The Non-Alums

Think of the folkways of Winnebago—B&G and camp songs, Patrol Games and the Treasure Hunt, Mr. Winnebago and the Council Ring—and remember what it was like when you first really understood what it was all about. Now, imagine trying to become a Winnebagan not as a wide-eyed eleven-year-old but as a worldly adult. You walk into the ancient wooden lodge, hear campers belting out “Carry On,” look at the plaques and paddles and pennants, and notice that there are portraits hanging of every 20th century U.S. president, with the exception of all the ones elected after 1960. You would be excused for thinking you’d entered a time warp. You might wonder what Winnebago had to offer for the here and now. Tradition is hugely important at Winnebago, but incorporating new perspectives has always been just as crucial, and camp currently is undergoing something of a non-alum renaissance. Uncles E.J. Kerwin, Uncle Tom Hoegeman, Aunt Meganne Cartwright, and Uncle Jon Pettit are leading a veritable all-star team of non-alum counselors who have embraced Winnebago as their own and helped camp continue to grow. Below, Tim Bloom (SL ’10) asked E.J., Tom, Meganne, and Jon a simple question: When did you first “get camp”?

E.J. KERWIN, HEAD COUNSELOR: That is a difficult question to answer, first of all because there were many so facets of camp to understand. I was lucky enough to shadow Uncle Jim Astrove my first summer, which was invaluable in understanding the interworkings of camp. During that summer I compiled a 15-page document, which was a guide that I returned to in the next couple of summers to help me remember all of the nuts and bolts of camp’s machinations. I came to understand that the head counselor’s office was a conduit for the flow of camp, both organizationally and energetically. But it took me a good three years to feel confident answering the multitudes of questions from counselors and campers without having to consult my cheat sheet. It took a while. But last summer, I could finally tell Uncle Andy that I had developed a real sense of confidence in the position.

In regards to the more subtle energetic/spiritual side of camp, I continue on a yearly basis to discover how to impact camp. Uncles Bennett, Paul, Jim, and I are all unique individuals who offered and will continue to offer camp very different qualities. My conversations over the past years with alums, campers, and counselors have made it clear to me that the head counselor has the ability to be the stern man at camp. The head counselor’s office is in the heart of camp; campers and counselors flow in and out of my doors each day with diverse issues. The way in which I interact with these individuals clearly sets a tone that reverberates through Winnebago. So when did I “get camp”? I think I understand it more each summer, and now as I see campers return as alumni counselors I also see that what we are doing truly makes the world a better place through positively impacting boys and young men.

TOM HOEGEMAN, KING OF MEDIA: Uncle Tom had worked at many other camps before arriving in Fayette, but the campers and counselors at Winnebago felt different to him. Winnebagans cared for each other—deeply and visibly—something that he hadn’t seen at other camps to the same degree. One of Tom’s early campers had an older brother who would check in on him regularly, spending time with him and taking a real interest in listening to him. The level of commitment and caring was very impressive. What also impressed Tom was the level of commitment that the alumni counselors showed during his first summer. He said that the alumni staff worked hard to emphasize how important camp’s traditions are to the campers and that their strong feelings toward Winnebago’s values showed how significant Winnebago was in their lives.

MEGANNE CARTWRIGHT, PROGRAM QUALITY EXPERT: For Aunt Meganne Cartwright, it all made sense in her first year at camp. During that year there wasn’t a specific epiphany about why camp was so special to so many people. Rather, she gradually realized that camp’s traditions were important, precisely because so many people were so heavily invested in them. Aunt Meganne said that it was easy to buy in to all of camp’s joyful craziness because “so many people enjoy this stuff, and it obviously means a lot to them.” Initially, Meganne was very surprised about camp’s inclusiveness. She said that originally she was terrified of playing in the After Supper League, but after being persuaded by a veteran alumni counselor, she signed up and had the time of her life. Now she is the captain of her own team. Meganne also noted that she hoped to become part of a continuing tradition of female section leaders. Last summer, she was one of two aunts who were put in charge of a section, and she said it was a very gratifying experience. She hopes that she’ll be remembered for being one of the first and that, going forward, there will continue to be a strong female presence on staff.

JON PETTIT, CIRCLE SECTION HEAD: Camp first made sense to Uncle Jon Pettit when he wasn’t there. He’d enjoyed his first summer, but opted not to come back, and it was during that camp-less summer when he realized what a special place it was. He missed it profoundly. He went back the next year and has been coming back ever since. Now whenever he sets foot at camp he feels instantly better, although his sense of well-being is strongest, he said, when he is standing between the lodge and the dining hall, waiting for second call. Part of what’s great about coming back after being away for some time is seeing that things run the same way they did before. While camp is always changing, many things are constant. The routine and the traditions make it feel like home. Uncle Jon hopes to pass on what he has learned, particularly Winnebago’s important themes: teamwork, brotherhood, and compassion. Conveying these themes to the younger campers especially is a very rewarding experience, and it’s not only the best way to get camp, it’s the best way to teach camp.

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