Tuesday, August 30, 2011

Pigeon Lodge today

Photos by Dan Weir.

okay, now's the time to help

Dear former and current staff of Frost Valley:

This past weekend Hurricane Irene slammed into Frost Valley. While media attention focused mostly on the coastlines, Frost Valley was hit hard. Through the alertness and skill of our staff, everyone at camp is safe. But the damage to roads, paths, trails, bridges, and Pigeon Lodge was extensive. Although the winds were not strong, driving rains caused water to cascade violently down the creeks and streams, wreaking havoc to every part of the valley.

As the staff work hard, day and night, to re-open the camp and get us back up and running, the executive leadership and the board are now focusing on financial issues that must quickly be addressed—processing insurance claims, reaching out for state and federal support, taking stock of all available resources—and will immediately plan the rebuilding of Frost Valley.

So this is a call to action. We ask all friends of Frost Valley—everyone who has enjoyed this place, learned here and played here, celebrated milestones here, and whose children have grown up here—to step up now and help us quickly repair the damage done by this hurricane. With your support, we can fund reconstruction priorities quickly. Roads, trails, and bridges need to be rebuilt, and plans for rebuilding Pigeon Lodge must commence. Please help Frost Valley as soon as you possibly can with a donation to the Hurricane Irene Frost Valley Relief Fund. An online gift will help us most expeditiously:


--but we welcome donations in any form. Mail a check to Frost Valley YMCA, 2000 Frost Valley Road, Claryville, NY 12725, or call us at (845) 985-2291 to discuss other arrangements.

Thank you!

- Al Filreis

Monday, August 29, 2011

Pigeon Brook Lodge, 1928-2011

the day after

Forking to the left is the county road (route 47) heading away from camp. Forking to the right is the road going past Lake Cole and up the hill toward Hird Lodge.

The road coming down from the dining hall toward Big Tree Field.

Gail on the '72 flood & Pigeon Lodge

Gail McNeill writes: "In ’72, I was late getting to FV for my first summer because the bridges were washed out on the road, and we were kayaking on Big Tree Field that year. I remember the waters lapping at Pigeon many times. . . but gone? Wow. Memories. . . doing linens on Sunday afternoons, and many a root beer float (and budding romance) at the staff lounge. I can believe there is much work to do."

Yes, it's true: Pigeon Lodge was for many years the summertime staff lounge, open in the evenings with a full kitchen (cheesburgers, root beer floats, etc.).

Sunday, August 28, 2011

Rick Wormeli speaks for many of us when he says...

Here's Rick Wormeli, responding to the news of Irene's impact on Frost Valley:

Thanks for this, Al. I worried about FV all weekend. We came through fine here in northern Virginia, but other places in Virginia did not fare as well. I watched the Outpost singing that you captured on video as they prepared for Hirdstock -- Wow, was that wonderful and Intensely moving, especially after just viewing the pictures of the end of Pigeon Lodge. I spent a summer in Pigeon Lodge back in ‘82 or ‘83 with Iscusfa, the Performing Arts Camp, with David Sunshine, Carrie Fiedler, and PR McCollum, among others. We also stayed there for some off-season planning weekends for the Directors throughout the 80’s. ‘So many memories of Pigeon and Biscuit Creek….and the music in cabin 37 pulled at every counselor heartstring.

What an amazing emanci- pation, what a conduit for serious connection, Frost Valley is! The powerful messages and the lifting of humanity found in Hirdstock, the Olympics, closing campfires, and just being with one another -- wow. ‘Nostalgia, yes, but none of it superficial. The best of those times are who we are today, contributing to the world. Looking at all your posts renews the fire to re-create a Frost Valley connection and experience with others beyond the Catskills. I need to weave FV sentiments and virtues more purposefully into my work with schools, when sharing the journey with friends and family, and even with strangers sitting with me in airport lounges waiting for delayed flights or when debating those with different politics than my own. Something’s right with the world when Frost Valley has such a positive impact on those who walked its paths.

