I started at Camp Takajo in 1970 when I was nine and have been here every summer since! When my camping career ended (after my sophomore year at Blind Brook High School), I returned to teach basketball and live in Takajo's Junior age group. During my four years at Lehigh University, I came back to Takajo each summer and became the Junior age group head counselor and later the Senior age group head counselor. After graduating from Lehigh, I worked for six years as associate director with Morty Goldman, who founded Camp Takajo in 1947. In 1988, I purchased the camp from Morty. I remain committed to the traditions and the values that have epitomized Camp Takajo since its inception.
My wife, Joan, and I live in Greenwich, Connecticut, with our four children, Max, Kate, Jack and Kim.
We woke up this morning to overcast skies and the threat of rain on the horizon. But, almost fittingly, as the busses started to roll down the Camp Takajo road, the sun emerged. The camp burst to life.
There is something magical about seeing a camper’s face as he comes off the bus for the first time; his eyes filled with excitement and yet a bit of nervous anticipation. He simply can’t help but smile as he’s greeted by the cheers from our amazing staff. Watching friends reconnect as if no time has passed is an incredible sight to witness. The friendships that formed while living in a bunk and playing together have grown only stronger with time.
I empathize with how you must be feeling at home. Your last memory of your son is of the emotional hug goodbye that you wish could have lasted a few seconds longer. I would imagine when you returned home, you could not help but enter your son’s room, stare at his unmade bed, and wonder how he was doing without you.
The image at camp is very different. Bright sunshine, eighty-degree temperatures, and a warm breeze coming off Long Lake. Every tennis court is filled with campers and counselors. The Takajo basketball courts are in full-swing with pickup games, while impromptu games are already underway on the soccer and baseball fields.
While it is reassuring to see so many happy campers, we never lose sight of the fact that we can tell how a chid is adjusting by simply watching his body language and looking into his eyes. Over the next few days, we will enter the normal routine of our program while keeping a watchful eye on every child’s individual adjustment. As you put your head to your pillow this evening, please know that we appreciate your trust and confidence and that we will do everything in our power to provide your son a healthy and memorable experience.
Just a reminder, parents can access hundreds of photos from each day of camp by logging into their myTakajo.com accounts. The first set of images is waiting for you now.
It’s with great excitement and anticipation that I write my first blog article of the summer. Over the past two weeks, I have enjoyed getting to know our staff as they have participated in our rigorous staff training. Our waterfront staff has been certified in CPR, first aid, and WSI under the leadership of our waterfront director, Bob Lewis, who is returning for his twenty-ninth season. He is being ably assisted by Craig Parker, who is returning for his nineteenth season. Our pioneering staff has been trained in CPR, first aid, and wilderness survival under the leadership of Hal Williams, who is returning for his twenty-third year at camp. We are blessed to have Hank and Jane Fortin as our “Dynamic Duo,” running Warrior Camp for our boys who have just finished grades one through four. Hank is returning for his forty-seventh season and Jane for her thirty-sixth. Jane fell in love with Hank while at Takajo and has not missed a summer since they were married.
Your children are blessed to have many educators at camp who are committed to the campers’ growth and development. Neil Minsky returns to Takajo to assume his role as the Junior group leader, his twenty-fifth season at camp. A former camper, counselor, and now division leader, Neil relies on his years at camp along with the experience that he brings as one of the deans at Brunswick Middle School in Greenwich, Connecticut. This makes him a perfect leader for our boys who have just finished fifth and sixth grades. Paddy Mohan returns as the Senior group leader and his thirty-second year at camp. As a teacher in the offseason and a father of two boys, Paddy has the education and the first-hand knowledge of what it takes to manage this exuberant group of adolescent boys.
I have fond memories of the ritual that my parents created before my first day of camp each summer. I remember my parents always letting me choose what we were doing that final day at home and where we would go for that last meal together. Upon reflection, I didn’t realize that my parents were creating a great distraction by allowing me to celebrate my last day at home. I am sure many of you have come up with your own way to ease your child into the transition before heading to summer camp.
