My love for Camp Henry began as a camper in 1949. Wow, the changes I’ve seen: an expanded waterfront and dining hall, Millar Lodge, Idema Theater, the Gordon Chapel, new cabins, Barb’s Point, the climbing wall, the ropes course and zip lines, Frontier Camp and a multitude of special weeks, weekends, and programs! Each new addition and improvement impacts the lives of those fortunate enough to spend time in this special place.
When I first attended Camp Henry, Reed Waterman directed three weeks of girls' camp and three weeks of boys’ camp. The rustic wood cabins with heavy shutters and the large common bathroom, referred to as the KYBO, were situated where the girls’ cabins are today. The" Swamp House" housed any male staff members, such as the Waterfront Director and kitchen help. This is where the boys’ cabins are today. I spent eight summers as a camper, followed by a summer as a counselor in training (CIT), and two additional years as a counselor. I looked forward to this wonderful time each year.
The days were filled with fun and fresh air, from flag raising ceremonies and chapel in the morning to games, skits, singing, and storytelling around the campfire at night. As a younger camper, I especially liked rowing the boats through the chain of lakes: Pickerel, Emerald, and Sylvan. The thick lily pads between Kimball and Pickerel lakes and the beautiful blue green water as you entered Emerald Lake made a lasting impression. We would also row across Kimball Lake and camp out overnight.
When I got older, my favorite thing was to canoe the Muskegon, Pine, and White Rivers. The trip down the White River ended by going through the seemingly neverending White Lake and out through the channel to Lake Michigan, where we camped on the beach under the stars. These trips were great adventures that gave me an appreciation of nature and a real sense of achievement. At the end of the season, as counselors we were given the chance to swim across the lake and back. I still remember the exhilarating feeling when I arrived back on shore!
My family has had a long affiliation with Camp Henry. My dad served on the Board for many years, working spring clean up weekends and helping to design and build a larger dock. This may have given me an advantage in being chosen as one of four CITs at the age of 15! In those days the counselors were mostly members of Westminster Church. We had to apply and interview for the then expanded four-week session. Years later when I met my husband, he was President of the Board, and our first date was the steak fry!
Our children were campers, and I’m thrilled that we now have a granddaughter who loves it as much as I did. It warms my heart to share in my niece Sarah Nelson’s enthusiastic involvement and commitment to the camp. Each spring, my brother, sister, and I along with my daughters and granddaughters plant flowers around a deck and at the entrance in memory of our parents. I will always treasure memories of times spent with friends and family at this wonderful place.
Genie and her husband and spend winters in Boca Grande, Florida and summers in Grand Rapids. Their five children and fourteen grandchildren, plus close extended family and friends, keep them busy in their "senior years”!
I came to live on the shores of old Lake Kimball in the summer of 1990. I had applied for a counselor position, only to be told they were all filled. I was quickly asked if I would be interested in another staff position. The trip director position was available. I had all the qualifications except a CDL driver’s license. I would need to learn to drive a manual transmission bus. With the encouragement of both the Camp Director and Assistant Director, I took on the challenge and succeeded.
Going to a new camp, needing new skills to do my job, and only knowing the two people that interviewed me was kind of scary. But those nerves were quickly put at ease after the first few days of staff training. I felt welcomed by all the staff that had been there in years past and all the new staff, as well. My days were made brighter by the presence of Tom and Barb Halstead. If I was ever having a down day or had a question, they were there for me. All the positive role models at camp encouraged and supported me in every way to help me grow and become more self-confident. I left that summer feeling like I could accomplish anything I set my heart to.
With how much camp positively impacted my life, I hated to move on to a “normal non-camp life.” But I knew someday, when any child of mine reached camper age, I would return in some form.
In 2005, my oldest daughter was in 4th grade and started her summer camp experience on the shores at Camp Henry. She attended camp every summer from there on out through the summer of her senior year in high school when she served as an Assistant Counselor. In 2008, my happiness returned when camp started offering Family Camp. That year started the LOVE for camp with my family. We have three daughters, who then, were at the ages of 13, 3 and 14 months. This became the new tradition for the next eight years until the younger girls could go to regular camp independently.
In 2011, Katelynne, reached the age of attending Day Camp, then Allie joined the following year. In 2013, Katelynne went to mini week, with Allie again following the next year. In 2014, Kate attended her first full week of camp, and yet again Allie followed the next year. They have looked forward to every summer and always ask: “When can I go to camp this year?” “How many more weeks until camp?” and “Who will be my counselor this year?”
