THE HISTORY OF CAMP CHARLEVOIX
The Character Camp For Boys
I Would Be True, For There Are Those Who Trust Me
To the thousands of fine young Americans who attended Camp
Charlevoix, the parents who gave them this valuable opportunity
for personal and physical development, and the hundreds of
able counsellors who accepted the challenge of training these
future leaders in American life.
To equip those who attend to meet the problems and experiences
that will confront them in later life with confidence and vigor,
and to help teach them a full and Christian appreciation
of all, their personal associations, duties of citizenship, and
family responsibilities ahead.
Kenneth W. Smith, Owner-Director, and
Jim Land, Counsellor
How It Began
It was in 1927 that the plans were made for the founding of Camp Charlevoix on the shores of Lake Charlevoix The Beautiful, near Ironton, Michigan. “Chief” Reimann, as he was called by campers, gathered a staff of counsellors and 32 boys from various cities of Michigan and the first Camp Charlevoix was under way. Here began what was to become one of the best known camps in the country, with a nationwide and later worldwide clientele.
The Permanent Site
The original location, near Ironton, Michigan, was a temporary one, and was used for only three seasons, with a total of 92 boys attending in 1929. It was in 1928 that “Chief” found a location on northeastern Lake Charlevoix which was to become the permanent site. Fronting on the lake and on Oyster Bay, it comprised some 170 acres of pine and fir woods and open fields, with three-fourths of a mile of lake front and a beautiful, open beach, banked by white Michigan birch trees. In February of 1921 two men were assigned the task of clearing roads and building-sites in the deep snow. It was slow work, for the woods were thick, and had been untouched for years by axe or saw.
Building The Camp
Plans were then drawn for 23 buildings. Including a large clubhouse to serve as recreation center, dining room, and kitchen, plus 17 log cabins each 16 by 20 feet, an infirmary with a nursed room, the handicraft shop, toilet buildings, and stables.
The Fochtman Lumber Company of Petoskey was engaged to erect the buildings, and great rafts of logs were brought down the lake from Boyne City. During the spring and simmer of 1929 a crew of expert log men, horses, and trucks were constantly busy, “Chief “ supervised much of the building, while directing the last season in the camp at Ironton. Groups of campers were taken to the new site from time to time, and they assisted in making rustic signs and worked with an expert on making rustic furniture. As the summer passed, the enthusiasm of the campers, parents, and counsellors constantly grew, as did their anticipation of the next season in the new quarters.
Work continued through the autumn and early winter, but on December 12, 1929, a great snow storm buried the project, which could not be continued until April of 1930. A tremendous amount of work remained to be done before the camp was ready for the fourth season, with 98 campers expected from all parts of the nation. Trails, roads, parade grounds, dock, rustic furniture, riding arena, and many other projects were completed before the June 30th opening date. Machinery was set up in the dining room of the big clubhouse to make dozens of rustic tables, benches, and other furniture. A big well drilling outfit was brought in, and it was a happy day when, at a depth of 124 feet, a flowing artesian well with pure, cold water was reached.
Finally the day came when the campers arrived, having been preceded by a staff of 35 counsellors, cooks, cowboy, and other helpers, It was a great sight as they streamed off the Pere Marquette train or out of cars with their parents to see this new camp. Untrodden woods paths were soon worn down by the trample of hundreds of feet as boys went from their cabins to the playgrounds, the dining room, and the beach.
Parents of that time will well remember the big Depression of 1929 to 1936. What a struggle that was to keep the venture going. Any new business at that time had a fight to swim above the tide, and Camp Charlevoix was no exception. Many campers who were enrolled had to cancel their applications. Parents who wanted their son to have the best in camping found it impossible to send them. It was with the generous assistance of William J. Pearson, of Boyne Falls, from whom the property was purchased, and a few parents who were able to make loans or advance tuitions that the camp was able to continue through those years on its high plane.
