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 had an incredible visiting day at Camp Takajo. The weather was picture-perfect. which created a wonderful opportunity for our parents and grandparents to be able to enjoy special time with their children.
When the activity whistle sounded, our campers bolted out of their bunks and made their way to their first activity, eagerly awaiting the sight of a familiar face they had not seen in four weeks. Seeing parents reconnect with their children and the sheer love that radiates from their bodies is a beautiful sight to witness. Today gave campers the opportunity to introduce their parents to our wonderful staff, show them the improvements we have made to our facilities, and the skills they have learned during the first half of the summer. I love the chance to welcome first-time parents to the campus and witness their joy as they see their child thrive in their new summer home. It is a wonderful accomplishment for a little boy to step away from his safest and most comfortable environment and learn how to navigate on his own in a camp setting.
I loved reconnecting with veteran parents and grandparents. I share the love for your child and the commitment to create an environment that fosters great friendships and important life skills. What was most endearing about today was talking to those parents whose sons are Okees and graduating after this summer. We recounted stories of the early years at camp, and like with many of our youngest campers, the early years are the emotional ones.
Many of our oldest boys were once insecure, impulsive and even slightly selfish. But through the years, they have learned what it means to be a valued member of a community and that acts of kindness and teamwork create deep friendships that will last beyond their final days at camp. One mom told me her husband suggested their son should not come back for his final year at Takajo so he could go on a trip and spend time with his family. However, his son’s response was, “I’m going back to camp so that I can spend time with my family.”
For some little boys, saying goodbye is very difficult. Unfortunately, the last image that a parent may see on visiting day is that of a weeping child. I walked one boy into the dining room this evening who was emotional after his parents’ departure. But, I had the opportunity to witness two of his friends come up to him, put their arms around him and walk him over to their table for dinner. These are the defining moments at camp. It is the parent who allows their child to struggle that gives him the biggest chance at developing inner strength and self-confidence. This is the essence of the camp experience.
Tomorrow is another visiting day. The forecast is bright sunshine and clear skies with emotions running high and low. It is an honor to share all of these moments with you and your sons. I’m looking forward to seeing many of you tomorrow.
The excitement is palpable as campers and counselors anticipate an exciting visiting day weekend. After a hot and humid visiting day in 2017, we are thrilled with the upcoming weather forecast. This morning, we hosted our Rookie Day, which allows families who are considering Camp Takajo for next summer to visit and have their son participate in a one-day camp program.
Over 25 of our Okee campers, who will be graduating at the end of this summer, volunteered to participate in this one-day event. It was heartwarming to witness our campers greeting the parents and these little boys. The Okees recognize the importance of their legacy to our camp and welcoming the next generation of Takajo campers. We packed a lot into this one day. Our visitors had an opportunity to play gaga, shoot archery, climb the wall, swim, canoe and enjoy banana boat rides. Watching our oldest boys connect with our rookie campers was a beautiful sight to witness. It is often suggested that teenage girls are far more nurturing than teenage boys. However, the enthusiasm and patience that our oldest boys demonstrated today was genuine and sincere.
Throughout the day, the remainder of our campers took advantage of the magnificent weather and participated in their regularly scheduled program. Because our program has been interrupted by inter-camp competitions, trips, and special events, such as the Takajo Carnival, our boys loved getting back into their normal routine. As I went bunk to bunk to say goodnight to our Warrior campers, I could sense the excitement they are feeling to reconnect with you. Here’s wishing you a great visiting day. Please know that my staff and I are here to assist you with anything you may need.
If today was any indication of the kind of weather you can anticipate for Takajo’s visiting day, then you are in for a treat. We had one of the most spectacular days to date for our annual carnival. Temperatures reached the 80’s, and there was a cool breeze coming across the camp with no humidity in the air. Carnival is the perfect activity that transitions us from the hustle and bustle of our program and reconnects many of us with sisters and cousins, as the campers await seeing their parents for the first time in four weeks.