This year, both Katelynne and Allie will be spending two separate weeks at camp (One week in Frontier Camp and one week of Regular Camp). They are so looking forward to their camp time and their favorite camp staff.
I cannot even explain how much camp means to both my girls and me. The growth that I see with every session is amazing. The girls both become more independent and strong. They learn to be both leaders and followers. Confidence becomes a bigger part of their lives while at camp. The pressures of everyday life fall away while at camp, allowing everyone to relax and just be themselves.
Not only have I signed my children up for many years of summer camp sessions, but I have expanded their camp experience even more through year round program options. Both Kate and Allie have enjoyed going to Fall Fest and Winter Camp for the last few years, bringing camp into our lives all year long. They both participated in the Camp Henry triathlon. Plus the entire family participated in the 2015 Camp Henry 5K. We have also attended Mom and Me weekend for the past two years.
I have also been blessed with the opportunity to volunteer at camp in different ways (camp cleanup days and twice as volunteer nurse). It fills my heart knowing I can help the place that helps my family grow in so many ways.
I have also brought our high school cheer squad to camp for a team building weekend before their season started. For the last two years, I lead multiple Girl Scout troops on camping trips to Camp Henry. Both types of trips had rave reviews by both the kids and the parents that attended. Camp Henry just makes everything work.
Most recently we celebrated Katelynne’s 12th birthday at Camp. What kid wouldn’t want to spend their special day doing their favorite things at their favorite place?
Camp Henry is a special place. You walk onto camp’s property and it just feels different. You feel welcomed. You feel at home. You feel loved.
Thank you Camp Henry for touching our lives in so many ways!
Kelley Cole (Momma Cole) and family
By: Liz Allard
"We can do anything with a couple of sticks and a bucket of mud!" If you've ever sat in on a staff meeting with Jake at the helm, you've likely heard this phrase echo off the paper thin walls of Millar. I think about this phrase often and can't help but smile. Camp Henry is like an amoeba. It engulfs you with its inclusivity and makes you feel all of the feels-fun, happiness, empowered, confident, loved-the list of feels could easily take up this entire blog post. These feels, however, aren't derived from the buildings, the high ropes elements, the banana boat, four square balls, or any other resource we think is necessary to keeping the good times rollin'. Although all of these items are excellent, the Magic of Camp shines through when the resources are absent and we, as campers and staff, are left to our own devices.
Plain and simple, Camp taught me the definitions of resourcefulness and resiliency. I remember once, as a camper, walking into Arts and Crafts during week seven of Camp. The room looked post-apocalyptic. The cupboards were bare, except for a couple of small bottles of primary-colored paint that stood like the last few campers during a game of British Bulldog. Random cuts of yarn and string were strewn about and old wax was hardened in beef stew tins on hot plates from weeks of candle making. This could have been a moment where my counselor threw her hands up and directed us outside onto the A-field for chill time, but instead, she instructed us to go outside and find a rock. Meanwhile, she began gathering the remaining paint bottles, sponges, and any decent brushes and plopped them onto the center of the table.
When we returned from collecting our rocks, she exclaimed with that 'fake-it-'til-you-make-it' excitement, that we were going to paint our rocks! This had the potential to be a totally lame activity, but in true Camp fashion, us campers humored our counselor and got way too into painting our rocks. We even did a gallery walk of our finished artwork at the end of that afternoon activity! My painted ladybug rock is still used by my Dad as a paperweight in his office.
Flash forward to when I was a counselor during the summer of 2009. It was Pirate Day at Camp. These themed days started popping up at Camp once a summer as soon as a certain counselor (*cough* Kerry Drake) discovered, in our staff manual, that Camp used to host Paul Bunyan Day, and insisted we bring it back. When campers arrive at Camp, they come with whatever they have, unlike many of us counselors who come equipped with an entire closet filled with costumes that can morph into whatever theme we desire.
On Pirate Day, which ended up being another Olympic Day with pirate tendencies, it only seemed fitting that my entire cabin look pirate-appropriate. I began pulling out any pirate-ish clothing from my costume closet for my cabin of youngsters and drawing on face paint like our esteemed pirate colleague, Captain Jack Sparrow. Considering my costume closet was ill-equipped to dress 12 pirates in one day, I watched as campers pulled out items - scarves, striped shirts, bandanas - from their own bags and shared those items amongst themselves. We looked like a bunch of salty dogs by the end of rest period that day, and only spoke in pirate talk from then on. Being the youngest of the Girls' Village cabins, we weren't expecting to be the champions of all things pirate that day, but we certainly had the most fun. As my cabin and I got ready that day, I was reminded that at Camp, you don't have to have everything to be everything.
