Wednesday, August 22, 2012

good night

Last night, my last night here this summer, was a stunner. As you see, clear skies, and a moon. I walked by the lake on my way to tell a story to Susky and Lakota (together) and saw this and stopped for a long while just to ponder the scene, and what it means to me. Which is to say: a great deal.

I had gone out for pizza at dinnertime and brought back two fabulous toppings-filled slices, along with a giant cakey brownie. I'd checked in on a village evening program in progress, and saw two counselors (one was crying - about the coming end of summer - and the other was comforting her) who seemed to need the treat, and invited them to go to my car, parked nearby, and partake. A few minutes later, I went to get a flashlight from my car, and they were sitting in the back seat, the one no longer crying and the other no longer consoling, munching happily on the slices.

I walked up the hill, past the old cabins of the 40s and 30s (girls 1-20 in the old days) and around the "high road" past Tacoma and toward Sacky. A fairly large black bear, who'd been messing with some garbage bins, ambled across the road about 15 feet in front of me.

Eventually I walked back to Geyer Hall where the two villages of girls awaited my story. Susky had been swimming in the lake for evening program, and they were cold - although they'd changed into dry clothes in their cabins. So indoors on this cold night made sense, though I missed telling my final story of the summer around a fire and under the stars. Some campers fell soundly and happily asleep during the story, but most were bolt upright and enjoyed being "scared" by the (mildly) scary parts.

Then, at the end, I said goodnight to them and they in unison with soft tired voices said goodnight to me. And as I left a number of them came to me for goodnight hugs. It's all I needed for a final evening. I walked down the hill, no flashlight, now in pitch darkness. I could have done one of those late nights around, had another Outpost-burger (delicious a few nights ago!) but figured my Susky/Lakota hugs were a good finale.

From home I will doubtless post a few more entries, using some photos and videos I've taken throughout the summer. But I will be doing that not from here. Here where I want to be. Funny how this place goes so easily, too easily, from presence to absence. But I have to say it's about the most present absence I can imagine.

Goodnight, Susky and Lakota.

Goodnight, Al.

Tell us another story.

Not tonight. But certainly next summer. Will you be back?

We will.

Tuesday, August 21, 2012

Hirdstock evening concert: "There's a place in the world for Frost Valley"

superhero Al

Alex Toy has drawn me as a cartoon superhero.

Forest camper has a big idea and gets an audience

In one of the most remarkable mealtime discussions I've ever had at Frost Valley, Matthew, a Forest camper (is he 10 years old? I think so), had a "big idea" and wanted to have some time with the CEO. He spoke with his counselor. He spoke with his Village Chief. Then the VC and Matthew spoke with his camp director, Megan Lawrence. Then an audience was procured with Jerry Huncosky. I happened to be there. There was a veteran alumnus/volunteer, a camp director, a VC, a trustee, the director of camping, and the CEO. And Matthew held forth for some time, explaining in detail his grand vision. Well, his grand vision was that children from the midwest would come directly to camp on trains. The camp experience would begin as they got onto the trains and the trains would move eastward and arrive at camp. Matthew had all the details worked out, and was planning to speak with Amtrak to begin the coordination. It happens that Jerry's dad worked on a midwestern railroad for more than thirty years, so the two railroad enthusiasts had a lot to say to each other. Eventually, Jerry invited Matthew to come see him in his office so he would show him the model trains he has displayed there.

Monday, August 20, 2012

talkin' with McNamee (interview - audio)

Today I caught up with Mike McNamee again and we recorded our chat. You'll want to listen to the 12-minute audio.

During our discussion, McNamee and I realized that our daughters - Hannah the counselor of cabin 44 and Fionn, a camper in the same cabin - would be performing at Hirdstock that afternoon. Below are two photos and a video of that splendid performance! You should have seen us then - a couple of heart-filled and proud dads.

2-minute video of Hirdstock as it began this afternoon

Hirdstock 2012

dancing freely

After the Lakota/Outpost Challenge Night, last night, everyone "won" an ice cream sundae (with "all the toppings"). Fantastic. Yes. But what to do while you're waiting around for your group to be called up to the sundae line? Dance, that's what.