The connections that I witnessed between your children were loving, genuine and sincere. Throughout the day, I witnessed brothers and sisters arm in arm, embracing the love they have for one another. As a dad, I take great pride in stressing the importance of family and fostering the relationship my children have with each other. Admittedly, it is a constant struggle at home to get my children to spend quality time together when they have their cellphones in their hands or computers on their laps. They are too easily distracted, and I find my children to be more connected when they are at camp and away from their electronics. I believe you will experience a similar feeling when you reconnect with your son this weekend.
I have a few tips for you to consider as you prepare for your visit. Your son has been in a routine for the last four weeks. He knows exactly where to be during the day. With the best of intentions, parents may give their son the opportunity to opt out of his normally scheduled program. This could cause some stress for your child because he knows where he is supposed to be, and it may also create too much down time that often leads to boredom and sadness. The recipe for a successful day is to follow your son from activity to activity, keeping him engaged while you witness all that your son has been doing during the course of the summer. We will be serving a delicious lunch followed by a rest hour, which will provide a wonderful break in the middle of the day to sit and relax with your son.
A camper can sometimes become emotional in the afternoon because he senses that the end of the day is near. You will be much better served by spending your afternoon watching your son participate in his activities than remaining idle under a tree. Visiting day ends at 5 pm, and our Warrior campers and parents will meet at the Warrior basketball court for a lineup before the dinner meal. Group Leader Hank Fortin will announce to parents that it is time for hugs, kisses, and goodbyes. Your son’s counselors will be with you to take your son down to the dinner meal. Do your best to not delay the goodbye because it only makes it more difficult for your child.
On Friday and Saturday evening, we have special events planned as well as a laser tag extravaganza scheduled for Sunday. Visiting day is a chance for you to reconnect with your child and celebrate the accomplishments he has achieved over the last four weeks. We are excited for you to meet our staff, who is here to assist you during your visit.
I can feel the excitement and the anticipation for visiting day weekend growing. We extended morning clean up a few extra minutes so our boys could put their laundry away. For the first time in three weeks, it was reported that many boys spent a little extra time cleaning out their cubbies and tidying up their shelves. Cleaning is one of the skills that builds self-reliance during these seven weeks at Takajo; but, for some, it may be conveniently forgotten the moment the campers return home.
The dining room was a little quiet during the Warrior breakfast because our fourth graders had not returned from their overnight. Fortunately, the weather cooperated, and we did not see our first raindrops until after lunch. It was a well-needed rain, not only for our fields. More importantly, the rain was appreciated by our campers and staff. The pace of our day, while exhilarating, is sometimes exhausting, and we needed this day to catch our collective breath and relax.
Our Senior campers met with their trip leaders to discuss their big trips, which depart the Monday after visiting day. They reviewed their itineraries, planned their menus and discussed what needs to be packed before our visiting day weekend begins. The MLB All-Star Game could not have come at a better time. All three age groups retreated to their rec. halls to watch their favorite major league players compete in the summer classic.
One of the things I love most about being a camp director is the quiet moments that I get to spend with my campers. Whether it be in a bunk, ironing out our differences, or just a quiet, individual moment in my office talking about whatever is on the camper’s mind. Today, I had one of those special moments as I sat with a 15-year-old boy who is here for his seventh summer. This camper has never starred on our athletic fields and has never taken a lead in the play, but he possesses a warmth, compassion, and maturity that I witnessed and captured my attention.
This is a young man who often spends his evenings going into the bunks of our youngest campers to play Legos and to be an extra pair of helping hands for our counselors. Perhaps a little under the radar with his peers, but his influence with our youngest boys makes him an unsung hero in camp. All too often, boys gravitate towards the one who scores the winning goals, but the true measure of a man is how he treats others. This camper has proven to be an exceptional man.
In any given day, there are so many significant events taking place at Takajo, but it is the silent influence and the giving of one’s time that makes the greatest impact.