In 1937 business improved over the country and the camp enjoyed its best season up to that date. Over 100 campers were present, and the success of the camp was finally assured. From that time on the enrollments increased steadily, until in l958 a full capacity of 147 campers was reached. At the end of the 1957 season a record number of 93 boys had already enrolled for the big 1958 season.
Friends of the Camp
Among the best friends of the camp are many parents of our boys and citizens of Charlevoix and the surrounding territory. Our greatest encouragement came from Dr. Charles Winder, a dentist of Charlevoix, whose wife operated Hotel Charlevoix, Dr. Winder was a collector of Michigan antiques, which decorated his office and the hotel lobby. In 1934 the hotel and dental office burned to the ground, but the antiques in most part were saved. These were presented to the camp by Dr. and Mrs. Winder, and they still adorn the clubhouse and other camp buildings. Dr. Winder was also president of the Charlevoix Board of Commerce, and he organized working bees composed of local citizens, who spent several days at the camp hauling earth to cover the parade grounds, cutting and hauling brush and trees, and otherwise helping to ready the new camp for its first season.
In 1941, when the camp was fifteen years old, Charles W. Bachman, football coach at Michigan State College, who spent parts of seven summers teaching football at camp while his three sons, Bud, Carey, and John, were campers here, proposed to the parents that they raise a fund to build two tennis courts and present them to the camp. The sum was quickly raised, and that fall a crew of men completed these excellent clay courts alongside “Junior Bay” Since then they have been the scene of many spirited matches between the campers and with other camp tennis teams, The late Dr. Willard H. Dow, of the Dow Chemical Company of Midland, Michigan, whose son Herb spent five seasons at camp, was a liberal contributor to this project.
In 1952, an anonymous donor - the father of a boy who had attended camp for a number of seasons presented us with a large quonset hut building, which was named the “Bigwam.” This became the new recreation center, where movies, songfests, dramatics, and all-camp games could be put on. In 1954 Dr. Ralph Burke, a physician from Grosse Pointe, Michigan, helpfully contributed additional equipment to the camp infirmary. Professor Avard Fairbanks, head of the art department at the University of Salt Lake City and nationally known sculptor, endowed the camp not only with his four fine sons first as campers and later as counsellors but with numerous of his works, which adorn the great oak mantel above the clubhouse fireplace. The list of parents, campers, counsellors, and neighbors who have left something of themselves or their time and thought with the camp and the continued enjoyment of campers and staff is almost endless.
In the spring of 1937 several new buildings were erected of logs - the directors cabin overlooking the parade grounds, an office, shower building, and others. Each year thereafter has seen more new improvements, and each summer some major project has been undertaken in which campers assisted too. During the 1938 and 1939 seasons George Bach, a Bavarian woodcarver trained in Oberammergau, spent his summers at camp teaching wood carving. During this period he carved the great totem pole which stands before the office. It contains 29 carved emblems representing various activities of the camp.
Expansion and change has never ceased. In 1944 a Finnish steambath, or "sauna,” was built on the shore under the direction of S. J. Wally, rifle counsellor, out of logs salvaged from the lake and shore. Everyone in camp had a part in its construction, even the smallest Juniors. Later this building was converted to a riflery and archery room, with every facility for the maintenance of top notch archery and rlflery equipment. In 1945 an “automated” rifle range was built, with a pulley system to carry campers’ targets back and forth. Riflery, subsequently became so popular that this range had to be doubled in size a few years later. In l957 a similar range was built just for the Juniors, and a B-B gun range was also built for their exclusive enjoyment. An archery range, fly-casting targets, special canoe racks, volleyball courts, ball diamonds, boxing and wrestling rings, “tether ball” poles, box hockey games, and many other places of enjoyment have since been added.
