Dec 30

Reunions Past

If you were a camper or on staff in 1964, on this very day 48 years ago you were really looking forward to going to the Y for the Camp Fitch Reunion. Here’s the invitation you would have gotten from Halbe Brown and Peg Baldwin: Halbe Brown was the Executive Camp Director and I think Peg Baldwin was the Girls’ Camp director at that time (this would have been Halbe’s last Camper/Staff Reunion at Fitch as he became the executive director at Frost Valley right before the summer of 1965).

Especially for the staff, many of whom go to colleges all over the country, this is a really fun night.  I have very vivid memories of making snowy drives from Cortland to downtown Youngstown with my friend Jason Hyde in either their family’s Chevette or our family’s Horizon (and it generally took the sum of our navigational prowess to get there before the thing was over) to see lots of good friends who I hadn’t seen since the summer.  Although it was full of plenty of teen awkwardness, it was a fun part of the Christmas break which by that time had started to make us stir crazy.  The question most discussed by everyone was, of course, “Are you coming back?”  On the way home, we would do an over/under on whether those who thought they planned to do something else would really be back — and in most cases were happy to see them next summer.

Looking carefully at this invitation, I notice that not only was this a reunion, but also a dance! I’m glad they weren’t still doing that by the time I was on staff — with all of that social pressure I might not have showed up . . . and any girl I knew in high school who might (in a weak moment) have agreed to come with me but who wasn’t a part of the summer staff would have been so bored by all of the inside jokes, stories and lingo that she would have never gone out with me again.

This year’s reunion was (prudently!) cancelled because of a big snow that passed through the Ohio Valley all day and night of the reunion.  Although I’m mostly a bystander now, its absence knocked our family’s Christmas break patterns a bit askew. Maybe next year, to make up for this year’s cancellation, we’ll host a dance at the reunion . . . for old times’ sake.

Nov 18

Camp Fitch songbook — Digital Edition

Phil and Ben have been busy with their latest project: the complete Camp Fitch songbook converted to an ebook format with links to recordings of many of the songs. It’s a very cool augmentation of the collection, and the utility even goes beyond nostalgia — there are only a few people on the staff who know how many of those obscure songs really go and now here is a convenient reference to help!

You can download the book either via the iTunes store or right here on Pygmy Island.  Follow this link to get to the whole catalog of Phil and Ben’s work that they are distributing via their international publishing house called “Vintage Publications of Camp Fitch.”  I’ll keep this short because the project doesn’t really need any introduction, but let me say that this is a great idea and thanks to Phil and Ben for conceiving of the project and putting so much effort into it.

Camp Fitch Song Book

Camp Fitch Song Book, 1960s era

Nov 11

Remembering Buck Boren on Veterans’ Day

Tim Sheetz has been talking a lot with his grandfather Howdy Friend and combing newspaper archives to document the people and lore of Camp Fitch history.  Today, on Veterans’ Day, I’d like to spotlight a friend of Howdy’s and fellow World War II veteran named Howard “Buck” Boren.  Most of this information comes from Howdy’s memory and Tim’s research, which can be found on Fitchipedia.

Buck was a long-time camper at Camp Fitch in the 1930’s and by the early 1940’s he was a waterfront instructor (which at that time consisted only of Lake Erie shoreline).  The photo below shows the Camp Fitch staff from the summer of 1942, and besides Howdy and Buck, Ed Enterline also served in the war — and probably more of the fellows in this photo as well.  In those years, Buck was known for, among other things I’m sure, flying an airplane low and slow over Camp Fitch.  Apparently he didn’t clear these fly-bys with assistant Camp Director David Williams, who wasn’t nearly as thrilled by them as Buck must have been.