It was another sunny, warm day at Camp Takajo. Temperatures reached the low 80’s, but the humidity levels are up and will be for one more day. The long-range forecast indicates the humid weather will be with us until the end of Tuesday, but there are cooler temperatures on the horizon. We are anticipating the weather will be in the low 80’s for the remainder of the week. Needless to say, we are keeping our fingers crossed for bright sunshine over our visiting day weekend this Friday and Saturday.
I know that many of you are putting the finishing touches on your packing as you eagerly await to see your son this weekend. We will be sending out a bulletin providing more information about the weekend, but I want to make a passionate plea to ask you to refrain from bringing unnecessary amounts of food and candy into camp. With the best of intentions, many parents intend to include their son’s bunkmates, so they buy an excessive number of goodies. However, all eight families in a bunk usually have the same idea. The amount of confectionery items that enters camp on visiting days is out of control.
Please keep in mind that our Senior campers will be departing on their Big Trips bright and early Monday morning. They will not be taking candy and treats with them on their trips. I often comment to the campers that while we are living in the woods, we are yet to see a skunk. The amount of critters that come out after visiting day each summer is an indication that there is plenty to eat for everyone, and thing. One of my favorite expressions is, “Our children need our presence more than our presents.” Spending the day with you is the greatest gift you can give your child.
This week marks our last stretch of inter-camp competition. Like Takajo, most camps in Maine have their big trips departing after visiting day weekend. This puts the competition against other camps on hold.
Today our 10-,12-, 14-and-under tennis teams traveled to a nearby camp to attend a tennis invitational. This event gave some of our boys, who have not had a chance to compete in tennis, their day to shine. Our 12- and 15-and-under archers competed in an invitational and made us proud. Our 11-and-under campers of all ability levels had the opportunity to play in a round-robin soccer tournament, and our golfers also had a chance to hit the links. Our 13- and 15-and-under basketball teams competed in a regional tournament today. Our 15-year-old boys lost in the semifinals by a point, while our 13-and-under team brought home the hardware. I was proud of our boys and coaches for their tenacious play and great sportsmanship.
While we cannot help to be excited for the weekend, we are focused on making the most out of each and every day until you reconnect with your son.
We woke up to a slightly overcast day at Takajo, but no one minded as it was Lazy Man’s Morning, which means Dunkin’ Donuts for breakfast. Our boys really appreciated the extra hour of sleep and relaxed pace to our morning, especially after three, packed weeks of activities. During rest hour, our seven registered nurses made their rounds and visited every bunk. They checked each of our boys from head to toe. We do this every week in order to make sure we are not missing any of your son’s medical needs. By mid-afternoon, the sun was shining bright and temperatures reached the low 80’s, similar to the forecast that is being predicted all week long.
In the evening, the entire camp came together in the MJG Playhouse, named after our camp’s founder, Morty J. Goldman. Takajo was founded in 1947, and Morty built this playhouse just a few years later in 1951. While Takajo was already considered by many as a premier sports camp, Morty felt it was important to build a camp that offered a wide range of activities. He decided to build the playhouse even before he built indoor rec. halls and sports complexes. Some of the most memorable evenings to ever take place in camp occurred on stage in the MJG Playhouse.
Tonight was no exception. Our Senior campers were in prime form as they entertained us with a Broadway favorite, The Lion King. This play had never been done before at camp, yet it was preformed to perfection by our Senior boys and featured wonderful cameos by some of our amazing staff. As I was watching the performance, I could not help but reflect on conversations I have had with one of our stars in the play.
This young man is as kind and gentle as anyone we have ever had at Takajo. Yet for some reason, he questioned whether he should have returned this summer. He loves his bunkmates and feels very much at home on Long Lake. Nevertheless, his summer started with deep contemplation. He commented to me at one point during our conversations that he admires those he watches shine on our athletic fields and how they receive such accolades for their talents. I responded by telling this young man that the playhouse stage is the only activity in camp where the whole community gets to witness a star performance.