The other day, when I was addressing the staff I reminded them of a conversation that I had with a child struggling to adjust a few years back. I asked this child, “Do you like swimming in the ocean?” to which he replied, “Yes.” Then, I asked him how the water felt when he first put his feet in the water. He replied, “Freezing cold.” I quickly followed up with a question asking him how he felt thirty seconds later to which he replied, “The water felt warmer.” The child allowed me to ask him the same question when he went in up to his knees and then to his waist. Each time, he replied that it was cold but quickly began to feel warmer as the seconds went by. I explained to this camper that the water temperature was not changing however his body was adjusting to the water. If he allowed himself to dive in, he might feel a sudden shock to his system but would quickly experience the joy that comes from swimming in the ocean. This analogy holds true with camp life.
Your son may be nervous as he wakes up tomorrow but at the moment he meets our counselors and begins connecting with other boys, he will be overwhelmed with comfort. He may be nervous when the buses roll down the camp road, but at the same time, he won’t be able to contain his excitement as he is greeted by cheers from our enthusiastic staff. He may be nervous walking into the bunk for the first time, but he will feel relaxed and at home when his counselor points out where he will be sleeping and introduces him to his bunk mates. Before we experience our happiest moments in life, we often must face our anxiety and our fears. Camp is a wonderful place to help children develop self-esteem, confidence, and independence. Warren and my entire staff cannot wait for the much-anticipated arrival of your children. Here’s to the start of an amazing season.
The most important factor for our campers to have a fun and successful summer at Camp Takajo is our experienced staff. We are proud to publicly post the current list of veteran staff members who will be working at Camp Takajo for the summer of 2017.
Staff members who appear on this list have worked at Camp Takajo for at least one season in the past and have been invited to join us again for another great summer in Naples, Maine!
Do you know someone who would be a great fit for Camp Takajo?
We are still looking for a few, good men and women to fill positions this summer. Please contact our staffing director, Bob Lewis, and direct your candidate to this information: Takajo Staff
‘Tis the season to reflect on the events of the past year and look forward to the opportunities and challenges that are sure to come our way in the year ahead. We are so grateful to the wonderful families who entrust their sons to us each summer, and we reaffirm our commitment to providing another amazing experience in 2017 that is full of fun and friendship and that strengthens the values you are teaching in your home.
As a special remembrance of a terrific summer, we have sent each of our campers a copy of our Video Yearbook commemorating all the wonderful events of the 2016 camp season. This year, we put the video on a flash drive (just keepin’ up with the times!) so you can watch it from multiple devices. (And a note for our current parents…if you’re looking for a stocking stuffer or Hanukkah gift, consider an iPod Shuffle, which is the only electronic device allowed in camp!)
A final note…there is no greater feeling than seeing the relationships forged at camp that lead to enduring and cherished friendships. It is impossible not to be optimistic for the future when we witness firsthand the spirit, enthusiasm and compassion that our campers and counselors exhibit every day of every summer.
Wishing everyone a happy and healthy holiday season and all the best in the New Year!
We have always maintained the virtues of a well-rounded athletic program in youth sports. It is so important, especially for pre-high school children, to cross train and play multiple sports to develop their motor skills and athleticism. Now that the world of “early sport specialization” has been around awhile, studies are showing that concentrating in one sport is detrimental to a child’s physical – and emotional – development for a whole host of reasons. This article from Changing the Game Project speaks to the perils of the “early sports specialization madness.”
Excerpt: “According to all the expert evidence linked to above, evidence provided by actual specialists in sport science, medicine, and psychology, any organization that is allowing, encouraging or forcing a child to play a single sport prior to age 12, and is not actively developing that child in functional movement and all around athleticism, while also mandating rest and time off, is creating a dangerous situation for that child. They are taking huge risks with his or her health, well-being, and lifetime love of activity. End of story.”
After what has been unquestionably the best weather I have ever experienced throughout a camp season, the weather gods threw us a curve ball today. Temperatures quickly rose into the low nineties, and the oppressive humidity level made the air feel heavy. On some levels, this was the most challenging day of the summer for our staff, for they had the prodigious task of packing all of the campers’ belongings. The bunks were sweltering, and there was nothing we could do but grin and bear it. Our counselors performed magnificently and stayed on task until every camper was properly packed. We tried to wash everything before it was packed, but remaining dirty clothes items were left in the laundry bag. And, because we have had no rain this summer, a light dust might coat clothing and equipment, such as chest protectors and helmets.
