Kenny Hotaling, a key member of the Camp Henry's leadership summer staff, sat down with us...er, technically with his computer since he and his family live in California...and took the time to answer a barrage of questions about his 10 (soon to be 11) summers at Camp Henry. His presence at Camp is noted in his hard work, his kindness, his fatherly compassion for the staff and campers alike, and his humor. If this interview doesn't have you chuckling, then you should come spend some more time with him on the shores this summer.
How did you first get connected with camp? Sitting around the Jacobs' dinner table here in California, my response to Jake's question was something like this" "What??? Chaplain? I've never been one before! Do I have to wear a collar or would the outfit from Princess Bride be ok?"
What made you want to get more involved? Sometimes God answers prayers immediately. As I began to consider whether my family and I should relocate to Michigan for the summer, with a newborn (Jane) mind you, He told me repeatedly that he wanted to challenge me by talking to campers about my experiences with God, my relationship with God, how God loves you, and how great it is to have God directing your life. I was nervous that I would blow it, but listened to God anyway. I sure am glad I did... for so many different reasons. It clearly showed me how big He is and how small I am... but I can still make a difference for His kingdom.
How many years have you been coming to camp? Year 11 this year! We've gone through a couple sets of tires, many oil changes, and a transmission, but have every intention to return for 12.
Did you attend camp growing up as a kid? If so, where, what was it like, what experiences do you still fondly reflect on now? I went to Rainbow Trail Lutheran Camp as a teenager, and it the spot where I finally understood what having a personal relationship with God is really all about. I found out that it was so much more than the "stand up and the right time, sit down at the right time, and repeat after me..." church experiences. What I remember most was the "peace that passes all understanding" as well as the friendship of another camper and the guidance of our counselor. John 3:16 became a part of my heart.
What would be your "ideal' day at Camp Henry? No such thing exists as there are infinite answers to the ideal day. Despite all the uncountable number of wonderful/funny/sad/life changing/challenging/ridiculous/inspirational/powerful moments that have already happened, I know that God has even more in plan to make room for additional entries into the "ideal" day.
How has camp changed since you first came? Camp changes every summer; sometimes dramatically, sometimes, subtly. Camp isn't supposed to stay the same. We can always get better, get kinder, get closer to God, and make more headway to making this earth like He intended.
Many people would consider what you do each summer, taking the whole family across the country, living in small living quarters, etc., kind of crazy. What do you say to these folks? Yep. Nailed it.
What roles have you served/do you serve while at camp? I am just a humble "Happy Helper"- friend, chaplain, musician, mechanic, researcher, driver, reader, lifeguard, belayer, encourager, fire builder and plumber. I almost got the plumbing figured out for the bottom of the Blue House :) Maybe next summer.
How has going to camp each summer effected your daughters? Camp have helped us immeasurably parent our children. It is impossible for me to comprehend how all these summers have had an effect on my daughters. Likewise, it's impossible to comprehend what they would be like without all of those wonderful summers. What I do know is that my daughters are smart, confident, kind, athletic, beautiful servants who love the Lord and others. I am so thankful for Camp Henry for all it has done to help shape Emma, Grace, and Jane.
Any fun stories to share from your adventures across the country? Nebraska is horawful (horrible + awful = horawful). What's the best thing that ever came out of Nebraska? I-80! Uncountable rows of corn for hours is all one can see. But, out of necessity, a new car game was created: Corn Wars! The game is played by naming a corn type product. For example, Corn on the cob. The next person needs to name another- Corn Pops. It turns out there are quite a few corn products. Let's see how many you can come up with!! Hours of entertainment! By the way, do you know what the "N" on the side of the University of Nebraska football helmets stands for? Knowledge!
Any fun camp stories to share? A king calls for his servant. The servant asks what the king needs. "Bring me my Royal Papers!" he shouts. It turns out his royal papers aren't recycled papers from the office, nor are they some of the left over sheet music from the Theater. It turns out what he really needed was some Toilet Paper!!! Oh! Those Royal Papers!! Hilarious!!!
What do you do for a living outside of camp? I am a 17 year veteran public school teacher. I teach in an integrated classroom that focuses on math and science. It is a STEAM school that is heavy on engineering and computers so the math and science that we experience is applied to some sophisticated capstone projects. It's a blast going to work each day as I work with some very smart and motivated teachers.
What are some of your hobbies outside of camp? I have recently rediscovered my love of mountain biking! I'd ride everyday if I could. In addition, I also read a lot of non-fiction. Lastly, I am plowing through the Office on Netflix. Michael is so uncomfortably funny.
Favorite camp meal? Sausage patties. I eat the entire red basket.
Favorite camp activity to lead? Night Chapel. It's a blast to see God go to work in that sacred and beautiful place.
Favorite camp activity to be a part of? Christmas week's PJ sing. If you haven't heard Away In a Manger camp style... well, you are missing out.
If someone was not sure whether they should send their kid(s) to camp, what would you say to them? I completely understand! Having your kids away from you for an entire week! Super scary. However, this week I promise that your child will experience God's love and I also promise that we will take tender loving care of them.
