Wednesday, June 17, 2009

Summer Camp Memories: The Last Week

During the five years I worked for the Boy Scout program, I spent three summers in scout camps. In this story I tell about my last week of directing at scout camp. A few years later, when I was in graduate school, I ran a small camp in Idaho for two summers. But that camp was a breeze and had about as many campers as this camp had staff. This all took place in the summer of ’84. Photos are copies of slides.

Things were running smoothly. All my staff had reported back on time and most of the troops were already checked in. A little after four that afternoon, I headed over to the dining hall to check on dinner. At six, they’d be serving nearly 500 scouts, leaders and staff. Sunday night was always a good meal: baked chicken, whipped mashed potatoes, vegetables, yeast rolls and dessert. I could smell the foot as I walked down toward the dining hall. I went around back, to come into the kitchen entrance, passing by the dumpster. I never saw it; but something bumped into right eyebrow and immediately I felt the sting. I slapped my forehead, killing a wasp. They say bad things come in threes. I should have gone out right then and found a rock to hide under and wait out the Apocalypse.

Up until my encounter with a wasp, it had been a great summer at Camp Bud Schiele. The camp, in only its second year of operation, looked like a country club. The rolling grassy hills surrounded a lake that offered swimming, canoeing and sailing, fishing and waterskiing. I had a terrific staff, some sixty strong. The first seven weeks had gone off without a hitch. After this week, we’d store away tents and gear and in another week I’d be in Damascus, Virginia, ready for a two week hike along the Appalachian Trail. The cooks assured me that dinner would be on time. I got a piece of ice to put on my bite and headed back to the camp office. By the time of our staff meeting that night, my right eye had swollen shut and there sat my staff, every one of them looking at me with their right eye shut. I wish I could say it was out of sympathy, but I know mockery when I see it.

After Sunday, things slipped back into a regular routine and by mid-week, the swelling was down and I’d forgotten about the wasp. The council camp had a tradition going back generations where the camp staff produced a pageant for campers and their staff on Wednesday night. It was convenient to do this middle of the week; visiting parents always recharged the campers’ wallets which helped our trading post make a good profit. The pageant itself was quite a feat, as the staff dressed up as Native Americans and told some legendary story about natives in Western North Carolina. No one seemed to be bothered that the staff dressed like Plain’s Indians, right off of a Hollywood movie set. As camp director, I’d spent the evening greeting parents and talking up the scouting program.
A few minutes before the program was to start for the final time that week, my business manager ran up to me and said there was someone in the office wanting to see me. I walked over and met the man who ran a small country store and gas station a few miles away. He wasn’t too happy. He showed me a check written by one of my staff members. The check had been written on a closed account. The staff member, who had been in uniform, had told the man the check belonged to his mother and she had given it to him, pre-signed, so he could get gas and some snacks. He accepted it (he did, however, put the guy’s name and driver’s license number on it), and as country stores often do, he counter-signed the check over to the bread delivery man. The only problem was, the check didn’t belong to the guy’s mom, but to another woman, the sister of a friend. When the check was denied for payment, the bread company had charged the store an extra fine. The store owner had called the woman whose checks they were and learned that he’d written quite a few checks across a three country area and there were a half-dozen warrants out for the guy’s arrest.

Todd had just gotten out of the Marine Corp that Spring. He came with good references and an honorable discharge. Being in his early 20s made him more desirable as there are a number of positions in camp that require someone over 21. Todd was the assistant on the rifle range and also served as our provisional scoutmaster, working with those scouts who came to camp without a troop. Up to this point, I’d been pleased with his work. Unlike a lot of my staff, he always had clean uniforms, which I later learned was because he’d brought four sets of them with a check “that his mother had given him so he could buy uniforms.” As it turned out, even his uniforms were stolen, having been purchased through forgery. Although I didn’t particular want a sheriff cruiser to come into camp with their lights flashing to arrest a staff member, I also felt I needed to get Todd out of camp. Although I didn’t think he’d do anything, I felt it was a liability to have a staff member working with kids with that many felony warrants out on. I asked the local sheriff if they could wait till ten that evening. Because he had so much land to oversee, our camp ranger had been deputized. The two of us would detain Todd in my office and by ten, all the parents would be gone and the scouts would be back in their campsite and we could hand Todd over to the local sheriff.

I made arrangement for my program director to take over the staff meeting we always held on Wednesday night and asked him to keep the staff together until I came back to talk to them. With Tony, the camp ranger by my side, I asked Todd to come with me to my office. It was a long walk through the night. Once inside, I told him what was up. Todd was a big guy, probably 6’3” with broad shoulders, about the size of Tony and I put together. I was afraid of what he might do, and was surprised when he sat down in a chair and cried. Tony offered him a cigarette and I decided it was best that I not insist they not smoke in my office. He took one (I’d never seen him smoke) and with tears in his eyes asked what was going to happen to him. I told him didn’t know, but I knew there were a number of warrants out for his arrest and that forgery was serious business.

The deputy arrived right at ten and arrested Todd. I felt sorry for him, as he was handcuffed and read his rights. I told him we’d pack up his stuff and keep it safe and then went over to the dining hall where the staff was sitting around waiting. They knew something was up and were visibly shaken, for Todd had been a likable guy. The next day, Tony and I went through Todd’s stuff, inventorying it all and boxing it up and storing it in his car. A few days later, his parents came down and picked up his car and drove it home.
I’d had enough excitement for one summer. But the week wasn’t over. On Friday, as I was trying to finish up paperwork in my office, the mother of a camper who’d been at the camp a few weeks earlier came by. Like the store owner, she too wasn’t happy. She dropped an X-rated photograph on my desk, one that had come from her son’s camera. I could have gone all summer without seeing that. Her son swore to her that he had no idea where the picture came from, but looking at it, I knew right away. It was taken on the waterfront and one particular staff member who had a very unique bathing suit was the subject. I also figured out fairly quickly what had happened.

