Getting to Know Larry Wilensky – Camp Historian, Storyteller, Traditional Event Specialist
Larry is truly one-of-a-kind when it comes to Iroquois Springs, or any other camp for that matter. His history with the camp pre-dates the name change which coincided with the ownership change. In a sense, Larry is the thread that connects the past to the present, a role that he fully embraces. Even though he only spends part of the summer at Iroquois Springs, his status amongst the campers and staff is legendary.
Known for his storytelling prowess, Larry makes his presence felt by sharing the camp’s history, mysteries and mythology with the campers who hang on his every word. He considers himself to be one of the luckiest people in the world because he gets to be a part of the team that plans, creates and oversees the Color Week and Tribal competitions. Larry is responsible for many of Color Week’s creative events (Hidden Arrow, Scavenger Hunt and Sing).
Larry’s “historical tour” activity showcases the reverence that he has for Iroquois Springs’ hallowed ground, which is rich in history and legend. His tour positions the camp as a place of wonder, and features some of the coolest, most unexpected discoveries in surprising places.
How many summers have you spent at Iroquois Springs, and what brought you here in the first place?
This will be my 45th summer at camp. I began as a camper many years before the ownership and name change to Iroquois Springs. I joined a friend who was already attending camp and loving it. It was the best decision that I (actually, my parents) ever made. It just keeps getting better and better!
What was your childhood camp experience like?
My childhood summers in camp were magical. Camp helped me immeasurably on the journey known as growing up. After all these years, I am still in touch with many of my fellow campers. It is not a cliché when we say “camp friends are forever!”
My lasting impressions of those long-gone days are of great friends, memorable counselors, sunny days on the athletic fields, social nights at the canteen and a wealth of cool stories.
We had several wonderful storytellers at camp back then, and from the age of 12, I wanted to tell stories of my own. My camper days continue to serve as an inspiration in my own storytelling. Things really do come full-circle.
A couple of my contemporaries are Iroquois Springs parents today, as are some of my campers from my days as a Counselor and Group Leader. Things have changed a bit since then.
The canteen and office used to share the building where the Health Center is today. Back then, it was called the Infirmary, and it occupied the mansion where the office is currently located. Soccer and archery were in today’s parking lot. I could go on and on….
The most important thing is that the magic remains the same!
What do you believe makes Iroquois Springs special for campers and staff?
The magic of Iroquois Springs is the result of a combination of a few things.
It begins with the caring, enlightened and genuinely good people at the top, in Mark, Laura and Brian (“Bubba”). They have put together a leadership team with very little turnover. Nearly all of the leaders at Iroquois Springs return year after year, and are not only committed to ensuring that the children of Iroquois Springs have a wonderful summer, they also work very well together. They are a closely knit team who are great friends striving for a common goal.
The culture of camp and collaborative environment goes a long way towards making things special for the campers and staff. It is no surprise that so many lasting friendships begin at camp for both campers and staff alike.
Campers are given the opportunity to try something new, to be adventurous and creative in a safe and caring environment. The creativity of our campers never ceases to amaze me, and the environment at camp allows that creativity to thrive.
Lastly, the traditions of camp, and an increasing feeling of a weight of history, allow campers and staff, as they progress through camp, to feel that they are part of something awesome!
Please discuss briefly anything that you feel helps create a smooth mid-summer transition as partial summer campers leave and arrive.
For campers who attend only the first session, the program is designed to give them a well-rounded camp experience and a big finish. The final days of the first session include some of camp’s best events, the capstone event being Tribals, which serves as the grand finale. It is a three-day event that includes highly-anticipated activities such as the Regatta (“homemade” boat race) on the Lake and the Girls Rope Burn. This exciting competition provides great memories for the first session campers’ final days at camp.
Three-week campers also get to enjoy a session-ending banquet with their bunkmates, celebrating their time at camp. The final days of the first session offer many opportunities for cool experiences and great memories to carry these campers through the off-season months.
The start of session two is designed to integrate new campers quickly. The enthusiasm of our outstanding staff as they meet the arriving buses is contagious, and the session opening campfire in the evening is one of camp’s great bonding experiences. Our new arrivals are quickly made to feel like they are part of our camp family.
How do you spend the 10 months waiting for camp to start?
I am a middle manager in a New York City government agency, fortunate enough to have the sort of varied responsibilities that keep the creative juices flowing for summer!
What are your hobbies?
I LOVE a wide variety of music, and own a ridiculous number of CDs (I USED to own a ridiculous amount of vinyl as well, but that has almost all been sold). I enjoy listening to, reading about, and writing about music. I am an avid walker and reader. There hasn’t been much time to write in recent years, but I also hope to write (short stories, perhaps some of my camp stories) in the future. I also enjoy rooting for my beloved Mets, Jets, Nets, Rangers, Red Bulls and Queens Park Rangers for better or worse (usually the latter).
What are your favorite Iroquois Springs activities, events, traditions?
This is a tough one, because I enjoy it all. I would have to say Color Week. Many aspects of the competition are steeped in traditions over fifty, sixty, even seventy years old. Color Week events such as Rope Burn, the Apache Relays, the Scavenger Hunt, the Hidden Arrow and Sing are perfect examples of this.
We love our traditions at Iroquois Springs, but at the same time, we never stop innovating. Each year, we try to add at least one new wrinkle. Activities such as Order of the Blue and Gold, Mock Rock, Carnival and Clue are wonderful. Line-ups on both girls side and boys side have evolved into events unto themselves.
Rosie and Josh have made lineups so much fun! And there is something special about setting a blanket or portable chair out on the grass on boys campus or the soccer field, and chatting with good friends under the stars….
Please share a fond memory or two about your time at Iroquois Springs (as a staff member, camper or both):
Wow, there are so many… I’ll just recount what comes to mind first…
Thinking back to my camper days at Camp Sequoia (before it became Iroquois Springs), I remember being given the honor of doing the archery event for Cosmic Blue in the 1971 Color Week Apache Relay. In those days, the Archery Range was located at the far end of what is now the parking Lot. You had to first run from the stop sign to the archery range and then hit the target from a decent distance. You had to retrieve your missed shots before trying to shoot again, so that first shot was key. The five minute maximum time limit to hit the target made this a pretty important Apache event that could be a momentum changer. I was nervous! The story had a happy ending: first shot – got it! I passed the baton on to my teammate….
Here is a recent one: Summer 2012, at night after the end of the Color Week Sing. A large group of campers joined me on Boys Campus under a spectacular, clear sky. The Perseid Meteor Shower was putting on a show overhead, and I shared a couple of my stories with the group. It was perfect.