Friday, July 31, 2015

Liz Tolmach

Liz Tolmach during the "waterfront games" on the afternoon of Olympic Day in 1975 or 1976. Liz was from California and I believe was related to the Oeschle family.

the perfect Catskills day

Looking across the field before 7 AM this morning. Chill in the air and bright sun. It's going to be a GREAT day here. Days like this—I live for them.

skills passport

Alex Draper (our Activities Director) and others have created "Skills Passports." These arrived just recently. As campers complete Specialty programs (a skill they learn for a week while at camp - for which they sign up at the beginning of the week), they fill out this little passport-style notebook, writing down what they learned, and then it is stamped. We hope they will keep these, bringing them back subsequent summers, and then keep them somewhere so they can remember what they did and learned at camp many years later.

'80s pals

Can you name these four gentlemen who were mainstays at Frost Valley in the 1980s?

Stu Duff's son

Stuart Duff's son Jamie is a counselor in Lenape. Here he is being (apparently!) "instructed" by me during a camp of Geronimo yesterday.


....but when all is said and done camp is simply and wholly about making really good new friends. And the process feels natural, inevitable. It just happens.

Thursday, July 30, 2015

Goldrush Day, early 1970s

Goldrush Day was typically the session 1 all-day all-camp program back in the day. One of the many aspects of the afternoon "western"-style carnival was a stage show that took place on the Olympic Circle. It's basically the same stage-on-wheels we still use now, all these years later! Here's a photo from the early 1970s of some campers hanging out on that stage before or after the stage show.

Wednesday, July 29, 2015

new trustee Amy Melican is seen in her Pokey photo

Yes, that's Amy Melican in the first row at the far right.

Jennifer Brown - Halbe and Jane's daughter - was in the second row, sixth from the left.

Bill Brown visited and hung out with Bud Cox

The other day Bill Brown (one of Halbe and Jane Brown's children) stopped by to say hello and take care of some family business. He went looking for Bud and found him in the staff kitchen, and they ended up having dinner together and a long talk.

Monday, July 27, 2015

Fenn Putman's granddaughters

The late, much-missed President and Chairman of the FV Board of Trustees, Fenn Putman, was proud of his grand-daughters who had become devoted campers before Fenn passed away not long ago. Now they are back - Audrey is a CIT and Emily is in Tacoma. Here's a great photo of Emily taken by Sandy Bohn during this morning's Geronimo game.

Amy Furman Melican

The Furman dairy farm was and is well known in these parts. Amy grew up there and when she married John Melican and they moved to NYC, they made sure their own children hung out summertimes in Grahamsville with the grandparents. After a while they would attend Frost Valley's day camp, and, recently, resident camp. The youngest two Melicans are Elizabeth (Pokey-Totem) and Joe (Forest). Here are photos of those two. There's also another Furman here (Adam) and another Melican sibling (Abby).


Zach Zabriskie is back this year for session 3. He's in Forest again and I just finished a wild fun session of "Geronimo" with Forest. Zach of course had to stand up for Bopper when I called "...if you father was a counselor in Lenape when I was the director!" etc. Here's a photo of Zach as he arrived yesterday along with, of course, his parents. Many readers of this blog will know that at left is Lance (aka "John") Zabriskie, a FV legend of the 1980s.

Bruce Comiskey, Totem VC 1975

A great photo (taken by Sandy Shapiro Bohn, then Sandy Shapiro) of Totem village chief Bruce Comiskey in 1975. Bruce was wonderful: kind, quiet but hilariously funny and witty, great with the little kids, a generous colleague. He met his wife Kathy Alexander at Frost Valley in '74 or '75; she was the Arts & Crafts Director. He owned (and had at camp) a 1952 "fluid-drive" semi-automatic Chevy sedan. It had a clutch but it was also somehow an automatic transmission. A real boat. I loved driving it, as I did several times on a day off. I haven't been in touch with Bruce in years, and miss him. Bruce, if you see this, get in touch!

Saturday, July 25, 2015

the sign-up-for-'16 song

At check out we set up a table where families can register their kids for 2016. When they do that, they get a great bright "2016" FV shirt. The staff who work this table this time made up a catchy song, which in itself drew people to the opportunity.

