30 Aug

Woodshop’s Past

I haven’t posted in a while, so I thought I’d share this amazing old post card that my google-searching dad found showcasing the woodshop in all its glory!


I went to Shewahmegon when it was a “private camp for boys,” but I love the old “Will Camp for Boys” moniker!

I’ll have to start scanning in my photos again, but I don’t think I have any from the woodshop, as I was obviously too busy building regatta boats and rubber band guns!

21 Jun

Even More Memories of Camp Shewahmegon’s Fiftieth Year!

After sending Martin Copland a link to the recent post that featured his photos, he kindly produced another batch of vintage Shewahmegon snaps! As always, thanks, Martin!

The captions, like last time, are Martin’s file names. I’ve added some commentary in between the photos, as well.

"Lactose is Jim's friend."

“Lactose is Jim’s friend.”

It’s dark, but all that white, including the sheets used as table clothes, means this photo was taken at the end of camp banquet. I forgot about those plastic milk cartoon handles!



Staffers slinging water balloons at the All Camp Cookout during Border Week. This is that beach on Lake Superior that was fairly close to Bayfield.

"Lake Owen and camp."

“Lake Owen and camp.”

While I’ve often been told, “Photos are better with people in them,” one of my biggest regrets about my camp photo collection is that I don’t have many shots that capture the landscape of camp. We were all using disposable cameras, so I’m not sure any of those photos would have been that impressive, but I wish had more shots of the waterfront like this!

"Sany introduces Hungarian fashion to the West."

“Sany introduces Hungarian fashion to the West.”

"Shewahmegons version of Baywatch was just wrong."

“Shewahmegons version of Baywatch was just wrong.”

Camp fashion at its finest.

"The sloppy joes aren't agreeing with everyone."

“The sloppy joes aren’t agreeing with everyone.”

While we do all look like we’re suffering, I believe that was due to a strong wind coming off the lake blowing Council Fire smoke in our eyes. That was a particularly windy summer, I believe.

"Working out: Shewahmegon style!"

“Working out: Shewahmegon style!”

The entirety of camp sweating to a Fourth of July morning workout before the All Camp (non nude) Dip!

"Whatchoo lookin' at, Willis?!"

“Whatchoo lookin’ at, Willis?!”

Another one from that Al Camp Cookout.

14 Jun

Shuttle launch first, time travel second: An introduction

“The first draft of anything is shit.”—Ernest Hemingway

Thankfully, that’s not exactly what this is.

When I launched this blog way back when, I wanted to put my memories into storage. I didn’t want to forget all of these crazy stories. I wanted to save them so that, one day, when I had the skill, I’d put them all into a book.

Well, I’ve learned that you never really have the skill to write something until you write it. So, due to that catch 22, I decided to start writing Nothing More American, the prose memoir this blog was always meant to facilitate, a few months ago. It’s going to be a while before this whole monster is done, but I’ve gone through a few parts of it more than others, and I figured I’d share a snippet here.

While this isn’t a first draft, it’s a very early draft, so feedback is very much welcome. Thanks!


An oasis, according to the dictionary program on my computer, is “a fertile spot in the desert where water is found” or “a pleasant or peaceful area or period in the midst of a difficult, troubled, or hectic place or situation.” In the Chicagoland area, that definition also applies to the rest stops that live above the I-295 tollway, floating over the sounds of speeding rubber on asphalt.

I believe starting a memoir with a dictionary quotation is a cliche. Or maybe just bad writing. But this is a big story, a culmination of years worth of experience poured onto the page in hopes of recapturing my youth. It’s gotta start somewhere. It’s starts at an oasis, so I started with “oasis.”

Maybe cliches have a place in a story about a quintessential American experience. I sure hope so. Because I love cliches.

But anyway, back to the Oases above the Windy City’s car-clogged tollway…

Once they were majestic way-stations above the open road. The Chicago Oases were a spectacle, I’m told. A novelty in which families could sit down to dinner at a linen-dressed table and watch cars zip below them as a hot, first-class meal was delivered to their table by a smart-looking waiter. Now, of course, the novelty’s passed and the innards of the above-road stopovers are filled with fast food chains, coffee shops, and souvenir emporiums. Refurbished relics from an ancient time.

That’s the state the oases were in back in 1995, the year I first went back in time and started to become a man. The first summer I began a semi-insane annual pilgrimage to the middle of nowhere, which I’d come to love as one of the best places in the world. The first year I left home. The first year I went to an oasis above the I-295.

It was the first year I went to summer camp.

We’d driven all the way from Duluth, Georgia, a suburb of Atlanta, to the Chicagoland area. Hundreds of miles traveled in my mom’s white Chevy Suburban. Hours on the road, from the muggy south the flat Midwest, brought us to our launch site. My brother Dan and I were 10 and 11 years old respectively, and we had no idea what we were getting into. Not really. We’d seen an ancient VHS tape about camp where everyone’s shorts were the length of underpants and all the t-shirts were skintight and, primarily, of the ringer variety. It fit our view of camp, as it’d been a family tradition for our uncles—recruited by camp owners Bill and Gerry Will from the Chicago suburbs like majority of Camp Shewahmegon’s attendees—so, all the stories we’d heard about it, naturally, took place in the distant past. The VHS matched that view. Like a forgotten low budget film from the early eighties, it felt like a place that couldn’t be really real. But, we’d soon find, Camp was indeed real and though it was decades later, a great deal of the camp experience was still very much like what we saw on that home video. A trip to the north woods of Wisconsin, you see, is as close as one can come to time travel.

But I’m getting ahead of myself. First comes the shuttle launch, then the time travel.

Our older cousins, Ryan and Tim, had followed their fathers’ footsteps and gone to camp. The previous summer, they’d sent us letters, encouraging my kid brother Dan and I to join them at camp next year. We’d visited Ryan briefly at camp a few years prior, and it seemed like a lot of fun. There was capture the flag, archery, sailing, and all sorts of other activities we’d only heard tall tales about. So, even though I was terrible at sleepovers, having friends parents call my folks to fetch me in the night more often than I’d lasted in a foreign bed till breakfast, Dan—my younger bro by 20 months, yet the much braver of the two of us—wanted to go and this relic of a VHS convinced me that it’d be a bunch of fun. I mean, there was a woodshop where you could build your own sailboat for the competitive tiny boat race regatta, so… how bad could four weeks in the middle of nowhere really be?

I decided to suck it up and give it a shot.

After the long haul up from the deep south, we prepared for our journey into the Northwoods. First step, find your way to one of the once-great oases of the Chicago loop. Second, climb aboard a aluminum-sided vessel bound for the unknown.

As the roar of hundreds of cars echoed below, we disembarked from my mom’s SUV in a darkened parking lot and, after chucking our backpacks full of sleeping bags and clothes into the guts of the beast, we climbed the steep, narrow stairs of a charter bus. Its deep amber track lighting only added to the semi-futuristic and yet distinctly decades old feel of this familiar (I’d ridden a bus before.) yet very foreign (But not one with a bathroom in it!) vehicle. We said goodbye to my mom and then we entered the bus alongside dozens of unfamiliar faces. Our names were crossed off a checklist as we came aboard. The door closed and we rolled off into the night. We had liftoff. We were now amongst the blackness and the stars of the night sky and the headlights. We were in space. Traveling.