Adventure Village learns canoeing before their 3-day trip

Lincoln McClain, our fabulous new Adventure Director, instructs the campers of Adventure Village in the basic art of canoe strokes before the kids and their counselors head out for a 3-day canoe trip.

inducting Fenn Putman into the FV hall of fame

Today we induct Fenn Putman into our Hall of Fame - the longest serving member of the Frost Valley Board of Trustees in the history of this board; in 2012 he marks his fortieth year as a member. This summer we also honor his service as President of the Board, as he steps down from that position after twelve eventful years. Few in the long history of the camp have set a more consistent tone of caring and compassion and clear values-based intention, providing a model of focus and purpose that has permeated the culture of the organization from the Board member to the novice front-line staff.

Fenn was brought onto the Board in 1972 by Jim Kellogg, who recruited him for his business acumen and because he offered representation from Morris County, NJ., a key region for our campers and families but then underrepresented among the trustee membership. By his account – although no one else’s – he languished on various committees and felt his participation to be “less than stellar.” But there is no

dispute about what happened next. After in the early 1990s having recruiting him to the position of Treasurer, Jim Kellogg planned to step down as Chaiman in 1999 and persuaded Fenn to become President as Paul Guenther became succeeding Chair, with Jim continuing as Vice President for a few more years. Fenn’s ascendancy to the leadership position crucially coincided with the announced impending retirement of long-serving Executive Director D. Halbe Brown after 35 years of visionary program expansion and land acquisition. Fenn chaired two search committees over the next few years. In the 10-month interim between these hiring efforts, he led a trustee-staff oversight committee, visited the camp every week, and essentially served as interim director of Frost Valley. The second search produced a result – the hiring of Jerry Huncosky as CEO – that Fenn counts as his most significant achievement as President. The Putman/Huncosky team led Frost Valley from deficit to surplus, improved staff housing, rationalized land ownership, converted underutilized programs into thriving new centers, introduced rigorous assessments, and significantly refined the mission. If finding, hiring and retaining such an effective CEO is the achievement he ranks first, second is his co-chairmanship with Hunter Corbin of the capital campaign that produced funds to build Geyer and Lakeview Lodges and the Guenther Wellness Center.

Nothing is more inspiring for Fenn Putman that being on hand for summer camp check-in days, where he watches, emotions welling in him, as a newly re-arriving MAC camper jumps into the arms of his counselor from the summer before, while the child’s parents stand by in utter tearful happiness at their child’s happiness. He attends every annual staff awards dinner and has found it “one of the most moving experiences of my life” – as truly great people are recognized for their selfless hard work while everyone else, far from feeling envious, is ecstatically supportive. When asked for a statement to sum up his feelings about Frost Valley, he characteristically again points to the staff. “What’s impressed me,” he says, “is how a dedicated staff, living in modest housing, earning modest income, does so much good for so many people and has changed so many lives.” He adds that one need only contrast that with the conventional work experience – where someone “has a desk and a phone and wants a zillion dollars” – and one could only vastly prefer Frost Valley people. His constant support of them over forty years is unmatched by anyone who has been a member of this Board. For his capacity to be inspired, and to inspire, and for his zeal about truly good work, we induct Fenn Putman into the Frost Valley Hall of Fame.

inducting Jerome Wolff into the FV hall of fame

In honoring Jerome Wolff, we recognize a YMCA leader who joined our camp’s Board of Trustees when that body was created for the first time in 1956. Jerry had been a member of the Plainfield Y Board while he was maintaining a medical practice as an eminent ophthalmologist there. Tapped to join the lay leadership of Camp Wawayanda in a time of organizational volatility and transition, he played a key role in the Board’s discovery of the Forstmann property in Branch, NY, in the late 1950s, and the camp’s momentous move there in 1958; and he helped the trustees and directors establish the new identity of Wawayanda, an already important summer camp, as an emerging major force in co-educational camping, environmental education, family conferencing, environmentalism, and health and fitness soon to be known as the Frost Valley YMCA.

