This will be my final blog post of the season. It has been an honor and a privilege to give you a first-hand look into your child’s experience here at Camp Takajo. We often say that, while some of the days feel long, the weeks fly by.
During this condensed period of time, your son has had to challenge himself physically, socially, and emotionally. Living among your peers twenty-four hours a day for this extended period of time, while very gratifying, can also be challenging. Children are forced to learn how to navigate through all kinds of social situations.
Living in a camp setting teaches one empathy, compassion, and a respect for their surroundings. Living away from home fosters accountability for one’s actions without the safety net of those who shield their loved ones in their moments of need. Camp allows every child to develop strong friendships, overcome personality flaws, and provides them with an opportunity to become the best that they can be.
This growth and development can only happen in a traditional, full season setting. When your boys return home to you, they are going to be exhausted. It will almost be hard for you to comprehend that just one day prior they were running and participating in the camp program at full speed.
Many of these boys will settle into home life and may need a few days of concentrated rest. I often use the analogy of an athlete running in a marathon being able to sprint to the finish, only to collapse upon completion of the race.
Because you are so excited to reunite with your child, you are likely to pepper him with questions about his experience. Please do not be surprised if your son is less communicative than you might expect. He has just created hundreds of memories, and these stories and anecdotes will likely come out over the course of time.
I would like to take this opportunity to thank you for your continued trust and confidence. It is an honor and privilege to be able to spend my summer with your sons, and it is one that I never will take for granted. On behalf of Warren and my entire staff, I wish you a safe and happy end to your summer. I am already counting down the days until we meet again.
Last night, Camp Takajo hosted our closing campfire of the season. This traditional event has taken place since the very first season in 1947. In the final campfire, a few campers are selected to join the administration and read about the heritage of Camp Takajo. Campers in each division are selected to represent their peers. This is an honor bestowed upon a few that has created cherished memories over the years. All campers also had the opportunity to watch a traditional, Native American hoop dance performed by some of our counselors. These counselors have carried on a tradition of dancing through a flaming hoop in front of mesmerized onlookers. We end the campfire each year with a traditional, Native American squat dance, when campers and counselors are selected by our “Big Chief,” Neil Minsky, creating some of the funniest moments of the season.
This afternoon, I hosted a lunch for our graduating Okeechobee Campers, who are forty-eight hours away from the conclusion of their time here as campers. After a great barbecue lunch out on my deck, I sat down with our boys to reflect on their years here at camp. It is at this time that our oldest campers had the opportunity to ask me any questions they wanted and were given unfiltered responses.
After some great laughs and some heartfelt stories, we surprised the boys with a video created by photography counselor Amy Carton to display images of these boys dating back to their earliest years in camp. The afternoon came to a close with the traditional hot tub picture when all the boys jump into my hot tub for this keepsake photo.
The Takajo Senior Olympics ended after their whacked-up relay finished with the pie eating contest. This poetic completion was capped off by the captains hugging each other out of mutual love and respect, before making their way down to the waterfront.
In the evening, we held our final banquet in the dining hall. It was a special night, and campers and counselors got dressed up for dinner and dined in a more formal setting. This white tablecloth meal was the perfect conclusion to a fulfilling summer. Campers and counselors were selected to speak, and they provided heartfelt accounts of what the Takajo experience means to them.
As we left the dining room after this special meal, we all assembled out on the beach to watch a slide show presented by our photography staff. These images captured the love and emotion that is cultivated here at camp. As our boys returned to their bunks, you could sense their disbelief that the season was coming to an end.
This morning, Camp Takajo came together for the Olympic Song Competition. What I love most about our song competition is that it is an event that includes every camper. There is something magical about seeing the camp split into two groups and dressed in their uniforms when our youngest campers get to participate in a meaningful event with their older comrades.