The bus rolled along vigilantly all night, driving the eight hours from Chicago to Drummond, Wisconsin, so that we’d arrive in the morning and be able to move right into our cabins. Surrounded by new people, on a bus-like spaceship heading to a new land, I took in all the new faces and tried to get some sleep. I remember the loud older kids in the back yelling and laughing, some of them with tough-looking crewcuts. I remember trying to make friends with the kids my age up front. I found out who would likely be in my cabin—seasoned camping veterans at the age of eleven, all of whom were debating who our counselor might be. It was overwhelming and frightening, but in that big metal bus rattling through the tall pines of Wisconsin, the air felt thick with adventure. That, or the B.O. of fifty boys in a bus with poor air conditioning.

Eventually I drifted off, only to awaken many more miles from home, the darkness outside the window replaced by the first faint light of day above a see of trees. A small town appeared. A gigantic fish loomed over the treeline, a Dairy Queen whizzed by. Where the hell was I? Was that really a giant fish? (It was. Kinda.) The bus, in the grey light of morning, entered the field of trees again. That was Hayward, I’d learn later. The fish was the 45-foot tall fiberglass muskie of the Freshwater Fishing Hall of Fame. It’d be the last I’d see of civilization for four weeks. Soon, we’d pass a sawmill and a large black bear sculpture carved from a enormous log by a chainsaw before turning onto the winding tree-lined Lake Owen Drive, a road so nearly swallowed by the wilderness that it seemed likely the gigantic bus would hit every branch along the way. Whether years worth of buses out to Shewahmegon had convinced the trees not to stretch out over the road, I don’t know, but a few miles later, our space shuttle had fully converted to time machine. The town we passed, the woods, and now a large gateway constructed of timbers next to a hand made sign, with letters made from birch branches or painted-white sticks when birch was unavailable confirmed our arrival: “Camp Shewahmegon, Private Camp for Boys.”

We’d traveled back to the time of the VHS tape.

But before we pulled through the timber sentries that guarded the gravel entry to camp, the buss stopped. The horn started honking and everyone was shouting, loudly, enthusiastically, crazily, and mostly incoherently (to the uninitiated, at least)…

“Boo-Boop ski-deeten-dotten, whadot and choo
Itten-bitten widdle diddle, Boo-Boop ski-deeten-dotten
Wich-biddly otten-dotten, Boo-Boop ski-deeten-dotten
Why not Shewahmegon? YEAH!”

And with that, alongside a bunch of maniacs in the woods, I began the most insane and most amazing experience of my life.

29 May

Memories of Camp Shewahmegon’s Fiftieth Year from Across the Pond

Speaking of things I put off for far too long

Back in late 2011, Martin Copland—whose one and only year at camp was as the Arts and Crafts instructor in 1997—sent me an email after finding this blog. Then, in early 2012, he sent me a bunch of great pictures.

And, like a jerk, I let those picture sit on my desktop for two years! My apologies, Martin!

Here’s a condensed version of Martin’s email and some photos he was kind enough to send along…

Hi there Jim,
I don’t know if you remember me or not, but I worked at Camp Shewahmegon in 1997, I think. The year of the 50th anniversary. English fella, stupid elvis type hair when I could be bothered, witty, suave… you get the picture.

I was the arts and crafts tutor, flying in from merry England to teach you pesky kids how to whittle twigs and make dream catchers and stuff—although I don’t think you spent much time in there making lanyards, probably preferring to fiddle with strips of plastic in your own time. I think you were mainly off shooting hoops or terrorizing younger campers. (In, obviously, a big brother/character building kind of way.) I sometimes got to play basketball and football (not soccer) and was quite handy at that running through the woods business Blair Witch-style, even if i say so myself… I remember one time seeing Mac Harris gazing in awe out of the corner of my eye at my ninja like stealth.

I was looking for pictures the other day of the camp on t’internet and came across your website, its nice to see you producing something about a thing which was obviously very dear to you and many others, keeping the memory alive and documenting those memories for others to share. Like Camp, its basic and simple but full of warmth. (That is a compliment but having read it back sounds really naff, do forgive me.)

It was sad to learn that the Camp had closed its doors and that Bill had recently passed away, his legacy lives on in our memories.

I went to camp as a way of getting to travel across the U.S. of A. in a relatively cheap fashion. The Camp thing was a means to an end that I could endure until the real adventure began, but Camp turned out to be a lot more than that. I was genuinely touched the first night I was there when old friends were meeting up again. There was obvious excitement about them, singing ham and eggs and such. And when the whole camp arrived, there was a genuine sense of family that I don’t think I’ve ever seen before or since. Like I said, I was touched and I’m sure you kids were touched too. (Thank you, School of Rock, for that pun!)

Any how, its all getting far too sentimental… I’ve got a stash of pictures of my brief time at the camp which I’ll send to you as soon as I get off my arse and scan them in. Some even feature a young Jim. I have to admit, it did seem weird going to your EnemyOfPeanuts.com site and seeing a big fella with a ‘tache. Not that you were a weedy kid anyway, but its odd.

Boop, boop etc…

Does ‘slotback’ mean anything to you?

The captions below are Martin’s filenames for the photos.

"'70s Beach Brent"

“’70s Beach Brent”

"Blatant corporate ad courtesy of Scott P."

“Blatant corporate ad courtesy of Scott P.”

"Breakfast could get crowded Part 1"  But I believe this was probably taken right before the campers piled on the bus to leave camp.

“Breakfast could get crowded Part 1”
Editor note: I believe this was probably taken right before the campers piled on the bus to leave camp. That’s Mr. Copland up front in the Tank Girl t-shirt.

"Breakfast could get crowded Part 2"

“Breakfast could get crowded Part 2”

"Camp punishment  could be cruel, or, 'No one mentioned the prostate exam until it was too late'"

“Camp punishment could be cruel, or, ‘No one mentioned the prostate exam until it was too late'”

Camp Shewahmegon 1997

Camp Shewahmegon 1997

Camp Shewahmegon Staff Photo 1997

Camp Shewahmegon Staff Photo 1997

"Confusion over where the sea is, or, 'Small folk crawl over John's head'"

“Confusion over where the sea is, or, ‘Small folk crawl over John’s head'”

"Dan Gibbons: a proud young man and his wiener"

“Dan Gibbons: a proud young man and his wiener”

"Folk milling about"

“Folk milling about”

"Sweaty, smiley Jim" Editor note: I've not changed much since then. Still sweaty, still smiley.

“Sweaty, smiley Jim”
Editor note: I’ve not changed much since then. Still sweaty, still smiley.

Thanks a ton for sending these along, Martin! Feel free to send me photos/camp memories at jimgibbons1[at]gmail[dot]com!

27 May

The JC Life and canoe trips: Part 3 of An interview with Dan Gibbons

Yep. I haven’t updated this blog in almost three years… My apologies!

But more on that later!

Now, let me present, the long overdue and final installment of the interview with my brother… Dan Gibbons!

[Check out Part 1 and Part 2 if you missed them!]

Dan Gibbons on Red Rock island during a "we don't have a car or a ride" junior counselor day off in 2001.