During his many summertime visits, Jerry was a regular visitor to – and impromptu white-glove inspector of – our Health Center, and was for years the strongest and often lone voice advocating a new and improved health facility. He stood strongly behind the Wellness “revolution” brought about by Halbe Brown and others in the late 1970s and early 1980s. He pushed for the building of a fitness trail around Lake Cole and elsewhere, and covered the costs of its construction with his own donations. In 1991, when the Frost Valley board sought a trustee who could act as legal advisor, he recruited Bob Haines, who currently serves, in his 22nd year of membership, as the Senior Vice President – another key aspect of the Wolff legacy. After Jerry passed away, we learned that, through a planned bequest, some 80% of his assets were to be given to Frost Valley, an endowment fund that will support us annually forever.

Neversink Lodge was renamed Wolff Lodge in his honor. In the summertime, children with special health requirements are housed there – a fitting tribute to a volunteer leader of Frost Valley who always felt that all children, regardless of health and ability, should have a chance to be at camp. Today we include in our Hall of Fame a generous person of persistent values and a practical sense of what was needed of him. As Bob Haines has simply put it, “Jerry Wolff put his money where his mouth was.”

Sunday, August 19, 2012

other visitors too!

Maddie Geftec (this is her first summer away from FV) and Lily Bushman-Copp also visited yesterday, on that gorgeous day. Here they are with Alex Foley and Nick Lomauro.

annual summer trustee meeting - Hall of Fame

Yesterday the temperatures were in the mid-70s and the skies were utterly blue. And there was a breeze. Perfect day for our annual summertime trustee meeting. Wrong name for it, since it's really a gathering of friends and supporters (not just the trustees). I'll guess that by lunchtime there were 90 people under the tent behind the Ad Office having lunch and listening to extraordinary presentations by campers and counselors. Among them were neighbors (such as Karl Connell) and former important staffers (such as Jeff Daly, Bill Baker, Roe Balchunas) and family members (such as those of Fenn Putman's family). I'll write again soon to summarize the introduction I made about the late Jerome Wolff, who was inducted, along with Fenn, into the Frost Valley Hall of Fame. Below are some photos.

Above from left: Lourdes Montoro, Stuart Duff, Roe Balchunas.

Above from left: Chris Vescio, Gioia Brock, Karl Connell (whose son Ladd visited recently), and Patti Candelari.

Above from left: Dave Gansler, Lauren Solatar, Robin Wachenfeld. Dave was a camper, then counselor, then VC of Lacota (Native American village) in the 70s and early 80s. Lauren is Dave's wife. Robin was an Adventure Trip leader in the early 70s and is now an active member of the Board of Trustees. More on Gansler here.

Above: Fenn Putman accepts his induction into the FV Hall of Fame, after an introduction by new Board President Jim Vaughan.

Carly Einstein's blog

At Carly Einstein's blog you'll find a recent post about rest hour.

Thursday, August 16, 2012

McNamee and Duff are at it

Mike McNamee and Stuart Duff are hard at work this session, offering a fabulous, excited, non-stoppish "mini-Olympics"/Gumbo Games for one activity period. It's been a huge success. Here they are, guiding Outpost through the activities.

yoga in Filreis Field

get all painted up

Outpost VCs just 38 years apart

Connie Herrick (later Connie Weiss) and John Weiss surprised us this morning by visiting. Connie knew the Hess family from 1966 and learned about Frost Valley from them when they moved here in the winter of 1968-69. Soon Connie was working here on weekends, and then became a summer staffer. She led adventure trips, including the one that suffered what was probably the worst accident in FV/Wawayanda history - the fateful July 4, 1973 incident in the Adirondacks in which a storm hit suddenly while the group was camped near a lake and a tree fell on a tent in which campers were sleeping. One was seriously injured (although survived). But that's another story. Connie was back this morning, along with husband John Weiss. John and Connie were dating when they came to work here one summer (1974). John was the VC of Outpost. Connie that summer was a half-summer Girls' Camp Director. John also taught tennis. It was a delight touring them around camp. We came upon Outpost and I introduced John as the Village Chief of Outpost from 38 summers ago! Then as we walked across the bridge we found the 2012 VC, Alex Draper. So here you go - photo of 2 Outpost VCs, nearly four decades apart. As Alex himself said: "This place just keeps going on from generation to generation."