With so many worthy organizations and positive experiences for children and adults in our society running out of steam or crippled by the economy, it’s refreshing and hopeful to see Frost Valley still maintaining its vision and growing strong. And you’re right: FV is a reminder of the ethical/compassionate/courageous things we do today and pass on to our children. It’s hard to know where FV ends and I begin, and that’s a really nice feeling.

Thanks again, Al, for taking the time to post the observations and photos. They all mean a lot to those of us who can’t get back for the summer.

For more about Rick, go here. In the photo above, taken at the 2001 reunion, Rick is in the middle, third from left. Left to right: Dave King, Digger Shortt, Rick Wormeli, Al Filreis, David Allen.

Irene hits FV: everyone is safe but Pigeon Lodge is gone

The timing of Irene's arrival at Frost Valley was in many ways lucky. Summer camp campers and almost all the staff had just left. Family Camp campers had not yet arrived. The staff currently on the property are waiting out the storm in the dining hall. Everyone is safe.

But Biscuit Creek rose and flooded just at the waterfall by Smith Lodge and Pigeon Lodge. Its waters eroded the bank next to Pigeon Lodge and the building--built in the early 1920s by Forstmann--collapsed and slid into the creek. From what I hear, big chunks of the building are jammed against the little bridge that crosses Biscuit between the Olympic Circle/Ad Office and the road heading up to the Castle. That in turn forced more water up and into the field going one way toward the Neversink River and the other way across the road to Reflection Pond. Hemlock Brook or Trickle Creek (the stream that flows between cabins 21-25 and the dining hall) has overflowed also.

Everyone is safe. Family Camp is cancelled but there is a great deal of clean-up to be done once the storm passes.

There were similar floods in 1937, 1969, and 1972. The latter two happened in June.

Photos above taken by Dan Weir on Sunday early afternoon.

Outpost harmonizes

One night recently I was looking for a lighter or book of matches, so I could start up a CQ fire at Lakota and grill for them. I wandered through Outpost (home of many fires) and heard some good sounds coming from cabin 37. I walked in and encountered a preparatory jam session. It was the night before Hirdstock.

Friday, August 26, 2011

that's all she wrote

Another Frost Valley summer - done. The staff parking lot is nearly empty; the cars are parked next to cabins and lodges, trunks open, duffles being loaded. Other staff are on buses heading to Newark, Montclair, Brooklyn - and the intrepid loyalists (which is most of them) will come back in vans and cars in time to attend the annual last-night-of-camp banquet. Rain clobbered us on Thursday (thus closing campfires were indoors--but they were good, with fabulous musical goodbyes of various genres), and a hurricane will hit here on Sunday, but today began warm and blue-skied.By breakfast the tearful joyous goodbyes were well underway. Three of the CIT Coordinators fiercely hugged in a whirling circle for many minutes.By 9:30 a flotilla of same-colored buses were already parked in front of Margetts Lodge and the pavilion, being loaded by tired and emotionally drained but nonetheless dutiful CITs and program staff.By 10 AM somehow already the program directors were nearly done emptying out the program office of its myriad dodge balls, hoola hoops, megaphones, Hirdstock hippie paraphrenalia, clipboards, radio recharging units, laptops, village schedules, pencils and rolls of duct tape. It didn't look very pretty but it was nearly ready for the next phase (Family Camp).At the dining hall, by 10:30, parents began to arrive and the familial reunions began. These are wonderful to see. There's nothing quite like the emotion of parents seeing their child for the first time in two or even four weeks. This gets me every time. Then in walks Peter Boyd and daughter Elizabeth. Peter was an LIT with me in '72 and a few more summers after that, and his brother David was on the staff here too. As I've mentioned, daughters Elizabeth and Sarah came as young girls and later joined the staff. Elizabeth was visiting (having been away this summer for the first time) and they were here to get Sarah, a 2011 Susky counselor.Sarah might have been ready to go. But a Lakota girl, Emily, was not. She'd been crying at the thought of leaving her friends since during the closing campfire the night before, and she was still a happy mess. She told her mom she'll be coming here every summer forever. Her counselors joined the circle and Emily was able to say a final goodbye. See ya next summer. I'll be back, will you be back? Yes, I'll be back. Okay, see you then. Remember how good it was for us. Don't worry. I'll remember. And off she went, holding mom's hand and sure to hold on tight during the slow drive along the Neversink River, winding, winding, eight nostalgic miles to Claryville. We've been down this road before. Oh yes we have.

