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 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.
Today was an amazing visiting day at Camp Takajo. The sun was shining, and the humidity levels were not as high as expected. The warm breeze coming in off Long Lake made us all appreciate the magnificent, summer day.
The other day in my blog post, I reflected on how special it was for boys to reconnect with their sisters at our carnival. I mentioned this sibling reunion during my staff meeting last night to highlight the importance of this weekend. I mention this here because, when we witness the love between two siblings, we can only begin to get a sense of the magnitude of love that emanates when a parent reconnects with his or her child.
As a parent, the relationship with our children is the most sacred relationship we will ever hold. I often joke with my wife that if we were on a sinking ship with our two sets of twins and there were only four life jackets, she better know how to tread water. The point that I’m trying to make is that I understand the profound love that you have for your children and how you spend every waking moment of your life thinking about them. By sending your children away to summer camp, you are generously sacrificing your quality time with them. However, the gift that you are giving your child provides them with immeasurable growth, maturity, and self-reliance.
Parents and grandparents who visited today marveled at the positive growth they have noticed in their children in just four short weeks. They commented on the inner strength that they have seen develop through the life skills that camp cultivates. I am often asked if I enjoy visiting day. While admittedly I see the day as a distraction from our routine, I find great joy in witnessing the unconditional love between parents and their sons. I also take great pride in introducing you to my staff, who have worked tirelessly to provide this enriching experience for your boys.
As the clock approached five, the Warrior Campers assembled at their lineup area with their counselors for their final goodbyes. Under the direction of our seasoned Group Head Counselor Hank Fortin, our visitors gave our boys one final hug before departing. By the time our campers reached the dining room, they were eating pasta and looking forward to their evening campfire. Meanwhile, many of our staff members combed the property picking up rubbish and preparing their activities for tomorrow’s visiting day. After a quick staff meeting in our dining hall to recap the day and focus again for tomorrow, legendary Takajo Chef Norm’s granddaughter, Karen Irby, surprised our staff with her gourmet pizza. With bellies full, our counselors went to sleep with a sense of accomplishment and excitement for what tomorrow brings.
As predicted, we woke up to unseasonably warm temperatures this morning. Camp Takajo hosted our Rookie Day today for younger brothers and prospective campers. A few years ago, we started a wonderful tradition after a group of our Okee campers came to me and asked if they could spend the day with these “rookies.” Their request was heartfelt since they realized that this was their final summer, and they wanted to leave their legacy with the next generation of Takajo campers.
When parents arrived this morning at 9:00 AM with their children, I was able to see that many of the little boys were nervous. Surrounded by some of my best staff members, our Okees introduced themselves to all of these boys and their parents. Their firm handshakes and big smiles set the parents and little boys at ease. Our Okees willingly devoted their entire day to our rookies.
As an icebreaker, they played gaga– a perfect game to get everybody ensconced in camp. Within minutes, I could hear the cheers and laughter of both the Okees and rookies, and I honestly could not tell who was having more fun. Throughout the remainder of the day, these little guys had the chance to climb our rock wall, participate in archery, swim in our lake, and experience a thrilling ride on our banana boat.
During lunch time, I took great pride watching our oldest campers help our visitors navigate through the many options of our dining room. To everyone’s delight, a camper favorite, pizza, was on the menu. At four o’clock, when the parents arrived to pick up their boys, many were amazed to see how relaxed and at home they already felt. As the Okees said their goodbyes and made their way back to their bunks, there was pride in knowing that their legacy was solidified.
We are just hours away from the start of our visiting day weekend. Your sons are excited to see you, to introduce you to their favorite counselors, and to take you to their favorite activities to show you what they have accomplished thus far. This reunion is a celebration of your child’s growth and development, his self-reliance and his growing independence. As always, my staff and I are here for you to make sure your time with us is as memorable as can be.
With just two days to go before visitors arrive, you can feel the excitement and enthusiasm starting to build at Camp Takajo. Today was Takajo’s Annual Carnival. The sun was shining; and, while the temperatures reached the mid-eighties, the greatest warmth witnessed today was the love and affection shown by those sisters and cousins who came to visit our boys.
We hosted over three hundred visitors from many of the neighboring girls camps in our region. As a dad, it gave me great joy to watch our boys reconnecting with their loved ones. Today, I witnessed my own two sets of twins reconnecting. Seeing them in this environment where they did not feel the need to interact with the outside world was one of the purest feelings a man can ask for. Without distractions, the conversations and connections between siblings and cousins were uninterrupted and pure.
