Human Interest


When I was that red-haired kid with freckles and acne, summertime was highlighted by a week or two at camp. I went to “camps” of various types at least seven times. Camp was a vacation of sorts. It was time spent away from home meant to be educational, spiritually nurturing, and fun. It was also a time to learn how to live independently and self-sufficiently, away from the influence of your parents. Camp was a life lesson—it’s underlying purpose was to teach you life skills and prepare you for the adult world that lay ahead.

Between ages 12 and 18, I attended “church” camp, Boy Scout camp, and journalism institute, each twice, and Hoosier Boys’ State once. Church camp and Boy Scout camp were considered “roughing it.” We stayed out in the country, miles from a city, and slept in bunk beds in a cabin in the woods with several other kids my age. Journalism institute and Boys’ State weren’t actually camps, per se, because they had a different format, and we stayed in a dormitory room on the campus of Indiana University in Bloomington. I consider the latter two activities as “camps” although their sole purpose, other than being away from home, was to educate “campers”/attendees, rather than purely to have fun. Staying a week or two in a college dorm should not be thought of as roughing it.

My first camp experience came at age 12. A group from our church, Otterbein Evangelical United Brethren (EUB) Church, joined more than 200 other youths at an EUB camp in western Ohio. I don’t recall the name of the camp, but it was in the country somewhere north of Cincinnati near a large lake with a sand beach. We all slept in concrete block buildings that had an open ward-like arrangement without air-conditioning. The 20-30 of us in one building shared two large bathrooms. The minister of our church went to camp as a chaperone and counselor, and he and the other adults slept in a separate room with a private bath. 

The things I remember about my first camping experience are not what you might expect.

     In the summer, in Ohio, it is hot and humid, and you sweat a lot, especially at night in a

        damp, musty, un-airconditioned concrete block building. You talk about muggy!

     There were a lot more girls at camp than boys.

     I think I was constantly hungry because the food was really good.

     We did a lot of fun crafts, sang church songs, prayed, heard inspiring talks, and had small

        Bible study sessions with our minister and other adults.

     We went swimming in the lake. To get there, I had to walk a long distance barefoot on a

        gravel road. It took me forever to get there, and my feet hurt like crazy. Why did I not wear

        shoes? I don’t really know, but I think I had to leave them on the beach while I was in the

        water, and I didn’t want them stolen or hidden. Besides that, I was a 12 year old with no

        common sense.That memory is permanently imprinted in my mind.

     On Friday night, before we were to go home the next day, our group of boys (4 of us) met

        with our minister to discuss why we came to camp, and what lay ahead for us in our lives. 

        It was then, after a spiritually-focused week, that I committed my life to Christ. It was a

        serious and emotional moment that I’ll never forget. Baptism was not a part of the

        experience at age 12, however. I had been baptized in the Presbyterian church as an

        infant, but I would later gain a deeper understanding of the meaning and importance of

        baptism. But after a week at church camp, I felt my life was heading in the right direction.

The next summer, I went to church camp again. This time it was outside of Huntingburg, Indiana, and was a lot more “primitive” than the camp in Ohio. It was an EUB camp, and a group of kids from our church spent a week there. There was no lake nearby. To swim, we were taken by bus, girls in one bus and boys in another, to a pool in a local park. When we swam, it girls only, first, and boys only, second. The twain never met. We sang songs, played games, did crafts, and once again, I committed my life to Christ. The standard set by the Ohio camp was never reached by the Indiana camp so for purely snobbish reasons the experience was not as spiritually satisfying. 

That same summer, I signed up to go to Boy Scout camp, too. The problem with that choice was the weeks at church camp and Scout camp were back-to-back. I got home from church camp on Saturday afternoon and left for Scout camp the next day. I was home for less than 24 hours. That proved to be problematic for this 13 year old.

Scout camp and church camp were not similar in any way. Boy Scout camp in Indianapolis, Camp Belzer, was located on land owned by the Central Scouting office, at that time at Fall Creek Parkway and Shadeland Rd (aka IN route 100), on the northeast side of Marion County. It was a primitive camp with an outdoor amphitheater, a mess hall, camp employees offices, a swimming pool, and 8 or 10 “main cabins” of varying size. Some of the cabins had sleeping rooms. Some had separate buildings that slept eight. I was assigned to cabin that had 5 or 6 separate buildings that slept 8. Our building had only 6 occupants, none of whom I knew. My building also had no bathroom facilities. I had to use a separate building where showers and toilets were located for use by everyone.

