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.
It’s Big Trip Week at Camp Takajo, which means all of our Warrior and Junior campers will be heading out of camp for a final excursion before Olympics break.
After returning from an eventful week of hiking, canoeing and golf, our Sub Seniors boarded a charter bus and are off to Canada for the week. The boys will begin this journey by spending two nights in Quebec City, enjoying the historic sites and experiencing the largest water park in Canada. During the course of the week, the boys will head to a ballpark to watch the home team Québec Capitales play against the Rockland Boulders. Perhaps the most thrilling part of this trip is the jet boating adventure, which takes place down the mighty Lachine Rapids on the St. Lawrence River later in the week.
Our Warrior Crow campers had an awesome and exhilarating day at Story Land, but perhaps the most exciting part for our youngest campers’ day was stopping for dinner at McDonald’s on the way home. I know it is not the healthiest of meal choices, but I believe in moderation, and it sure is a kid favorite.
Our Junior Green campers (finished fifth grade) left for Sebago Lake State Park for an afternoon at the beach before heading to Sunday River Resort. At Sunday River, our boys explored the mountain for a short hike before sleeping on the property. After a hearty breakfast, they will make their way to Stars & Strikes Bowling Center, followed by a movie and dinner, then returning to camp tomorrow evening. This trip checks all the boxes for our boys. They hike one of Maine’s majestic ski mountains and combine this with bowling and a movie.
Our Warrior Indian campers (finished fourth grade) were the first Warrior division to have their movie night extravaganza in our playhouse. The entire Indian age group had a massive sleepover, where they stayed up late watching three movies while enjoying pizza and popcorn. Throughout the week, each Warrior age group will enjoy a movie slumber party.
Today, our Junior Grey division was “kidnapped” by Senior group leader, Paddy Mohan. Our oldest Juniors were welcomed into the Senior program while our Sub Seniors are away. Our Junior boys enjoyed competing in sports with our Senior Intermediates, staying up later into the evening, enjoying the use of the Senior Rec. Hall and all of the privileges that are associated with being a Senior camper.
The remainder of our campers participated in their regular program, as they eagerly await their out of camp excursions. While camp days are ticking away, the campers’ enthusiasm remains high, and anticipation builds for what each next day will bring.
Many of our boys keep track of the weeks at Camp Takajo when they see Dunkin’ Donuts on a Sunday morning. It is hard to believe a week has passed since our visiting days. Our campers enjoyed a much-needed, lazy morning. They had the opportunity to select the activities of their choice this morning.
It is so important in camp to break from our routine and slow down our pace, especially at this late junction in the season when our boys are understandably exhausted. Today, the campers who have family members at Camp Robindel and Tripp Lake Camp had a chance to reconnect for the last time in our camp season. The hugs were brief, knowing that they would reunite at home in less than two weeks.
This evening, our Junior campers took the stage in the MJG Playhouse to perform a kid favorite, School of Rock. This entertaining musical was performed magically by our 11- and 12-year-old campers. I always marvel at the fact that these campers participate in a full program, yet manage to squeeze in time for play practice to perform a magnificent show.
As our summer is winding down and you eagerly anticipate seeing your son, how does one measure the success of their child’s summer experience? We all want our sons to return home with the feeling of exhilaration, similar to what one would experience when they come off a thrilling roller coaster ride. But, not everyone will experience that emotion.
For some success is measured by leaving the nest for the first time and living independently in a bunk. For a child, learning how to make connections, manage one’s emotions, and keeping track of personal belongings is a huge accomplishment in itself. For others, being open to trying new activities and interacting with strangers until significant connections are formed is a huge triumph.
The camp experience is not identical for everyone. Camp is a microcosm of the real world. There will be some great days and some challenging days. For parents who are forced to judge their son’s experience from a distance, it is difficult to see the success when you do not always see the smiles. Nevertheless, camp does help build inner strength, confidence and the ability to acclimate to new situations. It teaches self-reliance, perseverance and how to advocate for one’s own needs. Many families select a camp thinking of the facilities and activities. While I am very proud of our physical plant, I am more pleased with the growth and development of each camper throughout this summer and over the course of a child’s camping years.
While we all want our children to experience sheer joy every day, we recognize the importance of teaching life skills that will help create the foundation for one’s future.
We had another beautiful day on the shores of Long Lake. Our Sub Seniors, who returned home from their little trips, were allowed to sleep in this morning, skip breakfast, and woke up to the smell of Paddy’s homemade egg sandwiches prepared on Senior Quad. Some of our 10-year-olds made their way to a neighboring camp for a day of intercamp tennis, while a bunch of our 11-year-olds participated in one final lacrosse tournament. The remainder of the campers stayed in camp and took part in a number of fun activities.