For me, this is not just the essence of summer camp, this is what is lacking in our children’s lives today. Seeing these children healthy and tan, eating snow cones, jumping in our inflatable castle, and spontaneously playing were beautiful sights to see. It is my opinion that children sometimes need to slow down from their incredibly fast-paced lives and simply live in the moment. Maine’s state slogan, “The way life should be,” is what the campers experienced today.
Our kids are under enormous pressure in school and that is often compounded by overly taxing after school activities, sports teams, rehearsals, and lessons. Summer camp provides a setting that allows children the opportunity to disconnect from all of the pressures of their day-to-day lives. Camp gives children the license to unplug and allow themselves to experience life without distraction.
After the carnival had ended, I was visited by a twelve-year-old boy who wanted to follow-up on a conversation that we had a few days ago. I suggested in our earlier conversation that this boy was big, strong, and athletic; but, what was lacking in his personality, was his kindness, empathy, and sportsmanship. Unlike at home, where a child is able to retreat into the seclusion of his own bedroom, camp does not afford our children that opportunity.
Swim the Lake Club 2017
In camp, there is no place for our campers to seclude themselves, as they live shoulder-to-shoulder morning, noon, and night. Their habits and idiosyncrasies are on display for all to capitulate. To this young man’s credit, he shared with me his desire to lead by example. He spoke about how he was going to try to refrain from making sarcastic comments at the expense of others in his bunk. He also touched upon the fact that he wanted his actions both in the bunk and on the playing fields to speak louder than his words. Also to his credit, he promised to come back to me in a few days to provide me with an update on his behavior.
After a long day in the hot sunshine without inter-camp games or cheers coming from our fields, I cannot help but feel that today was an incredibly successful day.
With visiting day just three days away, I thought this would be an appropriate time to describe the day and give you some helpful hints on how to make your visit to Camp Takajo as memorable as possible. The weather forecast indicates that Friday’s high temperature will reach the mid-eighties and that we can expect high humidity levels. Saturday’s forecast is similar with, perhaps, slightly lower temperatures.
If we feel that the heat becomes oppressive, we will modify our program and take advantage of our beautiful waterfront. We encourage you to bring a bathing suit so you can experience the exhilaration of swimming in Long Lake. When you arrive at camp, you will be greeted by our staff, who will direct you to areas where you can park your car.
The whistle indicating the start of activities will blow at 9:15 AM. All visitors should assemble at our welcome arch, where there will be counselors with schedules in hand to direct you to your son’s first activity. We request that no visitors come beyond the arch until we blow our first activity whistle at 9:15 AM so that our boys can finish with breakfast, bunk cleanup, and preparations for the start of the day.
Please recognize that your son will be heading directly to his first activity and that is where he will expect to meet you. For the past four weeks, your son(s) has thrived in the structure of our routine. He is excited that you will get the chance to finally witness him in action. One of the biggest mistakes a parent can make while visiting their child is to remove them from the structure of our program by excusing them from their activities. That is often the time that boredom sets in and emotions run wild. By allowing your son to follow his schedule, you will keep him in his normal routine and allow him to share with you all the skills he has learned during his time with us this summer.
The longest period of the day will be a free period where we welcome you to join us for lunch in our dining hall. After lunch, we encourage you to join us in the Lodge for dessert. Our baker has been hard at work preparing some of our campers’ favorites, such as chocolate chip cookies and brownies, as well as an assortment of delicious ice cream bars. This will be followed by a rest hour where you can enjoy some quality time either sitting on our Adirondack chairs overlooking Long Lake or taking advantage of our facilities and playing tennis, shooting baskets or having a catch with your child.
For those of you who may need physical assistance getting around, we will have our “Uber” golf cart drivers available to take you to and from your son’s activities. These golf carts must remain available for those who need extra assistance and will not be available for round trips to your cars.
We are a nut-aware facility, and we go to great lengths to keep our campers and staff safe throughout the summer. Please pay careful attention to the foods that you bring into camp in order to help us keep our entire community safe.
One of the greatest challenges we face on visiting day is the exorbitant amount of food some parents bring for their children. While I can appreciate those that feel it is their responsibility to provide enough for all of the children in the bunk, if every parent of a bunk operated under that assumption, we would be overwhelmed with an incredible amount of junk food.
