Monday, April 28, 2008

Josh Tucker's braces

Josh Tucker remembers Chuck White: "Either my first or second summer at Frost Valley, my parents got a call that there was a problem with a wire on my braces and that the camp would be taking me to see an "orthodontist" in Kingston. However, when they got up to pick me up, they discovered that someone at camp had managed to fix the problem. Who did this on site orthodontist turn out to be? None other than Chuck White!"

And believe it or not, I specifically remember this repair! I watched Chuck perform this operation. His hands were usually so dirty; he had to wash them for 20 minutes before commencing to pry away in little Josh's mouth.

spring finally

Spring has come to Frost Valley! Happy, happy, happy spring.

Daffodils fully in bloom in the grassy lawn just to the east of the Castle. There's the Castle tower in the background.

This great photograph was taken by Sara Munoz (formerly Sara Alexander, daughter of Stu and Valerie) this past Saturday.

Sunday, April 27, 2008

thank you, Hunter

Buildings at FV don't get built by themselves, of course. But most of us have always just exclaimed ("new building!") and then figured out how to use it for the benefit of the kids and families who love to visit our valley. Although FV is a non-profit organization, the capital (one-time expenses, not in the operating budget) needed to do any construction or renovation must be found. For the Mitchell Conference complex (Geyer Hall, the renovated former girls' dining hall; Lakeview Lodge) and the new Wellness Center, we went into a capital campaign. Lots and lots of folks were involved. Two major gifts of $1 million each were pledged by Paul Guenther (wellness center) and Helen Geyer (Mitchell buildings) but hundreds of others gave smaller yet significant amounts, including many alumni (I'm proud to say). The fellow who co-chaired and led this campaign on the Trustees side was the remarkable Hunter Corbin, one of the kindest and most thoughtful--and most effective--people you'll ever meet. At the recent at-FV meeting of the Board of Trustees, trustees and staff gathered in the Day Room of the dining hall before lunch one day and thanked Hunter, presented him with a plaque...and Jerry Huncosky announced that the new road leading behind the Group Home (gray house that used to be the Devlins' and then Whites' residence) up to some new staff houses would be named in Hunter's honor: Hunter Lane.

Thank you, Hunter! Every child who has a fever or a sprained ankle this summer might well thank you too, as he or she sits in a beautiful comfortable spacious and friendly waiting room and can get some nursing TLC in a real treatment room. The digs are so good that one imagines campers will want to stay overnight rather than tramp back in the dark and cold rain up to a sandy-floored old cabin on the hill! Oh well.

April running brooks

The combination of snow run-off from Doubletop and a goodly amount of spring rain makes brooks that a normally just a trickle - and completely dry by August - run fast. Between the dining hall and cabins 21-25 flows one such stream. When Wawayanda first moved to Frost Valley in '58 and for many years later, this was known as Hemlock Brook (named presumably after the village that inhabited those cabins from 1958 to 1983). In recent years it's been called Trickle Brook - apt since, as I say, it's not much more than a trickle most of the year. Most FV'ers know this thing because after a big storm it flows right through the Big Tree Field and then is directed under the county road and after that moves through the horse field and into the Neversink.

If you walk above the dining hall area you'll see that Hemlock Brook also runs along the western edge of cabins 13-17 (formerly 16-20), the site of the newest renovated cabins we've been talking about lots on this blog. If you go to cabin 17 (20) and walk directly behind - "cabin 20's backyard" - you will go down a ravine fairly steeply and there's your brook.

Mid-April '08: right there this creek was running fast, little waterfalls all along the way. Here's one of the pics I snapped.

Tuesday, April 22, 2008

Janet Reis

Janet Reis - now Janet Lowe - was a camper, CIT, Junior Counselor and Counselor back in the 70s. When she moved to Seattle years ago, she knew no one in that city...except June Kaiser. She'd known June at camp somewhat, not well. But another Frost Valley person in a strange metropolis? Give her a call. June welcomed Janet - picked up her at the airport, invited her to stay for a few weeks while she got her feet on the ground. Janet and June - and now their families - have been close friends ever since.