The two teams lined up in single file and made their way into the Indian Council Fire Amphitheater, where they sat by age group, each Olympic team across from one another. Each team sang four camp songs, including the camp alma mater and then performed one original song using the melody from a popular song, with re-written lyrics that define their camp and Olympic experiences. All of the counselors were in attendance and took great pride watching our campers performing.
In the afternoon, the Warrior Olympics reached a climax with their final event– the whacked-up relay. In this relay, every camper on each team was given a task that they had to complete as quickly as possible. Designated runners run throughout the entire campus, reaching each participant as they are performing their assigned task. Events include foul shooting, throwing three consecutive strikes in baseball, bed making, bed stripping, just to name a few, with it all eventually ending with a crescendo at the pie eating contest. Keeping with tradition, after the champions were crowned, everybody from both teams was invited to jump in the lake for a celebratory dip.
The other night after taps, I hosted a get-together for the Takajo Administrative Team to thank them for their hard work and dedication to camp. In attendance was my associate director and my sidekick, 45-year veteran Warren Davis, Warrior Group Leader Hank Fortin (47 years) and his wife Jane Martin-Fortin (37 years), Facility Manager Gerry Simpson (40 years), Senior Group Leader Paddy Mohan (33 years), Junior Group Leader Neil Minsky (26 years), Staffing/Waterfront Director Bob Lewis (29 years), Don Matthews (41 years), IT Director Nick Andreacci (26 years), Waterskiing Director Liam McHugh (23 years), Assistant Warrior Group Leader Harrison Manchel (10 years), Pioneering Director Hal Williams (24 years), Head of Hobbies Stacy Tell (7 years), Athletic Director Jeff Cunjak (21 years) and camp doctors, Rick Warner (27 years) and Rich Garber (27 years). Also in attendance were our new administrators, including Head of Tennis Mike Barnes and his wife Cara, as well as Assistant Tennis Director Steve Olivas along with his wife, Samantha, a valued member of our tennis staff.
During our time together, we reminisced about the good old days. We reflected on the thousands of children that have flourished during their formative years spent here in camp. We spoke about the countless alumni that visit every year who yearn for one more summer at camp. It was at this time that we came up with an idea to provide an opportunity for those who wish to preserve their Takajo memories in the form of art.
Many of you may not know that Paddy Mohan is a professional artist, who has created some memorable keepsakes for our campers to enjoy over the years. I have been the recipient of some of Paddy’s incredible work, and they are among my life’s most-prized possessions. On my fortieth anniversary at Camp Takajo, Paddy drew a picture of me from a photograph that was taken during my very first summer at camp, when I was only nine years old.
As a way of celebrating our nine-year campers, Morty Goldman started a tradition of painting a portrait of the camper on, of all things, the top of a toilet seat. Today, Paddy is the artist who brings these creations to life, and these have become some of the most treasured possessions that our nine-year campers take home with them. During our discussion, we asked Paddy whether he would be open to creating magnificent keepsakes for our alumni or current campers as a way of commemorating this incredible time in their lives.
Through the help of our IT Director Nick Andreacci, Paddy now has a website where you can contact him directly to take advantage of this unique opportunity: http://portraits.camptakajo.com/
I am often asked by alumni to provide a memento for a special birthday or celebratory gift. I cannot think of a better way to preserve this memory than in the form of a custom-created art piece.
We could not of asked for a more perfect day as our Olympics hit full stride. Today, our campers are participating in many of the core athletic sports, and the games have been incredibly close. In the Camp Takajo Olympics, every boy competes in every sport. Our counselors created teams that have been evenly matched, and every boy is playing against opponents of a similar ability level. Only a few points separate our Olympic teams with just a few events remaining. Tomorrow morning, we will host our song competition followed by the Warrior and Junior “whacked-up relays.” The Senior competition will extend through Tuesday, and their relay will take place on Wednesday.
