The Value of the Summer Camp Experience

If you have ever wondered about the power of the summer camp experience and the lasting memories that it brings, than I urge you to read on.   I would like to tell you about my mother, Karen, who will be turning 70 years old in a few short weeks.  Sixty years ago in 1952, my mother became a camper.  For as long as I can remember I have been hearing stories about her summer camp experience and how much camp meant to her.  So I decided to sit down and “interview” her to find out more about how sleep away camp shaped who she is today.  I have to admit, it was an eye opening moment for me.  I of course knew that she absolutely loved camp, but I had no idea of the details she still remembers and the joy this conversation brought to her.  Here is a bit of her experience….

My mom attended Camp Sherwood, in Hurleyville NY, from 1952 to 1956.  Sending your child to overnight camp in the 1950’s was not as common as it is today, but my grandparents saved their pennies and came up with the $500 it cost for 8 weeks, so that my mom could have this opportunity.  That very first summer when she was 10 years old, she experienced a great deal of homesickness at first, but she quickly adjusted to camp life and all it had to offer.  When she returned her second summer, the camp had just built new cabins.  My mom remembers how beautiful the cabins were and even recalls how great the new wood smell was.  She remembers the names of her bunkmates (first and last), her counselors, and even the owner.  The owner’s mother was the camp cook and prepared all the meals (with some assistance I hope).  Dinners consisted of steak, lamb chops and roast beef, not exactly the kid friendly food of today, but my mom said the meals were fabulous.     Camp is where my mother learned to swim, save someone in a sinking canoe, and play tennis.  She went on hikes, sang in the talent show (Tony Bennett’s “Because of You”) and acted in camp plays (including Carousel, Oklahoma and Finnegan’s Rainbow).  She participated in Color War (go Green and Blue), went to Friday night services, and got all dressed up for Saturday night socials.  Visiting day was a whole different world.  At Camp Sherwood, there was no specific visiting day scheduled for parents.  Parents could visit their campers any time they wanted.  There were even overnight accommodations at camp for parents who wanted to stay over.  My grandparents spent every weekend visiting my mother at camp. There was no thruway back then, so they sat in plenty of traffic on the back roads in order to see my mom.  She remembers feeling strange when camp was over and she returned home.  It felt like a part of her was missing without her camp friends around her.  The most amazing part to me is that my mom stills keeps in touch with a couple of these friends…and that says it all.

A few years ago, on one of their journeys to the Catskill area, my parents decided to look for Camp Sherwood.  They knew it was no longer in operation, but they thought they could take a look around.  The property was boarded up, so the closest they got was to look through the trees at the old buildings.  My mom would have trespassed and gotten a closer look, but my dad being a rules follower, thought they should look from afar (remember, he was not the camper in this scenario).

So if you are thinking about sending your children to overnight camp or already do, but wonder how long the memories will last, I can assure you that my mom ‘s story says it all.  Camp is a place to be with friends and “family”, to learn, to grow and to build wonderful memories that clearly last a lifetime.