When I think back on my time at Camp Henry, most of my favorite memories revolve around instances where a camper or staff channeled this attitude of resourcefulness to create something unexpectedly awesome. Take morning activities during themed weeks at Camp, like Christmas in July. As you well know, there's no snow during the month of July in Michigan, but counselors, myself included, always insist on sledding as a morning activity, whether you're slip n' sledding on a soapy plastic tarp on the hill near the old corral or sledding on plastic mattresses down the stairs of Millar. Creating activities like these prioritizes imagination backed by innovation.
Like slip n' sledding, I definitely can't forget about the time that Jake wanted to make a go of a Camp Henry Rodeo as an evening activity. Us counselors were tasked with coordinating different events from line dancing to barrel racing to lasso practice. At the end of this newfound evening activity, Jake lined up the entire camp on the B-field to make the announce – uh, rather, share that the final event would be cattle roping! We all stopped and looked around at each other. To the best of our knowledge, camp didn't have any cattle. Jake then explained that two staff – Derek Whaley and Todd Boynton – would play the role of the cattle. Derek and Todd would have a ten second head start before the ENTIRE camp was to chase them down and lasso all four limbs together. I stood back and watched as Derek and Todd tore off across the B-field with hundreds of campers in tow. In an instance, dozens upon dozens of kids engulfed them as they disappeared amongst the pile of campers. When the campers cleared away, there laid Todd and Derek, disheveled and smiling.
At Camp, there's never an "I'm bored" moment because we are always thinking about those couple of sticks and that bucket of mud. In today's world, where cheap distractions and entertainment rest at the tip of my index finger, I'm reminded of the value of my experiences at Camp. Camp challenged me to reach beyond perceived limitations and to fill every moment with intention, regardless of where I was or the resources I had on hand. Camp Henry is about taking what might be considered mundane and building extraordinary experiences with the perfect storm of resourcefulness, imagination, intention, and can-do attitude.
About the Author: Liz Allard
I first attended Camp Henry mini-week when I was eight years old. I remember showing up with the pack my mom used when she worked on a fire crew for the U.S. Forest Service. The pack stood a third of my height above my head and was packed to the brim. I wore my signature jean short overalls all three days and had Emily Clark as my first counselor in the old cinderblock Commanche Cabin. It rained all three days and one of my first memories from those three days at Camp was Jake on stage in Idema Theater screaming the words to “Singing In the Rain,” while the rest of us sopping wet campers screamed along with him. When my parents arrived back at camp to pick me up after those three days, I begged them to send me back to camp the following summer.
I spent eight years as a camper followed by six years on staff, during which, I met my best friend and husband, Derek. We married in May of 2015, surrounded by our Camp Henry family. I currently live in Alaska, which I first visited when I was 16 years old while on the Teen Challenge trip with Camp Henry. I am excited to help with the same trip this upcoming summer when the new crew of Camp Henry teens visit the 49th state in July.
By Wendy Jacobs
Wendy is the mother of Jeff Jacobs, aka Jake, the Executive Director of Camp Henry
Jeff, or Jake as he is known at Camp Henry, began attending Camp Henry as a 9 year old soon after we moved to Michigan from Ohio. I thought it would be a good place to meet some new friends...little did I know it was the beginning of a long term relationship with such a special camp. It is a huge part of his life as he has gone from camper to counselor, program director and then summer camp director to now he is the Executive Director! His love for Camp Henry shines through with his enthusiasm for making sure each camper has the best week of their lives at camp as well as his ideas for new programs (like spring break trips and off-site trips for teens), and new facilities. Yet he also retains the old traditions of camp.
Our car can practically drive to Newaygo and the shores of Lake Kimball all by itself due to the many trips we've made there. Each summer Jake would invite us to come and share the various events, from the Indian campfires, with the horses picking up each cabin of campers, to observing Olympics week, watching talent shows, attending chapel services, to having the experience of eating in the dinning hall, or for special cook-outs, on the deck. During the years that he and J.J. (his wife) traveled from California to run the summer camp, it was a bonus for his father and I to be able to spend time with our grandchildren!
I'll never forget my first experience at the Indian campfire when Jake came across the lake dressed as an Indian and paddling a canoe to begin the traditional campfire. It was all so impressive and you could hear a pin drop. The campers were so engrossed in the ceremony!