As a result of visiting day, our health center will end up being inundated with boys who are sick from the junk food they have consumed. The campus will be riddled with skunks that come out of the woodlands when mass amounts of junk food enters the camp. Campers will hide food in the bunks and look to eat it as replacements for our meals. This can result in the lack of proper nutrition, which is simply unhealthy for your children. In addition, bunk relationships can often be impacted. For example, some boys become possessive of their food and are unwillingly to share which may lead to unnecessary problems within the bunk. Finally, our entire Senior Camp will depart on week-long trips beginning the Monday after visiting day. So, they will be unable to take what you bring with them on their trips.
Visiting day ends at 5 PM. At that time, Warrior campers will go to their basketball court bleachers to report for their evening line-up, where the counselors will remain by your child’s side, providing them comfort until well after the moment you depart. Group Leader Hank Fortin will announce to all of the families that this is the time to say their goodbyes. This is your moment for one final hug and kiss; and, as you turn and begin to walk away, just remember the classic 1953 movie Shane and ride off towards the mountains, without turning back. 🙂
Last night, Camp Takajo came together in the MJG Playhouse to watch the Senior Big Show, Catch Me If You Can. When founder Morty Goldman started Takajo in 1947, the first indoor building he built was the playhouse, which was completed in 1952. Morty used to refer to this building as the “hub of camp.” He recognized that in order for camp to become a tight-knit community, it was necessary to have a space where the entire camp could congregate.
This iconic building was designed by an art counselor from Sweden named John Denerlein. Our playhouse was the first building in the United States that was designed using all wooden trusses. This design caught the attention of many architects when it was featured in Fortune Magazine in 1953.
While Takajo is known for its broad sports program, picturesque waterfront and vast array of hobbies, our theater program is the only one that brings the entire camp together for a single event. I am always amazed that while our campers maintain an active program, they still manage to carve out the time needed to learn their lines and rehearse for this performance. While our Seniors performed beautifully, had impeccable timing, and sang to the audience’s delight, it was a Junior camper whose performance stole the show. Theater is this young man’s passion; and, in an effort to cultivate that passion, he was allowed the opportunity to perform with our older campers. His incredible talent and passion for the arts put smiles on the faces of the on-looking audience.
As is customary at the end of any full camp event, the Okees (our oldest boys in camp) led everyone in singing the camp’s alma mater. With each passing camp-wide event, I take great delight in watching our youngest campers, who have learned the words to our camp song and now sing it with pride.
In addition to the play occurring last night, our thirteen and fifteen-and-under basketball teams participated in a neighboring camp’s annual basketball tournament today. It is never easy to play in front of someone else’s home crowd, but our competitors held their heads high and played with grit and determination. In the end, both of our teams came up just short.
Despite the loss, the boys learned a valuable lesson. They learned that sometimes losing with grace and dignity can show the true measure of a person’s character more than a lopsided victory ever could. As the bus pulled back into camp after a long day of competition, our thirteen and fifteen-year-old basketball players exited the bus as one team. Looking at the faces of the players exiting the bus, it was difficult to differentiate if they had won or lost. Our boys were just happy to be back “home.”
At the end of a long day and after writing my blog article, I returned home to unexpected guests. Sitting on my front step were a bunch of the Okee campers who had been waiting patiently for me for well over an hour. Needless to say, I was a little shocked to see these Takajo campers down at my house.
I quickly inquired whether something was wrong. The boys stood up and, in unison, began singing one of the camp’s treasured songs, Come ‘Round, which begins with the verse,
Come ’round any old time And make yourself at home.
I immediately knew where this was going, and I opened my front door and welcomed the Okees into my home. Since I have all of my meals with the campers in the dining room, I did not have much to offer. However, a cold soda, on a comfortable couch, in an air-conditioned room was all the boys desired. We sat for almost two hours and reminisced about their years at camp.
As I looked at these young men talk about their camp experiences and how close they are to one another, it almost brought tears to my eyes. The boys recalled stories about being in Warrior Camp. They recounted moments in time when they acted impulsively without following directions. The boys had regrets about those fleeting moments in time when they did not treat the camper sleeping next to them with respect and kindness.
They asked me how I felt this group would be remembered. I shared with them that the greatest legacy they can leave behind would be the example they set for the younger campers. I told these boys that the younger campers idolize them. They watch the Okees when they play competitive sports and how they carry themselves on and off the fields. I told these boys that they are each responsible for their “own brand.” How they treat others and how they conduct themselves will leave an indelible mark on all those around them.
Anyone who has ever attended sleep-away camp can think back to their childhood and remember those who treated others with kindness and those who were disrespectful and who only looked out for themselves. When former campers see fellow alumni from years past, they immediately think of that individual’s “brand” that they created as a camper. That perceived impression is long-lasting, and it can take one a very long time to overcome a negative image.