What is your hope for Camp Henry's future? Someone once asked a question about my church here in California. They asked, "If this church closed down, would anyone care after a couple of years?" It's a pretty interesting question. Now, ask the same thing about Camp Henry. Presently, in my opinion, there would be an uproar if Camp closed! So that's my hope for the future. If in 10, 20, 50, 100 years from now, Camp Henry closes... there would be an uproar!
What is your hope for your future with Camp Henry? I hope they hire my back as a Happy Helper!
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: 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.
This announcement (yes, I have another one, I have them all the time) is to tell you why my heart belongs to Camp Henry and how the traditions I have experienced here have helped shape me into who I am today.
Some people believe the stereotype that camp is solely a place you go to get dirty, sing silly songs, have a lot of fun, and run around playing weird games. In some aspects, that is a lot of what we do at camp, but it is also so much more.
During my ten years at Camp Henry, I have experienced countless crazy camp traditions. I have learned that behind every ten minute announcement song, wacky campfire skit, and absurd dining hall chant lies years and years of memories, friendships, and gut-splitting laughter. I learned that camp is a place filled with tradition, a place for kids to relax, have fun, experience nature, and connect with other kids in a stress-free environment.
As I look back on my time at camp, I realize that these traditions, although seemingly pointless, have had a large impact on my life as well as countless other campers and staff. I, like so many others, came to camp as a nervous, excited, starry-eyed child afraid of not fitting in or making friends. However, each day at camp taught me new lessons and traditions that would eventually help lead me to becoming the person I am today. It is through every wacky tradition I have been able to feel truly connected to camp and form relationships that will last forever and a day.
Camp Henry is entwined with traditions, each one an opportunity for campers to instantly build connections and slide into the camp community. Each tradition, no matter how big or small it may be, is also a chance for campers to challenge themselves, take risks, and grow in confidence and strength. I think most returning campers will agree that the Chipmunk song is not just a song, Smuggle is more than just an excuse for staff to tackle campers and hide in trash cans (sort of!), B-field games are more than just an excuse to run up a ridiculously steep hill, and yes, still wearing the paint from Potato Round-Up three days later is indeed a fashion statement.
I will never forget witnessing staff members getting thrown in the lake for no real reason at all (i.e. running over a chipmunk with the golf cart or 'stealing the magic of camp'), sweating from nerves watching fire-tossing celebrations (javelin throws, anyone?), crying from laughter at the Opening Campfire skits (When in doubt- Sit, Stand, Kneel for the Three Horsemen), or even crying from heart-wrenching emotion at a great Vespers (cabin in tears = success).
No matter what happens in life, I will always believe pizza and chocolate milk is the best meal on a Sunday, beef stew (stirred with a stick) is a must on campouts, and the Sacred Ceremony and Night Chapel are by far the best ways to end a week at camp.
Each activity, chapel message and shared meal has brought me closer to my cabinmates, staff, and God. Most importantly, it is through amazing traditions that I have learned to live simply, be confident in who I am, stand up for what I believe in, and never forget to see the world the way God intended it to be.
Although camp traditions, despite the name, change over time, I will always feel connected to camp because of the experiences they have provided me. While we may not always play the same games, sing the same songs, or share the same stories, I know that these traditions will continue to grow and develop as time goes on to make camp the best possible place it can be.
Marissa Vargo joined the year round staff at Camp Henry in March 2014 after she graduated from Central Michigan. She has spent her summers growing up on the shores as a camper, AC and summer staff member. She enjoys a good round of Smuggle and spending time on the waterfront. You may recognize her from the IronKid video in our last blog post. She's the one swimming on top of a frozen Lake Kimball.
Christina Koehler, a long time camper and high school senior, reflects on her camp experiences and how it has affected her life. She encourages all of us to "go and find out for yourself" what camp is all about. Camp is a certainly best experienced first hand!
"Camp is a place like nowhere else. I want to say that if you look hard enough that you will find a place like camp, that makes you feel as good as camp, but trust me, you won’t. Camp is one of those unique places where no matter what you say or do, everyone around you will still love you. Between the campouts and the games, I met people who will stay with me for the rest of my life. I met one of my best friends seven years ago at camp and we are still best friends to this day even though she lives 5 hours away from me.
People always ask me what I love about camp, that’s actually what I am supposed to be writing about, but I can ever put into words just what it is that makes me love camp. The only thing I could ever tell my friends when they would as why it was so important to me is “Go. Go and find out for yourself, because I sure as heck cannot describe it."
I have gone on canoe trips, 2 UP trips, and an Alaska trip with Camp Henry. I have been blessed to be able to see the beauty that God has put on this Earth and I have been blessed to be able to recognize that it is God who put that beauty there to share with all of his children. I truly believe that without camp, I would not be the forgiving and caring human being that I am today. Matthew 7:7 says “Ask and it shall be given unto you.” Well I asked for love, acceptance, and happiness; God gave me camp."
Long Time Camp Henry Camper
High School Senior