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.
Camp Takajo’s Big Trip Week continues. Our nine-year-old Braves were so excited for their trip to Funtown/Splashtown that they were dressed and out of bed before the sound of reveille this morning. After a quick breakfast, our boys boarded the buses and made their way to Saco, Maine, where they enjoyed an afternoon of exhilarating rides at this iconic water park.
Temperatures reached the mid-eighties, and high humidity levels created the perfect atmosphere for our boys to enjoy this fun getaway. Our Junior Greens (finished fifth grade) headed to Sunday River Ski Resort for an overnight trip at one of New England’s most prominent ski mountains. Our eleven-year-olds enjoyed a scenic hike and got to sleep in dormitories, high up in the mountains. Our Juniors also enjoyed bowling in town and taking in a movie before their two-day trip comes to a close tomorrow evening.
Our Sub-Seniors (finished eighth grade) boarded their coach bus for Quebec after a couple of days back at camp still on a high following their return from their various trips to Mt. Katahdin, the Saint Croix River, Acadia National Park, and a barnstorming golf adventure. The Subs attended a minor league baseball game in Quebec City for their first evening in Canada.
The Okees finished a two-day stint in Bryce Canyon and are currently en route to Las Vegas, where they will cap off their amazing excursion to the West. Trip leader Hal Williams shared with me a special moment that occurred while the boys were taking in the beautiful sights at Bryce Canyon. As the boys set their eyes on this majestic landmark, Hal asked the boys to take a moment to appreciate this unique opportunity and to reflect back on their most memorable moments at camp. To Hal’s surprise, this reflection ended up lasting over ten minutes. Hal listened in awe as the boys reflected and reminisced about the unique experience they have been provided since they first set foot at camp.
Meanwhile, back in camp, Senior Group Leader Paddy Mohan invited our Junior Grey campers (finished sixth grade) to join him to experience Senior Camp. This is a wonderful opportunity for the boys who will be graduating out of Junior Camp to experience what life is like as a Senior. These boys enjoyed playing under the lights on the Senior tennis courts and basketball after dark in the Upper Field House. However, the most exciting part of their day was when they were welcomed into the Senior Rec. Hall for an opportunity to relax and wind down in this newly renovated “man cave.”
Our Indian Campers (finished fourth grade) were delighted when they learned tonight was their sleepover movie night in the MJG Playhouse. The entire group of Indian boys enjoyed the ultimate sleepover party and enjoyed watching three movies and a late night pizza party. With all the excitement in the air, our boys can sense that Olympics is just around the corner.
The boys woke up to bright sunshine and enjoyed the relaxed atmosphere of a Lazy Man’s Morning. It was a perfect opportunity for our campers to be able to focus on the activities that they enjoy most at Camp Takajo.
Since our Sub-Senior campers will be departing for Canada tomorrow morning, we gave them first dibs on our banana boat. Each bunk of fourteen-year-olds enjoyed an exhilarating ride around Long Lake.
Our boys that have family at Camp Robindel and Tripp Lake Camp had their last opportunity to connect with those family members during their final Brother-Sister Day. Since I missed out on having a visiting day with my daughters, I took the opportunity to join our boys over at Tripp Lake Camp in order to see them. After a delicious lunch at Tripp Lake, the campers enjoyed playing tennis, shooting baskets, and swimming with their family members. As the afternoon came to a close and our boys boarded the bus to return home, I was pleasantly surprised by the affectionate hugs and kisses that I received from my own daughters. I turned to my wife and commented that I probably only have one more warm embrace left when the girls return home on Friday, August 11. As a parent, my greatest challenge when my children return home consists of trying to help them maintain this healthy lifestyle and not to regress back to the isolated life their screens provide.