Dan Gibbons on Red Rock island during a “we don’t have a car or a ride” junior counselor day off in 2001.

Speaking of Green Cabins, let’s talk a bit about being on staff. You guys (David and Dan.) only had one year as JCs (Junior Counselors) before camp closed, but what do you guys remember being the main differences—both good and bad—of being on staff versus your time as campers?

DAN GIBBONS: The one thing I remember about being on staff is by the end of the year, and even coming home, I recall being so tired!  Every night, we would stay up so late at Counselor Snack and then have to be up so early.  Plus, with a lack of a rest period, it seemed like sleep was just not a part of being a JC.  No matter what you said, you never got enough sleep or got to bed early enough.
But on to the positives…

I really enjoyed days off as a JC, because it brought a new element to camp.  Days off weren’t really an escape from camp, but a new experience with all the friends and characters of camp.  As a camper, you always saw days off as an escape because, you could eat fast food or watch movies or see girls again! But to be honest, since days off were in Hayward, I still consider them a distinctive part of the actual camp experience. When Jim and I were last in the north woods, we didn’t make it to camp, but we did stay near Hayward and being back there brought back a lot of memories.
Being on staff also helped to exaggerate the goofiness that took place at camp. Often, during rest periods when it was time to help with projects, you were doing things that often were less than fun. But, being in true camp spirit, you would make a game out of it or start a rousing conversation with your fellow staff member about the ins and out of Star Wars and that made it bearable—or even enjoyable. I think we all learned that ability after being stuck canoeing across Canada… all you could do is talk with your cabin mates to help pass the time.
Jim will recall one time when we had to help move these big portions of a tree from by the riflers trail to… Well, I don’t remember where we moved them, I just remember doing the “fickle fingers”.  Rather than moving them in a productive fashion, we would stand the tree all the way up and then flip it over like they would do in the Strong Man competitions on ESPN 2. It was a lot of fun.

Dan and I (with David Owen) cooking chicken at the all camp BBQ in 2001. Thrift clothes from staff days off in full effect!

Dan and I (with David Owen) cooking chicken at the all camp BBQ in 2001. Thrift clothes from staff days off in full effect!

Another memory that sticks with me was when we had either finished up a project before activity period began or it was towards the end of the year, so we didn’t really have any projects. At those times, our cabin got like a 30 minute swim at the waterfront. We were free! We could run and jump off the T pier or swim to the Cub! We had the whole swim area to ourselves!  I remember that being a lot of fun! It was like a sign of respect from camp that we had worked all summer and now earned the trust to have the waterfront to ourselves.  Doesn’t sound like much, but I remember it seeming like a big moment.
One other thing I really remember about being on staff, a funny moment, was being an indian for the Council Fire.  David, weren’t you Chief Shewahmegon once? The whole getting painted and wearing those skimpy rags for clothing was a pretty goofy experience. As I was the warrior role, it was my job to paddle the canoe with Andy  O’Connor as the medicine man and David as Chief Shewahmegon. I believe Pat [Roth] was the scout/runner? Anywho, I was never a good stern like the two of you and that night was particularly windy—I mean really windy! Plus, as you are in one of the old fiberglass canoes, which were extremely tippy, it was a task. I remember struggling to keep us straight and struggling to get to the beach. It took us a while. I can only imagine Bill was thinking “What the hell are these kids doing?!” We also had a really hard time lighting the torch since it was so damn windy.  A really comical event overall.
The best part of the Council Fire, or most memorable part for me, was when we got the campers from each cabin and brought them down for their reading. David grabbed Daniel Blaze on the shoulder as Daniel read his statement.  When he was done, David/Chief Shewahmegon turned Daniel over to me and I was supposed to guide him off to the side. Like I said, the night was really windy, and as we turned, I had the torch down low and I am pretty sure I nearly set Daniel on fire (or aBLAZE).  It was definitely an “Oh shit” moment.  I remember being very embarrassed, because Daniel’s mom was there and I could only imagine that her and Bill where thinking I was a complete idiot for almost setting him on fire. Hahaha! I can still remember the look on Daniel’s face. It wasn’t a shocked or startled look, it was just more like he was annoyed. Almost like a kid who gets woken up in the morning, kind of just swatting at the flame like it was a parent’s hand nudging him awake. A very odd reaction from a ten- or eleven-year-old kid to almost being set on fire. I was very careful from that point on with the rest of the campers!
I also enjoyed the next morning when the younger campers would try to get you to admit you were one of the indians. They knew it was you, but you could still provide them enough doubt that they weren’t sure. It was a unique element about camp as a younger kid, because you wanted to believe. You knew there was something unique about Camp Shewahmegon and the Council Fires had something mystical about them. As the young kids would inquire and quiz you, I could remember being in their shoes my first year.

Ha! I was hoping that dressing up as indians would come up. It’s just another example of how camp, and the whole Northwoods, were so trapped in time. Many different eras of time, actually. It was like the ’50s, ’60s and ’70s were constantly alive—like we were constantly traveling through time. Painting ourselves to look like Indians is… Wow, I don’t think “unPC” really captures it. In hindsight, offensive is probably more accurate, but at camp, it was just kinda just this weird, old—an in ways—innocent tradition for better or worse. Still, pretty crazy.

Dan, I used to love how many weird skills we picked up while doing odd jobs at camp. I’d never used one beforehand or since, but I felt like I used a post hole digger a few times a week at camp. Not to mention tamps and other tools used to build log steps into dirt paths, construct fences out of old tree limbs, and building benches. Again, I haven’t tried since I left camp, but I bet these skills would weirdly come back to me if I needed them. They also made you think in a very logical way when you were building them. Like an engineer must, I bet. They were these weird tasks that just taught you to figure shit out. And figure it out we did!

You also brought up canoe trips. Any good memories you want to share of those? Camper or staff, camp outs or cook outs… it’s all fair game!
DAN GIBBONS: Post hole diggers… What funny tools! I always found tamps to be fun—kinda brute force.
So, talking about canoe trips…

To a certain point, I enjoyed camp more than I did the trips. I didn’t always enjoy all the camp out work and the tents, but with that being said, I have more vivid memories from the canoe trips. Probably just because the trips were so unique and regular camp memories tend to blend together where the canoe trips are all pretty distinct and discernible from each other.
The most ridiculous camping trip we took would have to be the Carter’s Island trip. In summary, everyone got at least one tick on that trip. And, if my memory serves me correctly, Mr. David Will got one on his butt (not the cheeks, like actually on the butt) and Mr. Danny Aronson got one on his coin purse. I recall our counselor… Oh what was his name? The dude who played guitar from the Isle of Mann… Andrew Porter! Well, he had to remove both of those ticks!
I think my favorite trip (other than the Border trips) was the Brule River trip we did when I was in Bunkhouse [the oldest camper cabin at the time]. The rapids were awesome and it was finally something new. We never did the Flambeau River and I swear we did the damn Namekagon River like four times. I am not sure how that ended up happening.
Anyway, on the Brule, I remember one rapid that was a class five and was, essentially, just a three foot waterfall! It was sweet! I think every canoe tipped on that trip.
And David can verify, but I think this was the trip that he got us talking to a group of girl campers at one of the campsites by very bluntly volunteering to “blow on their fire” to help get it started! David did have a great lung capacity and he always reveled at the chance to show off his superior abilities by blowing on a fire! It was a smooth line he dropped! Hahaha!