Olympic Circle and "the rec hall" in the 1960s

This photo was taken in the 1960s. I'm going to guess it's 1968 or 1969. The Olympic Circle was ornamented with flags on 1"x1"posts, pounded into the ground, five times each summer. Flags ringed the circled on every check-out and check-in weekend, and of course during the Olympics, which took place during second session and sometimes during third. These flags were stored in the attic of the Ad Office (the Forstmann calf barn now called the Welcome Center). I can remember, as Program Director in the '70s, going through them each summer. Some of them were old - had been brought from the Old Wawayanda in 1958 and perhaps the trunk of flags was itself quite old. I would pick out the nations to be represented for the summer. Brazil. Israel. Iran. West Germany (never East). Mexico. And so on. These were displayed as parents dropped children off and picked them up and they also formed that summer's Olympic teams.

In the background you see a big barn. That was "the Rec Hall." It was pretty much our only rainy-day space. It was where all-camp evening programs were held, such as Challenge Night and Kangaroo Court and Beat the Clock. On the "second floor" was a hayloft. For some years the LITs lived there, and the kitchen stewards. By the time I came of age to be a CIT and LIT, Halbe Brown with help from the Hayden Foundation and the Knudson Family had renovated the garage into Hayden Lodge, and the CITs and LITs lived there. So I never got to live in the Rec Hall hayloft. Too bad. That would have been something.

Of course the Rec Hall, which served many many uses, eventually gave way to Margetts Lodge. "Got a little bit older / and so did that Rec Hall. / All them pies in the face / They made me a man. / Then Chuck White came / with the world's largest shovel / And knocked it all down / For the "progress" of camp."

classic counselor look

I like this photograph of counselor David Schechter for many reasons. One is that I like David. A good guy, fun and smart, also easy-going and fabulously patient with small children. But another reason I like this picture is that it seems to be a vintage shot. If it weren't for the image of the 2007 Toyota in the background, this guy could be a counselor in 1967, 1984,'s a look, an ease, the college sweatshirt, the sunglasses, a sense of taking simple pleasure in what the kids are doing, the summery way of his hair. In a word: camp. How good is this job for the young people who take it on. They fall into a devoted yet easeful intensity of experience that doesn't change across the decades and generations. For real.

kids play

A few nice shots of Pokey-Totem during a special outdoor daytime Challenge "Night" a few weeks ago. Photos by Sandy Shapiro Bohn.

The CIT experience: hushed good sad stupor on the last day

The CIT experience came to an end for a group of special young people yesterday. Of course they are with us a month. For one two-week session they go out on their multi-night backpacking trip, and then, back in camp, go through a series of training sessions, help lead activities, etc. During the second two-week session they continue to train and then spend a number of days "in cabin," assigned to villages and working more or less like regular staff members.

I got up early yesterday - check-out day for session 2. Another perfect Catskills day. The temp dipped to the low 50s overnight, the dawn came and it shot into the 60s, on its way to the 70s. I came to the office before 7 to get some work done. At maybe 7:15 I heard some voices outside the window. This group of CITs had gathered, waiting for one of them to be picked up by parents for an early departure. The sun slanted perfectly on them. I came out and talked with them about their experience briefly - nothing deep - but I could tell they were in a state of intense hushed pre-nostalgia. They would always remember this 4-week experience, day by day. Somehow the photo captures that good sad stupor. The sun on them is almost a halo.

Two former Pokey counselors and their Pokey daughters

This is a classic. One of my favorite photographs of the summer. These two women worked in Pokey village together in the early 1990s. Their daughters were born 8 years ago at around the same time. They've been dreaming of the girls coming to Frost Valley, to be Pokey girls, for all those years. This past session the dream came true. The girls had a wonderful experience - gained independence and just had a hilariously good time - and their moms were thrilled beyond words. I think I like this neat story of FV continuity more than any other I've heard all summer—and I've heard many really good ones. The Wawayanda spirit, it never does die.

