The Kamp Kewanee Knocker
Serving as captain of the 1954 Red Team at Kamp Kewanee was one of his proudest memories.
Right now my High school class of 1962 is putting a ZOOM meeting together. We started collecting names 24 hours ago and right now we are up to 37. This includes people from the United States, and the Pacific Rim. With everyone having not much to do but sit around, this could work for us. Anyone interested?
Kamp Kewanee 2019
It is hard to imagine for me that in 2020 it will have been 50 years since my final summer at Kamp Kewanee. The images are still so real in my mind: the tents, the mess hall, the flag raising, inspection, all of the ball games, color war, the lake, and the friendships. It was a long time ago, but I think most of us feel it was just yesterday. I retired from my last congregation in Canton, OH on June 30 and over the last few months packed up my office. I gave away a lot of books, wrapped up mementos, but there was one unique box that I packed. It was filled with moose—stuffed moose, canned moose, wooden moose, other moose—of various sizes and looks. Most of these had been given to me as gifts by congregants as they heard about my nickname. Except for the dozen or two that sit in various places around my home from a moose menorah to a fishing moose to a beautiful photograph of a moose, most will be in a box that I hope to give to grandchildren or some day maybe just give away.
At the final light-hearted bbq that the congregation gave for me, I told them about how I got the name from Harry Zavacky and how some younger kampers never knew my name was Jon. In July, I went on a retirement trip to Canada and glimpsed a moose and this always brings me back to Kamp. I know the property has gone to seed from what I understand, and the buildings have crumbled. It is sad because that place held such a force in us, but we all know that Kamp Kewanee is more than just the place. Like many kamps across the country, those summer days of youth place a vital role in developing our skills, our ability to live and work with others, and for me how to win and lose with grace and kindness. Kamp Kewanee helped build our characters. The camps my children went to continue to play a vital role in their lives and shaped who they are today. Kamp Kewanne is unique to us, but camp and its impact is awesome to so many.
I don’t know how many more times we will get to gather and celebrate this incredible place of our youth. These reunions have been important and worthwhile for me who came in on the last years of the kamp to meet the people and hear from the people on whose shoulders my experiences stood. None of us walked away from LaPlume unchanged. I know that my years as a rabbi, the leadership and the ability to work with others was largely formed in LaPlume, PA. I don’t mean to be somber and I could certainly tell funny stories, but at this point Kamp Kewanee is deep in my soul and that is where these thoughts come from today.
So how do you explain to the uninitiated this Kamp? Today camps try to be electronic free telling parents to keep their kids cell phones at home. Some parents don’t send their kids to camp if it doesn’t have air conditioning. Parents fret over their kids being gone for two weeks or just under four. Their kids will undergo dramatic changes and they won’t be present for those moments. We went to camp for 8 weeks. Saw our parents for one day (and many of us couldn’t wait for them to leave) and didn’t speak to them any other time. And YES! we changed—wasn’t that the point. We grew up a little and maybe became a better ballplayer or woodworker or butterfly catcher and before my time a marionette person. We may have acted in a play or spoken before a group that we just wouldn’t do at home. We canoed and sometimes got naked. We made fun of each and loved each other and cried when it was time to go home. We ate food that was at times unrecognizable, but we didn’t totally complain, but boy did we enjoy our night at shadowbrooke or at the Fleetville Fair. Does that fair still exist? (The answer is yes, but it now happens in September). We cheered each other on and got over our losses because there was another game the next day. Yes mom and dad we grew up and kamp and that is the point. We lived away from you for two months and lived with you for 10 just waiting for the next 2 again.
So let me say this—none of us knows if we will gather again, but if we do I will be here, but if this is the last one then I say thank you to those whose stories have enriched my time at Kamp Kewanee and I say thank you to those who were there with me.
With my rabbi hat on, blessings to all of you for having made my life better.
Stay safe everyone.
KEE KEE WAH
Reunion highlights for me [Mike] included:
Kamp Kewanee was founded in 1916, in the middle of World War 1, five score and three years ago. That’s 103 years for those that think that “score” means something else. When Lincoln delivered his Gettysburg address, in 1863, in the middle of the Civil War, he started with “Four score and seven years ago,…”, or 87 years since the Declaration of Independence was signed. So, for those keeping count, we out-scored Lincoln by 16 years.
Kamp closed 46 years ago, yet we continue to gather to celebrate what was and to renew old friendships. Exactly what it is that repeatedly brings each of us back, after all these years, varies, but includes a shared set of experiences, during a critical period of personal development. Much, of course, has changed over these 46 years. For example, I can no longer type Kamp Kewanee with “K’s without my spelling auto-correct changing the “K” to a “C” and Douglas DC-3’s no longer land at Avoca airport with kampers emplaning. But, the essential Kamp experience seems to have varied little from the beginnings of Kamp in 1916 through the final taps in 1973. For me, the magic was always with the experienced teachers and others turned kamp counselors; men like Frank Dolbear, Dave Sechrist, Bonnie Sabatini, Ted Pawloski, Eddie Chiampi, Johnny Ludd, Harry Zavacki and Dick “Nehru” Sundheim, to name but a few from my era. So, drink your bug juice, go on a nature hike, take your compulsory dip, dust off your pump lamp, get ready for inspection, paddle your canoe, compete in Red/Black tug of war, listen again to your favorite Gilbert and Sullivan operetta, identify that small butterfly with the red stripes that just landed on your deck chair, as a Red Admiral, and listen to a trumpet playing revile and, later, taps. Smile at what was and that helped get you to who you are today. Be grateful.