This camper has never considered himself a star but was able to take a step back and recognize that his talents are admired and respected as much as any other person in this camp. As I watched this actor take his final bow to a roaring ovation, I could not help but think of Morty Goldman’s vision to recognize that there are many ways for a camp to build self-confidence and self-esteem. For our thespians this evening, you made our founder proud.
With just one week to go before visiting day, I find myself reflecting on where we are as a community as we approach the halfway mark of the season. There is an expression at Camp Takajo, “The days are long, but the weeks fly by.” I do my best to soak up each and every moment in a day because I know once visiting day passes, the summer seems to fly by.
Today, we hosted a 14-and-under flag football tournament, and the Takajo Invitational Swim Meet. It was hard for me to know where to put myself, as I bounced back and forth between the waterfront and our playing fields. While our swim team placed second of five camps in the meet, our football players prevailed on the gridiron.
One of the things I enjoy most about being a camp director is my interaction with the campers when I go into their bunks to say goodnight. I visit the bunks every evening for a multitude of reasons. Most importantly, I am a huge believer that you can tell a lot about a child by looking into their eyes. When I walk into each bunk, I am very conscious of each child’s demeanor. I look at whether they are interacting with their bunkmates or sitting alone on their beds, whether they look relaxed and content after a long day or sad and alone.
Very often, a pat on the head, a warm embrace or a brief conversation is all that it takes to let our little guys know they are loved and cared for at camp. I also believe in visiting the bunks in the evenings because it is a wonderful way for me to make sure that our staff is managing the health and wellness of our campers. Showering every night, brushing teeth, placing dirty clothing into the laundry bag– these are things that we expect our counselors to oversee on a daily basis. I chuckle when I hear a counselor say, “Come on guys, brush your teeth. Jeff is one bunk away.”
As I made my rounds this evening, one of the Warrior bunks asked me to tell them a story. It has become a ritual with this bunk of boys because they like to hear me re-cap the day. The other day, I had told them the heroic story of our 15-and-under baseball team and how they came back in the bottom of the final inning to win the game. The boys sat at the end of their beds and listened to every word I said. However, tonight’s story was a little different. It was about our 15-and-under lacrosse team, which consisted of some of the most talented lacrosse players Takajo has had in many years. Many of these boys play on high-level travel teams and focus all their athletic attention on this sport.
With great excitement and anticipation, our 15-year-old boys traveled to a nearby camp to compete in a lacrosse tournament and were shocked to end up on the losing end in their first game of the tournament. The boys were deflated, looked at each other for answers and thought about how to redeem themselves in the next game. At the end of the second game, Takajo once again fell short and was eliminated from the tournament. One of the boys in the bunk stopped me in mid-sentence and said, “This is not a happy ending, Why are you telling us this story?” My response was very simple. While we may have had some of the best individual players, we could not figure out how to play as a team. Competition on the field is a microcosm of life, and it requires communication, teamwork, and the ability to handle stress under pressure to be successful.
One of the little boys said, “There is no ‘i’ in team,” and I smiled. These little boys learned that something positive can come from a defeat.
I was talking to some of our Senior campers this morning, and they remarked that they have never been so physically tired yet so ecstatically happy, both at the same time. There has not been a day at Camp Takajo this summer when these boys have not been physically pushed to be at their best. What was most refreshing during our conversation was that the boys acknowledged they feel healthier and happier without having access to their phones as much as they normally do at home. They commented that they are living in the moment rather than reflecting on someone else’s.
These boys shared with me how much time they devote to screens every day at home. At Takajo, our boys have an opportunity to master the lost art of face-to-face communication. They value the importance of looking into someone’s eyes when engaged in a conversation. They share stories around the dining room table or lay on their beds reflecting about their day before falling asleep and embrace the fact that they are not distracted by technology. I have always viewed camp as a healthy place for a child to spend his summer.
As much as I love sports and enjoyed playing throughout my childhood and into college, I have never considered it as the primary focus of our program. I believe the most important thing we teach children is life skills– how to live with others, patience, empathy and compassion for one another. Long after your son’s playing days are over, the skills that will matter most will be his life skills. Clearly, a child comes to Takajo looking forward to playing sports, taking advantage of the waterfront, shooting archery and building projects at hobbies, but throughout your son’s day, he must learn how to navigate through challenging social scenarios.