In the fall of 1946 and spring of 1947 three new cabins were built of logs cut from the camp woods - a cabin for the cowboy staff, a club building for counsellors, and living quarters for the cooks. Three new log cabins for boys were added in l955, bringing the total of cabins for campers to 21. The next year a new barn was erected to house the camp vehicles, which include buggies, surries, cutters, a hay wagon, and trucks, and for hay storage. A permanent home overlooking Junior Bay was installed for the Camp Manager in l951. Additional washroom facilities were installed at frequent intervals, and new docks, rafts, and boat ramps are under continual construction. Soon a new boathouse for the many camp sailboats, rowboats, and canoes will be going up alongside the beach, and the future projects of this kind are in-numerable. Some, like the new breakwater along Junior Bay, are in a state of perpetual expansion and improvement. A recent addition is the line of brick barbeque pits used for outdoor cooking of evening meals by the campers.
Dude Ranch Features
Western riding was introduced about 1938, and has been one of the outstanding features here ever since. Western cowboys who are college students in Arizona, Colorado, the Dakotas, Nebraska; Oklahoma, and Texas, teach riding, roping, and horsemanship and lead the campers on pack trips through the nearby trails and around the lakes. At the end of each season a big Rodeo and horse show is held, with hundreds of visitors present, There is a grand entry, calf roping, steer riding, pony express. Bareback wrestling, musical barrels, horse and man races, boot and shoe races, clown acts, and other western events.
Another activity of the riding department, campers included, is participation in the many horse shows that take place throughout the summer in the large resort area around Charlevoix. Boys and cowboys are entered in all the individual con-tests, racing and showing some of the camp’s prize horses. In the last seven years our teams have returned with a total of 8 gold cups, 30 blue ribbons, 25 red ribbons, 15 yellow ribbons, and several cash awards.
The big Indian Council Ring was first begun by Don Wheeler, counsellor for two seasons. Here many thrilling Indian ceremonies under the open sky have witnessed the induction of hundreds of campers into the “Tribe of Charlevoix.” An initiation ceremony is held at the beginning of each season, complete with Indian dancing by a group of proficient counsellors and campers in colorful regalia. Such past counsellors as Jake Whitecrow, son of the Chief of the Pawpaw Tribe of Oklahoma, and Rodney Deyo, expert Indian dancer from Detroit, Michigan, have introduced significant and exciting Indian ceremonies into these events, including the chanting of ageold Indian legends, the performance of authentic Indian war dances, snake dances, rain dances, and story dances, plus the colorful parade of brightly garbed “chiefs” in war canoes across the torchlit bay.
The beautiful, rustic outdoor chapel among the birches and pines facing the blue waters of Oyster Bay has been a high Inspiration point for campers and counsellors alike for many years. The camp staff itself participates in preparing and delivering the regular Sunday messages that are designed purposely to strengthen the Christian ideals of young boys, and campers themselves participate in all the singing of hymns, readings from the Testaments, and prayers. Each Sunday evening, groups of campers gather according to age for short vesper services held around campfires, and stories are told of great and Inspiring deeds, after which the soft singing of spirituals can be heard echoing across the water before the boys file back to their cabins for the nights rest.
There are many other exciting traditions and customs at Camp Charlevoix, too. Every season from the beginning of the camp the boys and staff have participated in “Venetian Night,” a ceremony held by the people of Charlevoix. This program usually Includes sea chanties sung by the camp chorus, swimming and diving events, canoe races, parades, and so on. Charlevoix campers have won many of these events, and frequently the entire camp attends sitting on the banks of Round Lake in Charlevoix to watch the events in which they are not participating. One season, under the direction of Ken Smith, who was then a counsellor, we presented “Pirates of Penzance" aboard a big yacht in the harbor, with 42 members of the cast in professional costumes.
Music plays an important part in the summers festivities. Whoever brings an instrument along is encouraged to play, and usually one of the boys serves as camp bugler, and others are glad to perform on the piano, accordion, trumpet, guitar, or whatever at the daily songfest right after the noon meal. There are numerous specially written camp songs, and the boys all chime in on these with gusto. A counsellor chorus traditionally presents a group of college themes in harmony, by candlelight, at the annual final banquet, which all campers attend, and at which time awards and presentations are made, talks are given by the campers themselves, and general goodbyes are made.
