sports car from some place out west, and ahead of schedule, I believe. I remember that Max T. Neel and I were the ones who greeted him as he drove up. We learned who he was and when brother Neel asked him what he did he said he was a "flunkie". That didn't impress brother Neel very much.
Anyway, the John White year I remember as being the big year of the folkies. He and some of the other staff played guitars and were whole-hearted participants in the folk music craze. I took my guitar to camp that year and watched the other guys fingers so I could figure out how to play. John would take out his archtop guitar and play "Dark as a Dungeon". He also had a comedic rendition of "Believe me if all those Endearing Young Charms". He would sing along and then on the word "charms" would sing painfully sharp. We laughed every time.
I hope he doesn't mind my telling this - but I remember once, when I happened to be sent to the kitchen on some errand at rest period, I witnessed an event that impressed me, and for the good, I believe. John was apparently feeling the stress or maybe he had received some bad news. As it was, when I opened the screen door, I saw him weeping and taking comfort on the motherly shoulder of Mrs. Sally Phillips. There are some things a child can witness that will become a positive picture or symbol for his soul - something that will stay in the imagination as a marker on the road to maturity. As I think about it, seeing my director weep was a whole lot better than hearing that other fellow announce, 'what I did was dead wrong'.
I saw John White in 1997 at the fifty year reunion of the founding of the camp and he said he worked in the city in computer programming, I believe. I guess he is a software magnate now.
My brother Charlie was two years younger than I and went to camp along with me starting in 1960. He got to be a camper when he was still just eight years old, which caused me to squawk, I'm sure. "No fair, I was nine before I started." But then that is the way it usually is with younger siblings. They get the way paved for them by the older ones. I guess that makes up partly for their having to take so many castoffs and hand-me-downs.
© 2003, Joseph Perry
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