We took a break from packing and brought all of the campers down to the lake for one final swim. The campers enjoyed a leisurely day of shooting baskets, playing tennis, and hanging with their friends. With the exception of their time packing with their counselors, the rest of their day was unstructured and very relaxing. We turned the Rio Olympics on in the lodge, senior rec. hall, and the air-conditioned dining room so the boys could enjoy viewing the competitions.
After our final dinner of the summer, we headed back to the Indian Council Fire Ring for one last time to be entertained by the Warriors in a good, old-fashioned campfire sing-along. Interestingly, this has become a favorite tradition of our graduating seniors. It gave them the opportunity to kick up their heels and have some fun. While, at the same time, they created wonderful summer camp memories.
Each Warrior bunk got up in front of the rest of the camp and led us in fun camp songs– a perfect way to cap off a memorable summer. Before filing out of the Indian Council Ring for the last time, the Okeechobees invited the Sub-Seniors (one age below) to stay behind. Our Okee’s passed the torch to this up-and-coming group of young men, who will be next year’s leaders in camp. This tradition is heartfelt and somewhat emotional as our oldest boys said goodbye to their camping years for the last time. The pure emotion is genuine, and our Sub-Seniors realize the impact this experience has had on our older boys.
As you read this blog, I imagine that you are excited to see your son (brother, nephew, grandson) tomorrow. I am sure the refrigerator is probably stocked with his favorite snacks and a dinner reservation has been made at his favorite restaurant. While there may be a little camp dirt around his neck or a haircut may be in order, your love and intense desire to snuggle will help you overlook those minor flaws.
While you will not be receiving a daily blog post from me for a while, I promise to stay in touch and to remain available to you and your family whenever needed. I send my love and sincere thanks for allowing me the privilege of caring for your boy.
It has been an emotional day at camp. On the heels of an amazing final campfire, I woke up this morning to the threat of rain, but once again it avoided us. We spent the morning in the bunks organizing for packing day tomorrow. As one might imagine, it is a tedious job. We have boys staying for Father Son Weekend who need to leave certain items out to play with their fathers. We have more campers who are heading out on vacation with their families and need to be packed and ready to go upon their return home. We have boys starting soccer practice on Monday, who need to be reminded to pack their cleats as a carry-on. We have boys who take medications, and we need to make sure it’s packed with them in case their parents don’t have a supply when they return.
I took a break from the monotony of the packing details and invited our thirty-six graduating seniors (our Okeechobee Campers) down to my house for our traditional “swan song” lunch. We ate burgers straight off the grill and enjoyed some great quality time together, away from the rest of the camp. Each year, I gather with our graduating boys and give them the opportunity to ask me any questions they want about camp. In past years, I have been asked questions like, “If I were traveling on a boat with Warren Davis and Bob Lewis, and the boat capsized with only one life jacket, who would I give it to?” Typical of boys who want to rank the importance of my key staff, but in reality, that one is a very easy question to answer. Warren would get the life jacket because I assume that my head of the waterfront would be able to swim to shore.
This year Okee’s asked me what capital improvements I planned on making in the future, what it was like to purchase camp at the age of 28, and how does one determine which profession he would be best suited to pursue. Sitting with these boys in my living room, I think of the bright futures that are in store for these incredible, young men. Some of them are bound to end up at the same college or university and will most likely be roommates or fraternity brothers. Some of these boys are likely to be groomsmen at each other’s weddings or work together on a professional level, down the road. The bonds that have been created over the past several summers are based on trust and love. There is no greater connection than the ones that form at an early age, living in a bunk at camp.
Tonight, the camp celebrated the success of our summer at the final banquet. The boys put on their nicest clothing and came to dinner showered and ready for an enjoyable meal. We enjoyed a delicious steak dinner and listened to campers and counselors recount moments about their summer. At the end of the evening, the campers watched a slide show of the best photos taken over the summer. Every camper appeared in the show, and it brought back great memories from the past seven weeks.