As I sit in my office and I take a moment for private reflection, I am drawn to some of the pictures that hang on my wall. In particular, there are photos of three men that have had a profound impact on my life. Morty Goldman was the founder of Camp Takajo, where I had the privilege of spending eight summers as a camper and another twelve as a counselor before purchasing the camp in 1988. As a young boy, I idolized Morty. During the summer he was my surrogate father, and I always felt happy and safe under his care. As a young man, I paid careful attention to how Morty conducted himself, and I strive to emulate his example everyday. When Morty passed away in 1989, I had only been the owner of camp for one summer.
I have a vivid memory of my last meeting with Morty before he passed away. I was only twenty-eight years old, and I had the overwhelming responsibility of continuing the legacy he built. When I last saw Morty, it was obvious that this would be our last time together. He had just suffered a stroke and would often drift in and out of coherency. I had so many questions to ask him and wanted to soak up his wealth of knowledge. I asked Morty how he was guided into making so many correct decisions during the course of his career.
His response would be his last words to me, “Whatever decisions you make will be the right ones.”
For a moment, I thought he had drifted away. But, as I drove home from our final time together, I realized that he was saying that as long as I remained a morally and ethically sound person who was willing to put the needs of others ahead of my own, then any decisions I made would be the correct ones. This all centered around Morty’s Arch and the Takajo Ideals that he prominently posted there. His final message to me was that if I lived a life of integrity, camp would remain in good hands.
Also on my office wall is a picture of my father, who was the first camper enrolled at Takajo in 1947. My dad was a phenomenal athlete, and Morty often referred to him as one of the most gifted athletes to ever attend this camp. I am blessed that my father is alive and well and spends his summers here at camp with my mom. My dad loved Morty Goldman and takes great joy in knowing that his son has the unique privilege of following in his footsteps. My dad is my role model and my hero. Every summer when I begin our staff orientation, I lead with a quote that my father told me when I was a little boy.
He told me, “Go through life, make decisions and behave as if I was standing over your shoulder at all times.”
He told me that, if I would not do an act in front of him, then I should not do it at all. I tell the staff to treat each camper as if that child’s parent were watching at all times. This pearl of wisdom provided to me by my father has been a guiding principle for the way we treat children here at camp.
Included in the photo on my wall is my brother Kip, immediately after the closing of Camp Takajo season on August 29, 1988. Kip, my older brother, would have turned sixty years old today. My brother passed away very unexpectedly on October 4 of this year, and his loss has been devastating for my family. Had it not been for Kip, I never would have purchased Camp Takajo. It was my brother who convinced me that I could assume this enormous responsibility at the young age of twenty-eight. It was he who guided me through the process of raising the finances in order to purchase the camp. It was Kip again who negotiated the deal and handled the closing on my behalf. Kip’s encouragement and belief in me is a significant reason why I am in the position that I am today.
As a director of a boys’ summer camp, I recognize the tremendous need of today’s young boys to have heroes, men they look up to, who they respect and aspire to emulate. One of the quotes hanging on the wall in my office reads, “For our children, the road to happiness and success is usually paved by our example.” As I consider this meaningful day, I hope that in some small way I am able to make an impact on your boys, just like my heroes have done for me.
Today, our boys woke up to the final Lazy Man’s Morning of the Camp Takajo season. This casual breakfast created the perfect, relaxed atmosphere for the campers before they began preparing for a fun-filled day of Olympic competition.
In the morning, the entire camp was split into two, and our Senior Olympic leaders organized song competition practice for a camp-wide event that is scheduled to take place on Tuesday. In the afternoon, our Warrior campers participated in a track meet. This event was the site of some heroic moments, as our youngest campers left it all out there.
One can really tell a lot about a person by the way he competes in a track meet. There were races where it seemed virtually impossible for a competitor to come from behind, but we got a chance to witness incredible acts of courage and determination during this event. The memories of these efforts will remain with us for a very long time.
Our Junior and Senior campers both competed in land sport competitions throughout the day. For many of our older boys, this will be the last time they will face off against each other in this type of setting.