Camp holds such a special place in Jake's life that when his first son was born, he was named Levi HENRY Jacobs! And where do you think he was baptized?....at the Camp Henry chapel!
Now he has three sons and what a joy it is for him to have them there as campers! Also now many of his high school and college friends are sending their children to old Camp Henry, old Camp Henry.
I know I'm a very proud mother, but I think Camp Henry is so lucky to have such a dedicated person at the helm. Jake is so knowledgeable of the camp history while at the same time he has great vision for the future. Any parent sending their child to camp should know that he will be in good hands with such a caring and capable director along with such a competent staff.
Here's a poem that captures the impact Jake has on Camp Henry.
C amper,counselor,summer director, and executive director too
A well qualified man for the job to do.
M any friends made and a role model too -
P lus camper numbers growing - new cabins going up.
H elping each camper - being the best he can be,
E njoying a week at Camp Henry -
N ature, boats, games and songs
R elating to counselors all week long.
Y es, sad when the day comes to leave ---
But plans will be made to come back once more
To that special place Kimball -right on the shore!
By Amy VanHaren
There is a week at camp that is perhaps even more magical than all the rest.
A week when lights are hung around cabin doors and A-field games become reindeer games. When counselors fight over who gets to be one of five golden rings or the coveted partridge in a pear tree. When your cabin just might get a trip around the world or a serenade by the Boys Village Backstreet Boys.
It's a special time-warp week in the heat of summer when the animals attend chapel as part of the nativity scene, staff disappear to Tom's shed to become elves, and you get to carol cabin to cabin by candlelight (or, maybe, around the lake as part of a Flotilla).
This joyful week is Christmas week, and it has always been my favorite.
I would guess it's a favorite of many, because if you really think about it, summer camp and Christmas are not all that different.
You spend the month before each arrives in a state of heightened anticipation, counting down the days. You can't sleep the night before. You want to be the first one to the tree - or check in table - on the day it arrives.
You sing some songs. You dress up a lot. You decorate (the tree or yourself). You make things for other people. You gather around a table, sit before a fire, and tell stories of mythical beings (one happens to wear a santa hat and slip down the chimney, the other, seaweed while slipping into cabins).
It goes way, way too quickly.
And when it's over, you feel sad, but you wake up the next day with warm memories and a full heart, already excited for next year.
Both come with much merriment and a whole lot of gifts (some you've asked for, others not so much), so in honor of both seasons, I present my top 12 Camp Gifts:
1. The Gift of Spontaneity.
You never know when you'll get picked to be a British Bulldog or what will happen during the Steeple Chase or whether or not you might have to carry someone around the table. There is structure to the days at camp but only enough so that you can rely on the rhythms, not enough to prevent creativity or adventure or teachable moments. The ability to veer wildly off course, to start a chant or throw in a new a rule in four-square, allows us to be playful and adaptable in ways the rest of the world does not.
2. The Gift of Nature.
Camp exists almost entirely outside. You move from place to place on dirt paths. You spend nights under the stars. You zip line among the trees and swim across the lake and ride horses through DeVries woods. On rainy days you slip and slide in mud. During capture the counselor you cozy up to bushes. You might even clean seaweed out of the red area if it's early in the summer. At every turn, you are exposed to all that our natural world has to offer and it shapes not only our time at camp but also our time beyond in meaningful ways.
3. The Gift of Friendship.
Bunkmate, Ottawa cabin, buddy call, Olympic team, fire toss, teen challenge, staff training. These are just seven out of 700 ways we make friends at camp. We're thrown together in unique ways and from it, we form tighter bonds with those we came with and new bonds with others we've just met. We make fast friends because we must, and lasting friends because we choose to. Whether for a week or a lifetime, camp is filled with opportunities to connect and those connections are what make the ride all that much more amazing.
4. The Gift of Self-Esteem.
This might be the biggest gift I ever received from camp: the chance to try out being me, being brave enough to really be me, and finding acceptance. We give of ourselves in spades while at camp, everything from our energy to our voices to our hearts...we give it all. And in return, camp gives us a safe environment to grow and flourish.
5. The Gift of Music.
Can you still hear it? Music fills the days and the nights at camp. We sing rounds in the chapel and rock out at PJ sing and look to the water during Witchy Ti Ti. We sing before meals and after. We sing at the talent show, on the deck during down time, and at every campfire. Those of us who can't sing a lick are encouraged to join in. Those who can, do so loudly and move us to tears. Some even write their own beautiful music. We sing as a form of expression, in silliness and reverence and together, as a community. The songs burrow into our souls and we take them with us. We sing the songs of camp in the backseat of the car all the way home and at our camp weddings and in the middle of the night to our babies. Somehow the camp soundtrack finds it way into the playlist of our lives.