Advill takes "5 Trong" to heart

After hearing my summer '15 story "5 Trong," Adventure Village has taken the trong to heart. I ran into them while walking with a Sequoia alumnus out to Sequoia (he hadn't seen it in 30 years). They showed me this sketch and a sample Advill arm with the three trong marks drawn on.

Friday, July 24, 2015

John Giannotti on his week at camp: "You *can* go home again!"


You all know that odd, wonderful, strangely complex feeling you get when you drive up to Frost Valley. If you're coming from the north, it starts to bubble up, perhaps, when you cross the Esopus in Phoenicia. From the south, it begins when you make your water-level assessment of the Neversink.  The feeling gathers strength as you approach either Big Indian or, in my case, Claryville. And then.....and then, it hits you straight on. Slaps you awake, as if the waters of Biscuit Creek itself have washed over you.  For you are now on the Frost Valley Road.  And you seem to know every nuance of it, practically every turn and milepost. That road has been etched into your memory. Whether you've travelled it for 50 years or 10, it is part of your being, and the adrenalin rush you are experiencing is the proof. And here's the really strange part: the closer you get to Frost Valley the younger you feel. Somehow the years just slide away and, without realizing it, you're BACK. Those memories that have been pouring in and flowing out seem to have melted away the years that have separated you from your youth. So much so that by the time you turn onto the entrance road and see Doubletop again, you KNOW that a part of you, in fact, never left.

Are all the memories good ones? Of course not. We've all had our wonderful moments at Frost Valley, but every one of us has experienced difficult times. You can't work and live in a community without encountering the tribulations and hardships found in every other community on the planet. I know I've had mine. Some of them still hurt. So when Al asked me if I would consider a volunteer stint this summer I was a bit taken aback. Oh, let's be honest, I was scared to death! Hell, I'm going to turn 70 in December. Most of the work I did at Frost Valley took place when I was in my Twenties, and I hadn't worked at camp in thirty years! I didn't know if I still "had it". And I certainly didn't know if my LEGS still had it. (They seem to have doubled the number of steps between Lake Cole and Margetts and increased the slope of the paths to the upper villages!) More importantly, I wondered how someone from the distant past could add anything significant to the operation. Truth is, I thought I'd just be in the way. But here's the good news. It was a great week! My son Del, a former camper, CIT and JC, came with me to do his own volunteering. At Opening Campfire all of my apprehension disappeared. How can you not be happy after Opening Campfire. (Actually, two of them, one for Hird and one for Wawayanda.) 

On the first day, we made ourselves available for Specialty Programs. Del signed up for various activities and I made myself available to take campers out on sketching trips and to help them start a mural in the Pottery studio. I fell into it without losing a beat. It all seemed so natural. But the greatest revelation of the week was not that I could still do my thing, it was the way in which the staff welcomed me and made me fit into it all so easily. What a staff! I don't know about you, but I kinda remember us doing most of what we did by the seat of our pants. We were good because we cared so much about the kids but I, for one, didn't have much real training. The staff I witnessed last week was incredibly well organized yet still had that same spirit I remember from our crazy days. I ended the week "leaving it on the field" as Al described it, visiting CQs, listening to ghost stories, gazing up at the Milky Way. You know what I mean. Hey, I know you all have jobs and kids and maybe grandkids and little or no extra time, but if you ever have the opportunity to volunteer for a session PLEASE consider it. Do it for Frost Valley. Do it for yourself. You can go home again. I'm glad I did.

Thursday, July 23, 2015

Barbara Sunshine and Joe Kennedy

Barbara Sunshine and Joe Kennedy as CITs, in Turrell Lodge, mid-1970s.

yes, 11 year olds like to hike

Two cabins of 11-year-old campers (in Lakota) - cabins 43 and 41 - said they were interested in going on a two-hour hike with me, exploring the trails above the villages: the Perimeter Trail that runs just above cabins 41-50 ("the Hill"), the Sunrise trail (which rises above the observatory and connects with the Line Shack trail), the Line Shack trail, which of course led us to the Line Shack itself, then down further along the Line Shack trail, which connects us with the Spring Ridge trail, which takes us back to the Perimeter trail. A loop that covered 4.2 miles in all. Because I gave them all maps, and they were able to help decide the trail route we'd take, and because there was the treat of stopping at the Line Shack and having a snack (while hearing the story of the Line Shack's purpose in the days of Forstmann's deer fence), and because today the weather is absolutely gorgeous...there were no complaints and everyone happily walked further than they would have otherwise chosen on the last day of the session. Such fun!