At the end of a hard-fought day of competition, the camp came together to celebrate the amazing art projects that have been created throughout the summer. One of Takajo’s strengths is the diversity our program. While we take great pride in our athletic offerings, we consider our hobby program of equal importance. This evening, Hobby Lane was the place to be on campus as the entire camp made its way to the Art Center, where they admired many projects created by their peers. These projects included diablos made in the woodworking building, videos and photographs shot by our media center programs, portraits drawn in our art classes, as well as various projects made in ceramics and crafts that will be on the way home with your sons to be enjoyed by the entire family.
In addition to the fine works of art, the editions of our weekly newspaper, The Tak Tak, were also on display, and our boys got the chance to look over and reminisce about their favorite moments of camp through published articles that they have written themselves throughout the summer. As the day came to a close, it was a wonderful celebration of the diversity that we hold so dear here at camp.
Throughout the course of the summer, Camp Takajo had a number of alumni and counselors return for visits. Inevitably, they make their way to our Lodge, which has picture boards dating back since opening day in 1947. Hanging on the walls are banners from tournaments we have participated in dating back as far as the early 1960s. When I watch these men look at pictures from their time in camp, I am in awe at how many memories are brought back from just a single image. These men were able to name the other individuals in the photo with them; and, in many cases, exactly what was taking place at the time.
Camp holds a special place in our alumni’s hearts, and witnessing these individuals reminisce gives me an appreciation for how great an impact this place has on boys who choose to spend their summers here.
Irish Playwright George Bernard Shaw once said, “Youth is wasted on the young.”
I think about this quote often, and I strive to make sure that our boys have a great appreciation for the gift they have been provided. Watching our alumni as they reminisce highlights the importance of making the most out of each and every day we have here in camp.
Today during the Senior Olympic track meet, the oldest campers were competing in the cross-country run. Leading the pack was their Senior Group Leader Paddy Mohan, in his golf cart.
As Paddy drove by me, he yelled, “It was just a few years ago that I used to lead this race on foot!” As Paddy’s ability to participate has been partially diluted, he remains committed to creating this experience for those who still can take on the challenge. Our Olympic competition is in full swing with all three age groups competing in every land sport that we offer, as well as track and field and swim competitions.
The boys were given green and grey bandanas representing the two teams. While our three age groups compete in separate competitions, the bandana is a symbol for each team’s unity throughout all of the age groups. The Olympic competition is, in essence, the embodiment of all of our Arch Ideals. As we reach the culmination of the summer camp season, we use this athletic competition as a means to promote all of the values taught throughout your sons’ time here at camp.
A great game requires awesome sportsmanship. In order to be a committed member of a team, they must pledge their loyalty. When one is striving to do their best and they feel they cannot give anymore, they must depend on their self-reliance and courage to help them persevere. When the competition comes to a close and the games become a distant memory, we are remembered for how we acted on the field, the friendliness we showed our competitors and bunkmates, and the tolerance we had for our teammates if they came up a little short.
In keeping with the camp’s philosophy, our Olympics keep the competition within its proper perspective. The games end with a handshake, and we do not allow the outcome of the game to be carried off the field. In the end, it is the one who is magnanimous who is the true winner in life.
As I went to bed last night, I could not help but reflect on our Okees, the oldest boys in camp, and how hard they were working to preserve their legacy as upstanding campers here at Takajo. However, while I was fast asleep, our Okees decided to roam the fields and remove all of the nets from every soccer and lacrosse goal on campus. They were even so ambitious that they took some nets off of the Senior tennis and basketball courts.
Just in case we were not sure that this prank was done by the Okees, they signed “Okees ’17” in white field paint across the outfield of our Senior baseball field. When I woke up this morning, these acts reminded me that the boys are only fifteen years old. I was reminded of another one of my favorite quotes, “Hate the sin, love the sinner.” Nevertheless, I decided not to love them again until after lunch.