This afternoon, a bunk of eighth graders paid a visit to my office. They were very upset at one of their bunkmates, who they felt became overly emotional while they were playing basketball. As I listened to the boys speak, it became apparent to me that the only reason this boy became emotional on the court was because he felt that his bunkmates were making fun of him. The boy who became emotional apologized to his bunkmates and said that his frustration should not be taken out on his friends. Upon hearing this apology, his bunkmates turned to him and apologized for letting their impulses get the best of them. One of the bunkmates even commented that he was always told that adolescent boys do not have fully developed brains, which causes impulsivity and poor decision-making. They realized as a collective group that the onus was on them to not single out their fellow bunkmate or make him feel inferior and isolated. This exchange was beautiful to witness as these fourteen-year-old boys used their words and made eye contact with one another as they worked through their differences. As they depart for Canada tomorrow, I have great confidence knowing that they will watch out for one another and make the right choices while away from camp.
This evening, the entire camp came together in the MJG Playhouse for our Junior Big Show, Shrek the Musical. Our actors had impeccable timing and knew their lines to a tee as their beautiful voices filled the playhouse with delight. This fun, uplifting play was the perfect way to cap off an amazing week. In the absence of our Okees, our Sub-Senior boys took the stage and led the camp in our alma mater. As I looked behind me at these rising, soon to be Okees, I understood that the future remains bright.
As much as I try to give you a window into a day in the life at Camp Takajo, I sometimes feel that I am not able to properly articulate all that takes place in a given day. As I finished my blog article last night, I looked out my office window and saw our twelve and under boys coming back from a baseball tournament dressed in their Takajo uniforms. As they exited the bus, the entire team sprinted down to the lake and jumped in for a celebratory dip. It was as if they had just won the World Series. The excitement and jubilation on these boys’ faces were a beautiful sight to witness.
When I got close enough to the boys and I asked them why they were so overly excited, I discovered that they scored nine runs in the bottom of the last inning to overcome an eight-run deficit to win the tournament. Equally as exciting was watching our campers compete in a head-to-head tennis tournament today against one of our friendly rivals. We won the tournament to the satisfaction of all that participated.
What was particularly interesting to me, though, was watching one of our doubles teams compete. Our boys were so fired up during a match that, at one time, they actually high-fived each other so hard that they needed a moment before for their hands could recover to play their next point. On their very next winning point, the two players ran up to each other again, this time using their opposite hands to congratulate one another. It was a funny moment watching these two boys alternate the way they celebrated a great shot.
When I was driving down Hobby Lane, our camp radio station WTAK was blasting tunes. Much to my delight, I noticed campers and counselors at the Art Center standing on the tables and deck, dancing to the music. This spontaneous joy takes place throughout this camp each and every day.
Warrior Basketball held its annual three-point shooting competition today. The bleachers were packed with all of the Warrior Campers and Counselors, as well as older boys who had come to catch a piece of the action on the court. There were many boys who shot the lights out, and the field eventually narrowed to three fantastic shooters. Two of the contestants are Braves, campers who have completed third grade, while the third contestant was only a Crow and happened to be the younger brother of one of the two Braves.
After the two Braves completed their final round, the old brother advanced with only his little brother remaining in the competition. In front of a huge, on looking audience, the little Crow put on a shooting clinic and managed to squeak out a victory over his older brother. While this moment will remain in the hearts and minds of those in attendance, it certainly will not be forgotten around the dinner table for these two brothers. After a delicious dinner in our dining hall, our boys showered and settled in for Saturday Night at the Movies. It was a relaxing way to end the exciting festivities of this week and a fantastic way to lead into tomorrow’s Dunkin Donuts for breakfast and Lazy Man’s Morning.
Today, we welcomed rookie campers from around the country who arrived by lunchtime and will have the opportunity to experience Camp Takajo until Sunday morning. As I looked at these little boys, I could sense the nervous anticipation among some of the them and their parents, for that matter.
For many of these little guys, sleeping away from their parents is a big first step. Even some of our current moms, who have their older boys already enrolled in our program, were particularly concerned about their youngest child participating in Rookie Weekend.
In keeping with the camp’s philosophy, we got the rookies immediately involved in our program following lunch. We recognize that the sooner one engages in our program, the happier they will be. Before parents made their way to their cars, you could hear the cheers and excitement coming from our gaga court. Under the direction of some of Takajo’s finest counselors, these rookies were off to a fantastic start.