6. The Gift of Jake.
Where would we all be without a camp leader like Jeff Jacobs? (Or his wife JJ!?) Or Ron Goodyke, Steve Kadu, our favorite staff members, or any of the hundreds of people who have given their time, money, and hearts to Camp Henry year after year? Those who build and sustain camp are our treasured gifts.
7. The Gift of Emotions.
Camp is a place of feeling. A place where everything somehow feels more real, raw, joyous, and sometimes sad. We gather on the shores and wear our hearts on our sleeves in ways we don't elsewhere. We hug actively. We laugh easily. We get fiercely competitive on the field and overly dramatic on the Idema stage. We fall in love (see #9 below). We feel every star in the night sky in our core and every relationship deep in our bones. Sometimes we sob when it's over and we frequently sleep for days to recover. There is risk in allowing yourself such emotional openness but there is even greater reward. Such feeling - learning how to feel, feeling our way forward, putting our feelings out there - is crucial in life and camp gives us a place to hone our skills.
8. The Gift of Rest Period.
Period. We may fight it but what relief it is to pause and restore. How important to all the other gifts. (I'm talking to you future campers, embrace it!)
9. The Gift of Crushes.
The boy in your brother cabin. The waterfront director with the whistle. The girls counselor you hope you're paired with. (I'm sure your own are coming to mind at this very moment.) Camp is a place for crushes, and I mean more than just romantic. It's filled with friend crushes and crushes on athletic ability and crushes on someone else's amazing costume. We crush on counselors because they are role models who show us fearlessness and vibrancy, and other campers because they share our love of books or share nothing at all. It's a place where we learn to look up to people and to really look at people. Camp crushes give us hope.
10. Gift of shared experiences.
The real magic of camp might just lie in the fact that we've all been there. We've experienced it together. We have stood at the flagpole and collectively made someone eat from the gut bucket. We have checked in and bunked up. We've become women and warriors. We've gone through camp together, so we remain together. We're all Camp Henry people and better off for it.
11. The Regift.
Camp is not so different from the Giving Tree. It shakes with joy when we're around and gives just what we need, at every age we need it: a place to play, love, adventure, plant roots, and sit in peace. Camp gives back and it does so over and over again, when we're physically present and even still when we've grown up and moved away.
12. The Gift of Immortality.
Because we're all going to live forever on the shores of Lake Kimball.
As time goes on, I think back on the multitude of gifts Camp Henry has bestowed (these twelve and so many more) and I feel compelled to also give back.
I dole out gifts in many ways. I like more camp photos on Instagram. I reach out to camp friends more frequently. I can't wait to send my kids to camp. And I support camp scholarships and initiatives like the improved dining hall because everyone deserves the gift of camp. Everyone deserves to sit squashed together on a bench, elbow to elbow, eating Helen's food, having the time of their lives and awaiting the next laking.
Here's to Christmas at camp and to camp at Christmas. I hope you look fondly on your camp gifts and have a very merry season!
About the Author:
Amy is the owner of VanHaren Creative, a social media marketing company. Her first visit to Camp Henry was for mini-camp at age 7. She stayed in the Ottawa cabin and had so much fun she came back for an entire week that summer and kept coming back every year until she turned 17 when she went on work as Camp Henry staffer for 10 summers. Stay tuned for more posts from Amy and keep up with her on Facebook and Instagram.
Amy VanHaren is a regular alumni blog poster for Camp Henry. To see her previous posts, click here.
By: Amy VanHaren
Summer has officially arrived and with it a familiar five senses attachment to summer camp. Like having an invisible thread, or a piece of yarn from a get-to-know-you cabin activity on my finger, there is physical connection to Camp Henry that arises every June when a new batch of counselors gather on the A-field for Staff Training. It's as if those of us who have been there before are still part of that circle, still linked to the adventure of what lies ahead.
I'm right back in the dining hall when my daughter slams the door on our screen porch or sings "Bringing Home My Baby Bumblebee" in the back seat of the car. I catch the smell 0f camp in the air just before a rainstorm, on my swimsuit as it hangs, drying out from the lake, in passing the horse barn up the street. The sight of dew on the grass and a light foggy mist over the backyard at 6 a.m. make me feel like I'm walking to an early staff meeting instead of work, with the flag pole trivia questions running through my head rather than the day's marketing meeting agenda. I feel camp anytime I sit on wood in the evening - whether a dock or a log - and am always taken right back to a floating campfire or the opening campfire or better yet, a sacred ceremony.