We had a few families tour Takajo today, looking to see if this is the camp where they will send their sons next summer. As I stood with a perceptive mom and dad, they watched our Warrior campers during a free swim period. These parents were blown away at how well-behaved our boys were and remarked that every child seemed gleefully happy.
A golden eagle keeps a watchful eye on Long Lake at Camp Takajo.
While visiting day is a wonderful opportunity for you to come up, see your son in action, and meet our staff, there is nothing more impressive than seeing the natural flow of a camp day, in its most natural setting. Our children are different when they are not in our presence. Camp creates the perfect environment for a child to explore his own happiness and find his true passions. These prospective parents visiting camp today had a unique opportunity to witness Takajo in its most organic form.
Many of you know that just about every night, I go to every Warrior bunk to say goodnight to our campers in the youngest division. Tonight, I marveled at how some bunks seem incredibly neat and organized. It dawned on me this evening that much of a child’s ability to organize has to do with how much his parents pack for the summer. With the best intentions, parents often look at our packing list and then add multiple items, plus many parents provide an excess of games and bins to store these miscellaneous trinkets.
What I am noticing is that there is little space remaining around your sons’ beds or cubby areas for this excess, and it actually creates unnecessary stress, as well as daily pressure for your son to manage. I have never really given much thought to why some children struggle more than others with their organizational skills, and it occurred to me that the foundation of these issues centers around excess. Nevertheless, our boys are happy. We can all deal with a little extra clutter, and our focus remains on making the most out of each and every day.
It was a typical Saturday night at the movies for our boys. They went to bed tired and dreaming of Lazy Man’s Morning and Dunkin’ Donuts.
The streak of great weather continues. Whatever rain was forecasted in the region managed to miss us until the dinner hour and once again, we had bright sunshine with summer-like humidity in the air at Camp Takajo.
We welcomed back our Sub Seniors from Acadia National Park and those that participated in the five-day golf trip. Our Sub Seniors will spend the weekend nesting and prepare for their next trip, which departs for Canada on Monday. Our Intermediates are having fun feeling like big men on Senior Quad and are enjoying privileges that are normally meant for their older counterparts, such as staying up late in the Senior Rec. Hall. The hobbies were busy, and now our boys turn their attention to working on their bunk plaques– something that will speak to the theme of their cabin. These plaques will hang on the bunk wall for many years to come.
I had a chance to catch up with the Intermediates about their trip to Cape Cod and Martha’s Vineyard and was told an interesting story from one of our 13-year-olds. He recounted that a group of boys piled into the elevator in the hotel to make their way from their fifth floor rooms down to the lobby. As this boy was running to the elevator to join them, one of our little wise guys quickly pressed the close button so that he would have to take the stairs. At first, this camper was upset until he discovered that the elevator was stuck, and the boys were trapped for an hour.
This camper was not sure whether he should laugh himself silly or be angry for the way he was treated. After a brief moment of reflection, he recognized that karma had provided his answer. When the elevator doors opened an hour later in the lobby, the camper was sitting on the couch waiting for his friends and suggested to his buddies that the stairs might be a better option next time. It is not often that we are able to find an instant resolution to our distress, especially combined with our nemesis suffering an appropriate and timely consequence. Admittedly for this boy, there was nothing better than experiencing a small amount of instant justice towards those who were trying to pull a fast one on him.
This evening was our staff party. It was an opportunity to properly thank our counselors for the incredible love and dedication they have displayed towards our boys this summer. There is a quote that hangs on my wall, “For our children, the road to happiness and success is usually paved by our example.” During the opening season orientation and throughout the summer, I stressed to our counselors how much our boys look up to them. Our counselors are hardworking and dedicated. They give up so much of their privacy to live in a bunk with our campers and because we don’t allow them to have access to their phones during the course of the day, they become ensconced in camp life and distanced from their friends and loved ones at home.
It takes a special individual to be able to display patience and empathy for someone else’s child and sustain that for a seven-week season. It was a great evening and a wonderful chance to show my appreciation for a job well done.
What was supposed to be an all-day rain at Camp Takajo, turned out to be nothing more than an occasional sprinkle, which allowed us to remain outdoors for the majority of the day.
We watch weather patterns very carefully, and whenever we believe that a storm is brewing, we react swiftly to clear the fields and put our boys under cover.