Camp Charlevoix participates in all forms of inter and intra-camp competition, including softball and baseball games with near-by boys' camps, swimming meets, sailing races, tennis matches, ar-chery matches, track meets, canoe races, and riflery matches. Although high degrees of skill in these activities are considered secondary to enjoyment of them during the summer, many campers nevertheless develop considerable proficiency in one sport or another, and the camp has developed numerous championship teams. The Intermediate and Senior Rifle Teams, for example, have won all but one of their rifle matches in the last 12 years, competing even against some camps where riflery is the specialty, and placing high in national boys’ competitions conducted by rifle and sports associations.
Ken and Ruby Smith
In October of 1948, Ken Smith, of Grosse Pointe Woods, Michigan, took over the ownership of the camp; and he has been Owner-Director, devoting his full time, year-round, to recruiting boys and staff and managing activities, ever since. His long experience at Camp Charlevoix itself, and his intimate acquaintance with its customs and objectives, as well as his many years of counselling work, prepared him ideally for this project. He began here as a counsellor in 1934, became Director of Activities in 1940, and was associated with the camp for eight seasons in all before he entered military service in World War II. After an absence of three years he returned to give full-time service to the camp, as Associate Director, Program Director, and representative in charge of promotion during the winter. Since becoming Owner-Director he has taken an active interest in all camping affairs, being a member of both the American and Michigan Camping Associations, and having served as President of the latter.
Nor has Ken's camping experience been restricted to Camp Charlevoix. When he graduated from Union Theological Seminary in New York City in 1933 with a Masters Degree, he became Director of Religious Education at the Court Street Methodist Church in Flint, Michigan. He joined the faculty of the Detroit University School in Grosse Pointe in 1936, and was teaching and coaching there until he joined the Army as the Adjutant of the 36th General Hospital in Africa. He was at Camp Greenkill, New York, and Camp Ohiyesa, Michigan, previous to joining the Charlevoix staff, and was minister of music at the Grosse Pointe Woods Presbyterian Church for 11 years.
Ruby Smith has had a wide camping experience too, having been Head of the Junior Section at Camp Interlochen, a private girls' camp, for two seasons, and secretary at Camp Charlevoix for four years when Ken was Program Director. As Associate Director of the camp, Mrs. Smith attends to the more motherly needs of the boys, particularly the smaller Juniors, dispelling any chance lonesomeness of the first few days, keeping open house to all campers at all times.
Under Ken’s direction and management, many activities and facilities have been added. Improved, or further promoted at camp, until today it is among the best equipped in the entire country. New horses, rifles, sailboats, rowboats, and many additional buildings have been added, so that every boy has practically unlimited access to every useful and enjoyable activity that may interest him. In 1948, when the Smiths purchased Camp Charlevoix, it comprised 180 acres, and since that time 166 more acres of pasture land and woods have been acquired, bringing the total acreage up to 346.
In the last ten years of growth, the number of camp buildings has increased to 36. Among the other facilities are the 42 riding horses, 7 sailboats, 14 canoes, 8 rowboats, a power boat and a second lifeboat, 12 excellent .22 calibre target rifles, 10 Junior B-B guns, and several fine bows for archery, plus considerable trips equipment, handicraft tools, fishing rods and casting targets, and all kinds of athletic gear. These, with the two well supervised swimming beaches, three docks for swimming and fishing, diving platform, boxing and wrestling ring, and endless riding trails, provide perpetual pleasure and enjoyment for everyone throughout the eight week season.
To operate such a large project efficiently and provide safe, adult supervision in all these activities, a staff of 60 people is now required, Camp Charlevoix is dependent on a strong staff of mature counsellors for its success and the welfare of its campers. For this reason, college students or graduates only are hired as counsellors, and these are carefully selected not so much on the basis of sports prowess but of personal qualities, leadership, and a desire to help boys. Some 20 colleges throughout the United States are ordinarily represented on the staff, and there have been men here from Australia, Norway, Greece, Iran, and Korea.