Throughout my day, I spend significant time talking to our boys about brief moments in time when things might not go their way. Very often, you may bear the brunt of that when it is expressed in a letter or phone call. I recently sat down with a 12-year-old boy who has had great success at camp over the last few years but struggles with missing home. This boy is kind, compassionate and well-liked. However, I can almost predict the time in the season that he will have his dip. While sitting together last night, I reminded him of an analogy that helped put the fear of missing home in its proper perspective.
I said, “Imagine waking up one morning only to see a horrible rash all over your face. The panic sets in, you wonder if that rash will ever disappear, or will it affect your looks forever? A visit to the doctor and a prescription for some cream, the rash disappears, and you feel like yourself again. Around the same time a year later, you look in the mirror, and this same rash has reappeared. This time, you don’t become emotional because you have the tools and wisdom to avoid the anxiety.”
The point that I made to this camper was that he has gained the tools to manage his source of apprehension, and he should not be startled when this emotional response reappears. Just as the cream manages the rash, being engaged in activities and immersing yourself into the program manages the anxiety of being away from home.
Week 3 at Camp Takajo has flown by. Without a doubt, our boys are loving the routine and extra curriculum events. We are in full camp spirit.
Once again, we packed a lot into our day. Our Braves (campers who finished third grade) boarded a bus and headed to Seacoast Adventure for an amazing day at the water slides, miniature golf, and arcade. Our Junior Greens (boys who finished fifth grade) made their way to Old Orchard Beach, where they had a fun day of riding roller coasters and playing in arcades. Our 12-year-old boys participated in a basketball round-robin tournament at a neighboring camp and at Takajo, creating an opportunity for more boys to participate in this popular sport. Our 14-year-old boys hosted a neighboring camp in a baseball game and continued our winning streak on our home field.
Today, Camp Takajo was also the host of our annual sailing regatta and tennis invitational. Temperatures reached the low 80’s, and there was a slight wind coming across Long Lake. It is often said that the mark of a true sailor is one who can handle a boat in light wind. Our boys showed great skill in sailing our sunfish and took first place in this long-standing event.
Our tennis team competed with great passion and heart but fell short of winning the invitational. It is easy to hold your head high in victory, but the true measure of one’s character is how one handles the difficult moments. I was incredibly impressed with our tennis staff, their coaching style was full of encouragement, and boundless energy fueled our boys to try their hardest against some very talented opponents. However, there are two matches in particular that stood out to me.
The 14-and-under singles was a full Takajo final. As I watched our boys compete, I reflected on the first time I met each camper seven years ago. One camper lived in New York City. I remember visiting him in his home and sitting at his kitchen table as his mother graciously offered me sushi. I remember feeling so welcomed in their home as we spoke about the opportunities we would provide for this little boy. The dad was a college tennis player and wanted to make sure our program would offer his son quality instruction and the opportunity to follow in his footsteps.
The other camper resides in Bethesda, Maryland, and he visited me with his parents in my office when he was eight years old. I remember sitting with his mom and dad as they described their shy son as athletic. While I was incredibly impressed with the skill these two young men displayed on the court, what stood out to me even more was the mutual respect they had for each other’s game. They complimented each other after each winning shot and at one point shook hands and chest bumped as they switched sides in the middle of the match. Their friendship and respect for one another were far more meaningful to those who watched this match than the final outcome. To see these boys walk off the court together, you would be hard pressed to know who won and who lost. Keeping competition in its proper perspective is one of our standards.