I feel camp on Friday nights and Wednesday mornings and Monday afternoon rest periods. I still feel the excitement of check-ins and the bittersweet emotions of Saturday send-offs.
There is nothing, however, that makes me feel camp's roots in my soul more than Sunday evenings. For that's when time shifts, when the week begins, when you slip into your own world to let the magic of camp really set in.
Sunday nights are when you go on Camp Time.
On Sunday night on the shores of Lake Kimball, after you've made it through the introductions and the swim test and the elevated noise of the dining hall, and you are tucking into bed to the sound of mosquitos buzzing, and bunk beds creaking, and the security of knowing your counselor is present in the room this time, you turn your clocks back one hour. Really, you do. You ignore the laws of time zones and the master universe and the rhythms of the world everywhere outside Camp Henry and you make time work for you.
You gain an hour of sleep and awake to the sense that this place - this camp - is really something special. This place has gumption. And you, by proxy of being at camp, have gumption too. You, are something special too.
This shift happens week after week and there are many times when it seems crazy to go forward and back, and forward and back - especially as a staffer when it affects your sleep (and a little of your sanity).
But always, there is more light in the morning. More dark in the evening. There is the magic of knowing you are all in a pocket, in a place, where you control what happens and even time bends to your whim.
I've come to see that that actual time shift, is really just a metaphor for the true shifting that takes place at camp. The way you subtly let yourself take more time to laugh. To sing. To sit on the H dock and watch the sunrise. To make friends with people you wouldn't think to in a normal time zone. To make way for being silly, spending hours in conversation, getting absorbed in a friendship bracelet or a frog hunt, or a song chorus that never ends. (Down her nose, to her toes! And she whistles while the...)
Camp Time is not about the numbers on the clock but about the state of your heart. The subtle shift in your soul. The surrender to an experience that demands your attention so completely and rewards you so richly.
I'm now removed from Camp Time, and not turning my numbers back on Sunday nights anymore, but along with the invasion of the senses, that feeling of Camp Time returns for me every year. I notice that stirring to slow down and make a little more time for the things that matter in life.
To appreciate people; to sit down at dinner and connect. To linger over the sunset and play certain songs on repeat. To turn off the technology and constant "to do list" and just be present in the moment. To call old camp friends.
Camp Time has taught me that you can control where your energy goes. It's taught me that deep relationships happen when you commit yourself fully to a moment, when you listen completely to a person and see them - really see them. It's taught me that tent time is the best time, forks are for dorks, the chocolate skit is always a bad idea - but hilarious to kids, that the boy loved the tree, and that you actually can jump off the green raft/play a guitar in front of people/ride a horse with no saddle in the dark/wear a bathing suit and tennis shoes (only a bathing suit and tennis shoes).
Most of all, Camp Time has taught me that the moments move too fast in life, that you must embrace them. Because whether in Michigan or Maine, not even controlling the time can make it stop.
I feel fortunate to see so many others connected to camp still living on Camp Time. Just this past week, there were signs of it all around me: The ten lovely camp ladies I adore sent a fury of emails and photos getting ready for the newest Hanks Honey's weekend, Sarah Hammer sat next to me on my porch, Nick Koster taught his new family to wakeboard for the first time, and the inspiring Trout Steak Revival - made up of Travis, Casey, and Will - three guys who used to play guitar at PJ sing - won the Telluride Bluegrass Festival! And that's only the beginning. I see Camp Time taking place all around (mostly in my Facebook feed but thank goodness there is a place to remain visually connected!) and it makes me feel as though I'm still back in that pocket, in that time warp.
I hope to never go off Camp Time. I hope to teach my daughter that special camp time spirit and to continue to help Camp Henry give others the gift of Camp Time. I hope to keep it going until I am out of time.
Maybe, if like me, you feel the pull, we should all turn our clocks back once a year, during the first week of camp, and imagine we're in our bunks, trying to sleep without fear and overrun excitement, and wake up knowing we have an extra hour and a whole week - a whole summer - of magic before us.
Amy VanHaren is becoming a regular alumni blog poster for Camp Henry. She wrote a post for Camp back in March 2014 that you can't miss, check it out here. Amy is the owner of VanHaren Creative, a social media marketing company. Her first visit to Camp Henry was for mini-camp at age 7. She stayed in the Ottawa cabin and had so much fun she came back for an entire week that summer and kept coming back every year until she turned 17 when she went on work as Camp Henry staffer for 10 summers. Stay tuned for more posts from Amy and keep up with her on Facebook and Instagram.