The Okees asked what they can do to help make this an exceptional summer here at Camp Takajo. I shared with them the names of a few boys who could use a pat on the back or a few words of encouragement. These Okee campers were delighted to have the opportunity to help other campers in hopes that one day, they will be sitting on my front step waiting to sing Come ‘Round and to be invited in to reminisce about their own days as campers.
As predicted, the sun was shining bright this afternoon, and the temperatures rose into the mid-eighties. It was perfect weather for Camp Takajo to host our annual swim invitational meet. Six camps from around the region made their way to the shores of Long Lake for an afternoon of competitive swim.
Our campers competed at the 9-,11-, 13-, and 15-and-under age levels. This gave many of our boys the opportunity to swim, but of equal importance, it gave boys of all age levels great incentive to come out and cheer on our team. After all the events had taken place and the scores were tabulated, Camp Takajo emerged victorious. It was great to see the sportsmanship that took place among all the camps in attendance today.
While some of our boys at the waterfront were hard at work, our 13-and-under tennis team traveled to the White Mountains of New Hampshire to compete in another camp’s tennis tournament. Since our tennis invitational was postponed due to inclement weather the other day, the boys were chomping at the bit to get back on the courts. After a full day of competition, our boys returned holding the first place trophy. As I walk around camp, I can feel the energy as each event creates excitement and enthusiasm for not only those boys participating but also those looking on, as well.
After a delicious baked ziti dinner, I surprised the boys with the raffle bag. While these raffles are always a camper favorite, tonight took it to a new level. As each item was displayed, campers screamed with delight and prayed for their name to be called. In true camp spirit, as each name was read aloud, friends cheered and congratulated the lucky winners. As the sun set over Long Lake, each age group retired into one of our large, indoor complexes in order to enjoy a relaxing Saturday night movie. Tomorrow morning is Lazy Man’s Morning followed by donuts…..life is good.
If the weather report is accurate, today will be Camp Takajo’s last cool day for a while. Like you, I pay careful attention to the weather this time of year in hopes that Mother Nature will bless us during your visit next weekend. It is too early to predict the long-range forecast but we know in the next few days the temperatures will rise, and we will experience real summer heat. Today’s temperature was perfect for our sixth grade boys who had the opportunity to head to Old Orchard Beach; a shore town with an amusement park on the coast of Maine.
After consecutive days of inter-camps our sixth graders were very excited for this change of pace as they got to experience fun rides, pizza on the boardwalk, and snow cones, all while spending the day with some of their best friends at the beach.
The other day, while talking to a parent on the phone, I was asked how we attract such amazing men and women to our staff, especially at a time when today’s youth is so focused on their long-term careers. I suggested to this parent that we feel that being a camp counselor is an invaluable experience for today’s college students. If they can successfully complete a summer at Takajo, they will be well-prepared for future endeavors. I went on to say that, in order to be successful in the real world, one needs strong communication skills.
In camp, in order to be a successful counselor you need to communicate with your campers, fellow staff members, and the administration. In the real world, employers look for individuals who are adaptable. In camp, a successful counselor is one who can adapt to a child’s needs. For example, adjusting on the fly is a huge part of the job. A counselor might find himself teaching basketball one period and then dealing with sixty children in a rec. hall playing dodgeball later in the day as a result of inclement weather.
Employers look for individuals with leadership qualities. In camp, a leader is not only one that has to get up in front of hundreds of children. A leader is one who can motivate a child having a bad day or missing home. A leader is one who can encourage a child after he strikes out or drops a fly ball. A counselor who can motivate others, both campers and staff, has a great chance of being successful in the job market, where employers look for individuals who are team players. In camp, a counselor must be willing to put the needs of others ahead of their own needs. A counselor understands that their job description extends far beyond teaching a land sport, hobby, or skill. A true team player is willing to do whatever it takes in order to get the job done.
If a counselor possesses a team-first mentality, they are likely to become a valuable member in another organization. Finally, employers look to hire individuals who process problem-solving skills. A camp counselor can make a hundred decisions in a given day. Whether it be resolving bunk conflicts or cultivating relationships among campers, a successful counselor needs to address problems and find positive resolutions. Every counselor knows that this is a seasonal job with no Christmas bonuses or chances of hefty promotions.
However, our counselors recognize that the skills needed to be successful in life are cultivated here in our camp community. I have spoken to countless staff members from years past who credit their experience at Takajo as a major contributor in making them great parents, great teachers, and great role models for others.