Thursday, August 25, 2011

another Ernst

That's Katie Ernst on the left, a two-week camper here for fourth session this summer. Next to her is her aunt, Lisa Ernst - our very own Lisa Ernst. Katie is the daughter of Lisa's brother Scott, also himself, once upon a time, a Frost Valley guy. In any given session, if we gathered together all the campers and staff who are connected somehow (sons and daughters, nieces and nephews, grandchildren, etc.), it could be as many as 20%-25% of them all.

Hirdstock 2011

In all my years of witnessing, organizing, singing along at, MC'ing and just plain grooving to Hirdstock, always fourth session, always late late late summer, always with a tinge of relaxed pre-nostalgia, I cannot remember a nicer day and night for it than this past Tuesday in 2011. A perfect day. Temperatures daytime were in the low 70s. For the evening concert, it got quite cold (low 50s by the end, maybe even upper 40s) but it was surely time for the blankets, wool ponchos, flannel shirts, big socks, arms around shoulders, groups huddled together to sing along with the music.

Wednesday, August 24, 2011

Tuesday, August 23, 2011

why you should donate money to Frost Valley to help send a kid to camp

In response to this, Sue Geller wrote: "I was just down at FV for the start of fourth session, and donated to Project 332. I was inspired by my visit there, hearing Sacky and Susky campers singing cheers from back in the day (one or two of which I helped create- how wild is that!) and hiking to high falls... and seeing the MAC campers, and Advil... and just generally appreciating the memories of such an inspirational place. I hope that even those of you who have not made a recent trip back to FV to be re-energized by it in person, will be moved to give to this important fund based on the shared years of incredible, life-changing experiences, teachable moments, and hopefully joy, you reaped from your association to Frost Valley."

Saturday, August 20, 2011

go away from FV and find....more FV'ers

Took some days away from FV to do some vacationing in the Berkshires of Western Mass., but FV never seems to be very far away from anywhere. My niece Danielle Pancoast (daughter of my sister Liane, herself a long FV'er) has been spending her first non-FV summer (first time in 11 or 12 years) working for a summer stock theater company near Lenox, Mass. Naturally my wife Jane and I wanted to see Dani, so we picked her up and treated her to a few hours off from her internship/job by driving to lovely Great Barrington. I had Facebooked our ascent of a nearby mountain a day earlier, and who should pop up in response but Robin Helfand, mom of the Glicker trio (previously mentioned and photographed in this blog). Robin says she runs a candy store in downtown Great Barrington, and since candy coincided with Dani's day-off intentions, we went there, saw Robin and discovered that all the Helfands and most Glickers were converging on that very spot. So we saw Dawn Helfand (and husband Jim--they met at a camp in Michigan, by the way, after Dawn's numerous FV summers--and son Eli) and Russ Helfand, and then, the next day, Jesse Glicker too (daughter of Robin who finished her 2011 summer a week early after having been a CIT Coordinator and all-around supporter of Adventure Village). Frost Valley in the Berkshires! No wonder the mountain around there always seem to me to be much like the Catskills. It's in the bones, and in the eyes, and in the heart.

Photo above: Danielle Pancoast, left, with Robin Helfand, right. Below: Robin, Dawn and Russ.