Dan Gibbons in the Canadian Wilderness on Summer 2000's Border Trip.

Dan Gibbons in the Canadian Wilderness on Summer 2000’s Border Trip.

Border trips always led to a lot of memories… Probably too many to try and type, but I can remember how calm it was towards evening and just being amazed by the scenery. I would love to try and do those again sometime, because I can only imagine that I would appreciate and enjoy it more. 
Jim, you’ll recall… I still remember when Lon Richey jumped off that cliff with, like, no questions asked! It was awesome! We were all thinking about it, kinda worried it might be too shallow, and then he just jumped!
I have a lot of vivid memories of that trip—of the scenery, our camp sites, even certain places we stopped for lunch. I have mental photographs engrained in my mind of those locations. I am sure some of them are exaggerated or enhanced, but what a cool trip. I am glad you and I got to be in the same group that year.  I imagine that they plan it that way knowing that as brothers (Owen and Danny Aronson were in our group too!) that these would be memories we could talk about for a long time. 

The bad part about that trip was the portages. (Is that what they were called? taking the canoes over land?)  I recall there being some big portages on that trip….

One that led me to jabbing my canoe handle into Axel’s rib!  Sorry about that Axel!
What was your favorite trip, homeslice?  I believe you got to do the Flambeau, didn’t you?

Didn’t you guys do the Brule in kayaks? I know we did it in canoes. And, while it was a lot of fun, being the stern in the camper canoe on that river was a tall order. At one point, our canoe flipped and we all fell out and… lost the canoe. We probably had to shoot rapids and walk in the shallows for about a quarter mile before reclaiming our ride.

The Flambeau was a great trip. Probably my favorite, excluding the Border trips. I went we I was in Cabin 15, the second oldest cabin at camp at the time, but we did it as a joint trip with that year’s Bunkhouse. We made it to the island at Cedar Rapids at about 2 or 3 p.m. on the second day and shot the rapids in life jackets all day long. Good times!

Border was a blast. My first year was extremely portage heavy. We did a series of lakes with almost no rivers between. One portage was a half mile hike through a swamp. Pretty crazy stuff. That trip stands out a lot more to me because it was so different than any other trip I’d been on. I think we only had like four or five campers in our group and the area we went to was extremely remote. It was kind of insane. Isenglass was the main destination, I believe. A deep, clear, freezing cold lake. Half of that trip felt like we were canoeing through a barren forest on the edge of the Arctic. I think we camped at an old bear hunting camp at one point. Gary Sherman’s snores definitely scared the shit out of me that night.

I really enjoyed our Border trip together the next year too, but it was a goofier trip. The other trip had this sullen magic to it. Our Border was just pure goofiness. Lon jumping was crazy! I remember Pressy side-flopping off that cliff too! At that same camp site, I also remember Danny Aronson “making camp” about 30 feet away from me. To one direction, I had this amazing view of a cliff as I finished my poop. On the other side, Danny.

But, the main thing from that trip that has always stuck with me was the very last day. Both groups had met up at the last portage, we all holed up in that small river before the last lake as we waited to see if the big storm rolling in would blow over. It half did, so we decided to brave the massive white caps churning violently across the last few miles of whatever lake we had started from. I just remember these huge waves—biggest I’d ever seen on a lake—coming up on the right of the boat, our canoes rising on them, and then looking to the right and seeing these huge rocks below the surface of the water. There were a few times I was shouting their locations like we were in rapids, certain that one would cleave our canoe in half if we had been a foot or two closer when the wave passed and we dropped down to that lower level of water. The other really insane part of that almost-panicked last few miles was the fact that the storm seemed to only be affecting the lake. The vans were on a beach in the distance and bathed in sunlight around calm water. Pretty bizarre. Really intense. It stands out.

23 Aug

In memoriam: William T. “Bill” Will

As Shewahmegonites, our camping friendships—strong and deep—wouldn’t exist without Bill Will. This post will have many authors, to reflect the many lives Bill helped transform. This post is here to help us remember and honor a truly incredible man. If you’d like to share, please send your photos and memories to jimgibbons1[at]gmail[dot]com. Thank you!


Bruce Ballantine, who was at Shewahmegon from 1966 to 1984 as camper, JC, counselor and tripper, sent along a few photos of Bill through the years. Thanks very much for your contribution, Bruce!

The Wills in 1956.

The Wills ten years later in 1966.

Gerry, Bill and Bruce's wife Linda.

The Wills and the Ballantines in 2008.

B. Dub on the water in 2008.


Bill with his group after completing the 1999 Border Trip. Photo by Dan Gibbons.

Bill Will at the center of the 2001 Staff Photo.

A close-up of the above staff pick. (Click to enlarge)

Bill overseeing some Northshore Dippers on a particularly warm year. From 2000's Border Trip.

Bill Will giving instructions on how to properly play croquet. Taken in the year 2000.

Bill shooting hoops on The Waterfront. Taken in the year 1997.


More to come…

22 Aug

You’ll be missed, Bill.

As many of you who follow this blog already know, Bill Will—the co-founder of Camp Shewahmegon and one of the main reasons so many of us have such fond summer camp memories—died recently. To say he’ll be missed is an understatement. He was tremendous and I know I personally owe him a tremendous amount.

There aren’t enough words to describe Bill Will and what he did for me, let alone every camper who spent a summer a Shewahmegon, and yet, at the same time, there are no words to describe what he meant to so many of us. He was larger than life, yet had an effect on so many lives. He was a living legend and a tall tale, but extraordinarily human. He was a superlative man, but not a single superlative thing I can think to write seems to do him justice.

Bill Will in The Lodge. Lifted from Michael Rubin's uploads to the Shewahmegon Facebook group.

I think that’s part of the reason that posting something here about Bill’s death has been a challenge. There was so much to say that it was too much to say and I couldn’t figure out what to say at all.

Thankfully, David Will—my friend and Bill’s grandson—nudged me about doing a post. Just the suggestion made me realize my inability to write something was neglecting one of the things I’ve always intended this site to be about: Community. Put simply, I can’t do the memory of Bill Will justice on my own. I need your help. All of your help, and I’m humbly asking for that help so we can celebrate a truly remarkable individual.

So, here’s how you can help…
Please send any pictures you have of Bill Will at Camp Shewahmegon to me at jimgibbons1[at]gmail[dot]com (Please substitute “@” for “[at]” and “.” for “[dot]”, of course), along with any info you’d like to run alongside the photo: the year it was taken, what’s going on, any memories you associate with it, etc. I’m happy to post text-based memories as well, but I’d really love to show Bill in his element at camp—and a whole lot of it—for us all to remember.

Send along as many photos as you like as often as you like and I’ll post them all up as soon as I can. The man deserves statues and epic poems, but I think if we all band together, we can get close to doing him justice. Thanks in advance for your help!

30 Jun

Crossed Paths: Part 2 of both An Interview with Dan Gibbons and An Interview with David Will

In the midst of our running email chain of camp reminiscence, Dan decided to loop in David (for a reason he’ll explain below) not knowing I’d already been interviewing his former cabinmate. It seemed only logical to do a post where the interviews overlapped a bit. There’s not a whole lot of back-and-forth, but man, both Dan and David go on nostalgia tears here that are downright epic!