Camp Fitch Staff in 1942

1st row: unknown, 2nd Row: unknown,

3rd Row: Clare Reese, Dave Fawcett, Fred Soller, (unknown), (unknown), Howdy Friend, Bob Gibson, Larry Goodall, Eddy Ocarz

4th Row: unknown

Front Row, sitting: (unknown), (unknown), (unknown), (unknown), Buck Boren, (unknown), Edwin K. Enterline, John Ross “Jack” McPhee, (unknown), (unknown), (unknown), (unknown)

Like many of the Camp Fitch Truest and Best, Buck answered the call of his country and served in World War II by flying TBM Avengers for the Navy Torpedo Squadron Fifty-One (VT-51) based on USS San Jacinto (CVL-30).  He flew many missions in the Pacific Theater from this aircraft carrier, which usually entailed flying with very vague directions toward Japanese ships that had been found earlier by spotter aircraft.  By the time squadron would lift off, the enemy ships could have changed course and often simply finding the enemy ships was a challenge.  Engagements were usually in the face of anti-aircraft fire as well as evasion tactics by the enemy and scoring a direct hit was a feat of both courage and flying ability.  Buck won the Navy Cross for action on 25 Oct. 1944 best described by the official citation:

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Oct 29

Alumni on the Team

Two weekends ago, two groups of alumni converged North of the Tracks to work on several projects for Camp Fitch.  Al Leonhart and his Chain Gang began a bridge/boardwalk to form the new trailhead for the Red Top Trail in a more auspicious location directly across the road from the lane past Lake MVIMA.  This will keep campers’ shoes out of the muck at the current trailhead and make for a smoother transition to solid footing.  The Red Top Trail is one of two ways to get to the growing activity complex on Beede’s Flat.

The Chain Gang’s latest project of a new trailhead for the Red Top Trail

The other group of alumni — mostly summer staff from the 90s and 2000s who for the last ten years have cockily refered to themselves as the Young Alumni — planted 300 daffodils, cleaned out an old storage barn originally on the Camp Sequoyah property and collected beach rocks (both big and small) for a new hearth being installed in the Nature Center renovation.  This renovation was inspired by a tree that fell in a storm this summer and clipped the corner of the lodge.  In the Camp Fitch spirit of making lemonade when life gives lemons, the new gas fireplace and hearth will provide a warm, cozy spot for groups to gather and study the specimens from the environs of Camp Fitch that Barb Olin and others have collected over many years.

TACFYAWW Participants head out through the fields exploring

TACFYAWW Participants head out through the fields exploring after a good day of work. Left to right is: Laura “Louie” (Koestel) Shannon, Micah Messenger, Amy Freedman, Ayla Siemon, Ben Pratt and Tim Sheetz.  Photo by Nora (Beuck-Erb) Lamb who took a bunch of great shots.

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Oct 10

Vespers with Kricket Berty

Kricket (Berty) Downie serves it up in the early 1990s at Vespers.

Kricket (Berty) Downie serves it up in the early 1990s at Vespers.

Here’s a great shot of Kricket serving pizza in the early 1990’s.  She and her husband Brian Downie (both Camp Fitch alums) have three kids and I’m looking forward to seeing the whole family this weekend for our Fall Young Alumni Work Weekend.  I hope that you can join us!

For two great parents, here’s an appropriate devotion for their kids:

Mother and Dad

“Mother and Dad” from Fitch Devotions, Youngstown YMCA Boys’ Division

Oct 03

Wednesday Night Vespers with Brother Duffey

Jim has such a expressive look on his face! Caption this photo for us in the comments below.

This is a great shot of Jim Duffey helping his Shawnee tent get some nutritious and delicious Camp Fitch pizza in maybe 1988.

And now for your Wednesday night spiritual edification:

The Other Fellow

“The Other Fellow” from Camp Fitch Devotions, Youngstown YMCA Boys’ Division

Sep 26

Wednesday Night Vespers: “Gambling”

Is it a pizza night or ice cream?  Go back to your tents when you’re done!


“Gambling”, from Fitch Devotions, Youngstown YMCA Boys’ Division


Sep 19

Wednesday Night Vespers: “Can You Stick?”

