It is so hard to put into so few words the impact camping in general, and Camp Makisabee/Rosenthal specifically has had on my life, but I will try.
I am one of the few people left that can actually say I was there for the origins of Camp Makisabee. I was there when we changed the name to Camp Rosenthal, and my mother and aunts were there for the real “Golden Age” of camping, when that site was known as Camp Arthur.
Camp Makisabee as it was known in my day, was a special place to all the campers that attended. I soon came to realize the camp was the one place that most of the kids that attended, that was their refuge, and they were allowed to be kids. For their short two week stay at camp, their needs were the most important consideration in all we did. Sure, we had fun, but the camper’s needs were above our own, and they knew it. Living outdoors was new. It was fun. The activities were fun; informative and great metaphors for life lessons, but above all, the camp and all that connected to it belonged to those campers. If you did not know that; but into that philosophy and understand it, you did not last long there.
On a personal level, as soon as I understood that, I was able to reach and connect to 300 kids at each session. That was real power. Those kids and working at camp taught me things that I was able to use in my after camp work life, and I still use to this day.
Camp forced you to learn to not only work in groups, but to make the group work at its highest level of efficiency, each member must pull their weight. In school, that concept can be lost in the few hours allotted to that one lesson, but at camp, everything you do teaches and reinforces that lesson. It is real hard to stay mad and not talk to your neighbor, especially when you have to ask him to pass you those mashed potatoes you need to go with your pork chop! One of my “tricks” was to make campers that were having a hard time getting along complete chores together. They usually worked things out within an hour or two. No one wanted to go a whole day in my Gauntlet of chores!
Camp taught me that diversity matters. The world is a big place. No one survives or thrives on looking at things from a singular perspective. When we started sending up kids from all the centers at the same time as opposed to pairing certain centers with each other, the sessions became so much richer. Kids were exposed to kids from different sides of Chicago that they may never had a chance to meet. Friendships were formed that last to this day. We also started participating in the Camp America program that bought staff from Europe and other countries to our camp. Their involvement only enhanced and enriched the lives of the campers and or staff.
As an individual, camp remains the job I have loved the most, and the one I miss the most. People would have a hard time believing that once in my life, I led 300 kids, and 100 staff people in songs three times a day, and at closing campfires. They would not understand I would have fun planning treasure hunts, going on mud walks; organizing Sadie Hawkins night dances, or planning Christmas in July activities. Camp taught me to believe in myself first. It taught me to look for the good in others. If you don’t find it at first, keep looking. Camp taught me to set high expectations. Most people around you will set the low ones. Be different, set yours higher, that alone makes you stand out. Camp taught me it is ok to fail. Even when things did not go as planned, someone was having a good time. It may not have been me, but who was I to steal someone’s joy? What a lesson that was. Camp taught me to live in the moment. Few things were more important than the here and now. Appreciate them. Yesterday has gone, and tomorrow will be here soon enough. Enjoy or you will miss it!
I envy the people working at the camp now. You have a place steeped in a history and heritage that has yet to be told, and appreciated. You still have the opportunity to change lives and make an impact on the lives of many kids. The camp is in good hands. You are up to the challenge. The next pages of the history of the camp are being written now. I can’t wait to see what you do!
Tales from Chippewa trails…
(Guest blogger, Past Program Director/Camp Director, and Consultant for CEOGC)