Sunday, August 14, 2011

Hemlock in the mud, 1960

Two of these muddy lads are campers of Jim Wilkes: Les Blane and Paul Achinapura. The year is 1960. The village is Hemlock, cabins 21-25. I'm fairly certain that cabin 23 is behind Jim (who took the photo) and that that's cabin 24in the background.

Jim Wilkes remembers: "They had been throwing mud pies at each other on the cabin porch. So I said, 'Okay, men, there is a mud hole over younder on the other side of the ferns, filled with fresh rain water. Go empty it with your hands and feet!'"

Upon seeing this entry, Dave King remembered Paul as follows: "I remember Paul when he was in Lenape in 1959. Paul was truly one of the great characters in the village. Paul's father was in charge of all personnel (not diplomats) for the United Nations property in New York. I took several 9th-grade class field trips to NY to see the Statue of Liberty, and to visit the UN. Paul's dad arranged visits which were truly memorable. On one visit, my kids met the Secretary General, Uh Thant, who was most gracious."

Eric Wechter's son

Eric Wechter, who was himself in Hemlock 26 years ago, brought his son Benjamin back to camp--to be in Hemlock!--along with his mother, whom I hadn't seen in the same 26 years (or so).

former directors show up to help with luggage

Sorry the photo isn't very good; these people were moving fast. Yes, a corps of former directors descended upon us this weekend and stayed for today's Session 4 check-in. They wanted to do "manual labor," they said - and so luggage it was. From left to right: Matt Buzcek, Jeff Daly, Joe Elliott, Steve Purkis, and Eric Blum.

Wednesday, August 10, 2011

improvements at Out-trip

There are improvements over at Out-trip (where all adventures trips and overnights are outfitted). From the moment the new Wellness Center opened up near the dining hall, the former dialysis unit in Smith Lodge and the treatment room of the old Health Center (or "infirmary") has been used as Out-trip. Not a bad spot for it. Mark Gottdenker once again has done a great job getting all the equipment organized. And then--surprise!--we sprung for a new washer and dryer so that tarps and other washables can be cleaned well right there. What a different this makes. For those who remember the way Smith Lodge used to be arranged, the washer and dryer are now installed in the old treatment room, right there where the old treatment table once stood.

more from Battle of the Themes Day

More photos from Battle of the Themes Day, our all-camp program this session. You see people from the Avatar and Harry Potter and Ninja Turtles teams. That Harry Potter-ish/Hermione-ish young woman calling roll for the Harry Potter team is none other than my daughter Hannah, who was tapped to be a "producer" (head coach)!

Tuesday, August 9, 2011

all-camp program: Battle of the Themes Day

Session 3's all-day all-camp program. Today. Well, imagine Olympics pressed into a single day, where the teams are not countries to thematically broad popular movies. So one team is Star Wars, another is Harry Potter, and so on. It's easy to see how the head coach (or "producer") could get somewhere with this idea: costumes are a cinch, music and cheers/chants readymade, lots of familiarity among the campers. Instant all-camp program! That's not to say it won't take tons of energy, but...well...here we go!

Last year the winner was the Pirates (more specifically Pirates of the Caribbean) and so this year's host team are the Pirates. This morning before 8 I ran into three growling pirates on my way to breakfast and snapped this photo of them. One of them, Shelle Edge, at right, is the assistant program director running today's event. Good luck to her!

Monday, August 8, 2011

Bud Cox tells the story of Charles R. Scott, Wawayanda's founder

Bud Cox talks about Charles R. Scott, who founded Camp Wawayanda in 1901. Keep watching until the end and you'll hear the remarkable story of 1954: Scott, 80 years old by then, visits Wawayanda and its Andover, NJ, location (final year there), while Bud himself was at camp for the very first time. Scott passed away right there in the dining hall, just one table over from where Bud was sitting. Bud concludes by remarking on the symbolism of continuity in that encounter.