As your boys prepare to head home, let me share one final thought. As parents, you are eager to hear about every moment that has taken place in your absence. However, your boys are coming home incredibly satisfied and tired from this summer. It is analogous to playing a long, hard game; only to collapse from exhaustion when it is over. Give your boys a chance to rest. Try not to over scheduled them their first days home. Provide them with the opportunity for unstructured down time. However, within a few days, get back into your family routine. Over the course of the next few weeks and months, your boys will start to share some of the amazing moments of the summer. The silliest things will remind them of events. But this is likely to happen organically rather than in a “forced” conversation. With just one day to go, I have already started to say my goodbyes, give my hugs, and to tell these boys how proud I am of them, and how fortunate I am to have played a part in their summer.
Another beautiful day in Maine– our Senior campers who qualified during the summer to Swim the Lake woke up at 6:00 am and made their way in several boats across the lake to prepare for this exciting challenge. For our older boys to be selected to swim the lake, they needed to swim fifteen laps on seven separate occasions throughout the summer. Each camper had a counselor in a canoe by his side during the swim. Needless to say, the entire swim staff is present for this event, and all boys that attempted this feat made it successfully back to the shores of Camp Takajo, proudly under their own power.
We had a few activities today in which the entire camp participated. The first was a little less exciting than our last all-camp event. We had a professional company come this morning to check each camper for lice. I am happy to report there were only a few cases discovered by these professionals, and if you have not personally heard from us, then your child is in the clear. I had a chance to have a little fun with one of my favorite counselors who insisted on having his head checked, even though no campers in his bunk had lice. I honored his request and asked the technician to tell him that he had a bad case of lice. The counselor was shocked and somewhat upset, especially when the professionals put the oil in his hair and told him that he needed to keep his head lathered for the rest of the day. One might assume that these last few days would be stressful for me, but it is moments like these that I find great humor in what I do for a living. Every time I saw this counselor, with his hair slicked back with this greasy goo, I had to turn away in an effort not to laugh. I told this counselor that he did not have head lice, and I am happy to report that he took this prank in stride.
One of the other all-camp events today was our song competition. What I love most about song competition is that every camper participates. Campers are split into either the Green or Grey teams and rehearse four of the camp songs, as well as an original song with lyrics written to a piece of modern music. The boys filled in by team to the Indian Council Fire in the late morning to sing these songs slightly out of tune and with (little) harmony. Nevertheless, it was great to see our youngest campers sitting between our older boys, and I am sure the experience was most memorable for all.
After lunch today, our Warrior and Junior camps each had their “Whacked Up Relay Race,” when events take place on every inch of the facility, all around the camp. Campers are assigned to events, and a runner races to each event with a baton. Here the camper needs to complete a task, which is different at each stop along the race. Events include canoe races, foul shot shooting, fire building, archery, three-legged races, a whipped cream smear, and a grand finale, consisting of a pie eating contest between one camper from each of the two teams. The excitement around camp was at an all-time high this afternoon as campers raced from location to location to cheer on their teams. Regardless of the outcome, the relay is so much fun that every camper celebrates at the end.
This evening, the entire camp came together for our final campfire. This traditional event incorporates a heritage ceremony passed down from one generation to another since the camp’s inception in 1947 but also has some lighter moments. Some of our campers and counselors are asked to participate in a traditional Native American Squat Dance. As I looked around the campfire this evening at all the campers and counselors, I cannot help but think about what has been accomplished in camp this summer. It was six and a half weeks ago that I stood in this council ring and challenged our boys to make the most of each and every day. I asked our campers to think about the Arch Ideals that sit at the head of the camp, to think of one of these ideals each day and to implement them into daily life in camp. As I have watched our boys grow, develop a sense of confidence and inner courage, and as friendships have blossomed throughout the summer, I believe that our boys have made the most out of each and every day.
I was thinking back to my camper days, and I remembered the month of August being somewhat cool in Maine. I have a vivid memory of stepping out of bed in the morning and feeling a bit of a shock when my feet hit the floor. We had a third blanket at the foot of the bed called a “jelly roll.” I’m not sure why. However, I used it most nights during the last part of the summer at camp. It’s still very warm, the sun shines bright, and as I reflect on the summer, we didn’t have one rainy day that interrupted our schedule, for the whole season. The rain on the Saturday visiting day, which began around 3:30 pm, was our greatest weather interruption of the summer.
