Recalling memories of Girls Scouts, girl power and summer camps

Columnist Constance Alexander learned she was not alone in her passion for Girl Scout camp. From all over the country, readers shared a field of fond memories much like her own.

Sacajawea was a Girl Scout camp in northwest New Jersey. It was cheap, democratic, no frills. We slept in tents, bathed in cold water, ate every meal whether we liked the food or not, earned badges, created lanyards and other arts and craft projects, and sang songs around the campfire. Every day we discovered girl power in new ways.

Constance Alexander

Camp was definitely low-tech, stubbornly plebeian, and nothing like home, so I loved every minute. Through one posting on Facebook, I learned I was not alone in my passion. From all over the country, readers shared a field of fond memories much like my own.

Murray-born Maggie Sasso, now an artist in Milwaukee, thanked parents Paul and Sandy Miller Sasso for sending her to Pennyroyal and Bear Creek Camps. “Camp taught me that I’m really good at making fast friends,” Maggie recalled. “And I also learned canoeing, sail boarding, and endless crafts.”

Maggie’s mom chimed in to say that she got a kick out of learning camp songs from Maggie, and Paul remembered trying to write to his daughter every day. Maggie described her dad’s much-appreciated epistles as “OVER THE TOP!”

Jenni Hopkins Todd, now the mother of a Girl Scout, recalled her own Scouting days at Bear Creek camp. She decorated white tee shirts using a toothbrush to create the design. “As an adult,” she remarked, “I love taking my Scouts to camp and watching them grow as people and learn new skills. One girl became an amazing canoe captain,” Jenni explained. “Another led a group of girls in fun skits. Scouts and camping are the best!”

Robynn Smith, an artist from California, discovered, “Camp was a place I could reinvent myself and not carry the weight of my home/school identity.” For her, the experience was priceless.

An educator from Murray, Susan Crawford, remembered attending Camp Shantituck. “The songs and campfires were always fun,” she said. “I loved the different campsites and the community that developed around each of them.”

“I felt empowered each summer,” she added. “There was really nothing that equaled the opportunities camp gave us as young girls in the 60s and early 70s.”

Leslie Rowland-Yeh, an educator from South Carolina, responded to Ms. Crawford’s entry because the two had attended the same camp. “I sold 400 boxes of cookies each year so I could go to camp,” Leslie reported.

She also shared her experience of a solo survival overnight in LBL and described “the nighttime explosion of lightning bugs across the meadow. It seemed like there were thousands of them. Where have they gone?”

Murray’s Joy Waldrop treasured memories of singing around the campfire every night. She also recalled “screened in cabins, swimming in the lake, and the food was always great, probably because we were always hungry.”

A lifelong sports lover, Joy observed that kids seem to opt for playing in summer sports leagues these days, rather than going to camp.

Growing up in Louisiana and now a long-time resident of Trigg County, Kathryn Coon Harper attended Piney Woods Girl Scout Camp. “The experiences there played a significant role in shaping me into who I am today,” she asserted. “Long hikes into the woods identifying trees, insects, the poisonous things, birds and wildflowers” were all part of her summer adventures.

She also mentioned the joy of cooking campfire stew and coffee can casseroles, tagging them as “delightful after all that hiking. Learning how to start a campfire with one match, which I can still do, was a skill for empowerment,” she added.

Health care marketer Tory Daughrity did not go to camp, but every summer her Murray Girl Scout troop went to Energy Lake and visited the Boy Scout camp one night during the week. She also valued her recollections of nighttime campfires and songs and remembered lots of her troop’s experiences at Land Between the Lakes’ Brandon Springs.

Murray State University professor in the Department of Music, Tana Field’s Scout musings led back to northern Iowa and Camp Gaylord. She cherished her time learning about fishing and astronomy and fondly recalled “pitching tents to sleep under the stars and gaze at constellations. Aside from those specific experiences,” she remarked, “I most remember nighttime campfires and songs.”

Public health nurse Tracey Brown Yazvac wrote from South Carolina to mentioned that she attended Girl Scout Camp in New Jersey at Camp Lou Henry Hoover. “I still remember all the words to out unit song,” she said. “It’s a doozy of a song…you try rhyming Swartzwood Lake??!!”

As a Girl Scout in the Indianapolis area, Jean Martin loved the songs and long walks in the woods. She also enjoyed sleeping in a tent and hearing scary stories around the campfire. “I also remember a few of the counselors who seemed so old at the time, but I now realize were mostly teenagers.”

In her last year at camp, Jean learned to swim and joined the swim team when school started. That achievement, she confessed, changed the course of her life.

Retired nurse, Toby Shapiro went to Camp Sacajawea the same years I did, although our paths did not cross until high school. Her stints at camp were in two and four-week sessions. She reported that she still has her songbook from camp and she cherishes the friendships that were forged there.

“At age forty,” she said, “eight of us got together for a reunion weekend. We went to camp though it was closed. Since then,” she went on, “we have gotten together every two years in our of our home areas. This is THE one thing I treasure!!!”

One of the most exciting posts about Camp Sacajawea came from Dolores Donnelly, now a resident of Florida. Dee recently celebrated her 97th birthday but took the time to post on Facebook that she was the director of Camp Sacajawea in 1980 and 81.

“Ms. Dee” was how she was known to campers.

Camp Sacajawea was named after the Native American woman who guided Lewis and Clark’s overland expedition to the Pacific Ocean. She was an interpreter of unknown language and unfamiliar territory. “Bird Woman” she was sometimes called, for her uncanny ability to commune with nature.

The camp was aptly named. The three summers I went to Camp Sacajawea, I came home with the understanding that the outdoors is nature’s cathedral. I learned about independence and self-reliance, about working with others and being alone. When to lead, when to follow. Tolerance of myself and others.

Most of all, I experienced the magic of summer nights, singing around the campfire. There was no stern choir director badgering us to memorize words and notes, but somehow everyone learned the songs. Harmonies emerged unbidden; descants just appeared – beautifully, naturally, the way the stars come out. The music was already inside each one of us, note-perfect, just waiting to be given voice.

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Recalling memories of Girls Scouts, girl power and summer camps


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