We gave our Okees a new activity this morning. We thought it would be appropriate for them to have a real appreciation for what it takes to maintain this facility. Therefore, our oldest boys in camp had the opportunity to work as members of the maintenance staff throughout the morning hours. It was not hard to come up with a punch list. We started with putting all the nets back on the soccer and lacrosse goals. Then, we made our way over to the Senior tennis courts, before finishing as a group hanging the nets back up at the Senior basketball court. While this activity was probably not on any of our boys’ “bucket lists,” I think they have come to the conclusion that there are better ways for them to spend their last week in camp.
In the meantime, the Songo River Queen II, a double-decker paddle wheel boat that cruises up and down Long Lake throughout the summer, pulled up to our dock before reveille. As Warren blew the Olympic horn, our Warrior campers darted out of their bunks and down towards the lake, where the boat awaited them. Our Warrior boys enjoyed a breakfast cruise, and Olympic team rosters were announced. We could hear the cheers of our boys echoing from the middle of the lake.
Throughout the morning, our Warriors and Juniors competed in Olympic competition, and all games were astonishingly competitive. At the end of the first full day of competition, the Warrior campers celebrated with a make-your-own sundae party in the dining room. Our Sub-Senior boys (finished eighth grade) returned home from an amazing week in Canada that was capped off with jet boating in the waters of Montreal’s St. Lawrence River.
Like with any family, there is something special when everybody comes back home. The return of our Sub-Seniors signifies the end of our out-of-camp trips. With Olympics about to break for our oldest boys in camp, our full attention turns to the festivities yet to come.
Our Takajo Okees returned to camp from their trip out west full of excitement and enthusiasm. The trip was everything we could have possibly hoped for. There were amazing sights, but more importantly our boys had amazing companionship along the way.
Watching our oldest boys in camp today, I sense the nostalgia starting to build among them. This evening, four of our Okees, who have been together since their first year in bunk Chuckatuck, challenged four other Okees, who started in bunk Nacoochee, to a four-on-four basketball game on the Warrior court. The challenge was made in the dining room during the dinner meal so that all the Juniors and Seniors could witness the exciting event. My sense is that this will be one of many special moments these boys will experience during the last week of their camping careers.
At one point this morning, there were no Warrior campers in camp. The Braves (finished third grade) had a sleep-away trip in the camping grounds of Swan Island. They enjoyed an evening of exploring the island before cooking dinner over an open fire, roasting marshmallows, and sleeping in tents under a star-lit sky.
Our Crows (finished second grade) made their way to Storyland Theme Park, where they enjoyed exciting rides and their fair share of snow cones and cotton candy. Our Indians (finished fourth grade) ventured out to Water Country USA, where they enjoyed exhilarating water rides. It was the perfect trip to cap off an amazing summer.
You can almost feel the excitement in the air as the anticipation for our Olympics competition is already peaking. The Junior Olympics broke this evening, catching all of our fifth and sixth grade boys completely by surprise. After a creative break, the Juniors made their way into the dining room for a celebratory make-your-own sundae party.
Our Warrior and Senior campers are poised and ready for the sound of the Olympic bugle to mark the start of their competitions. With just one week left in the camp season, enthusiasm is at an all-time high, and we will make the most out of every moment that we have remaining here on the shores of Long Lake.
This morning, I was looking out my office window and watching Don Matthews, a veteran counselor of forty-one years, teaching one of our youngest campers how to water ski at Camp Takajo. Witnessing his patience and enthusiasm, had I not know better, I would have thought he was teaching skiing for the first time.
At this time, I was reminded of something that I said to the staff during pre-season. I told them that in business, and in life, what separates one person from the rest of the pack is not doing what is expected; but, rather, going above and beyond and doing the unexpected. I gave my staff the example of walking into a restaurant for the very first time. We all expect clean utensils, friendly service, and a delicious meal. What we do not expect is for the owner of the restaurant to come over, introduce himself, and offer us a piece of complimentary apple pie that just came out of the oven. That unexpected gesture has a minimal expense for the owner, but yet, it has a huge impact on the customer.
