Camp draws generations of diocesan youth
Bishop's Appeal helps make summer fun for young people
Fourth in a series on Bishop's Appeal 2004
By Joanne Flemming
DISCUSSION GROUP: Camp Tekawitha includes many activities, including daily religion classes for the young campers. (Josh Diedrich photo)
For many adults and children in northeastern Wisconsin and beyond, their happiest summers were spent at the Green Bay Diocese's Camp Tekawitha near Shawano.
"Tekawitha was a wonderful childhood memory," Mary Beth O'Donnell McKibben of Littleton, Colo., said recently in a letter to the diocese.
For Diane Baye Baumgart of Kaukauna, the camp was the place where she learned "to have fun" and "to take chances." It was the place that "reinforced (the idea) that I was OK."
Twelve-year-old Ashley Behnke of Crivitz liked it because it offered "a lot of good stuff." Bridget Hoeft, 13, of Green Bay, who was at camp in 2002 and 2003, said, "It's really fun" and she plans to go again this coming summer.
Camp Tekawitha sits on 31 acres of wooded land between Shawano and Cecil. The camp's buildings and athletic fields occupy 12 of those acres, which also include 800 feet of beach
along Loon Lake, said Kevin Brunner, diocesan director of facilities/properties.
Rose Van Lanen of Green Bay started the camp, then known as Catholic Girls Camp, in 1926, said Bobbie Larson, camp director, and Karen Johnston, director of the diocese's Catholic
Charities. The Diocesan Council of Catholic Women sponsored the camp for many years, Larson said.
Florence Boyce, 83, of Green Bay attended Camp Tekawitha "two or three times" in the early 1930s when she was a student at St. Patrick School in Green Bay.
It was where she learned to swim. She said she had taken swimming lessons several times in Green Bay, but when she found out she couldn't participate in certain activities at camp unless she could swim, "I got busy and learned in one day."
When asked why she went back so many summers, she replied, "I had fun the first time."
Diane Baumgart is the second of three generations who attended Tekawitha. Her mother, Betty Engebos Baye, attended in 1945. Then Betty's parents bought a cottage across the road from the camp, and Diane spent her summers there.
Spending summers at that cottage with her grandparents was how Baumgart discovered Tekawitha. She attended week-long sessions in 1963-1966.
She recalled getting up for breakfast by 7 a.m. and being "down the road by 8 or 8:15 a.m. for horseback riding." Tekawitha was where she learned to ride horses, do archery and play
She also remembered quiet times in the chapel after lunch, the nightly campfires where the cabins took turns presenting skits, and sleep-outs in the woods. "We told ghost stories and riled up a bunch of girls," Baumgart laughed. She added that she learned she "was a pretty good ghost story teller."
A girl she met at the camp, now a doctor in Arizona, is still a friend and the godmother to her oldest son. In 1995, Baumgart's daughter Miranda became the third generation to attend
Larson said the camp changed its name to Tekawitha in the 1960s in honor of Blessed Kateria Tekawitha, a Native American.
Johnston said the diocese brought the camp under "the umbrella of community services" when Card. Adam Maida was bishop. Later the St. Joseph Corporation, which oversees diocesan properties, took charge of the facilities. Catholic Charities was given responsibility for
Johnston said the annual Bishop's Appeal, under way throughout the diocese provides indirect funding for operations and direct funding through camperships for children who are unable to pay full camp fees.
Until the 1980s, boys attended the Norbertines' Camp Tivoli near Tekawitha. The girls went to Tivoli for horseback riding and riflery, Larson said. When that camp closed, Tekawitha began accepting boys.
The camp holds nine summer sessions, beginning in mid-June and ending in mid-August. Larson said seven of these are a week long, beginning on Sunday and ending on Saturday. The other two are mini-sessions, starting on Sunday and ending on Wednesday. They are designed for children who do not feel they are ready for a full camp session.
Between 800 and 1,000 children, ages 7 to 14, attend each summer.
Larson said her summer staff of 32 includes 18 counselors, a program director, waterfront director and kitchen and office help. She and husband Ralph have directed the camp for more than 30 years. Boyce, Behnke and Hoeft had special praise for the counselors, describing them as "great" and "very nice."
"You could talk to them," Hoeft said.
Larson said she hires only college-age students. Because Tekawitha is a member of Camp Counselors, USA, it has counselors from other countries. Last summer there were seven from such places as New Zealand, Ireland, Russia, Rumania and South Africa.
Two counselors are assigned to each bunkhouse. Each house sleeps 16 to 20 campers.
Each day begins with prayer and flag-raising; cabins each take a turn raising and lowering the flag. Last year, the Green Bay Area Exchange Club gave Tekawitha an award for its
Other activities include archery, tennis, arts and crafts, camp crafts, sailing, swimming, canoeing, kayaking and paddleboating. There are three canoe trips a week.
Because the camp provides "a good Christian atmosphere with good clean fun," there are daily religion classes and Mass every Wednesday.
There also are daily drama classes and at the end of each camp session, every camper participates in a production.
Appeal at 30%
"Bishop's Appeal 2004 is off to a great start," said Ron Shaha, Appeal director. "We have received 11,715 gifts for a total of $1,442,137. We received 1,000 more gifts in the first week this year than last year. Already we are at 30% of the Diocesan target. We anticipate a great response to this year's Appeal."
The target is $4.8 million. Gifts to the Appeal support diocesan programs and services offered to parishes and individuals.
Special camp activities include Olympics, Carnival Week and Christmas in July.
Tekawitha became year-round in 2002-2003, Brunner said, thanks to a building program begun the year before. New and renovated facilities include a chapel, health center and directors'
quarters, main lodge, and three winterized cabins. The remaining five cabins were updated. The newest facility dedicated late last year was a conference center built off a bunkhouse. It also includes indoor restroom facilities and showers and a second bunkhouse wing.
It was named Larson Hall in honor of the Larsons. Larson said this "gift" was not only "unexpected," but a "blessing" to her family.
Brunner said there are plans to convert the camp's old chapel into a little theater for the drama program. The woods surrounding the camp are undergoing reforestation, he added. A
planting is planned for spring.
Larson said conferences, retreats and workshops are being held at Tekawitha. A winter camping program with ice skating, cross country skiing and snowshoeing is planned.
To sum up her feelings about the camp, Larson said: "We're just a happy group, and we do a lot of singing."
Boyce recalled a song the campers sang when it rained: "Pray for sunshine, but always be prepared for rain."
Baumgart said the campers sang silly songs before they left the dinner table each night. She remembered one about a bottle of pop and another about a dustpan. She said she has taught them to her grandchildren.
For more information on Camp Tekawitha, phone (715)526-2316.