The mess hall was the equivalent of a two- or three-block walk on hilly ground. The weather was hot and humid, the roads were dirt or gravel and dust was everywhere, and after a week at church camp, I was ready for cool, dry, comfortable conditions and not what I had. My cabin was occupied by 5 other guys I didn’t know. They were very different from me. They hadn’t spent the previous week at church camp. I settled in Sunday afternoon, slept poorly Sunday night, and started my quest for several merit badges on Monday. 

I was hoping to earn merit badges in cooking, camping, basketweaving, swimming, and life saving. That’s a heavy load because each has a list of requirements to meet, and all but basket weaving took several days to complete. Plus swimming and lifesaving meant spending 2 hours each day in the swimming pool filled with the coldest water I had ever swam in. The pool was filled with spring water straight out of the ground so when you jumped in, you got your business done as a soon as possible. 

The camp mess hall was huge, the food line long and slow-moving, and the food lousy. The camp staff jokingly named some of the food items—particularly memorable were “bug juice” (Kool-Aid) and “dog food,” (beef hash). I remember having a hard time finding something I liked or a dish that looked tasty enough to actually eat. I did find some cereal the first morning and ate that. We sat on benches at long tables. I found my neighborhood friend, Mike Bruney, and sat next to him. As we started to talk, he suddenly put his hand up to his face and over his mouth. In a few seconds, I saw partially-digested stomach contents oozing out between his fingers. Then suddenly he grabbed his cereal bowl, leaned over, and vomited into the bowl. That was the end of breakfast for this camper. Mike grabbed a napkin, wiped his hand and face, stood up, and took off. I never saw him again that first day. The next morning I learned he had gone home sick.

Monday I went to all my badge sessions and did what I could. I was beginning to feel lonely and I wasn’t finding Scout camp to be the least bit fun. I didn’t want to be there. I didn’t relate to the guys in my cabin and wasn’t making new friends. I hated getting in the frigid cold water in the pool, and I couldn’t sleep worth a darn in that bottom bunk. The guy in the top bunk talked all the time and saying he was a fitful sleeper is an understatement. I began feeling sad. I wasn’t happy. I was hungry and the food they served was not to my liking. Homesickness was setting in. I had never been away from home for more than 7 days, and I was beginning my 10th day.

I went to the camp director and told him I wanted to go home. He called my mom who was sympathetic, but told me to stick it out until the next day, Tuesday, which I did. Things were not better the next day, though, so the camp director called my Mom again. Tuesday afternoon I went home. Embarrassed about the whole situation, I stayed in the house until I got my head back on straight. Then ventured out to see my neighborhood friends.

That’s the only episode of homesickness I ever experienced. It’s a powerful feeling that saddens you and tells you you’re not as tough as you thought you were. You miss your parents desperately and long to be back home, sleep in your own bed, and eat your mom’s food. You found out she wasn’t a bad cook after all. I blame my homesickness on immaturity and having it too good at home. I wasn’t mentally ready for independence and roughing it two weeks in a row. 

The next summer I went back to Scout camp; this time, I didn’t precede it with a week at church camp. I stayed in the same cabin, but with guys who weren’t restless sleepers or jerks. I earned the five merit badges I had planned to get the previous summer and advanced my rank one level. I ate in the mess hall and acquired a liking for the food. No one I sat next to vomited his breakfast or any other meal. The walk to the mess hall seemed shorter, too. I swam in the frigid water of that pool twice each day and proudly earned swimming and lifesaving merit badges, two of the hardest to earn. I’m still very proud of that accomplishment. I can actually say I had a great time that week, and was amazed the difference being a year older and more mature could make. 

That was the last Scout camp I went to because sometime during my freshman year of high school I decided to drop out of Boy Scouts. Too many other activities dominated my time so I chose to emphasize academics and athletics. With that in mind, the other three camps I was privileged to attend were based on academic achievements. Details of these camp activities will be shared in part two of this blog.  

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  1. Interesting!
    My only camp experience was at the. YMCA Flat Rock River Camp, at St Paul, Indiana for a week.

    All positive – good food, canoes, boating, archery, riflery, nature studies, crafts. Even had a little commissary where you could buy stuff, like craft project supplies. Great fun!

  2. Your experiences made me laugh. Sorry they reminded me of the song about the boy that was at camp also and an awful time. Can’t wait for the second installment of the camp experience. I never had the experience to camp. D.

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