Fleischauer comes home, finally

A little while ago I mentioned the passing of our remarkable friend, Kirk Fleischauer. Before you read this update, please read that blog post. As promised, Kirk's brother Mark visited with his family - his wife, Kristen (herself a camp person at a Northwest U.S. camp), his daughter Kerry, and his son Mason. When Mark and Kristen looked for a camp for their eldest, Kerry, they found that Mike Ketcham was running a camp near Tacoma, Washington, and sent Kerry to Camp Seymour there. (This morning Kerry and I talked about the huge BUILD STRONG sign that Mike added to the dining hall at Seymour. There's a lot of Frost Valley/Wawayanda there.)

They arrived yesterday afternoon, played hellacious Geronimo with Lenape & Tacoma, spread Kirk's ashes at Big Tree Field and Reflection Pond, listened to a "scary" story I told to Sacky, spent time with Jerry Huncosky and both our Wawayanda directors, and this morning ate breakfast in the dining hall and headed off. But not before I was able to get time to interview Mark. Here is the audio recording of that talk: MP3.

Wednesday, August 15, 2012

looking back at Tison

A view of the Tison estate looking from the east. This is the very end of the East Valley Neversink road, at the head of the Denning trail.

we are working hard to send to camp kids whose families cannot afford it (Project 332)

Totemite profundity

Overheard in the dining hall at breakfast:

Wawayanda Camp Director: Hi, [name]! I see you are having a nice breakfast. Are you going to have cereal with that?

Totemite: I don't like cereal!

Director (tone of friendly teasing): You don't like cereal? Why, it's almost unAmerican not to like cereal.

Totemite: I'm not from America. I'm from Brooklyn.

Tuesday, August 14, 2012

do the counselors love each other?

It's love but it's also the freedom to crazily express it.

Ladd Connell

Ladd Connell - and Carolyn - visited recently for a few hours. They and the Connell family of course own some property and a house on the road from here to Claryville. Ladd was a CIT with me in the summer of 1971. We walked around, chatting about old times and our families, and Ladd, with characteristic energy and curiosity, had to get involved with an activity. So here he is, handling snakes (which he does for a living metaphorically), and teaching the kids through his gentle questions. Hey, Ladd! Come back often, please.

Christa and Grace, mom and daughter united by this experience

Christa Sullivan came to camp in the early 1980s - for maybe four summers. She never forgot it. Her daughter Grace starting coming here when she was 7 or 8. This summer she spent six weeks with us as a Windsong camper, her last as a camper. She hopes to become a CIT. Those of us who've seen Grace grow and become a kind, mature person are delighted at the prospect of her role as a leader here. We invited Christa (they now live in northern Virginia) to drive up a day early and spent a night and morning back at her old camp, while Grace said her long long goodbyes before check-out and departure last Friday. It was a touching reunion - of mother and daughter, yes, but also of camper and her old camp. Through Grace she gets to see that's basically the same wonderful place. So here they are, just before they left the valley.

our Frost Valley Ernsts

Scott Ernst, one of the fabulous Frost Valley Ernsts, here with his family, including his daughter Kathryn (Katie) who spent her second summer here last session. Katie was in Susky cabin 47 this time - and loved it! And the Ernsts' Frost Valley tradition continues.

thoughts on values

Two conversations lead me to this blog post. One occurred last night with Gail Morris (who is the program director at the Farm this summer, after many summers of many jobs here) and the other this morning with Jeremy Gansler (of Adventure Village).

What the two wanted to say amounted to almost precisely the same thing.

Gail had spent some time recently at home with some friends. She listened to them complain about their jobs, the people for whom they work, etc. And she realized that she currently works for an organization in which everyone knows fully well what the goals and vision are, where the ultimate reason for the organization is transparent and always openly discussed. That she'd never otherwise worked in an organization where this was true, and could always use it to measure other projects and companies and workplaces. And that this was a rare privilege. When she told me this, eyes actually misty from the power of the realization, I urged her to share this sentiment with the VCs and directors and program people gathered at the VC meeting. She did. They understood, and I hope counted themselves lucky to have (and so early in their careers) a work experience with such an organization.