I hadn't seen Janet for many years when she and her son Jordan, now a high-school junior, went on the college tour and planned to stop by to see Penn. Jordan has a talent for writing and wanted to see the Writers House. So we arranged a meeting.

Toward the beginning of our meeting / interview, Jordan said something about being cold. (But it was not cold! In fact it was quite warm that day in Philadelphia.) He rummaged through his bag and pulled out a sweatshirt and somewhat ostentatiously put it on. I was confused until moments later I realized he was putting me on--and it, the sweatshirt: it has "FROST VALLEY" emblazoned on the front.

When he was nine years old, Jordan flew with his mom across the country to spent two weeks in Totem village. Janet volunteer for those two weeks. Although Jordan was homesick a lot of the time and for various reasons did not come back, but he keeps FV in his heart and, if he comes East, will likely apply to join the staff. Janet kept the idea alive all these years: from the time her kids were young she sang camp songs with them in the car. It's a family joke ("awww, mom, stop with the camp songs!") but they all know them by heart, out there 3,000 miles away, a little of the Wawayanda spirt for sure.

Tuesday, April 15, 2008

Chuck White

I bear the sad news of the death, this afternoon at 12:30 PM, of Charles J. ("Chuck") White.

Chuck and his wife Joy and 4 children arrived at the end of the summer of 1973 and were full-time resident staff members from then until 1991, when they retired and moved to Florida. Chuck built Margetts Lodge, renovated the "girls" dining hall (now Geyer) after the 1/1/83 fire, and then--his major project--oversaw the design and construction of the new dining hall, the second Thomas Lodge. He also built several of the first cabin-lodges. He worked very closely with Halbe Brown in what was then called the "development" (meaning construction as distinct from maintenance) department. He was tough as nails and a genius at fixing things. He is remembered by many as the guy who was fiddling with a running tractor diesel engine with a lit cigarette dangling from his lips. He was our sheriff, and caught many poachers. He was an environmentalist at heart, and almost singlehandedly converted us from snowmobiling to cross-country skiiing in 1974-75. He loved to flyfish the Neversink and take his "grandson" (Leslie Black's son Jake) fishing at sundown in Lake Cole. He and Joy lived in the gray house (now called "the group home") and it was an open house--anyone could come, and sit in front of the fire, and stay the night if necessary. Chuck loved eggs and bacon for breakfast on the one day each month when he wouldn't be at work at 6 am. At one time or another, he fixed or overhauled or towed the broken-down cars of most members of the staff. He was the guy who invented the "modern" key system (B, BCB, GM, etc.) and was the same guy who stared at you with a blank expression when you came to him to say you'd lost yours. (I lost a GM once, in 1984. He reminded me of this when I saw him last spring.)

Chuck built the extension of Smith Lodge - the back room that became our dialysis center - and finished it not many days before the start of the summer of 1975, when our dialysis program began. When photos of Eva Gottscho and Halbe Brown and Ira Greifer were snapped at the dedication of that facility, Chuck was not in the picture. He was busy getting greasy while making the generator work so that the dialysis machines would not be interrupted by an oncoming storm.

Chuck White was crucial to the development of Frost Valley in the 70s and 80s.

He loved Frost Valley - honored the work we do - and, although a rare visitor in recent years ("You can't go back home again," he said), he talked about Frost Valley all the time. All the time.

When he retired the pond near the Neversink, across the road from the new Hunter Road homes, was named for him: Chuck White Pond. Fish there sometime, and think of Chuck.