Some of the cabins have been named for men who gave outstanding leadership or service to the camp. Among them was Dr. Earle S. Oldham, of Breckenridge, Michigan, who was counsellor, head counsellor, and camp doctor over a period of ten seasons, and for whom the Infirmary was named. Another was Charles E. Hendry, co-author of one of the beat books on camping, called "Camping and Character." Tad Wieman, former Michigan and Princeton football coach, spent parts of three summers at camp. Stanley Moore, former counsellor, lost his life in Colorado following the 1930 season.
Many Charlevoix counsellors have gone on to achieve honors in important walks of life, including the fields of medicine, education, government, and the military services. All have left valuable contributions to the betterment of Camp Charlevoix. Among these were Don Bacon, waterfront director, head counsellor, and director of activities, now a businessman in Flint, Michigan, whose sons have grown up to become campers; Don Dannecker, director or activities and head counsellor, now. in public relations at General Electric; Manny Alves, director of activities, now in personnel work at Libby Owens Glass; and Webb Wilson, Charles McKean ; William Cameron, Charles Birdsall, William Forsythe, Pinson Neal, John Hartzell, and Joseph Craig, all-outstanding counsellors now practicing in various specialized fields of medicine. Fred Kasner, past archery instructor, has since obtained his Ph.D. and is working on the staff at Lapeer Training School in Lapeer, Michigan, and Dr. Frederick 0. Pinkham, former camper and counsellor, is now President of Ripon College, in Ripon, Wisconsin. These are but a few of the many camp men how later distinguished themselves in various professions, others having become attorneys, writers, dentists, clergymen, and executives in many types of businesses.
Among those whose names are or were known in the world of sports were Billy Wells, Don Dahoney, Al Dorow, Clive Rush, and Jim Briske, in football; Kevan Gosper and David Lean In Olympic track: Wally Jeffries in swimming; and Morrie Pelto, tennis.
Parents too have contributed much in the way of leadership and tradition to the camp. The C, Reginald Smith family of Albion, Michigan, for instance, sent their four sons here for a total of 16 seasons, and three of these boys later became counsellors. The four sons of Arthur J, Nyland, of Flint, attended camp for a total of 11 years. There are many, many more such families.
Many staff members have remained with the camp so long and given it so much that Charlevoix would hardly be quite the same without them. First of these is Harry Bingham, Principal of the Charlevoix High School and a graduate of the University of Michigan, who has spent a total of 21 years on the staff, first as a counsellor and for the next 13 years as Business Manager. Then there is Elmer Engelhart, better known as "Bamey", now Camp Manager, who has introduced many of the innovations and improvements throughout the camp during his 12 years on the staff. Bill Townsend, coach of the high school at Fountain City, Indiana, has been Director of Activities since l956. Jim Land, former counsellor who promoted and expanded riflery as an activity at camp and who coached many championship teams, is now in the advertising business in Detroit and also serves as advisor to the counselling staff. Finally, there are Joe and Helen Shaw, from Miami University in Oxford, Ohio, who have been the popular camp cooks here for the last 10 years.
So much progress and building, so much care in the selection of the counselling staff, so much help and leadership from so many sources, and especially so much experience in the care and instruction of boys could hardly fail to make Camp Charlevoix one of the top-rated camps in America, both in official camping circles and on the lists of government bureaus. Campers, counsellors, and friends have repeated its name across the country and in many other parts of the world, until its clientele has practically become international in scope. Numbered among Charlevoix campers have been boys from 23 states, from France, Spain, Alaska, Puerto Rico, Venezuela, and many other places. Few boys, and few counsellors too, have ever left without taking with them some happy memory or treasured experience not only in the physical pleasures of the camp but of the more enduring possessions of friendship, maturity, and inner warmth.