On the waterfront (sounds like a good title for a movie), there was a place where campers could ‘check” valuables, things that couldn’t get wet, like wallets and cameras. I sent for the waterfront director and for the staff member in question. The waterfront director suggested who he thought would have taken the photo (the guy who was in charge of checking in and out personal items). I had him bring the other guy up as I confronted the one young man with the bright red stripped baggies which clung to his knees in the photo. Showing him the photo, he confessed. So did the photographer. Although I knew it was just a childish prank, the Scouts have strict rules on such behavior and I found myself having the privilege of firing two more staff members. Like Todd, these were both well-liked and hard workers. The rest of the staff was mad at my decision, especially since it there was only one more day of camp left. At least one model in the photographer must not have been too mad with me, for the next year when he graduated from college, he called to ask me to be one of his references.

It had been such a nice summer. I had enjoyed everything the camp had to offer: swimming, water skiing, sailing, canoeing, and fishing. But after that last week, I was never so glad to go home.
For another story about Sage's adventures during the summer of '84, click here.


  1. My scout camp seemed pretty quiet compared to yours but as a scout, I probably wasn't priviledged to all the information that was happening behind the scenes.

  2. I always wished I'd gotten to attend a camp like this either as a kid or a counselor. Other people's stories always made them sound so amazing.

  3. Camp counseling was always my favorite thing. I worked at one up near Saynor, WI for a couple of summers.

    Good times.


  4. I was a Brownie for one day. Just long enough to make a wastebasket out of empty egg cartons and a tinfoil pie plate. I got yanked because my mother realized when she picked me up that the house she dropped me off at reeked of cat urine. I don't think many others returned either.

  5. Ed, there is a difference from being a scout and a counseling and even greater difference from being a counselor and a camp director.

    TC, but you spent time working at Crater Lake and I'm envious!

    Randall, I spent some time at a camp outside of St. Joe, MO for a program once when working for the scouts.

    Murf, I don't think I'd return, either.

  6. I'm sorry, Sage, I can't type well tonight because my right eye is closed.....LOL

  7. My camp was never staid. When I was 11 my boyfriend was nicknamed "hot fingers" to my shame and delight at the same time

  8. LOL These guys looking at you with their right eye shut really made me laugh, Sage!

    Sounds like it was a very nice summer, but too bad you had to take some unpleasant decisions. Anyway, the balance was good, wasn't it? ;)

  9. Sage: I so admire you for these many rich experiences, especially this one. You may never know it, but you have probably mentored directly some young man who wants to be just like Sage! Young people today are different than when I was raised. They lack parental involvement. I was lucky to have had good parents, though I missed out on camp. A friend of mine just returned from The Boys Republic, were Steve McQueen was domicile as a kid. I thought about im as I read your excellent text. Many Thanks!!!!

  10. What memories you have! I don't have pictures, but so many of the same type of events. I wouldn't know where to begin though, so for now I'll just enjoy yours! :)

  11. As a child, my parents never allowed me to go to camp, but now I kind of wished they would've. I wonder if the campers had as much excitement as the staff! Wow!

  12. Kenju--LOL!

    Pia, your story sounds like it might need a disclaimer for young readers!

    Michael, I was thinking the other day the young scouts who would have been 11 at the camp are now 36! I hope they've done well.

    Beau, think about it and try to recreate your memories--I don't have as many memories of when I was at camp as a scout, but I have a few.

    Scarlet, being on staff is different that being a camper, but they both have their joys and (especially for staff) frustrations. NICE NEW PROLIFE PIC!

  13. Dropped by from Tanya's to thank you for continuing to share these richly detailed vignettes of your life. Your writing is so relatable...I can close my eyes and see the scenario playing out. Even feel the spirit of the moment.

    Did you ever find out what happened to Todd?

  14. Wow, talk about an action packed camp! Sheesh. You needed a vacation from your vacation! I've been stung by a couple of bumble bees. More swollen each time - and take forever to heal. Thanks for the great story, Sage!

  15. Naw dude can't hang with camp as a fun place because it wasn't for me. Not scout camp mind you but regular summer camp...nope, just more memory that needed to be dealt with as I aged and became more understanding of weirdness inherent in some people.

    BUT on the other hand I can see that despite the three "troubles" mentioned it was all a good thing for you to have gone through.

  16. Carmi, I ran into Todd about a year later. I was surprised to see him and a little worried that he might hold a grudge, but he didn't. From what I remember, he spent a few months in prison. It could have been worst as he was charged with numerous felonies--one for each forged check.

    Stephanie, as director, it wasn't really a vacation. I was often in my office at 6 AM and often till 11PM. When it was over, I spent two weeks hiking the Appalachian Trail.

    Walking Guy, I have as many memories of that last week than rest of camp that summer! I came out okay.

  17. Good for you. I only ever attended one cub scout meeting. But I'm sure parents assume that their kids are going to be under the care and guidance of relatively law-abiding, responsible adults.

    I think the closest thing to camp I ever did was the Spanish Club convention in high school.