And benefits: the counselors saw how beautiful the Line Shack campsite is, and saw how well the campers did the walk, and got some ideas for next session and beyond. Secondly, the campers, who had heard me tell "The Doubletop Plane Crash Mystery," now have a feeling for the kinds of trails that lead 30% of the way up Doubletop Mountain, they could imagine doing the whole hike up the mountain some day.

Here's the group posing in front of the Line Shack.

Here are the hikers in the center of the village before we left at 9:30. We returned at 11:30. Two hours, 4 miles.

The red circle I've drawn indicates "the Hill," cabins 41-50. We bushwhacked for no more than 150 feet until we hit the Perimeter Trail. We went northeast toward the Sunrise trail, which passes by the Observatory. Sunrise connects with the Line Shack Trail. To the west Line Shack connects with Spring Ridge, which took us back to Perimeter and the cabins.

camp unselfconsciousness: happy, free

David Sacker's daughter, in Susky this session, entered the dining hall for lunch yesterday with a friend, heard the music playing, and felt the happy urge just to dance. She had no idea I was filming until about halfway through. This is total camp unselfconsciouness, at its best. The kids are feeling free.

Wednesday, July 22, 2015

pita pizzas for all

Lakota staff grilling pita pizzas over a fire for the entire village. They looked delicious!

PAC love

Four PAC boys chilling in a "love square," as they called it when I asked.

Gary Kaufman

Gary Kaufman, long-time Pokey-Totem counselor extraordinnaire, visited for a day recently. He got right back into the Pokey-Totem scene. Gary is now a teacher in New Jersey.

Adam Weiss

Adam was a camper here in the late 70s. I knew him well in those years. He was fast. He was feisty. He was fun. His twin daughters - Abby and Nicole - are now finishing their final two-week session here as campers. He has loved seeing them grow up here, summer after summer. We hope to see them back as CITs and then as members of the counseling staff.

Joel Lubell made a trunk for his daugther Ella!

Joel Lubell is coming back to Frost Valley - all the way from North Carolina, I think - because his daughter Ella will be a camper here for session 3. Dan Weir (our Director of Camping Services) was a CIT in the cabin in which Joel was a Junior Counselor. Joel is coming a bit early (given the long trip) and then will check in Ella on Sunday. Joel is just a tad excited. He obviously needed to focus his energy and perhaps anxiety - and built his daughter a trunk. Is that amazing or what?

Tuesday, July 21, 2015

they're back! two of the founding doctors

Last summer we honored Ira Greifer by inducting him into the FV Hall of Fame at our annual August gathering of the Board of Trustees, alumni and friends. Search in this blog for "Ira Greifer" and you'll find my write-ups on that good event (or click here). Naturally, to help honor Ira, we invited all the pediatric nephrologists who had participated in our dialysis program over the years to return to camp and help in the celebration. Two of those returning were Bill Primack and Lew Reisman. Bill was the founding doctor - the very first medical director of the unit when it opened in 1975.

Yes, 1975. It's 2015 now. That's FORTY years ago.

Bill Primack was there and making sure the crazy experiment worked. It did. Bill was amazing back then (and, as it turns out, still is). He was involved for several years - maybe five(?). He was in Massachusetts back then and for the last bunch of years in North Carolina, at UNC (wearing his Tar Hell blue hats). He has just retired and is, for the moment, staying in Chapel Hill. One of Bill's children, Dana Russell, was also a Frost Valley person in her day - becoming a staff member. Dana lives in L.A. and a few years back came to a small alumni gathering we hosted there.

Lew Reisman started doing 2-week stints as doctor at camp in the late 70s - maybe '78? He was immediately beloved: a man with an old-style sense of humor, impeccable political ethics, ready always with a ready laugh (at himself, usually). Lew continued to do his session at camp until 1985 or '86. It's been 30 years since he did his session in the dialysis unit.

