Soon after Morty Goldman founded Camp Takajo in 1947, he changed Color War to Olympics. In traditional Color War, counselors coach one of the teams and are involved in making lineups and planning strategy. Morty wanted to take the counselors out of the equation so they wouldn’t be competing against the boys with whom they had lived and worked all summer. He felt this would make the competition more pure among the campers. It would be the culmination of everything they had learned, not just athletically, but more importantly, of the values they had absorbed – sportsmanship, honesty, self-reliance– and all the Arch Ideals that infuse everything we do at Takajo.
As I write this, the Olympics would have broken yesterday. Warriors, Juniors, and Seniors would spend the next four days competing with tremendous enthusiasm in all the land sports, swim and track meets, and Quad Games like paddle tennis, archery, sailing, and canoeing. We would be looking forward to the Song Competition when the entire camp comes together in our Campfire Ring, and the Green and the Grey teams take turns singing the camp songs. All this would reach a climax in the Whacked-Up Relay, involving every single camper, each leg a fun activity like the egg toss, eating Saltine crackers while whistling the National Anthem, bed making, Make Bob Laugh, and the icing on the cake – I mean pie – the Pie Eating Contest. Every Olympics ends this way to remind us to keep it all in perspective and to recognize the importance of playing your heart out, but when it’s over, we “leave it on the field” and go back to what matters most, our friendships.
A few years ago, with the Olympics in full swing, I was in my office thinking back over the summer and looking at the photos of three men who, in a very real sense, helped guide me to where I am today. On August 7, 2017, I wrote my daily blog about it and I hope you’ll indulge me as I share that memory again with you here.
As I sit in my office and take a moment for private reflection, I am drawn to some of the pictures that hang on my wall. In particular, there are photos of three men who have had a profound impact on my life. Morty Goldman was the founder of Camp Takajo, where I had the privilege of spending eight summers as a camper and another twelve as a counselor before purchasing the camp in 1988. As a young boy, I idolized Morty. During the summer, he was my surrogate father and I always felt happy and safe under his care. As a young man, I paid careful attention to how Morty conducted himself, and I strive to emulate his example every day. When Morty passed away in 1989, I had only been the owner of camp for one summer.
I have a vivid memory of my last meeting with Morty. I was only twenty-eight years old and I felt an overwhelming responsibility to continue his legacy. I was all too aware it would be our last time together. He had just suffered a stroke and would often drift in and out of coherence. I had so many questions to ask him and wanted to soak up his wealth of knowledge. I asked Morty how he was guided to make so many correct decisions during the course of his career. His response, in a moment of clarity, would be his last words to me, “Whatever decisions you make will be the right ones.”
As I drove home, I reflected on these words and realized he was telling me that as long as I remained morally and ethically sound, and as long as I put the needs of others ahead of my own, then any decisions I made would be the correct ones. This all centered around Morty’s vision for Takajo and the Arch Ideals that he posted prominently at the entrance to camp. His final message to me was that if I lived a life of integrity, camp would remain in good hands.
Also on my office wall is a picture of my father who was the first camper enrolled at Takajo in 1947. My dad was a phenomenal athlete. Morty often referred to him as one of the most gifted athletes to ever attend the camp. I am blessed that my father is alive and well and spends his summers here at camp with my mom. My dad loved Morty Goldman and takes great joy and pride in knowing that his son has the unique honor of following in Morty’s footsteps.
My dad is my role model and my hero. Every summer when I begin our staff orientation, I lead with a quote from my father that made a deep impression on me as a boy. He said, “As you go through life, make decisions and behave as if I am standing over your shoulder at all times.” He told me if I wouldn’t do something in front of him, then I shouldn’t do it at all. I tell the staff to treat each camper as if that boy’s parents is watching over your shoulder at all times. This pearl of wisdom from my father has been a guiding principle for me and for the way we treat every child at Takajo.
The third photo is of my brother Kip, standing with Morty and me immediately after the closing when I purchased Camp Takajo on August 29, 1988. Kip, my older brother, would have turned sixty years old today. Kip passed away very unexpectedly on October 4 of this year, and his loss has been devastating for my family. Had it not been for Kip, I never would have purchased Takajo. It was Kip who convinced me that, at age twenty-eight, I could assume this enormous responsibility. It was Kip who guided me through the process of raising the finances and who, with his background in law and real estate, negotiated the deal and handled the closing on my behalf. Kip’s encouragement and belief in me is a significant reason why I am in the position I am today.
As the director of a boys’ summer camp, I recognize the tremendous need of today’s young boys to have heroes, men they look up to, whom they respect and aspire to emulate. One of the quotes hanging on the wall in my office reads, “For our children, the road to happiness and success is usually paved by our example.” As I consider this meaningful day, I hope that in some small way I am able to make an impact on your sons, just like my heroes have done for me.