As for Gansler. I sat down with Jeremy to share my history and feelings about working with his father Dave in the late 70s and early 80s. I mentioned that I was glad that Dave had reconnected with FV just when his son was coming of age and might have a shot at a few summers here. And Jeremy went on to describe his reaction to the job and the place. I just had this conversation a few minutes ago. This is not a direct quote but it's a pretty close paraphrase: "I was frankly surprised. I knew Frost Valley talked a lot about values, but usually such talk is just talk. But the extent to which these values are openly discussed at every level, and to see how these young people don't scoff at them but take them really seriously - is amazing. It's like a paradise. Everyone is seriously committed to reaching these abstract goals - like caring and respect - but they make them happen in their day-to-day work. It's real. And because we're so separated, we can do all this without much interference or diluting from the outside. This place is really what my father said it was - an experience that changed his life and which he wanted to share with me."

Monday, August 13, 2012

Chris Harper returns

Chris Harper showed up on Sunday and spent much of the day. Unfortunately she left before I could dragoon her into singing with me at the opening campfire. Oh well. Come back, Chris, wherever you've gone. Here she is with Rae Nathanson, Eliza Berman (who was also visiting for the day), and Ali Costa.

Jere's Maya

Jere Schwait Sirkis has a totally adorable daughter named Maya. Maya first appeared as a tiny toddler during one of our alumni reunions. She played Geronimo and fell in love with the place. Last summer she finally came of age and attended camp for a week (I think). Now this year she's back, in Pokey again, and again for one week. But we talked with her parents and decided that if Maya wants to stay the full two-week session, she just needs to say so. We figured that would happen on Wednesday or Thursday. But during the FIRST meal of the session, Maya came up to me at said, "Okay. I want to stay the two weeks. Can we call my mom?" I asked her to wait a day and sure enough she came to me at breakfast this morning and re-announced her intention. Anyway, here's a photo of her, with Jere and McNamee and Duff in the dining hall yesterday at check-in.

McNamee and Duff are here

Mike McNamee (Brit who was a VC of Forest and then of Lenape in the early to mid 1980s) and Stuart Duff (same era - VC of Forest after McNamee) are both here visiting as volunteers this session. Avid readers of this blog will remember that Duff did the same two-week stint for us a few years ago. His daughter Ceri is in Windsong and his son Jamie has been a CIT this half of the summer. Mike's daughters, Ffion (Lakota) and Megan (Tacoma), are here in camp for the first time.

It's wonderful that they are both here. They've already been very busy making arrangements with VCs to run a mini-Olympics ("Gumbo Games") for a village each in a single activity period. They've got 6 or 7 villages already signed up. Now that's volunteering!

Glenn Horton (who still lives around here) was kind enough to stop by this morning and lend these fellows his car while he's away. Duff will take McNamee to the train station along the Hudson River so McNamee can spend a few days away from FV to attend some kind of professional meeting in Montreal. But already I can tell that Mike doesn't want to leave. He's completely into it. It's like those nearly 30 years never passed.

Here we are this morning. Gray a little but not diminished.

Blum love

Three of the fourth-session grumpy old men. Classic FV lifers. From left to right: Mark Gottdenker, Bud Cox, Eric Blum. Blum, who usually volunteers here an entire month (his year's vacation) is here just these two weeks. He's had a hard go of it lately but is here, here, here and already, I can tell, feels better. It's the air. It's the fact of a place turned over to enable children's happiness and health. It's the comradeship of the grumpy old men. It's the love he receives (from me, for one thing - I who really do love him). Well, enough gushing. Blum's here. 'Nuf said for now.

Thursday, August 9, 2012

you absolutely will not believe this: a deer jumped through a window in Margetts Lodge

CIT coordinators on their CITs

cloud appreciation shoe golf (what?!)