Well, get this.

Because Rick Kaskel (also a long-time doc in the program and for the past many years our Medical Director) re-connected with Bill and Lew last summer, he pestered them all year to return this summer. And, lo and behold, each of them said yes. Bill came up from North Carolina to be the doc for the first week of session 2. And Lew came all the way from Israel (he lives most of the year in Jerusalem) to be at FV for the second week of session 2 (the current week).

There must always be a kidney MD in camp, so Bill waited for Lew to arrive, before briefing him on the kids' status - and then took off for New Jersey where he was to meet with the Gottscho Foundation folks about an idea he has for measuring wellness and health of kids at camp. So there was a moment when these two founders were back at camp. I was having lunch with Bill when Lew showed up. Lew grabbed a plate and amid the dining hall we had a little reunion. I snapped this photo. Click on the image for a larger view.

Bill and Lew! Back together at FV! After all these years.

Frost Valley Olympics, 2015

Photos by Dan Weir.

Ah, the team t-shirts!

Closing ceremonies.

Monday, July 20, 2015

reunion of 5 recent Lenape VCs

Geoff Hazel recalls Camp Wawayanda in the 1960s

Geoff Hazel recalls his time at Camp Wawayanda in the early to mid 1960s:

Starting from age 10 through my Junior year in High School, I went to summer camp, camp Wawayanda in the Catskill mountains. It was a YMCA camp, back when the C meant Christian. We had other religions there, too, of course -- it was the Catskills!  But I mention this because there was a Christian emphasis at the camp, however small.  I was a camper for four years, and then a Trailblazer for two more.  The Trailblazer program took a dozen or so young men of high school age up to Canada for four weeks.  Three of those were camping and canoeing around the lakes of Quebec, the fourth was for preparation and travel time.  


My last year at camp, I was a Junior Counsellor.  Now, the way the camp was set up, we had 5 “villages” of 5 cabins each, with eight campers in a cabin and a counsellor.  And each village had one or two Junior Counsellors.  The campers would come for a two week period, arriving on Sunday and leaving two weeks later on Saturday.  The counsellors would have two days off during the two week session, and it was the job of the Junior Counsellor to substitute for whoever was taking their days off.

My first cabin, I was really really green.  The kids were wild, and the counsellor didn’t do a very good job of keeping them in line.  I dreaded the thought of having to take these kids on myself.  But the time came for him to have his days off, and I was stuck with them.  They didn’t do anything I asked, no matter how I asked.  They’d talk, wander off, not stand in line straight at the dining hall, not clean the cabin.  I was a failure as a counsellor, and it was driving me crazy.  After two days, I had reached my limit.  During an activity period when the kids were occupied elsewhere, I walked up the mountain behind the rifle range, where there was a large, sunny field of ferns, and just bawled my heart out to God.  I told him how hard this was, and asked for His help.   And when I got back to the cabin, all of a sudden I had peace.  And I decided I wasn’t going to stress out over whether I was a failure or not, I wasn’t going to try to control these uncontrollable kids.  And, miraculously, they started behaving. 

I had been eyeing my next cabin of kids, “Doug’s” cabin.  When we went to the dining hall, the routine was for all the kids to line up in a straight, quiet line at the porch, and then we could proceed inside.  Doug’s kids were always moving, and he was constantly yelling at them to line up, stand straight, quit talking!!!! I was not looking forward to that cabin.  But what a shock when I got there.  I told them to line up, and they lined up.  I told them to stop moving, and they stopped.  I never had to repeat myself.  I didn’t understand what was going on, and the mystery deepened when one camper came up to me and said “We like you lots more than Doug”.   I asked why.  He said “You don’t yell at us like he does.”   I had discovered the principle of respect reciprocity, by accident.  If people, kids or adults, don’t think or feel that they’re getting sufficient respect, they won’t give it back, but if they perceive they are respected, they have no problem reciprocating that respect.  And somehow, we had gotten off on the right foot.   From that time on, my camp experiences were trouble free.  I was the counsellor, they were the kids, and we were all here to have fun.


"to feel that magic one more time"

Click on the image for a larger view.