Sunday, August 7, 2011

late '80s/90s/00s alumni friends tell their chronologies

From left to right: Dave Haight, Bob Eddings, Steve Purkis, Jeff Daly.


Yes, and David Gansler visited FV yesterday, a guest of the Board. I think it had been many years since Dave's last visit. He is currently a prominent psychologist in the Boston area, running a center and affiliated with a university. No surprise to me that he has done so well in his field. I remember him as an utterly brilliant and (self-)demanding village chief - of Lacota, the first Lacota, the Sioux Indian-style village residing in tipis (sorry, I've mentioned that lots in this blog). When I was director, Gansler was for several great summers among the very finest VCs. Sharp guy, and brilliantly effectively ascerbic when necessary. Anyway, David was back and brought along his 18-year-old son Jeremy. We're hoping Jeremy applies for a job as counselor next summer.

grumpy old men (and pregnant lass) return

At Friday night's VC meeting, special appearances: Kelly Daly (baby is due in October!), Jeff Daly, and Steve Purkis. And trying to evade the camera, standing, is Eric Blum, who had just arrived from Virginia for what we hope is a long stint (2 weeks? 3?). And below you see the same group at the trustee luncheon the next day:

Kaufmans bring their happy attitudes - and steaks

Gary Kaufman, longtime camper and staffer, returned for a visit this weekend, along with his dad, Jeff, who is a new member of FV's board of trustees. Gary settled immediately and naturally into his former role of Totem counselor, spending the day with his former Pokey-Totem colleagues and meeting the new young kids in the village (and some returners too). And yesterday afternoon Jeff was already marinating all the good steaks he was going to cook over the fire at the Pokey-Totem CQ for the staff. I missed that meal but I imagine it was not only scrumptious but also drew quite a crowd, even on a rainy night. Thanks, Jeff! And welcome back, Gary! Don't stray too far from your FV family, ever.

spaghetti night, decorum out the window

Somehow FV campers are born knowing that on spaghetti night they have the option of eating the stuff without utensils. I have to confess that at first I bridled at all this mess, but I have come to enjoy it tremendously. The kids have so much fun. Maybe in addition to teaching kids how to dine together cooperatively and to learn to respect the food and the social occasion of the meal ("family style") we should also teach them the pure fun of feeling unconstrained, free. You might accuse me (once again) of reading too much into such campy things, but I think not. Just look at those faces.

Jane Brown honored as new inductee into the FV hall of fame

Yesterday, at our annual summer board of trustees meeting, Jane Brown was among those inducted into the Frost Valley Hall of Fame. I had the honor of speaking about Jane's impact on FV's people just before the induction. The first photo above was taken by me, and the other four were taken by Sara Alexander.

With Jane, of course, was her husband Halbe, our beloved long-time (35 years) executive director. Also their son Bill and his wife Katherine, and Halbe's brother Paul, who lives in Claryville. (Halbe was elected into our hall of fame in its first year.)

Since my talk about Jane was done improvisationally from notes, I can't reproduce it here, but below is the paragraph-long note which I wrote for the program:

Those who have felt the Frost Valley magic – its capacity to welcome everyone and to create a remarkable sense of familiarity and ease – will know or come to learn that it is in no small part owing to the generosity and hospitality of Jane Brown. Jane joined her husband, long-time Frost Valley Executive Director D. Halbe Brown, and their young family, here at Frost Valley in 1966. From then until 2001, no one provided keener or more consistent stewardship of Frost Valley’s people—campers, staff, trustees, grantors, donors, friends, visitors for a day or for a year—than Jane. To the extent that people at Frost Valley felt specifically connected to the place, it was almost always Jane who had supported the connection. By electing Jane Brown to our Hall of Fame, the trustees with great pleasure honor her for her brilliant and dedicated stewardship of people—one of the true core values of Frost Valley in her time and forever.