[Part 1 of my interview with Dan can be found here. And Part 1 of my interview with David is located here.]

If memory serves, this is Cabin 15 in 1999. From left to right: Danny Aronson, Axel Owen, David Will, Glenn Latsch, Dan Gibbons and Steve Lehmann.

Let’s talk camp games (Capture The Flag, Capture The Indian Clubs). What camp game was your favorite? Why?
DAN GIBBONS: As I started to write this super long email, the fact that I just read World War z after borrowing The Zombie Survival Guide from David Will [came to mind and] I realized I had to get him in on this email. (Foreshadowing with the zombie reference)
I loved camp games!

I must say, I really enjoyed when the schedule on Saturday [lined up so] that you would get a day game and sometimes even a game at night, too. Like capture the flag in the day and then Capture The Indian Clubs at night.

I loved Capture The Three Flags. I still remember one year (maybe Bunkhouse or Cabin 15), I got two near flags that summer. I still consider that a successful camp year almost solely because of that. Getting a flag was something reserved for the Paul Hillman’s and Mac Harris’ of the world. To get a flag (even just the Near Flag) was truly awesome. You were a celebrity for the rest of the game and the following soda and swim afterwards.

Capture The Indian Clubs… what a hilarious name. Capture The Indian Clubs. It’s really funny when you think about. What is an indian club? If I didn’t know the game, I would think of like a super old ’30s cartoon with these pilgrims sneaking into an indian camp and stealing these big war clubs.
I remember being in the younger cabins, when you finally got those pins… it was so awesome. You would strut across the lawn with that prize for everyone to see—great in those stalemate games. I remember [at that age] that pin was fairly heavy and powerful when you had to carry it back!

However, while that reward was sweet, I think most everyone loved the total rampage games!And especially when it was Super C The ICs! Jails in the middle! Chain from jail to freedom! How awesome was that?!

My worst, but to this day, funniest memory of C The ICs was in a rampage game. I had just captured a pin and after I brought it back I went on guarding duty. My head’s on a swivel, looking for anyone to come my way. Then right in front of me, running full steam, I see Rich Siegler barreling down on me. I am sure “barreling” is the right term (In retrospect, I am sure Rich Siegler is not that big compared to any of us nowadays, but a slightly overweight freshmen in high school running at a fourth grader! Well, that’s scary!) I recall him running very upright with his belly out front. I recall basically bouncing off his stomach like something out of weird Japanimation cartoon. Especially with Rich Siegler’s crazy long, curly hair and me crying like a child afterward. (Maybe [his hair] was short at that time, but that’s how I remember it.) I got knocked out of the way and someone else took the pin. I was defeated and hated Rich Siegler… for the next ten minutes. Rough tactics but smart strategy by Siegler. 

Dan Gibbons: 1995. An example of how tiny this kid once was. That's Lake Owen in the background. This may have been taken at the Two Lakes campground.

One thing about camp games that I think helped make me a good person is they were so reliant on honesty. Especially in a game like Capture The Flag where you play over so much land. No one would be able to verify if you were truly tagged. However, if  an overwhelming amount of people didn’t play fair and honest, those games would have never worked and would have been horrible. A huge part of my camp memory would have been gone if people didn’t just understand that you had to play honest. I think part of it is the age you’re at as a kid. Games are everything and being declared a cheater is a reputation that’s bad to have. 
That being said, playing pick up basketball [nowadays], it amazes how some people play. They will foul hard and then yell and complain when you call one. It’s like “Buddy, you know you hit me. How are you trying to deny it?” Maybe they are trying to play mental games, but really, I bet most of them normally just play games where there are officials and never really understood how important it is for players to be honest and aware for games to be… well, fun!
This may be a bit of an outlandish connection at this point, [but] it makes since in my mind. Sorry if it doesn’t make since in my email!
(Foreshadowing about to come into play…)

Alright. So, I just finished World War z. Awesome book. I am just so amazed by how throughly thought out it is. It’s really unbelievable for anyone to think through something so thoroughly with a “What if…” situation.
Anywho… One game I always loved was The Blob! What a great game! Even once you got tagged it was so fun!

So, you’re asking yourself, “What’s the connection?” If there was ever one game that has to be the closest (of games) to a Walking Dead outbreak, it has got to be The Blob. Hear me out…
-Once you are tagged you become one of the infected.
-Your sole purpose is to “eat brains” or infect others.
-You might not always plan it, but once [you’re] “it” your greatest asset is using your number advantage.
-As an individual you are often cornered and overwhelmed.
-As soon as you let down your guard…”brains!”
And imagine this scenario… I always thought I was pretty good at The Blob and one of the better athletes at camp in those type of games (Clearly not at things like riflery, canoeing, archery…) and that is kinda how you view yourself in a zombie apocalypse scenario. You think, “Hey, I’m going to be one of those people who survive.” 
But the reality of it is, you don’t know. It’s a gamble! Maybe once you get rooted in your fortress and once you truly understand what’s taking place you can figure out a strategy and survive, but in the beginning there is a luck factor and the same is true for The Blob.
You would be dodging one blob that has been targeting you and not really paying to attention to anything else (You can’t. You gotta think about the immediate threat first.), but then all of sudden you realize there are three… no four… no five blobs closing in on you when before there were only two!  As they close in you look farther out and realize over half the field is covered in BLOB. Then… from behind… bam, you’re infected! 
And of course when you are first infected, you’re disappointed and don’t want to give in and attack others. But then… you turn!
Alright. Like I said, I just finished World War Z. So, in reality I look at every neighborhood, alley way and building [now] and think, “What would happen here in an all out zombie attack?”

I think it’s still a pretty good comparison.

Dan, your point on honesty learned in camp games… wow! Spot on! In basketball practices all through high school I always called myself for fouls. When I fouled a guy who was my teammate/friend, it seemed only natural I should call it. It doesn’t do me any favors by being an asshole and not calling it. That was my thought process, at least. Looking back, I think that must be due to camp. The friendship and community really made you look at the big picture and, in that picture, being an asshole and arguing “fouls” didn’t make sense. Unfortunately, this attitude was extremely rare in competitive high school sports. It still amazes me that people would argue fouls or call fouls on their friends and teammates in practice to make excuses or look good. Camp, man, it does a body good…

When I worked at a Banner Day Camp for three years after my time at Shewahmegon, I was a counselor for a group of 6-year-olds. During that time, Blob was one of my “Go To” games. It’s such a perfect variation of tag. We had about 15 kids in our group, so I just shrunk the area we used to play in with 50 people at camp. Man, good times! Those kids loved that game! It really holds up!

That said, I think it would be way more popular if it was called Zombie Tag. I totally hear where you are coming from on that one, Dan!

David, earlier you said, “I believe that Shewahmegon is largely responsible for the person I am today.” That’s a sentiment I’ve always echoed and I’ve found most Shewahmegonites feel the same. And yes, I think the close quarters of camp cabins and communal latrines prepared me very well for the dorms in college.

It’s funny that you bring up turtle hunts. Dan also brought them up. You guys shared a cabin for seven years of camp and, apparently, shared a love of turtle hunts as well!