- - -


Stuart Kaufer: "In the early hours of this news here is what I have to say. My best memories of Chuck were that he was always magically there. If he saw thunder clouds he would just appear at the dialysis center to be sure the generator turned itself on. It was old and diesel and he lost blood fixing the damn thing with his lit cigarette. When the State inspectors came and said we need to treat the h20 he had a whole system rigged up in minutes leaving the h2o company in the dust. He was easily frustrated by bullshit and tolerated none of it. I was always impressed that he never lost patience w me and my crazy questions about electricity etc., topics I remain ignorant of to this day; knowing full well that I put at least a couple of those wrinkles on his well worn face. Rest in peace and wherever you are headed I hope there are cigarettes and generators."

John Giannotti: "First there was his voice. I answered the phone one night in late 1972 and this stranger was on the other end, speaking to me in a silky voice sounding as though it was dripping from the spout of a Sugar Maple. The voice identified itself as Chuck White, a salesman who was working with a group of neighbors to design and build a playground for their local elementary school in Willingboro, New Jersey, one town over from where I lived with my family in Mount Holly. Chuck wanted to know if I was the John Giannotti he had just read about in a newspaper story based on playgrounds I was designing in Atlantic City and Camden. When I answered yes, he invited me to a meeting with his neighbors and family to discuss plans for their project. I'll never forget the meeting. There were kids running every which way, with all of their high-spirited parents sitting in the Living Room excitedly discussing what they could build and how quickly they could build it. The most spirited of all was Chuck's wife, Joy, a woman who immediately impressed me as a person with a huge heart and pure spirit. My lifelong friendship with both Chuck and Joy began right there in that room, INSTANTLY. Sure, I helped them with the playground, but it became apparent to me on the very first day that Chuck knew more about building and engineering than ever I could possibly know. Our families started hanging out together and one early spring morning we all hopped into Chuck's favorite vehicle, an old school bus that he had painstakingly converted into a camper -- of sorts. Joy called it "that big s.o.b. in the driveway". Well, on that spring morning we headed out to the lonely Pinelands of southerm New Jersey. Chuck drove that old s.o.b. over highways, then onto single lane asphalt roads, then dirt roads, and finally onto sand and pine straw. We stopped and had lunch parked next to a remote lake the color of the deep cedar forest. When it was time to return, Chuck tried to start the bus but no fuel was reaching the carburetor. I thought we were stranded and tried to keep the kids in good spirits. But Chuck disappeared into the woods, came back fifteen minutes later with sticks and small rocks, and an old plastic milk jug. Within seconds he was cutting and re-shaping the container, piercing holes into it, and wrapping some old tubing around it. He then placed the contraption on top of the engine, connected the fuel line to the tubes and, using the rocks for support, dumped gasoline that he'd syphoned from the gas tank into the jug, thereby creating, on the spot, a gravity-feed fuel system! As the gas trickled down into the carb, he jumped into the bus, revved her up, and moments later we were back on the road. Several weeks later I'd heard from Halbe that Frost Valley was looking to add to its maintenance and building staff and I said, "Halbe, let me tell you about Chuck White". I will miss him terribly. He and Joy made you feel so important. They made you feel like it was THEIR honor and pleasure to have you in their home. What a legacy they left."

Jody Davies Ketcham: "I am so sorry to hear the news of Chuck's death. He's been on my mind recently. I'm learning to fly fish and he was the best fisherman I've ever known so I had planned on calling him. About 15 years ago when he was at our home in Kinnelon, he tied a fly from natural materials he found around the pond and threw it out on a line. You can guess the rest. Such precious memories I have of the man..."

Mike Marder: "Chuck certainly epitomized the independent Frost Valley thinker and was the rare person who was a master at many skills. My sincerest condolences to his family."

Dave King: "Shirl and I are absolutely stunned by Chuck's death. I firmly believe that he was truly the RIGHT PERSON for FV at the RIGHT TIME! He was a living example of the total being vastly greater than the sum of the parts!"

Rich & Phyllis Kaskel: "What a caring, a dedicated human being Chuck was, and as such, he and Joy were intimately committed to the mission of Frost Valley. I can remember many occasions where Chuck saved the day in terms of our dialysis unit, and yet never expected any recognition for his efforts. He had a profound influence on many of us during our first experience at Frost Valley and he and Joy will remain in our hearts and minds always."