Don Matthews has taken pictures of first time water skiers as they get up on skies for over forty years and has been mailing these pictures home with hand-written notes to the parents of every child. This gives these parents a first hand opportunity to witness their child’s accomplishment.
It is expected that a child will have the opportunity to learn how to water ski when he goes to camp. However, what is unexpected is that parents have the ability to actually witness this great accomplishment. At Takajo, I take great pride in my staff, and I witness many of these unexpected moments every day of the summer. Whether it is a cook preparing a special meal for a child who does not like what is on the menu, a nurse sitting up with a boy and comforting him when he is under the weather, or a tennis counselor spending countless hours helping a child perfect his serve, our staff takes great pride in caring for your children.
As predicted, we woke up to bright sunshine and warm humidity in the air at Camp Takajo. It was perfect weather for our Junior Greys, who will be enjoying their white water rafting overnight trip down the Kennebec River. Our boys will undergo an exuberating ride in a twelve-person raft, and they will experience class three and four rapids.
Our Sub-Seniors (fourteen-year-olds) made their way to the beautiful Canadian province of Quebec, where they took in a minor league baseball game last night. Today, they visited the largest water park in Canada, located just minutes outside of Quebec City, where they enjoyed over thirty water slides, a lazy river, and relaxing heated pools.
Our Okees are spending their last day in “Sin City,” where they are taking in all the hot spots on the strip, including the Bellagio Dancing Water Fountains, Mirage Volcano, and Caesar’s Palace Forum shops. The highlight of this stay over is a trip to Wet N’ Wild Water Park– the perfect way to cap off this incredible week out west.
Back in camp, I received a phone call from parents who had just gotten off the phone with their son who is an eight-year-old, first time camper. The conversation with their son was so brief and he was so distracted that they called me, concerned that something must be wrong. When I got off the phone, I promised to follow-up with their son and track his daily events.
I know that most of you have a sense of what your son does throughout the day at camp, but I think it is important to highlight just how much our little guys do each day. This little boy woke up at 8 o’clock, got dressed, brushed his teeth, and ran down to the dining room for breakfast. He successfully navigated his way through our dining room, enjoying pancakes from our hot bar, fresh fruit from our cold bar, and selected from a huge assortment of cereals. He enjoyed pleasant conversation with peers at his table, threw out his own trash, and helped wipe down the table before running back to his bunk to make his bed and help with clean up. When the activity whistle blew, he was off to his first period, a skill, where he enjoyed an hour of shooting archery.
When the period ended, our little guy ran back to his bunk, grabbed his baseball glove, and joined a team for a baseball game. After a hard-fought game in the hot sunshine, it was time to return to the bunk, where he changed out of his baseball attire and made his way down to the waterfront for a refreshing dip in the lake during our free swim period. Cool and refreshed, he then went back up to his bunk, where he changed out of his bathing suit, put his wet clothing on the drying line, and changed into clothes for lunch. In the dining room at lunch, he once again navigated through his options, grabbed a delicious grilled cheese and joined his friends at his table once again.
When I talked to the boy regarding his short conversation with his parents and asked if everything was alright, he responded that everything was great but he was just too busy to carve out the time to have a lengthy conversation with his parents.
Clearly, my point is not that our boys are disconnected from home and uninterested in speaking to those they love. Rather, our boys love their ability to thrive on their own, forge meaningful relationships, and navigate through a day here at camp. This is the growth and development that we all hope for in our children.
When I made my final rounds to say goodnight to the boys at the end of a long day, I went up to the Playhouse, where this boy’s entire age group was enjoying a movie night slumber party. Laying in his sleeping bag in the middle of all his friends, I caught a glimpse of this little guy eating a slice of pizza and watching a movie, basking in all of his glory. While we all would love lengthy descriptions of our children’s summer from my vantage point, this picture was worth a thousand words.