By Stephanie Wojtkowski
The last time I was at Camp Henry was in in 1988. I had graduated that previous May from Alma College and was not quite ready to give up my summers of camping fun on the shores of Old Lake Kimball. This was my final gift to myself, one more summer after many years as a camper, then a CIT, counselor and Arts and Crafts director before heading into the real world. When I left camp at the end of summer I took a parting gift, a little black kitten I named Millar.
I watched Camp Henry change and grow through the years. The director I had worked for and loved, Ron Goodyke retired. Jeff Jacobs, who had once worked with me as a counselor, took over the reins, and I knew all was well at camp. So even though I was not there, I knew in my heart, that in the summer every Sunday night there would be an opening camp fire and every Friday a closing indian campfire.
This year the camp counselor tradition is being passed on in my family. My daughter Madison is headed off to Camp Henry. Now it is her turn to experience the joy of being a Camp Henry counselor!
Madison has heard many stories of camp through the years. She thought it was hilarious that I used to ride a horse into camp as Stinkin Steph with Mad Dog Merrick and hold up the dining hall which had been transformed into a saloon.
Madison leaves for her summer at camp this Friday. This morning I went into her room to wake her up and something caught my eye. Something so simple, so plain, a black waterproof watch, similar to the one I wore each summer at camp. And for a moment I wished it was me, that I was going to be putting on that watch and heading off to camp.
Stephanie Wojtkowski returned to the shores in March 2014 to drop Madison off for a Summer Staff Retreat. She hadn't been back in years, yet all the memories came flooding back. A big thanks to Stephanie for writing this month's alumni blog post.
If you were or are apart of Camp Henry and would like to share your story or memories of Camp Henry, email email@example.com
Stephanie Rustem, a former camper and staff member at Camp Henry, took a moment to look back on all her years at Camp Henry and has a wonderful story to tell from her experiences!
From Caterpillar to Butterfly: How Camp Henry Changed My Life
It isn't every day you get the opportunity to share memories from one of your favorite places with the rest of the world, but I am one of the lucky few who has been given that chance.
During my last few summers working at Camp Henry, campers and staff were likely to find me chanting at the top of my lungs, eating out of my cabin's "gut bucket", pulling snacks out of my pocket, or even refraining from showering for an entire week in the name of "stink". I was, and continue to be, confident and comfortable in my own skin whether it's covered in paint or clad with a 1980s frock.
Many people today would probably be surprised that I was not always a lover of my own quirks nor did I always have the confidence to crawl on stage during the rules of flashlight tag. Those with whom I worked during my first summer as a counselor in 2007 probably remember me as a shy, quiet person who laughed often, but only spoke out of necessity. I was always cheerful, but found myself intimidated by the seemingly outlandish traditions and high level energy that the other staff members managed to bring from the first day of staff training.
I knew that camp was a judgment free zone since I had experienced it first-hand as a camper. However, I kept to myself for fear that my true quirkiness was beyond the tolerable level of "weirdness" that was camp. As a high school student, I had allowed myself to fade into the background and preferred being overlooked and invisible over taunted and teased. I had unknowingly built an armored wall around myself. Given how shy I used to be, to this day I could not tell you what possessed me to apply for a counselor position in March of 2007 as a 19-year-old kid without a single friend on staff. Perhaps I wanted the challenge of growing into myself while helping kids find their own path in life. In any case, I was terrified.
With each passing day as a staff member, however, I realized that camp really was a special place where judgment of individuals' unique personalities was embraced—a place where "flaws" were viewed as positive attributes and "normal" was absent from our vocabulary. Rather than feeling ostracized for things I viewed as "abnormal" about myself, they were embraced. I could feel my wall coming down stone by stone. I was no longer afraid of letting others really see me. I felt myself transforming from a caterpillar into a butterfly.
What I learned during that first summer on staff was that the location doesn't make a place special, it's the people. I am one of the lucky few that has had the opportunity to grow up at Camp Henry as both a camper and a staff member. I've learned to love myself and share my quirks with the world thanks to the amazing staff members and, most importantly, campers, I now consider my family.