Your guys’ cabin was always kooky (Which one wasn’t though?) and you guys had some goofy inside jokes—Yacancha the six-foot-tall rat was one of them, I believe. Tell me a little bit about that goofiness.

DAVID WILL: I think the goofiness found at camp is ultimately due to three or four major contributing factors. First and foremost, camp brings together people from all over the country and the world, with different cultures, sources of entertainment and humor. As such, there is a strange fusion of cultures that happens in the north woods, where—for example—the Tupac of one camper is mixed with the Star Wars cards of another camper and mashed together with shopping cart fetish of a third. Surprisingly, these combinations work well, as camp’s culture tended to be a pretty accepting. If you were a dweeb, or a jock, or anything in between, you could find ways to contribute to the culture. Obviously there would be those who would clash with the culture of camp, and by in large, it seems to me that those campers tended to be the ones who couldn’t embrace the accepting inclusive nature of camp. Typically, the campers would pick fights, make fun of cabin mates, etc, [they] tended to be those who only stayed on year.

On top of cultural differences, another huge contributing factor was the almost total lack of female presence at camp. Without girls around, no one was trying to impress each other or put the competition down. We could worry about important things like being a team member, working on ability, playing hard. We could build a mono-gender community in strange ways that would be impossible with both sexes. Major locations for camaraderie included group showers, the stalls of the latrines, heck, even morning dipping helped give camp a unique flavor. In fact, in the male only culture, the unexpected presence of girls throws things off. Once, I had to drop trow and adjust my boxers in public, a perfectly reasonable thing to do at camp. Unexpectedly, I came across Rick Levi’s wife and had to do immediate evasive action to preserve some semblance of modesty. 

Camp’s quirkiness is also due to what is commonly known as “cabin fever.” When you are stuck in a fairly reclusive area with a small set of people for weeks at a time, you become a bit crazy.  A good way to think of it is unbridled creativity meeting unopposed insanity. That craziness manifests in all sorts of ways, like developing odd imaginary creatures (like the six foot rat Yacancha), tickling people on the abdomen then smacking them on the head (“Pillsbeery… DoughBOY!”), joining imaginary and irrelevant clans like “NATO” or “OTAN,” or inventing new games such as “Pelt Axel with the Potatoes.”

Together all of this leads to the perfect storm of goofiness, and frankly, that goofiness allowed camp to be such a good place to grow. There are many examples of our combined goofiness that I could share, but we certainly don’t have the time for all of them. One such story is that of “Pubobaby” or PB. PB was a brain child of Danny Gibbons and myself after long hours paddling on the Namekagon River.  As the camper canoe, we had fallen significantly behind the other canoes and were struggling to catch up. Out of the exhaustion came the idea that our canoe was being followed by a small mustached baby in the water named PB. We inserted him into the camp songs as we sang them and told odd tales of his existence. Our midweight, Steve Lehmann, for some reason became somewhat paranoid by all this talk of PB, which further contributed to it’s hilarity. All in all, we were never attacked by PB, but his presence certainly kept our exhaustion at bay.  

Another great goofy canoeing story revolves around Danny Aronson on the St. Croix River.  Danny was a pretty levelheaded kid, but was prone to hilarious fits of passion. As we were canoeing down the river, he dipped his favorite baseball cap into the water to cool his head off.  Either he didn’t hold on hard enough or it slipped, but either way, the cap was off and into the water, sinking under the surface. Without a moments hesitation, he was off into the flowing river, swimming up stream to collect his precious hat. Danny Gibbons and I were astounded, and being pulled down stream. We lost much distance before we were able to turn the canoe around and go back up to get the waterlogged Danny Aronson. Needless to say, we found him alright, if not soggy.  

One of the quirkiest campers in our cabin of all time was Nick Walasek. I have never met someone with such a passion for flowers, PetSmarts or shopping carts.  And yet, we were privileged to have Nick in our cabin. In typical Nick form, when not telling us about the types of shopping cart each large chain store had, he was designing and crafting objects for his own basement pet store. Nick made these gooey window clinging neon letters that spelled out “PetSmart.” Such devotion did he have, that he nearly had a fit when he woke one morning to find we had rearranged the letters to spell “Wet Rats.”

Nick in action.

Of course, I cannot forget my own goofiness that I brought to the cabin. My drastic fear of spiders once led me to leap out of a canoe during a cookout, because David Owen deliberately steered the canoe into overhanging bushes. Clearly it was not [either of] our best moments by any means, but since he did so, I literally held onto the stern of the canoe for another 30 to 40 minutes as they paddled all the way from Picnic Point to the Picnic Grounds. David Owen was mad because he had to drag me behind the canoe, and I was terrified of the possible spider or two. I also happened to bring the Star Wars card mini-craze to the cabin that year. It is not an exaggeration to say that many hours were spent yelling things like “No, Luke has a power 4 and an attrition rate of 3. He wins against your three stormtroopers! And with his lightsaber, I get to draw an extra card to deal specific damage!” I  have no idea how Brent Parker put up with the insanity of hearing 6 or 7 boys arguing over Star Wars characters and how to play a largely impossible game. 

I think you made an amazing point when you mentioned the single-sex dynamic of camp being crucial to all of the incredible, intense and—often times—uber-weird bonding that took place at camp. I mean, in what other environment could we have convinced Pressy to run around in only his smiley face boxers, performing impromptu dance sessions in the Green Cabins?!

Well, that does it for David. Thanks for your time, Mr. Will, as well as your answers and stories—just fantastic!

My interview with Dan has one more installment. Stay tuned for that.

28 Jun

Where there’s a Will there’s a way: An interview with David Will: Part 1

Around the same time I began interviewing my brother Dan, I sent along some questions to our buddy—the real, live grandson of William T. Will himself—David Will. Having spent time up at Shewahmegon for many—if not every—summer of his life, David has many more years of sharing camp stories under his belt than most can boast. Plus, he has a fairly unique view of camp as a member of the Shewahmegon-founding Will family. So, obviously, it was a pleasure to pick his brain on all things Shewahmegon!

David was in Dan’s cabin—a year younger than mine—for the entirety of D. Gibb’s run at camp, and we were all Junior Counselors together during the final year of camp in 2001.

As was the case before, I’ve edited for grammar and added some brief explanatory bits.

Now, without further ado, here’s the first installment of my interview with David Will!

David Will in the North Woods. 2001.

Being a member of the Will family, you—essentially and possibly literally—started attending camp as soon as you popped out of the womb. Let’s skip the pre-camper years. What were your first summers as a camper like? What sticks out i your memory from those early years?

DAVID WILL: My first few summers as a camper were a transition period for me, where being a Will family member came second to my role as a camper.  As a “day camper,” the structure of my day was significantly different from that of a normal camper, where I had different freedoms and constraints. My schedule was also more subject to my whims (as a day camper). I would attend instructional swim or lodge when I felt like it. If I didn’t want to go to activities that day, I could play in the trailer with my toys or watch television. I interacted with campers at that time, and though the older cabins would play around with me, it was more difficult to interact with the younger campers. Since I wasn’t one of their cabin mates, the time I spent bonding was limited.  