Our trip leaders have our 13-, 14- and 15-year-old boys out of camp, and we applaud them for their steadfast judgment and care of our campers. Most camps have given up their extensive camping program because of the presumed risk of having children out in the wilderness. We see the benefit in exposing our campers to these challenging camping experiences in the outdoors, provided we have the confidence in our staff and a clear understanding of their surroundings.
Senior campers returned this evening from their trip down the St. Croix River and climbing Mount Katahdin. The first few days of their excursion was euphoric, as bright skies provided the perfect backdrop for their rigorous challenge. But, after reaching Mount Katahdin, followed by whitewater rafting and canoeing down the St. Croix River for three days, our trip leaders anticipated the change in weather and diverted their trip back to camp. When these trips returned, I hugged the staff before our boys for exercising the care and judgment that is required to lead a trip for Camp Takajo. Our Intermediates returned from Cape Cod, Martha’s Vineyard, and Boston and reported that it was the greatest camp trip they have ever taken.
This morning when I made my way to breakfast, I was told that a Junior camper was removed from his bunk last night for being upset with his bunkmates. After breakfast, I approached this camper and asked him what had transpired last evening in his bunk. This boy is not one who has ever gotten into trouble, and since he was a little nervous that he might be reprimanded, he asked me if he could explain the circumstances but only under the Takajo Arch. The camper told me that he went to his first social and that he asked a girl to multiple dances together. After returning and settling for the night, his bunkmates, who he adores, decided to poke fun at him for making a connection at the social. The noise level escalated in the bunk, and when the OD counselor came to the door, the little Casanova was removed.
As I sat under the arch with this young man, he pointed to the word loyalty and said, “To my bunkmates, because I’m not going to tell you who was teasing me. Obedience, to the counselor who removed me from the bunk. Courage, to me for asking a girl to dance at the social, even though there was a chance she would reject me in front of my friends. Faith, to you that you would believe my story and not punish me for sticking up for my feelings. Love, that’s easy, to me because I think I’m in love. Honesty, to me for telling the truth about my bunk scuffle. Integrity, to me for standing up for my actions, knowing that I was respectful to the OD, and acting as though my parents were watching me at all times. Tolerance, to me in the face of being teased by my friends. I ignored them for as long as I could. Sportsmanship, you got me there. Friendliness, to me. That’s what got me onto the dance floor. Self-reliance, I acted alone and figured out how to approach this girl without any help from my friends. Magnanimity, also to me. It required everything I had to step up to the plate.”
Admittedly, I felt this character was working me a little, but I had to give him points for dragging me up to the arch to plead his case. Even if this was done in jest, I can’t help but feel that somehow we are getting through.
Like yesterday, we managed to dodge the rain and got in a full day of Takajo activities. Our Okees were up and out of camp by 5:30 AM, as they embarked on a trip of a lifetime.
Their first stop will be Salt Lake City, where they will enjoy an exhilarating ride down the Park City Alpine Slide and have the opportunity to tour the city, before making their way to Moab to experience an off-road Hummer tour at sunset. During their trip out West, our Okees will have the chance to witness Bryce Canyon National Park and Zion National Park, before making their way to Las Vegas, where they will experience the Wet’n’Wild water park and the thrill of the New York-New York roller coaster. This week-long trip away from camp is a celebration of our oldest boys’ summers together, and we look at this unique experience as the culmination of an incredible camp career.
Throughout the day, I had a series of candid conversations with some parents discussing their son’s growth and development during the course of the summer. As a dad, I’ve had many embarrassing moments, such as when I’ve introduced my boys to friends and acquaintances in social settings.
When they were younger, I would constantly whisper in their ear, “Make eye contact, firm handshake.”
But, these comments were often met with the shrugging of the shoulders or rolling of eyes. Many years later, when I once again introduce my sons to friends or acquaintances, they jump out of their chair, look the individual in the eye and deliver that firm handshake. What I’ve learned as a father is that what I want for my children might not materialize as quickly as I’d like. It is through constant reinforcement and delivering the message in a clam, but concise manner that has helped my boys grow into young men.
I listened to a number of parents today on the phone speaking about their hopes and aspirations for their sons. They would like to watch their boy learn how to navigate through social situations in a cabin, to maintain a level of self-esteem and confidence in the face of adversity. This reminded me of my own experience of raising my own children. This is why the relationship that we have is so critical. I believe through my communication with you, that our values are aligned and that you recognize that I share your goals and dreams for your son. I believe that our camp creates an environment that reinforces all that you wish to teach in your home. While I share your desire to see your son return home with these life skills, it may not happen as quickly as you wish.
I believe we are living in a microwave generation, and we’ve all grown accustomed to wanting things fast. Very often, there’s nothing more satisfying than an authentic home-cooked meal, one that requires preparation and slow cooking over time.