As I traveled around the facility during the day, I could not help but notice how our youngest campers who arrived just five weeks ago are already independent and thriving in the camp setting. Many of our youngest campers had the same look of fear in their eyes as the rookies did when arrived. Now, they consider Takajo their summer home.
As parents we spend every waking moment protecting our children and guiding them through life. Camp provides the perfect community for our children to learn how to navigate through all kinds of social situations as well as develop the emotional fortitude to forge ahead and try a plethora of new activities. After dinner, our rookies joined our Warrior Campers at a campfire, where they learned some popular camp songs led by our energetic Warrior Staff before heading down to the fire pit to enjoy some s’mores. While the rookies enjoyed their s’mores, our Junior Grey Campers were in the midst of Casino Night, facilitated by our fantastic Junior Staff in the Lodge.
Before the sun set over Long Lake, all of our Sub-Senior boys had returned from their first round of big trips. The excitement was infectious as our boys could not wait to share stories about their experiences away from camp. Climbing Mt. Katahdin and canoeing down the Saint Croix River are huge endeavors, and our boys came back feeling overwhelmed with pride in their accomplishments.
When taps blew and our boys settled into bed, we hosted a staff party in our dining room to show our appreciation for the amazing men and women who continue to work tirelessly to make this place run. Our staff enjoyed lobster and rib dinner with steamers and seafood chowder served by yours truly and the rest of the administrative team. Before the party came to an end, the raffle bag emerged to jubilation and thunderous applause from our highly energetic staff. In an environment where our staff can have fun and feel appreciated, their happiness permeates throughout the entire camp community. With just two weeks to go until closing day, the enthusiasm level continues to climb as we race towards the finish line.
It has been mighty quiet at Camp Takajo this week without our senior boys. Our Okees have made their way to Salt Lake City and are already having a fantastic time out west. Tomorrow, the Sub-Seniors return from their trips, which include canoeing down the Saint Croix River, climbing Mount Katahdin, sight-seeing in Acadia National Park, and golfing some of the most majestic courses in Maine. Meanwhile, our Intermediates will return home this evening after a four-day excursion to Martha’s Vineyard, Boston, and Cape Cod.
As the trips departed last Monday, my fourteen-year-old son, Max, was fighting a wicked chest cold and an eye infection (also known as pink eye.) I have counseled many parents who have been concerned about their boys feeling under the weather while in our care.
I am often asked by parents when their son is sick, “Who will be caring for my child?”
“Will he get enough rest on his trip?”
“What happens if he needs medical care while away from camp?”
As Max boarded the bus to depart for his trip, I found myself feeling the emotion that a camp parent feels rather than the stoic, confident role of a camp director. While we send nurses on most of our extended trips to ensure that our boys remain safe and healthy, I still could not help but feel concerned that my son’s experience could be hindered by his health.
When the first set of pictures was emailed to me by the trip leader, I combed through them looking to see if my son still had pink eye. I wondered whether he had his hood up on his sweatshirt because he thought it looked cool or because he was still feeling ill. It was at this moment that I realized that I had turned into you, a camp parent, whose obsessive nature can only be explained by the love that they have for their child.
Truth be told, I have always felt that the success in directing a camp comes from being a parent. Every time I interact with your child, I treat them as if he were my own son. The respect and appreciation that I have for you giving me the opportunity to care for your child is a responsibility that I truly cherish.
It is moments like these that I experience with my own children that help me to keep your point of view in perspective whenever we are speaking about your son. Admittedly, I feel a sense of relief when all of the big trips return. Like you, I am happier when my boys are back home.
While it may sound monotonous, it was another beautiful day in camp. We have hit a stretch of bright sunshine and warm temperatures that is perfect for all of our activities at Camp Takajo.
Our in-camp tennis tournament is in full swing, and we are seeing some great matches on all of our courts. The boys are really enjoying the opportunity to have this head-to-head competition against their friends in camp. Today, Director of Tennis Mike Barnes shared a great story with me about one of our stronger players, who was asked to play doubles in the tournament by a friend, who is less experienced than he is. The two boys battled against their opponents and eventually lost a very close match. Mike was on hand to witness the match and asked the more experienced player why he did not select a partner of comparable ability so that he could have a greater chance of winning.