Gold family update

The Golds of West Orange, NJ, were a mainstay in the 1970s and 1980s. Three sons - Adam, Michael and Steven - came to camp, mostly for all 8 weeks, each summer. I believe all three became CITS and JCs, and then Michael and Steven went on to become counselors. But I remember them most as campers. Smart, funny, dynamic, rascally and energetic.

Adam has married Andrea and they live in Westchester with two boys Aidyn and Ross who are 13 and 8. Adam works for a trade organization supporting Fortune 500 brands with their Mobile Marketing efforts, Mobile Marketing Association or MMA. Aidyn has been a camper at FV in recent years and this summer is in Adventure Village and doing Adventure Trips.

Michael and his wife Jen live in Brooklyn with their two boys Zach and Simon, who are 7 and 3. Michael is still entertaining us with his Ballooniac show and parties. Jen is a teacher and they are moving to Las Vegas.

Steven married Connie - and they live in Manhattan with their two boys Dylan and Tyler who are 3 and 1. Steven leads ad operations for a mobile marketing company called Opera Media Works and Connie works for a tiny little digital company called Google.

Barry and Linda, the parents who loved Frost Valley and sent their three sons to us throughout the 70s, are now retired and living in Delray Beach, Florida and loving the weather.  According to Adam, they "spend their days debating with the other retirees in the clubhouse about everything."

Above from left to right: Steven, Adam, Linda, Barry and Michael.

1996 map of Frost Valley

Click on the image below for a larger view. This is the Frost Valley map - for the west valley, excluding Straus (we did not own the Farm yet, also in the east valley) - as of 1996. By this point all the new lodges which Halbe Brown directed to be built are in place. Kresge is there (the last of the superlodges), the three red lodges (Bodman, Day, Kellogg), Hyde & Watson, and Snow, Scott and Neversink (Neversink was more recently renamed Wolff - in memory of Jerry Wolff). The only lodge yet to be built here is Quirk (named for Howard Quirk, long-time president of the Victoria Foundation). The (to my mind - generally mistaken) removal of cabins had taken place in order to make room for lodges. Cabins 11-15 became just three cabins (marked "staff"). All but two of cabins 6-10 were removed to make room (to the west) for the new dining hall, completed in 1986, and, to the east, to make room for Hussey Lodge. And cabins 1-5 (Totem Village since 1958) lost cabins 4 and 5, also to make room for Hussey - actually for the Hussey parking lot, and also to make room for the extension of the road which now led to Snow, Neversink and Scott. Snow was named for John Ben Snow, Scott for Charles R. Scott (the first director of Camp Wawayanda in 1901). What is now Geyer Hall was of course McClain Hall, and the downstairs (now "lower Geyer") was Conover English Hall. A small house built in the same style, and with the same materials, and at the same time as Hird and Turrell - stood just above where Lakeview Lodge is now. It was called Ricciardi Cabin, named for Tom Ricciardi, a longtime trustee, patriarch of a snowmobiling/Family Camping family. Tom founded a construction company in New Jersey and donated the labor to build Hird, Ricciardi and Turrell. The horsebarn, which used to be a ramshackle thing across from the Lake House, has now moved to its current location. And there's still a totem pole (carved by John Giannotti) at the main entrance.

Sunday, July 19, 2015

1960s staffer remembers "CQ burgers"

One of my fun memories of camp:

When I was a JC in Forest, I didn't mind pulling QC duty vs. going down to the staff lounge; I wasn't that social of a person.  One Wednesday we had extra hamburgers and had a fire right along the path through Forest that everyone from Outpost and Lenape used.  As people came down the hill, we were able to offer a hamburger and at least half of the people passing took us up on it.

—Geoff Hazel

a weekend of lifer visits

Yes, it was a weekend of visits. I've mentioned - and featured in photographs - a number of them already. Folks who spent 10 or 15 summers at Frost Valley, and then for some reason (any number of them) had to "move on" to full-time jobs, graduate programs, other commitments, crave a return. This middle weekend of session 2 seems to be a good time for such folks to stop by. Among them, as you see below, were Jacob Gordon, Sam Martinelli, and Nick Lomauro.