So this, very possibly, is my favorite thing about camp. Really. We used to call it "gumbo." It's the magic of just winging it - taking some hackneyed, standard, tired game and making it quirky and weirdly non-competitive and therefore interestingly super-competitive and fun. It's the last full day of the session, third session (so everyone on the staff is tired and dragging a little before the final push of the final session), and here's your Outpost VC and one of his counselors, with a group of kids, lying on their backs in the middle of the field. What are they doing? Well, they say, we've taken two weird Frost Valley activities and we've merged them. One is "Cloud Appreciation" and the other is "Shoe Golf." Cloud appreciation is typically a euphemism for lying on your back in the sun and watching the clouds go by - and sometimes entails telling the others what formations you see in the clouds. In short: doing nothing much. ("Sun appreciation," its sister sport, is just lying in the sun. Or, in the old days: tanning.) Shoe Golf entails loosening your shoe and flipping it like a horseshoe or a chip shot toward some "hole" (usually a frisbee set in the grass about 40 feet away). What you see in this video is "Cloud Appreciation Shoe Golf"! I love it. I really do. Inventive and fun and completely ridiculous, and yet they were so into it.

Here is a response to this blog post:

one old-time counselor recommends this place to another - and she (the younger) makes an impact

Dave Gold, now a psychologist in Maryland, once recommended FV to a young family friend - Melissa Morrison. She came some years ago, then missed two summers, and is back now. And will be the VC of Sacky most of next session. Walking across the field on this sunny morning, I found Melissa and a few of her campers taking a break being activity periods, and took the opportunity to chat with her. I'm pleased to say that Melissa will be a research at Penn in Philadephia starting in September - and was looking for a few hours of part-time work and so I've hired her! I know (from seeing her in action here) how completely good she is and intuitively know she'll do a terrific job at whatever work I assign her. Work here, in short, is a guarantee of reliability, productivity, and all-round goodness.

Okay, here's the audio recording of my chat with Melissa just now.

And here's a video of Dave Gold made a few years ago during a brief visit. Come back, Dave. We miss you here!

the last day you're a camper

This morning I talked with some Pac/Windsong 15-year-olds - on their last full day here as campers. They were part of the Creative Writing specialty run by the amazing Erica Kimmel. She led them in a discussion of long-term and short-term goals, and someone mentioned wanting to be a CIT next summer. I recorded what came next. Here is your link to the audio.

A little later, this same group wrote down condensed poetic one-phrase versions of their goals. And then they got chalk and presented them on the walkway so that everyone would read them on their way into lunch. Here are three. I was quite taken by these. Jerry Huncosky walked to see these sayings with me and said: "It takes some bravery to be a teenager and to be this sincere in front of everyone." He's right.

4 siblings here from one family - ties a record

Right now there are four Robles siblings in camp at the same time, tying a Frost Valley all-time record. Two are campers and two are staff members. When eldest sibling Louis showed up to pick up work, at the last moment, as a driver during third and fourth sessions, he joined sisters Monica (Susky counselor) and Ciara (Pokey) and Gina (Susky). Gina is in Monica's cabin, I think! (Is that a first?) Last night at the huge Susky/Forest/Pokey-Totem Challenge Night, Monica, Ciara, and Gina were all on the same team, and Louis was one of the judges. Anyway, here's a photo of them in the dining hall. Some years ago I wrote a blog entry about Monica when she was a camper. I'm LINKING to that here. Go back to that entry and listen to a recording of Monica on her 14th birthday - I hiked up to a Tacoma overnight and interviewed here there. I think that was five years ago.

It's so good to watch these families grow up in this valley. To say the least.

Tuesday, August 7, 2012

Lakota staff get dirty

...along with Lincoln McClain, our new Adventure Director.

new edition of book about Tokyo program

Tokyo-based writer Professor Yasuhiro Kuroki wrote a book about the founding of the Tokyo-Frost Valley YMCA partnership about 20 years ago. I've seen this book, although can't read a word of it. (Maybe it'll be translated into English some day.) Now, this summer, Yasuhiro is back, spending three weeks or so with us. He's writing an updated edition of this book. Here he is, second from right, in the dining hall at the beginning of session 3. On his immediate left and right are Emiko and Tatsuo Honma, whom readers of this blog will know as the husband-and-wife team who founded and for many years directed the Tokyo camp at FV. Their daughter Kyoko was my camper (on a bike trip) in 1979, and now Kyoko's children are summer camp regulars.

"waterfront" along the East Branch

Yes, lucky Farm campers. Their "waterfront" is a swimming hole in the East Branch of the Neversink River. The water there is so, so clear - and cold! On a hot day it feels terrific. I was there the other day, on such a hot day. Those are my happy feet in the water.