While the weather forecast indicated showers throughout the day, we were fortunate to avoid the raindrops and enjoy a bright, sunny day with a slight breeze that made its way across Camp Takajo.
There are summers when the week after visiting day is a natural letdown after seeing one’s parents, but our boys seem eager and enthusiastic to jump back into activities. Our Junior campers enjoyed playing golf at Point Sebago. Warrior campers participated in their normal sports and hobby periods but seemed to enjoy their time down at the waterfront on this warm day. Our Okees put the finishing touches on their packing, and are chomping at the bit in anticipation of their early morning departure heading west.
Warrior Group Leaders Hank and Jane Fortin have created a wonderful tradition of inviting all of the Okees to their cabin on the evening before their big trip. Hank and Jane have been summer parents for our oldest campers when many of the boys first arrived seven to nine years ago. They always remark what a pleasure it is for them to have the opportunity to watch our oldest boys mature and flourish throughout their camp experience. Both love to bake, and Hank is famous for dipping fresh fruit, cookies and marshmallows in homemade chocolate. (We all know our oldest boys love to eat.) As you can imagine, this evening always is filled with love and great memories.
I started hosting movie nights down at my house as a break in the routine for our Warrior campers. Last night, I hosted the Crows, and this evening, the Indians had the opportunity to put their feet up on the couch, enjoy a cold soda, and relax while watching a movie on a big screen. I have always felt that it is important to invite our youngest campers down to my home to reinforce that these little guys are truly members of our family.
During this time in the season, we create a series of special events that the boys anticipate. Last night, Warrior camp hosted a three-point shooting contest, which creates amazing excitement for those who take part as well as those who enjoy being spectators. The Indians challenged our Junior Greens to a baseball game. These games create amazing camp spirit and the chance for our boys who love a little extra competition, to compete in the sport of their choice.
With just two and a half weeks to go in the summer, I am acutely aware how our limited time reinforces the importance of making the most out of each and every day. It’s a great lesson that I learned when I was younger, and is important to impart to our boys too.
While the skies were gloomy and grey this morning, the rain stayed away and allowed our boys to participate in a full day of Takajo activities. Our Intermediates (finished seventh grade) departed on their four-day trip to Martha’s Vineyard, Cape Cod, and Boston. Here, they will enjoy deep-sea fishing, scenic boat rides in the Charles River, a tour through Fenway Park and exploring Quincy Market before returning to camp on Thursday.
Our Sub-Seniors (finished eighth grade) had the opportunity to select from one of four exciting big trips. Some of our boys traveled to Acadia National Park where they will hike the majestic Cadillac Mountain, explore Bar Harbor, go on a whale watching tour, and enjoy coastal sea kayaking before returning home on Friday. Our golfers headed north to play on some of the more iconic courses in the state of Maine, and will meet up with our Acadia trip campers to explore Bar Harbor before returning home on Friday.
Some of our more adventurous 14-year-old campers are off to the St. Croix River, where they will spend the week canoeing, sleeping in tents near the river, preparing all their meals, and spending time in this beautiful but rustic terrain. The remaining Sub-Seniors made their way to Mount Katahdin, where they will prepare for a 4:00 AM wake up tomorrow, in order to reach their summit by the early afternoon. These boys have prepared for this adventure throughout the summer and will enjoy an exciting whitewater rafting trip after their climb, before finally returning to camp on Friday. Many of camp’s greatest memories take place on these amazing trips. They provide an opportunity for our campers to explore this beautiful region with their best friends. We consider these big trips a rite of passage for our older boys and a wonderful reward for their years of good citizenship at camp.
I’ve always remarked that the Takajo experience is not a summer experience, but rather a lifetime one. With this in mind, we have created a Takajo alumni website, and we invite all of our former campers to join. I have attached a link to provide access for registration. Ex-campers who are exploring college opportunities will have the chance to visit this site exclusive to former Takajo campers to see which alumni may be attending the school of their choice, and who might offer to meet them or provide resources while on campus. Likewise, ex-campers graduating from college may find this website useful when they are looking to connect with Takajo alumni who are working in their chosen career field. Many of our Takajo alumni are involved in some wonderful charitable causes and have donated their time and resources to helping others. This website is designed to connect groups of individuals who have similar interests and goals.
I hope that you will share this website with any past Takajo camper and encourage them to join. If nothing else, this website will provide the opportunity to reconnect with old friends and remain affiliated with a place that we hope holds some of your best childhood memories.