The other match that stood out today was a 10-and-under tennis doubles match against an opposing camp. Our doubles team found themselves behind two games at the beginning of the match. It is not uncommon to see little boys become frustrated and tense up under this extreme pressure. The bleachers were packed, and campers from both camps cheered on their players. Our boys battled back and tied the match and from that moment in the match, the score was never separated by more than a game. More campers from each camp lined the tennis fences. The applause grew louder after each point, yet somehow, our boys managed to keep their focus and composure. We fell behind 7-6 with our team trying to hold serve. We scratched and clawed, brought the game back to deuce and eventually tied up the match 7-7. Could there be any more pressure than playing in a tiebreaker at the final of a Takajo Tennis Invitational? With remarkable poise and confidence, our little guys never lost faith in each other and squeaked out a heroic victory to claim the 10-and-under championship.
Competition is a microcosm of what takes place in our daily lives. It takes drive, determination, handwork, and perseverance to reach your goals and even with all the effort, you sometimes come up short. While our team may not have achieved their main goal, they had a great time trying.
We woke up this morning to the kind of weather that makes you smile and want to hop out of bed. Bright sunshine and cool temperatures, today brought perfect weather for our boys at Camp Takajo. Over the last few days, I have mentioned a lot about the inter-camp schedule and some of the memorable moments our boys have had on the playing fields.
This morning, our Okees had another treat when they were allowed to sleep in past reveille and were awakened to a home cooked breakfast out on the Senior Quad prepared by their group leader, Paddy Mohan. Paddy is famous for his bacon, egg and cheese sandwiches, and our groggy older boys stumbled out of bed and hovered around the grill as they watched him prepare a breakfast fit for a king. After their bellies were full, our Okees boarded a bus and headed to Fun Town Splash Town for an enjoyable day at the water park followed by dinner and a movie before returning back to camp.
Our Intermediate (13-year-old) boys boarded a bus to Old Orchard Beach, a seaside town with an amusement park that is one of our boys’ favorite getaways. Our Inters enjoyed going on the rides, eating pizza on the boardwalk and hanging out on the beach. Sometimes it is the little moments that create the biggest memories. For example, our Crows (youngest campers) made s’mores over a campfire and slept in our tree houses. Our Junior Green campers challenged their older counterparts, the Junior Greys, to a baseball challenge in front of a packed crowd. With each experience our boys collect, their roots are grounded deeper into the foundation of our camp.
The other night, I was on the back side of our campus near the climbing wall when I heard the sound of tattoo. A hundred yards in front of me, I noticed Warrior Group Leader Hank Fortin, who is here for his 48th consecutive summer at Takajo. Hank arrived as a young man teaching baseball to our senior campers. As a school teacher, he had his summer free so he made Takajo his summer home. He later married his wife, Jane, and together they have cared for our youngest campers. I have always had incredible respect and admiration for Hank, not just for his loyalty and commitment to Takajo but because of the example he sets as a husband and as a father.
As the sound of tattoo echoed across campus, I noticed that Hank paused and stood at attention by bowing his head and taking a private moment to reflect. I am not sure what Hank was thinking about but I marveled at the fact that here he was alone on the back side of campus after 48 summers of camp, and he still pauses to take a moment to honor the bugle call and reflect on his day. I didn’t think much more about that moment until this evening when tattoo was played. This time, I was at the center of the campus, standing outside a few bunks of Junior campers.
As this beautiful sound played, I noticed the counselors and campers in one bunk laying on their beds and ignoring the meaning behind this bugle call. For those of us in camp, this call represents the end of a day, and it’s a moment of reflection. It is a time to give thanks for the opportunities that we have, reflect on those we love and miss and think about the importance of what we contributed to the day. As one might suspect, these boys and their counselors were a little startled when I opened the door to their bunk and questioned why they were not taking a moment to honor this bugle call. While the boys were very apologetic and stood to attention, I tried to explain to them that I was not looking for them to please me but rather to take a quiet moment to reflect about themselves.
Too often in life, we fail to take a moment to stop and give thanks for what we have. We fail to take a moment to reflect on the impact we have had on others or think about those we love. My hope for these boys and counselors is that someday they will hear this call, and like Hank, they will want to take the opportunity to be thankful for what is most important in life.