The camper replied, “Because my friend asked me to play, and I thought that playing with my friend was more important than winning.”
It is moments like these in camp that make us pause and appreciate that our message of friendliness and sportsmanship is resonating with our campers.
Later in the day, a Warrior camper came to me and handed me a note. There are times during the summer when campers give me gifts that they made in the Art Center, but this one was much different.
When I opened up the note, it read, “Dear Jeff, I love camp so much, and I am so sad that it’s almost over. Thank you, I really appreciate it.”
This was written by a first time camper who is only eight years old. I spend my entire winter preparing for these seven weeks, and it is moments like this that remind me how blessed I am to have chosen a profession in which I get to work with our next generation of leaders.
Tonight was my third consecutive night hosting Warrior campers at my home for movie night. As I pressed play and the movie BedtimeStories appeared on the screen, the campers’ attention became fixated on the television. However, my excitement came from watching the joy on the boys’ faces as they nestled together on the couch and settled in for a great night.
Today was one of those perfect Camp Takajo days. The sun was shining, temperatures hovered in the mid-seventies, and a sense of calm happiness filled the air. I was able to do what I enjoy the most and get out onto the fields to watch our boys play.
Now that visiting day is behind us and parents have had the opportunity to witness first-hand that their boys are happy and thriving, the amount of phone calls and emails has diminished, allowing me to get back into the trenches with our campers. I watched nine-year-old baseball, and our counselors spent time working with some less experienced boys on their throwing mechanics. It is our hope and desire that every child will leave camp feeling a little more confident having had the opportunity to participate in athletics this summer.
All seventeen tennis courts were filled all day. Head Tennis Coach Mike Barnes has created tennis tournaments in camp for boys of all ability and age levels. This has been a great way for our boys to develop their skills in competition in a friendly setting.
Perhaps the greatest moment that I witnessed today was an impromptu soccer game with our Okees (boys who have finished 9th grade) and our senior counselors. Our senior soccer staff recruited some talented counselors to join the Okees and even teams were created as the game got underway. It was a joy to witness our oldest boys and counselors at play. The skill level was high and was only matched by the intensity level and exquisite sportsmanship displayed.
Our Okee campers have had an amazing summer. This is their final season, and we want to do everything possible to create the greatest experience of their lives. For many, these relationships started over seven years ago when these young men stepped off the bus for their first time and were welcomed into our Takajo Family. Some were shy and many were homesick, but together they learned how to forge friendships and create bonds that will last a lifetime. These boys know each other’s strengths and weaknesses and have now reached a level of maturity where they cheer other campers’ successes and comfort one another when something does not go their way.
Tomorrow, our Okees depart for their trip out west. They will fly into Salt Lake City and spend eight nights away from camp. For the first two nights, they will stay in the dorms at the University of Utah, where they will take in landmarks including the Olympic Training Center, its alpine slides, and all of the other great sights Park City has to offer. They will then continue west to Moab, where they will experience a majestic landscape and go on a thrilling, off-road tour ride in Hummers, one of the highlights of the trip. Next, our boys will continue to Bryce Canyon where they will experience one of the greatest landmarks this country has to offer. Nowhere else on this Earth can you witness so many different layers of extravagant color as you can at this national park.
Finally, our boys will make their way to Las Vegas, where they will experience the famous New York, New York roller coaster as well as all the hot spots on the strip (minus the dancers and casinos.) The Okees will return home in time for their final Olympic Break and their last few days in camp, which will include our Final Banquet and Closing Council Campfire. For our oldest boys, this experience is a well-deserved right of passage.
We could not have asked for a more perfect day to follow our visiting weekend. Our Takajo campers had a chance to sleep an extra hour and enjoy a casual breakfast in the dining room during Lazy Man’s Morning. The relaxed pace allowed everybody to take a deep breath after the excitement of the last two days.
Rather than immediately jump back into our regular program, the boys enjoyed playing in our laser tag extravaganza. The Senior Baseball Field was filled with inflatable obstacles, which created the perfect venue for each age group to let loose and enjoy something outside the norm.