So, when I became a camper, there was a sharp learning curve that I had to quickly adjust to. I quickly realized that my preferences came secondary to the schedule and to the cabin. If it was instructional swim, I had to swim. If it was time for rest, I needed to lay on my bunk. I had to attend activities, I had to stay with the cabin. The primary boss was the counselor, not my mom or dad. This shift, which was initially difficult to adjust to, became very liberating and rewarding.  By having to go to activities or swim, I learned to make choices and learned to grow under the constraints. I learned to swim, to play team games, to canoe, to camp, to work hard. None of these skills would have been accessible (to me) as a day camper. The constraint of camp’s structure also allowed me to develop life long friendships. I was no longer peripheral, rather (I was) a deeply involved member of the cabin unit. I learned to play and work, eat and sleep, win and lose as a group.  

In terms of specific memories that stick out from these years, the ones I remember most are the random and silly moments with the cabin: telling scary stories of “Green Feather” on Red Rock and hardly being able to sleep at night, playing countless hours of the finger game (“enter the store”) at the dining hall table, paddling our hardest and still falling behind in the camper canoe, playing complicated versions of tag on the cabin porch, listening to the music the counselor would have on his CD player, etc.  

David Will in 1995 at the now infamous Cabin 10 Twin Lakes campout.

Tag on the porch? Damn… sounds like a game for solely intended for daredevils based on the height of some of those porches.

You mentioned the skills you learned at camp. I always think its crazy how often these weird facts about me come up in random conversation. “Oh yeah, I took Red Cross sailing for three years and instructed it for a while.” “Oddly enough, I was actually an accomplished target shooting archer.” I don’t use either of those skills anymore (Which is a shame), but I think camp taught me a lot of skills, be it the more official skills from boating courses or just how to make a campfire. As far as the education of camp goes, what do you remember? With your time at camp, I imagine you had a chance to take rowing on through power boating before you became a staffer.
DAVID WILL: Yeah, tag on the porch required some creative thinking and clever restrictions on the tagger, i.e. the tagger had to close his eyes and couldn’t move from one spot. But that was the fun of rest period. You had only so many objects and so much square footage of cabin space. You had to rely on creativity or sleeping to get through it.
It’s funny that you mention the subtle ways the learning done at camp gets incorporated into your life. I know that I am constantly reminded in odd cases of my formal and not so formal teachings in the northern woods. As you guessed it, I believe I have done every single instructional course at Shewahmegon from power boating and rowing to conditioning and basketball. I also had the privilege of helping with sailing (alongside the mighty Jim Gibbons) and taught rowing as well.  The time in these courses was well spent, not only for the learning experience, but also the explicit pleasure of doing the activity. As you well know, there are few thrills in life like sailing in the Cub on windy day, trying to tip her over or practicing real man over board drills when a shipmate (Danny Aronson) slipped off the deck. SCUBA diving was another of my favorites. It was a very surreal experience—somewhat intimidating and always exciting. My dad (Tim Will)always put the fear of “air embolisms” into us on the first day. And even though we were not in any real danger, the perceived risk added to thrill. And of course, the canoeing course has been invaluable to me over the years, helping me tackle the Border Trip or helping me feel comfortable mucking about on Lake Owen in the evenings. 
Like you mentioned with your example of building a fire, a lot of the learning done at camp was informal. Without being forced to learn, a lot of what I picked up became fun. Unfortunately, there is simply no way I could recall all the skills I have learned at camp. I believe that Shewahmegon is largely responsible for the person I am today, and as such, I couldn’t do justice attempting to list all the skills I developed there. However, some of the practical and unpractical skills have served me well over the years, and I can share a few quick stories.
There is an art to blowing on a fire. It requires timing, endurance and patience. I would like to think that I am master fireblower and as such am willing to loan my services to those in need.  While in Bunkhouse, on a trip down the Brule River, we came across a gaggle of teenage girls who were camping adjacent to us. Being 14-year-old boys, we wanted their company, but were hard pressed to find a way to approach them. That’s when I noticed their fire was a bit low and offered to blow on it for them. Was it awkward? Sure. Did they think I was a dork? Absolutely! Did we spend the entire night hanging out with them in front of a roaring fire? You better believe it!
I think a more practical skill I learned at camp was being able to get along with different sorts of people in close proximity. I can’t say that I always got along with every guy in my cabin, but I like to believe that I learned to handle tough situations in a reasonable way. For instance, if your suitemate in college had been rat-tailing you the night before, a very mature approach is to pour freezing water on him while he showers. Or if your roommate is harassing you, you can always find something valuable of theirs to throw in the laundry (Sorry, Axel.). While I am kidding (although I did do these things), the truth is I really learned how to get along with folks.
I think it is funny that skills you learn surrounded only by boys can help you get a girlfriend. Surprisingly, some women find it very sexy (or hilarious) that I am an amateur turtle hunter. With over 30 feet of snapping turtles caught at Camp Shewahmegon, I am a master of leaping out of a canoe and grabbing turtles. I use these excellent truths as an ice breaker in new crowds with much success as most people are willing to chat with a turtle hunter. One such person who was interested in these stories became my girlfriend, and inevitably became my wife. She is now on her way to becoming an expert turtle hunter.

Once again, 1995 at Twin Lakes, I believe. Mere seconds before David first bludgeoned someone with a blunt object.

(Photos in this post are from the Dan Gibbons Collection.)

28 Jun

An interview with Dan Gibbons: Part 1

A long time ago, I promised that this blog would feature interviews. Today, I post my first.

I recently started an email dialogue with my brother Dan about camp. We hit on a number of topics. Dan’s 20 months younger than I am and we both went to camp at Shewahmegon for seven years. Dan was always in the cabin just below mine, age-wise.

Some quick explanation of the interview that follows: My bits of the conversation are in bold. The rest is all Dan. I’ve cleaned up the grammar throughout for readability. I’ve also added some explanatory notes in parentheses where Dan and I had just been using nickname’s or short hand. Dan’s parenthetical asides should be obvious in comparison.

Now, enough introduction—here’s Part 1 of our discussion.

On the right, Dan Gibbons on the A-Field at Camp Shewahmegon. The year: 2000. Also featured, Ted Marino.

What’s your earliest memory of wanting to go to camp and what did you think the experience would be like before spending a summer at Shewahmegon?

DAN GIBBONS: I can’t particularly recall a single moment where I wanted to be at camp. As I first thought about, I thought I recalled a moment at some family reunion… However, after thinking about it, I remembered we visited camp while on vacation at Eagle Nob. I remember thinking the place seemed so cool—very happening! So much happening in the eyes of a young kid… I have slight memories of walking around on the dirt path from the waterfront to the a-field.  

One major thing that led me (and I am sure you) to want to go there is I recall knowing my two older cousins went (to Shewahmegon). The way they kind of talked about it, or just their attitude about it, made it seem like it was really awesome. Knowing that our cousins liked it so much and that our uncles went—it seemed kinda like family tradition. So, I knew I wanted to go, because if they liked it, well, I would probably like it.

Of course, I was much more nervous when it came time to (actually) go. But then I decided I was just excited. Almost like a kid before college… just so ready to go and experience a new adventure.

Our cousin Ryan Bergstrom in 1997. One of the reasons we went to camp.