Our boys woke up this morning ready to participate in their fourth day of Olympic competition. Waffles and maple syrup were on the menu for breakfast. As I walked from table to table during the Warrior meal, I noticed that many of the little ones were eating with their hands. I could not help but introduce these little guys to a fork and knife and suggested that they learn to use these utensils in order to have a successful first date some day. I told the boys that if they can successfully use a fork and knife, they might even venture on to a second date someday. Somehow, I think one of these boys will be on a date and smile thinking back to this exchange.
We had Olympic competition in water polo, flag football, baseball, basketball, soccer, and tennis today. As I had a chance to make my rounds and watch our boys at play, I made the observation that while our boys are as coordinated as the campers of past years, there are very few all-around athletes that can compare to those of a generation, or two, ago. I know it has been said that the older an athlete gets, the better they were “back in the day,” but back in the day, boys did not start specializing in sports at a very early age. Therefore, their ability to play multiple sports well was more evident. We have some terrific athletes today who can play a particular sport at a high level. However, when they are put on another field and asked to compete, their sense of timing, agility, instinct, and competitiveness virtually disappears. I honestly believe that if these boys were cross training and playing multiple sports, they would have even better performance in their choice sport. It saddens me when I see a young boy who doesn’t have a proper throwing motion in baseball, doesn’t know how to play a set of tennis or the rules of a basketball game. On many levels, I wish that all sports would be a required curriculum in camp. However, nowadays, some parents call and give their child a free pass to avoid particular sports. I believe we create an environment here where we can make all sports fun for boys, and it’s okay for a child to be outside of they comfort zone for a ninety-minute sports period. Nevertheless, the enthusiasm level remains high, many games came down to the wire; and, most importantly, the sportsmanship was terrific.
As the boys headed into the diner meal tonight, we surprised them with Olympic coverage to keep them in the loop with the excitement taking place outside of camp and ended the meal with a Takajo Raffle. While it saddens me to be in the final days of camp, I have immense joy knowing what we have achieved this summer.
I don’t want to sound redundant, but we had another picturesque day in Maine today. The temperatures at camp remained in the mid-eighties, the sun glistened on the water, and the warm breeze from the lake offered great relief to the boys playing hard during Olympics. Our campers enjoyed their last Lazy Man’s Morning of the summer. They took advantage of a later reveille and enjoyed coming down to breakfast for their favorite treats from Dunkin’ Donuts for the last time of the season, plus hot chocolate, fresh fruit, yogurt and cereal.
Later in the morning, our Junior and Senior campers rehearsed for their song competition, which will take place in a few days. Our Warrior campers took advantage of a free morning to water ski, sail, ride the banana boat, or play in impromptu pick-up games.
During the afternoon, the Warrior camp participated in a track meet, and every boy participated in multiple track events. There were field events, such as the long jump, baseball throw, football throw, and running events, such as sprints, shuttle relays, one-lap competitions, and the cross-country run. It is always fun to watch boys during a running race. You can look in his eyes and tell whether he will find that extra gear to get over the finish line, or give into the stitch that aches his side. Every Warrior camper and counselor was present to root on their fellow campers and to make the track meet a success.
The Junior competitions today involved land sports. There were many baseball and soccer games played. Once again, every camper was involved in the action. Our Senior campers met down at the waterfront for a swim meet. What makes this event so captivating is that the captains need to be very strategic with their line-ups, especially when it comes to the relays. While certain campers excel in the water, very few boys are proficient in the butterfly and backstroke. Finding boys willing to put forth the effort in the less popular stokes makes all the difference to the end result. While the day was filled with athletics, by far the highlight of the day was when the camp came together in the evening for the camp’s annual art show on Hobby Lane. This evening, we took a well-deserved time out and made our way to the Art Center to enjoy viewing the amazing projects created in camp this summer.
What makes Camp Takajo so unique is the emphasis we place on the arts. We hire talented counselors who teach creative skills to our boys, and the fruits of their labor were on display this evening. We all enjoyed viewing amazing projects in the fine arts and also projects created of clay and wood. We watched videos shot and edited in camp, and stared at beautiful photos shot on this magnificent landscape. As the night came to an end, our Senior boys made their way to the dining room for an ice cream sundae party followed by their annual dance-off; a tradition started just a few years ago. With just five days left in the summer and so much to do, no one wants it to end.