Our senior boys completed packing for their big trips this morning. Our boys who have finished seventh grade depart for their trip tomorrow. They will enjoy the sights of Cape Cod, deep-sea fishing in Martha’s Vineyard, and an awesome amusement park near Boston.
The boys who have finished eighth grade will go their separate ways on their choice of several trips. A few will spend the week canoeing down the Saint Croix River, sleeping in tents along the shoreline, and experiencing the beautiful wilderness of northern Maine. Others will take on the challenge of climbing Mt. Katahdin; and, in order to reach its peak, they must awake before the sun rises and spend the day trekking up this iconic northeast landmark. For those a little less adventurous, they will make their way to Acadia National Park, where they will take in the majestic views of one of this country’s most beautiful and the first Eastern national park. These boys will put their pioneering skills to the test, as they will pitch their tents and prepare their own food. Others still will enjoy several days of golfing the area’s premiere courses.
In the midst of this active day I was visited by a camper who came into my office in tears. As he sat down on my couch, I started to tell him that it is completely normal to be sad following visiting day. The reconnection with one’s parents is bound to evoke feelings of homesickness. I told this boy that I was confident that he would be back to his usual self in no time. As I was about to continue to pontificate, the camper stopped me and said that his tears were not because he was missing home, or even his parents for that matter. Rather, he realized that there are only 19 days left in the summer. This young man lives for camp. He works hard during the school year and feels over-scheduled. Camp acts as his safe haven– a place where he can wake up and wonder if he is playing basketball or soccer after breakfast rather than if he has completed his homework or prepared for a test that day. Camp is the place where he can be himself, pursue his passion, and strive to attain personal goals.
As I listened this young man speak, I was caught off guard by his maturity and his ability to appreciate the value of this experience. It is a great gift for a young person to be able to appreciate living in the moment and making the most of each and everyday.
As we made our way into dinner, the raffle bag reappeared at the Warrior meal, and items never seen before were on display for all. The dining room once again reached a fevered pitch, as campers stood on benches and cheered hoping to hear their names called. While holding the Takajo apparel, I looked out to the crowd, and I did not see one homesick child among them. The best is still yet to come.
If the weather is any indication for how we rate our visiting days, it was as close to a ten today as can be. Temperatures reached the low-eighties, and the humidity left the air. It was a perfect day at Camp Takajo to host our visitors.
Our counselors took great pride in running their activities and providing an opportunity for our boys to show their parents their new skills. Parents were delighted as they saw the growth and development of their children that has taken place during these last, four weeks.
Now that the day is behind us, we can take a deep breath and get back to normal. By the time our little ones made it to the dining room for dinner, the tears had disappeared and smiles reemerged as our boys chowed down on chicken fingers and french fries. I personally walk by each and every table looking in the eyes of every child in the dining room to see if there is anyone in need of a little extra attention.
The Warrior group took quick showers after dinner and made their way to the playhouse, candy in hand, to enjoy a relaxing Saturday night at the movies. Our Junior boys, finishing fifth and sixth grades, also took the opportunity to relax after back-to-back visiting days with most watching a movie in Mert’s Place (their rec. hall) while others elected for impromptu tennis and basketball games. Our Senior boys have already set their sights on their upcoming Big Trips, which will depart on Monday. They used the evening to begin to prepare and pack for these exciting excursions.
It was a phenomenal day. As I think back to memorable moments of this day, I recount the meeting that took place between our Okees and their parents regarding their final big trip that will depart on Wednesday. Most of these boys have spent a large portion of their childhood here at Takajo and we have been honored by the trust and confidence their parents have bestowed upon us. Having the opportunity to play a small role in the lives of these young men is a privilege and honor that we cherish.
As our boys said goodbye, it was sad knowing that this would be the last visit for some of these parents. As the sun set on Long Lake, the campus was calm and quiet. Tomorrow will be another Lazy Man’s Morning with doughnuts. With visiting day in the review mirror, our boys look forward to the exciting events still to come.