We often talked about the "Magic of Camp" which made it different from the "real world". What I'm realizing now, however, is that the true magic lives in the hearts of the campers that attend and the staff that support them. It can be carried away from camp and shared with the "real world". The camp experience does not need to begin and end at 5575 Gordon Ave, but a small piece of it lives on wherever you might go. Even though I am now a Camp Henry camper and staff alumni, I know that camp lives on in my heart because of the people I had the chance to know.
While at camp, I learned to embrace the "powdered donut" and that no matter how ridiculous a nickname is, it is ALWAYS a term of endearment. So, yell at the top of your lungs, run as fast as you can, and roll in the mud. After all, life is to be lived out loud, not hiding behind a wall.
If you allow it to happen, camp will change your life forever. Embrace its people and traditions and you, too, can become your own sort of butterfly.
Stephanie "Rustamove, Rustemus Prime, Crusty, Aunt Jemima" Rrrrrustem
Stephanie Rustem is currently the Assistant Director for the Michigan United Conservation Clubs Youth Camp in Chelsea, Michigan. She received her Master of Science degree in Community Sustainability in May 2014 and hopes to pursue a career in environmental education and youth development at the end of the summer. Stephanie was a two-time Camp Henry Teen Challenge camper to South Manitou Island at the ages of 15 and 16. She stayed in Dome Village before it saw its demise from a tree. She returned to camp at the age of 19 and served as a counselor, nature director, and assistant director over the next 7 years.
By definition, a camp friend is simply someone that you meet at camp. It may be someone you met as a camper or someone you had the pleasure of working with on staff for a summer. Camp friends know you better than most. They have seen you act a fool at opening camp fire, they have been with you on a camp out when a massive storm blew at 3 am, they have cried with you at Friday chapel during Week 8, they have laughed with you during skit night, they have loaned you their grooviest polyester threads for disco banquet and they helped you wash peanut butter out of your hair after Dutch Auction. Hands down, these friends are, to quote my camp friend Kelly Hotaling, "the best in the west."
The summer between 4th and 5th grade my family relocated from the Detroit area to Grand Rapids. To make the big move seem less traumatic, my grandparents sent me to Camp Henry and lucky for me, my best friend Angela was able to come too. I remember it like it was yesterday; we were in Apache cabin and our counselor was Stephanie Litton. I recall having butterflies in my stomach as we waited to jump in the lake and take the swim test and how excited I was to see that our first meal was pizza and chocolate milk. During that week I met some new friends who went to the school I would be attending in the fall and on the first day of school I was so grateful to see a few familiar faces. When I got a little homesick for my old friends back in Detroit, I always knew I would see my best friend Angela for a week a camp every summer despite the fact that we now lived two hours away instead of around the corner. Having "camp friends" from my old home and now my new home made all the difference in helping me with this transition.
In the mid-90s when I was on staff, "camp friends" were your entire life for the summer. This was before cell phones, Facebook, Instagram, twitter, etc. Back then there was a one payphone in Millar that everyone used to contact those back in the "real world." I remember distinctly having discussions with my non-camp friends about my lack of communication May – August. If it was an emergency, family and friends knew to call Millar and keep their fingers crossed that someone would answer – and then be able to locate me. Saturday day offs were spent with camp friends. Rarely did we even consider heading back to Grand Rapids or our respective schools to visit our "other" friends. The main concern was who was driving to the laundry mat, what time the Taco Bell in Fremont opened, what we needed to pick up at Wal-Mart for the upcoming week and when Palmer Tie Dye Weekend would be. We traveled in packs, always together.
Eventually we all grew up. We graduated from college, started attending camp weddings and then camp baby showers. I am so grateful that my camp friends were present when I married by husband and loved when they loudly chanted for him to carry me around the gazebo at our reception. These camp friends are now not only special to me but also special to my daughters. My girls love looking at my photo albums and hearing stories about the fun, crazy and now probably unsafe things we used to do at camp. If I close my eyes I can still hear Chris McCleary and Cary Fletter singing "Forever and a Day", Katy Kozal's voice as she called "HORSES!!" at feeding time in the corral, Mark Penning giving the best weather report anyone has ever heard ("sunny skies and a high near 90!"), Jody Waclawski's giggle and Jake singing Big Yellow Taxi at a PJ Sing. No matter how much time goes by, when I see these camp friends it is like no time has gone by at all. We will always be united by that special bond of time spent together on the shores of old Lake Kimball.
Sarah (Carrington) Nelson began her camp journey during the summer of 1985. She has been a camper, Assistant Counselor, Counselor and Wrangler. Currently she is a camper parent, Camp Henry Board Member and works part time at MVP Sportsplex.