Michele Palamidy: "I was a young and idealistic dialysis nurse when I met Joy and Chuck. Chuck to me was the strong silent type. I was a little intimidated by his quiet assuredness. Underneath it all was pure gold. Part of my job after becoming the Head Nurse in 1978 was to set the unit up. As I was going through supplies with one of the medical directors, she noticed we had an extra conductivity meter. I said great, up here it is good to have a back up. She said no, we'll send it back. Needless to say the day came when we needed it! We were getting ready to start up for the day, but had no way to test the conductivity of our dialysis solution. So, we called Chuck. He came into the unit just as I was giving someone hell on the phone over having sent the back up meter back. Chuck came with some kind of gadget and started talking in milimoles and other strange sounding words. He saved the day for that day and we were able to get the back up meter. He told me later he loved the way I gave it to the doctors about the whole situation! He got such a kick out of it, and we had such a laugh! He remained my hero and friend forever after that. He was smart, witty and amazing. I am so sad that he has left us."

Robin Helfand: "Chuck was such an 'institution'. I think he was one of the first people I met at FV in the 70's when Dawn, Russ and I first came to camp as campers....I remember him in the "garage" where FV (briefly) had ...was it "motor bikes"-- or some kind of scooters as an activity -- the area later became part of composting/recycling shed -- then , I think, maintenance."

Eric Blum: 'Chuck White was so many things to so many people, and while reading the various thoughts about Chuck I couldn't help but remember my introduction to him. In 1986, during staff training my first summer at Frost Valley, on tuesday as we were finnishing up lunch Terry Muray came to the front of the "Old Girls Dining Hall" and said that we were going to have the "Camp Security Talk", which was going to be given by Chuck White. Chuck appeared at the front of the dinning hall in his traditional blue jeans and button down shirt, with a pack of Carlitons in his front pocket, and he began to speak. Everyone in the room immediately quit what ever they were doing and turned to face Chuck. For the next 5 or so minutes he went over the various issues of camp security-mentionig that he was a Reserve Deputy Sheriff of Ulster County, after that first few minutes Chuck turned his talk to "Camp Keys"-for the next several minutes he went over the importance of key security and that people who were given keys were responibile for them and that if they lost them they would be charged a fee for not only the key but also the cost of re-keying the entire camp. He then described the key system "A, B, C" and the various combinations of each. In those few short minutes Chuck not only conveyed the importance of the key, he also managed to scare each one us who was new to the Valley, however the veteran staff knew the real story. After his talk, Chuck then cerimonously distributed to the VC's thier "BCB" keys on "P-cord" with a double overhand knot. I remember having 2 thoughts 1) this is really cool and I can't wait until I get a chance to get a key from Chuck and 2) this seems to alot to do about nothing. In 1989 my first full summer as a VC, at lunch on tuesday during staff training Peter Swain came to the front of the dinnig hall to announce that Chuck White will be giving us the "Camp Security Talk". The words were the same from the 3 other "key" talks I had sat through in my prevous summers, the new staff still sat there looking scared , while the veteran staff knew the real story. Then it was time for the distribution of the VC keys-I went up and Chuck handed me my BCB key on a p-cord lanyard with a double overhand knot, I signed for it, and proudly put it around my neck While the "Mystique of the Key" has lessened since Chuck left the Valley, I am happy to say that I still have the original "P-cord" lanyard that he gave me in 1989 and each summer when I return to volunteer I take the key that I am given, place it on that lanyard and tie a double overhand knot, this summer will be no different, it will just have a little more meaning to me, because I know the real story about Chuck.'