Lazy Man’s Morning could not have come at a better time. Our boys were exhausted, both physically and emotionally after our visiting day weekend at Camp Takajo. However, even grey skies and a misty rain could not detract from their excitement of seeing their favorite Dunkin’ Donuts as they arrived for breakfast this morning.
The gloomy skies provided the perfect opportunity for everyone to take a well-deserved rest from our playing fields. Our Senior campers spent the day packing and organizing for their big trips that depart for Intermediates and Sub-Seniors tomorrow. Our Warrior and Junior campers took advantage of our indoor buildings and spent the day breaking a sweat in our sports complexes, making projects at hobbies and watching movies in our rec. halls. Our Junior thespians spent the day rehearsing for their big show, School of Rock, which will take place next Sunday.
As parents, we all know the expression, “We are only as happy as our unhappiest child.” As a camp director, I feel the same way about my campers. While the overall reaction to our boys experience is incredibly high, it would only be natural that there are some issues that require my attention after visiting day. Throughout the day, I met with a few bunks for what I refer to as ‘family therapy sessions’ in my office. In fairness, for some of our youngest boys, this is their first experience living away from home in a bunk environment.
For some of our Junior campers, while they may be familiar with their bunkmates, each child returns to camp every summer having collected his own experiences throughout the year. They come back socially and emotionally different from the child that left the previous summer. Therefore, even a bunk of boys that are familiar with each other has no guarantee they will be the same personalities as the year before. I enjoy these sessions in my office because I make the boy receiving the information respond to his bunkmate by repeating his concerns before he replies. This exercise forces each camper to hear constructive criticism, rather than just prepare to just say what’s on his mind. This time in my office is designed to be light-hearted, yet the underlying message is about respect, fairness, and appropriate behavior. It’s also a way for everyone be comfortable in sharing their feelings.
At a time in our lives where civility appears less important than personal gain, we cherish the moments where we can teach kindness and empathy at camp.
I started my camping career at Camp Takajo as a nine-year-old back in 1970. I spent eight years as a camper, returned the following year as a counselor and remained on staff until purchasing the camp in 1988. As I reflect back on all of my years, I cannot remember more magnificent weather over visiting day weekend. For four consecutive weeks, our boys have kept a frenetic pace and are tired. Little rain has prevented us from having those breaks in our program that allow everybody to re-energize. However, this past weekend, our campers and counselors ran on adrenaline and kept the enthusiasm level at a peak.
One of the funniest moments of the day was told to me by a parent in my son Jack’s bunk. My wife might not find the humor in this story, but I am a brave man so I am going to tell it. Joan went into Jack’s cabin and, like many mothers, decided to inspect his cubby with Jack standing over her shoulder. Joan pulled out items of dirty clothing and said, “This has been worn too many times and needs to be thrown into your laundry bag. This is soiled and will collect mildew. It needs to be put outside to dry.”
Item after time was removed from the cubby and thrown onto the floor until it was bare. As Joan turned back to Jack and said, “You should be ashamed of yourself.”
Jack replied, “This is not my cubby.” Joan proceeded to fold Jack’s bunk mate’s clothing and put it neatly back on the shelve.
I cannot help but find the humor in this story (at least as I am writing it). I might find myself sleeping in Jack’s bunk tonight, but in reality, Jack and every other boy are capable of managing what is in their own cubby. I had so many wonderful conversations with parents today. Most were warm, and we recounted the happy memories their son has had over the years. Some were more emotional as we discussed the dynamics in their son’s bunk.
The single moment that captured the greatest emotion for me today was joining the Okees’ parents at the end of the day for a meeting to learn about our oldest boys’ Western trip, which departs next Wednesday. I have sat in on this meeting with campers and parents for the last 29 years, but this year was different. Sitting among the campers and parents was my son Max and my wife Joan. The general theme from the parents was that they were deeply saddened at the thought of this being their sons’ final summer in camp.
Not simply because it represents the innocence of one’s childhood coming to an end, but this realization forces a parent to think about their son’s summers in a new way. As parents, there is nothing more important to us than the health and safety of our children. This enormous trust that has been given to me is something that I honor and cherish. As I looked around the room and reflected on the camping careers of the 48 Okees, I reflect personally on my son’s Max’s experience. Born on June 10, 2003, Max made his debut on the shores of Long Lake just five days later as a newborn. Camp has been the one constant in his life every summer since his birth. It has been a ritual that will now come to an end.
I left today’s meeting feeling a sense of joy for the friends that Max has made and the growth and maturity that has taken place with them during these formative years. But, for the first time, I can fully comprehend the sadness I feel knowing that my son’s camping experience is coming to an end.