Camp Echo Lake Throwback Thursday

Written by Steve Leeds

Camp is all about learning to make connections with other kids and learning more about yourself, skills that ultimately are put to practice in the real world.  However, when your camp days are over, you may still be left with some unfinished business, some loose ends that you may or may not have even known existed in the moment.  One good thing about adulthood, and the passage of time, is that sometimes, you get to find closure by tying up some of those loose ends at the most unexpected times.


At Camp Echo Lake’s 55th reunion, I had two such astonishing closure opportunities.


I was a camper from 1953-55, and again from 1959-60.  I was a waiter from 1961-62, and in my final summer at Echo Lake in 1963, just before starting college, I was a waterfront assistant.  That summer marked the end of my camp days and the beginning of the rest of my life.


Between 1963 and the 55th reunion, I lived my adult life, seeing bunkmates on a few rare occasions (staying in touch was harder before the Internet and Facebook came along).  Wonderful summer camp memories were always with me, but life happened, and aside from a few brief trips to Echo Lake during college vacations, I don’t think that I was ever able to come back and visit the place where those memories were created.


Fast forward to the 55th Camp Echo Lake reunion…


There were only a few former campers from my era at the reunion, one of them being Marilyn Block.  During one lunch at the reunion, she said that she wanted to apologize to me for something that had happened YEARS ago.  I could not imagine what burden of guilt she could possibly be carrying around with her for all of these years.


Marilyn told me a story about something that happened in either the summer of 1959 or 1960.

Back then, there was a tradition called “Sadie Hawkins Day.”  I don’t know if this still exists at Echo Lake.  It was a day in which the girls could approach the boys and ask them to do things together (spend free time, share meals, etc.).  In retrospect, I guess that an early version of female empowerment took place at Echo Lake.


The day started with everyone assembling at the flagpole.  At the signal, all of the boys would run and hide, and after a decent interval, the girls could go chase them.  I didn’t have a girlfriend that summer, so I knew that no girl would come to find me.  In order to preserve my fragile, male, teenage ego, I tried to find the best hiding place that I could.  I figured that I could use the fact that it was such a good hiding place as an excuse for why no girl came to find me.


I hid under a large pine tree next to the Mess Hall, which had branches reaching all the way down to the ground.  I knew that the girls were watching where each boy went (not a big surprise) so that they could find their respective boyfriends.  To my astonishment, half a dozen of the best girls came RIGHT to my tree!  They pulled me out, and each one of them said that they wanted to be my girlfriend for the day.  They told me that they thought that their boyfriends were all mean, and that I was much nicer than any of them.  I was left speechless! Of course, this attention lasted for maybe 30 minutes, whereupon the girls abandoned me and really did go in search of their boyfriends.


Marilyn, being amongst this group of girls, apologized to me 40 years later for something she felt was cruel and heartless.  I was laughing about the incident.  I ASSURED her that it was one of the high points of the summer.  Wow! A 6-1 ratio!  I have never had such good odds again since that day.  The truth of the matter is that it was one of my most interesting Echo Lake memories. I was touched by Marilyn’s desire to apologize, even though I was not at all offended by the incident, and happy to know that we shared that memory (I thought I was the only in the world who remembered it).


That same day of the 55th Camp Echo Lake reunion, or maybe it was the next, I wandered down to the waterfront to once again visit the place where I had spent every day during my final summer at camp.  I did not want to miss one final chance to take off my shoes and to wade into the lake.


It turned out that I wasn’t alone at the lake.  I came upon a young woman who was also wading in the water, and we got to talking.  I told her that I was a former camper from long ago, and she told me that her father, George, had been a cook at the camp during the time when I was a camper and waiter, which left me completely stunned.  I remembered George so clearly because of the strong and positive impact that he had on me.


Being a waiter was my first paying job, and I had no idea what to expect from it.  I didn’t know how I would perform or what the right and wrong things to do in the kitchen were for that matter.  I sensed that George knew that I was unsure of myself, and he helped me to learn and treated me at all times with respect.  He was the first good boss that I was fortunate enough to have.


Many of the lessons that I learned from George during my time at Echo Lake have stood me in good stead throughout my professional career.  I learned how to manage people and treat them with respect.  I learned how to organize my work, the importance of managing resources carefully and planning ahead, and also how to listen to my customers.


Of course, like most teenage boys, I did not know that I was learning those things.  It wasn’t until I became a man that I realized the impact of  George’s teachings, and by then, it was too late to show my appreciation to him.  Thankfully, I was able to tell George’s daughter how well I remembered him, and told her about the positive impact that he had on me.  By sharing my experience with his daughter, I was able to thank George indirectly, giving me closure and paying a debt that I thought could never be repaid.