Lewis Reisman: "During the years that I worked as dialysis and camp doctor, my wife, Dalia and I became close friends with Joy and Chuck White. They were a wonderful couple, great people, and central to the running of the camp: Joy, as the head nurse, and Chuck, as the general handyman and the person to turn to in any technical emergency. We spent many of our evenings at their home. It was always noticeable that Joy did all the talking for the couple and that Chuck rarely spoke, and then only in single words and short phrases. One evening I found Chuck fly fishing in Biscuit Creek and asked him what he was doing. He responded with a lengthy and enthusiastic lecture about fly fishing, the most that I ever heard him say in all the time that I knew him."

Morris Schoeneman: "Sandy and I have missed Chuck (and Joy too) greatly ever since she left us and he left Frost Valley. I have one memory of Chuck which I use as a teaching tool when I'm making rounds with pediatric trainees. I was the dialysis doc and acting as camp doctor one summer in the late "70s or early '80s when Joy White called me into the Health Center to help her evaluate a young man who had gotten his scrotal skin caught in the zipper of his pants while finishing up in the bathroom. He wasn't wearing underpants that day and was really upset and in pain, having tried unsuccessfully to unzip himself before coming to the Health Center. Joy and I tried to get the zipper unfastened from his private parts, but just caused him more pain and fear. As a last resort, Joy called Chuck for help, and he arrived wielding a very large pair of pliers. Now the young man was really scared, imagining the worst, but Chuck calmly pried open the zipper and freed the captive. The camper left the Health Center greatly relieved, and I'm sure he wore underpants thereafter. Chuck was the kind of man who seemed to be able to handle anything that came his way. Sandy and I will always remember him."

- - - -

And here is an obituary written by Chuck's daughter Elizabeth:

Anna Maria Island resident Chuck White succumbed to complications from recent surgery on 15 April. Family and friends recall Chuck as a kind and generous person whose encyclopedic knowledge and practical common sense could solve any problem, fix anything and never fail to “design a better mousetrap”. Born in Brownsville, Texas he held various jobs over the years; tugboat mate, served as an Air Force radio instructor, and Bell and Howell electronics salesman, before moving with his wife Joy, and his children, Elizabeth, Rebecca, David and Sylvia, to Frost Valley YMCA in the Catskill Mountains of New York where he became resident staff in the early 1970’s. It was here that he also met the rest of his “family” Leslie Black and her son, West Point graduate 2Lt Jake Kerr, who Chuck considered as his Grandson. Chuck’s other Grandsons, Bryce Warren and John Petrutiu, spent time with him at Frost Valley and in Florida – they will always cherish the warm support and love Chuck gave them. Frost Valley, the largest “Y” camp in the country, saw significant and lasting development due to Chuck’s hard work and creative vision over 20 years. Chuck loved to fly-fish; if you are ever in the Catskills, stop by the pond at Frost Valley that Chuck built, it’s named after him. Service above self was how Chuck lived his life. His good humor, steady approach to all types of situations, and genuine care for and about people live on through those he mentored and befriended. He lived his principles, volunteering for numerous community works regarding children and civil rights in the various places he lived, to include foster parenting numerous children, Boy Scout leader, helping to build “Resurrection City” on the Mall in Washington D.C. during Dr. Martin Luther King’s Poor People’s Campaign, acid rain/water monitor for state of NY, volunteer fireman and arson investigator, Constable for the town of Denning, New York and more recently City of Anna Maria code enforcement officer. In Anna Maria, Chuck lived with SueLynn after the death of Joy from cancer; he loved and was extremely grateful to both women. He enjoyed being a Florida Master Gardener; he had so many “hours served” plates attached to his name badge that it became quite thick! If you had a soil sample done by the County Extension office, Chuck was probably the person who saw to it. It’s hard to pay tribute to a person like Chuck in a few words- just know that he was one heck of a good man and life-long learner whose word was his bond; you truly missed out if you didn’t get a chance to know him. Chuck’s family is grateful for the assistance these last few months of his neighbors, Heimo, Suse, Ernie and especially his dear friend Charlie Daniel. In his memory please be helpful to your neighbor, polite to a stranger, give to a charity, plant something beautiful and release your fish.