Kee Kee Wah.
My Kewanee -- Rick Vatz
Greetings and Kee Kee Wah to all of you. This would have been a one-hour speech, but Bugs Melnikoff told me earlier that I could not repeat anything I had said at earlier reunions, so now it is about 5 minutes.
I imagine that many of us have changed over the years and not just in our maladies from aging. Personally, I am happily married to my one and only wife and have 2 wonderful children and 2 wonderful grandchildren.
At Kewanee, I was a Pirate fan and still recall Johnny Spear's singing "For I am a Pirate fan,"¯ I was a Steeler fan, which my wife and I still are, despite the drubbing we received last Sunday at the hands of the Patriots. But foremost now I am a Baltimore Orioles fan and a Baltimore Ravens fan, but I still love the Pittsburgh teams from the early days. My wife, incidentally, won't watch the Ravens, except out of loyalty to me.
I still play tennis the same deplorable way, but I no longer win many sets.
Yes, Kamp Kewanee made most of us competitive life-long, and that great kamp has had effects on me throughout my life.
In fact, I owe a tremendous amount to Kewanee, especially my years as a kamper.
My days as a kamper were almost ideal.. My first year I had Roy David as a kounselor, one of the neatest guys I ever met.
My other favorite kounselor was George Koval, and I with Bobby Wertheimer worshipped him…so neaat and cool and an adult at an early age.
Foster Goldman was my Kounselor in the ensuing year, and he was always getting into squabbles due to his urbane humor and the lack of such in one or two of the other kounselors. There was a counselor whose name some of you will recall, but I don't, nicknamed "Tarzan."¯ We had a swim meet and Tarzon started shrieking at Foster that his – Tarzon's – rules would prevail in tn the competition of ten year-olds. Tarzon, who could beat up 99.99% of the earth's inhabitants, prevailed, as Foster said, "O.K., we'll do it your way."¯ Tarzan, however, did not return to Kamp Kewanee.
One of Foster's persuasive strength's was that he was related to the owner, and that seemed to resolve a lot of problems, just not immediately.
I learned from that situation that it was good to be close to those with power. I was very close to the Governor of Maryland from 2003 to 2007, and I taught the wife of the next one, Martin O'Malley, and I am sort-of buds with the current one, Gov. Hogan and have had him speak in my class and his Lieutenant Governor is speaking in my class in a couple of weeks.
Some of you know that I am a political conservative, and yet Nancy Pelosi spoke in my class last October, and she was great,
I have, as a result of Joe Ludgate and Dave Sechrist's performances, a love of Gilbert and Sullivan, always loved Pirates of Penzance and H.M.S. Pinafore and Trial by Jury. I still sing songs at home that I learned from Johnny Spear. My wife, once a professional singer, cautions me that he ain't no Enrico Caruso, whoever that was.
There was Jimmy Samter – one day I was walking to my tent, and there was a dozen kampers surrounding Jimmy. He announces that he could blow smoke out of his mouth without smoking. He did so, but to this day I don't know if medical science can explain it.
Due to him and the late, great Bobby Siegel, or Soggy Bagel as I believe he was then known, I have never smoked. One day in his tent when I was about 12, I said that I admired his smoking and was ready to try it myself. He said, O.K., here is a cigarette; take a puff. I sort of did and Bobby said, that's not how you smoke; inhale the smoke!"¯ I did so, and after recovering 5 days later I knew that I would never smoke again.
I adored Sam Strauss (Sa-am – and I confess I do not know the originator of that pronunciation of his name or why the entire kamp uttered it when technology broke down in the lodge) who ran the Kewanee Theater Guild for a while and one of my other absolute favorite counselors was Mike Courson, although Bobby Wertheimer and I argued whether he or George Koval was a better counselor. I should at this point always make the argument that I adored Henry Mosler who convinced me as a ten-year-old that when I called Sam Snead "Damn Sneeze,"¯ I was making a hilarious joke.
My adulthood has benefitted from other Kewanneans, such as the late Bruce Kaufman and especially, perhaps, Robert Cohen who when I told him I was writing a book on Persuasion -- which book came out a years ago, by the way -- told me he had done a play on Machiavelli. B.S. Cohen on Machiavelli? Never would have guessed it.
I was told repeatedly that Breezie Stein was the coolest guy ever. I talked with him at length last night, and he still is the coolest guy ever. Trippy looked half his age at kamp and still does.
Dave Rutstein's photographic memory is still on display, as of this morning.
There are so many other people as well to whom I admired additionally to the ones I have named, people who simply made Kewanee a great happy and enjoyable experience, such as Steve Moses, Gordy Lawrence, Lou Moskowitz, Steve Klein, Nehru, Johnny Samuels and some others here today. There were so many just wonderful additional people that it would take forever to name them all.
All in all, Kamp Kewanee produced so many seminal memories, memories which have helped me in every aspect of life; I shall never forget you, or at least many of you.
Richard E. Vatz, Ph.D.
Towson Distinguished Professor
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