Just sneaking this in at the wire, almost turned into Thursday morning Vespers. . .

Can You Stick?

“Can You Stick?” from Fitch Devotions, Boys’ Division, Youngstown YMCA

Sep 18

Back to School

September is the month that we try to come to terms with the fact that summer camp is over and the school year is just beginning. One of the most significant chapters in the back to school story is a student’s transition to college. Applying for colleges and universities can be time consuming and nerve wracking; however, many Camp Fitch alumni find that process to be just a little bit easier because they can use their experience at camp as an inspiration for their essay.

Kate Harsh, a first year counselor in the summer of 2013 has begun her four year journey at Vanderbilt University this fall where she is pursuing a degree in Chemical Engineering. Kate and her family have been attending family camp, for nine years and she also came to camp as a traditional camper. Kate says, “Choosing my favorite thing about Camp Fitch is extremely difficult, because I literally love everything about camp. However, one thing that stands out for me is all of the amazing people I’ve met there. Everyone is enthusiastic, friendly, and shares the same love for Fitch that I do, and there’s no place I’d rather be than at my favorite place in the world with so many people I love.”

The following was one of Kate’s essays that granted her admission to Vanderbilt:

One morning in August, I was mindlessly passing out syrup in the dining hall at Camp
Fitch, the YMCA camp that has been my favorite part of summer for the past ten years, when the
Girls’ Camp director, Kelly, approached me with a proposition.

“Kate, if you’re interested, I need another counselor over in Navajo.” Although I had been longing to be a counselor, I hesitated. Navajo is the program at Camp Fitch for mentally and physically handicapped adults. I had never considered working there because I have loved my experiences as a camper and member of dish crew at Fitch. Noticing my apprehension, Kelly assured me it was OK to say no. I’m not sure what made me say yes, but the minute I did, I knew that I was about to experience something way outside my comfort zone. As we walked the short distance to the Navajo camp, I felt like I was about to take the AP Psychology exam in Japanese.

Soon, I met Sharon (whose name has been changed to protect her privacy), a short, chubby fifty-five-year-old woman with wavy gray hair and a face that lit up when she laughed. Seated in a wheelchair, she wore a red Camp Fitch t-shirt, gray sweatpants, and gym shoes. As Kelly described my duties for the upcoming week, I began to
have some serious doubts. I could not fathom taking care of someone who would be completely
dependent on me. I was afraid I would fail.

From then on, Sharon and I were inseparable from her morning shower to her nightly back
rub to alleviate her spasms. Despite her constant pain, she was up for anything. We made ice
cream, drew pictures, and tie-dyed t-shirts. Later in the week, we visited the horse barn where
she fed a horse for the first time. I will never forget her giggle as the horse’s lips tickled her
hand. Just when I began to think that I had the job under control, Sharon had a particularly painful
back spasm. Wailing and crying, she begged me to help, but I couldn’t. Furiously, she
screamed, “I hate you! You’re the worst counselor ever.” I felt awful and helpless and despaired
over my failure. The next day, Sharon apologized for her outburst and explained that her pain was
sometimes overwhelming, and she hoped that her words hadn’t hurt me. I realized then that,
even though her words had hurt me, my pain was insignificant compared to what she felt on a
daily basis.

Sharon ’s bravery is an inspiration to me and has given me a new perspective on my own
life. I am now much more aware of how fortunate I am. Whenever I feel discouraged by a bad
grade, a fight with a friend, or a loss in a volleyball game, I try to remember Sharon ’s positive
attitude. Knowing her has given me a context for dealing with my own challenges and a new
appreciation for the things I used to take for granted.


Sep 12

Wednesday Night Vespers

Here is the second installment of our weekly Vespers series with pages from a devotional guide used by the Greatest Generation at Camp Fitch in the 1930’s.

“The Riches of God”, from Camp Fitch Devotions, Youngstown YMCA Boys’ Division

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