If memory serves, I fell and skinned my knee around Cabin 15 (Our cousin Ryan’s cabin the year we visited… I think.) and had to go to the nurse during that visit.

When you got to camp that first year, what are your best memories? I know you have a great story about peeing in a tent at Two Lakes Campground…

DAN GIBBONS: Man, first memories of camp… I feel like I have a lot of distinct memories from the first year of camp. Probably because it was the first year, I can clearly identify those memories as (being from the) first year. Other memories can kind of blend in to just camp and then you have to think about what year that really was.
I can remember being on the bus riding up (to Shewahmegon). It seemed like such a long ride that first time with a combination of uncertainty, not knowing many people and scary older kids on the back of the bus.
Weird note: I remember waking up in the early morning It was light out and we were still on the bus. I had this weird boogery shit all over me. It was a super weird consistency. I still, to this day, don’t know if some prank was played on me in my sleep or if I just sneezed all over myself.
I remember getting to camp and having the staff there. Everything seemed very new. I remember thinking it was kind of a big moment when they were assigning us counselors—knowing you were going to be given to that person who would look out for your group for the whole summer.
The things I remember the most from the first year were the camping trips, goofing in the cabin and the fireworks at the Johnson residence. I still remember those as being one of the coolest shows because it was so dark out on the lake. Oh, I also remember the first counsel fires and trying to learn songs! David (Will) was in my cabin, so he basically came out of the womb signing Johnny Verbeck (Weird visual there!) and I felt left out not knowing them.
Within the first years we were at camp, I really remember the evening and weekend games! I think the camp’s population (attendance) was higher in our younger years, so the games were fun. As the years went on, I felt we played the games less and less. Especially in my last year as JC (Junior Counselor).

Dan as a Junior Counselor on a day off in 2001. We're at the mini golf course in Hayward, WI.

Okay. Twin Lakes camping trip… I have tons of memories from my first campout. We cooked puffers for the first time—an epic moment in my life. 
So as the story goes, we had a long night of playing capture the life jacket, cooking, goofing and exploring at the majestic Two Lakes campground.  As it was time to go to sleep, the counselors asked us to go to the restroom because the tents only zipped from the outside or something… really weird. I was fine at the moment and did not need to go. About two hours later I wake up and now I have to pee. The fire is still going and I can hear Ben (McIntyre) and Thor (Berg) still talking. It’s probably like 10:30pm…

Also, thinking back, what do a 20-year-old college kid and 35ish Swedish giant talk about? 

…Oh boy, do I have to pee. But as Thor is a monster of a man and I think he will crush me if I bother him, I am scared to ask. I don’t know why I was so scared to ask, maybe it was that whole mentality of “do you have to go now” and then feeling guilty when you gotta go two exits later on a road trip. Or the whole I was “supposed to be in bed” thing.
Anyway, I managed to fall back a sleep. While sleeping, I peed all over myself—my sleeping bag and my mattress pad. I also managed to do the same to David’s gear. When we first woke up, there was your normal morning confusion. That morning also had the confusion of trying to figure out what that smell was and where it came from (Pee and me). There is a quick moment of denial and disbelief and then you just accept it.
One of my vivid memories was the last morning when we were getting picked up by (Camp co-owner and co-founder) Bill (Will) to because it was raining really bad. We ate cereal in the rain and then the counselors, along with a couple JCs, had to paddle the canoes back by themselves. I remember Thor getting in the back of a canoe (with nothing else in it) and seeing how monstrous he truly was—the whole front of the canoe was out of the water!
I also remember riding back to camp in the old (Old!) maroon and white van from Twin Lakes to camp.  Being in that van was a good summary of camp in general, because camp was basically like going back in time. Whether it was going back in time because of the lack of technology or just the fact that the style and feeling of camp was stuck in the ’60s and ’70s, it was like a little time capsule up in Drummond, Wisconsin!

Dan as Cyclops on the A-Field in 2000.

It’s funny to look back on those summers when we were younger. I can never tell if everything was bigger (The games, the camp population, etc.) or if we were just smaller. Back then camp was such an unknown that, even after the first year, there was still such an exciting air of mystery and discovery about it as you learned more about the Shewahmegon Way (a.k.a. the Law of the Jungle) each year.

Speaking of The Law of The Jungle—which became a term synonymous for the weird but fun rules of camp after hearing that phrase uttered numerous times during BIll Will’s Rudyard Kipling readings—camp was full of inside jokes, running jokes, camp-wide slang and gags. Out of the many camp conversational aspects and turns of phrase, which ones do you reminisce about most?

DAN GIBBONS: I honestly do not remember the “law of the jungle” phrase being mentioned all that much at camp, but it sounds vaguely familiar. I think you’re being a year older and having a cooler cabin helped you to be more “in the know” at camp than I.

Running jokes… I mean I can remember a lot of phrases that I still go through from time to time…

-“Cool beans”: While used all the time, I still am holding onto the dream that Lee Graves came up with this phrase!
-“Hey buddy!”
-“You kill it you fill it.”
-“Spring Chicken” (As in “Bobby is no spring chicken…”)

More than just phrases, things that really define camp language and always make me think of camp are certain words that we used there. When I hear them I almost always have a different definition in my mind from other people since I first heard these words at camp. Now, both their meaning and visual representation mean something very distinct in my mind.

-Council fire

While I rarely hear some of these words, they make me think of camp. They are a representation of camp, these words that are so distinct to camp.

The Gibbons Bros in 2000.

You know what just came to mind? Bucket golf. What a ridiculous activity! I loved it, though!  There were a lot of really silly activities at camp. You needed a lot of activities because you could easily get tired of even the best activities. You know what came up the other day in conversation with someone? I don’t even remember how… the activity Turtle Hunt.

That sounds like the silliest activity. It was so distinct to camp… going out just looking for turtles! The only thing I didn’t enjoy was putting them in the reptile pit. So sad!

Speaking of the reptile pit, wasn’t that a big area of Bill Will’s “erosion?” I felt like there was always a joke about erosion due to campers running down the hills.

How a bout “raking the beach?” That was a duty that was pretty distinct to camp in my mind.  
Ha! Oh man, you are dredging up some great memories!

I had kinda forgotten about turtle hunts. I never went on one until I was in Bunkhouse or when I was a JC, but I remember thinking it was kinda fun. Some younger camper was in the front of my canoe scooping up turtles with gusto, so perhaps his enthusiasm was just infectious.

For the record, Law of the Jungle was a Bill Will-ism taken from some Rudyard Kipling story. One of the Mowgli tales, I believe. I remember Adam Kwasman using it often to describe general life rules and camp rules… possibly been something his whole cabin did, I don’t know. But when I think of rules or things in life that just should be common knowledge/sense (Not pulling on Superman’s cape. Not spitting into the wind.), I still think of them as the Law of the Jungle.

I remember the erosion thing too, but can’t remember why. Maybe it was like Bill’s croquet etiquette demonstration. I have a photo of him shooting hook shots on the basketball court. I should dig that up!

Ok, ok... It's not a hook shot, nor is it a very good photo, but that's Bill Will shooting hoops. Found it!

Part 2 coming soon! Stay tuned!

Follow Me!

Follow Me! Follow Me! Follow Me! Follow Me!