Friday, July 23, 2010

Camp Wamsutta Reunion

As we approach what would have been parents' visiting weekend, I write this as a remembrance that might appeal to those of a certain age, and on the off chance, too, that other alumni from this camp will read it and offer comments.

As a boy, I joined many of my fellow New Yorkers in attending a summer camp in Charlton, MA. This was when summer camp meant spending 8 weeks outside virtually all the time playing baseball, basketball, tennis, and swimming (at least 2 hours per day). It meant inspection of your bunk every day and winning double portions of ice cream if you had straight 10's -- floor swept clean, hospital corners and penny-bouncing tight blankets on your bed. It was boys only.

Camp Wamsutta was founded and run by Sam and Leah Sleeper, Worcester residents who decided in the late 1940's that they wanted to run a boys camp. They bought an old farmhouse, barn, chicken coop and land in Charleton. It had a small pond, and a river ran through the land. Ten years later, the Army Corps of Engineers built the Buffumville Dam, and the Sleeper's then had 100 acres of lakefront property, enabling them to have a real swimming and boating program as part of their camp activities.

Sam taught at Classical High School in Worcester. To get his job in the Worcester Public Schools in the 1930's, being Jewish, he had to change his name from Goldstein to Sleeper.

The Sleeper's had three sons, of whom the middle one, Marty, was most involved with the camp. In later years, Marty would become the beloved principal of Runkle School in Brookline, MA, and he now works for Facing History and Ourselves. My birthday greeting to him (courtesy of Facebook) led to a small reunion this week with four of the campers. A video follows with highlights.

The crowd included Howie and Eddie Gaynor, brought up in Framingham, MA. Their dad, Doctor Sidney Gaynor, was the mohel for the Boston Jewish community, conducting virtually every circumcision for miles around for several decades. Sidney, like Sam, changed his name (from Ginsburg) so that he could get into medical school in Philadelphia. Ironically, as Howie points out, "Gaynor" is now considered a Jewish last name in Framingham.

The other party at the dinner was Mike Sack, my boyhood (and lifetime) buddy, who was one of four brothers from his family to attend Camp Wamsutta.

Our first year at camp was 1959, when Howie, Mike, and I were 9 and Eddie was 8.

In the video below, you hear Marty explaining how the camp came to house so many Jewish campers. Sam would visit Central Massachusetts rabbis and ask them for names and address of boys in their community. One of them had a friend in New York, and from then on, the camp was dominated by Jewish boys from Long Island and Westchester.

Watch and listen as Eddie explains how Howie took away his double ice cream portion because his parents wanted the younger brother to lose weight, getting weighed every week by the camp nurse. Mike and Marty describe the special train from Grand Central Station that made unscheduled stops twice a year in Oxford, MA to drop off and pick up the campers. Howie, meanwhile, talks about how far away the camp seemed to be from Framingham (47 miles!).

And then there are images of the camp yearbooks from two years, 1959 and 1962, which provide a nostalgic view of the simple life of kids at the time. Also, there is a list of campers, so if you see someone you know, please forward this to him. Thanks.

If you can't see the video, click here.


M doyle spencer said...

This is a treasure. There's a movie in this, I think!

As wonderful as this is, it's even better to see and hear Marty Sleeper telling a story. A great principal and a great man.

Anonymous said...

The principal Mr. Sleeper would not be happy to know you called him a principle. (I note the previous commenter was more subtle in the correction). Wonder why his dad picked Sleeper to change his name to? Sounds like maybe a story there, too?


Anonymous said...

Fixed, thanks. I think he said that Sam thought it was an English sounding name.

Mike L. said...

This is a treasure...much, much appreciated.

e-Patient Dave said...

1. Wonderful essay!

2. How come you didn't write about the Facebook page??

3. How could you not include that summer-camp classic of our era, Allan Sherman's "Hello Muddah, Hello Faddah" [Here I Am at Camp Granada]? (YouTube) Wikipedia says it was translated into several languages and reach #4 in Sweden; it also says he was the inspiration for Weird Al Yankovic. All this from a summer camp parody?? Go figure - must strike some universal chord!

(The pictures on that YouTube are from the covers of his albums.)

4. Charlton.

Anonymous said...

Thanks, Dave, on all counts.

SP said...

That is a lovely piece, thank you for sharing it. Maybe we are of an age when reunions become more attractive: I just co-organized an unofficial high school 39th reunion (great fun).

I read your blog to keep up with the Boston and MA healthcare scene, but items like this are an unexpected bonus.

Gerry said...

(copied from Facebook)

Paul, this is absolutely wonderful! Both the essay and the video brought back so many great memories. It was interesting to hear Peter's and my name mentioned in the video, but I wasn't able to make out what was being said.

Perhaps that's to my advantage! Marty looks great as do the rest, but it was even more enjoyable to hear his voice again. If you had only been able to get him to say: "Waiters, LINE UP" I would have had a nostalgia overload.

bob queen said...

Nice seeing the video reminiscing. It brought back many great memories of those summers in the woods. It must have been around 1963 during my one and only summer as a junior counselor that something unexpected happened. My senior counselor was an avid trout fisherman and tied his own flies. One day a box of these flies diappeared and the guy packed up and stormed out of camp leaving me in charge of the bunk for the rest of the summer.Oy.
I've raised a family in Wisconsin and started a goat dairy, became a photographer for the state and have been a music promoter and festival organizer which I continue to do as a retiree in Madison. For the last 20 years I've run a 6 week free day camp based on Wamsuttan principles.
Best wishes,
Bob Queen

Paul Abrams said...

I'm delighted to find this. After having a dream about Camp W. about six years ago, I wondered if it still existed. I did a few internet searches, but came up blank. A few years later my work involved being close to Oxford, so I went to the camp site. The house and barn are still there, the tennis court was being used for farm equipment storage, the baseball field was a pasture with a grazing horse (but four steel poles from the backstop were still sticking out of the ground.) The lake was as I remembered but the docks were gone. No cabins left except the Moosehead one near the nurses house which is still there. The cement block wall from the showers was there, and immediately beyond that was a residential neighborhood where many of the cabins used to be. One mystery is that the basketball court was still there, but it was turned 90 degrees in orientation from how I remember it. I loved that place...have many fond memories and I'm grateful fro the ways in which being there influenced my development.

Paul Abrams

Paul Levy said...

Paul, there will be a reunion in early September at Marty's house. Friend me on Facebook or send your email address here, and I will send you details.

Sharman Gordon said...

Thank you for making my day; I truly enjoyed the video and blog. I was lucky enough to be part of Wamsutta back in the later 60's as cabin mate and partners in mischief with Patti Konnor and Nancy Bikoff. Great memories, thanks!

John Wagner said...

What a treat to stumble across this post! I attended Camp Wamsutta for three years in the late fifties. I remember the Sleeper family very well. Even now, names and faces of campers and counselors--Eddie Klopfer, Cliff Turk, Matt Kushner, Carl Weisbrod, Jimmy Diamond, Randy and Donnie Robinson, Dick Wood, and I see that my old pal Bobby Queen posted a comment; the Olympics, the rifle range, the long trek down to the lake, fishing at dawn, playing poker for bullet shells, the cold showers, and how many times did we watch "The Corsican Brothers" when it rained. Seems like a long time ago in a galaxy far far away. I'm now an attorney in NY, married for many years, two sons and a granddaughter, involved in various civic activities in Roslyn, Long Island, and a mental health advocate. But those years at Wamsutta were so special. My regards and best wishes to all!

Jon Zaid said...

By the time I got there, 60's, girls were a new addition to the camp. Some hanky-panky going around between counselors.
Anyone know whatever happened when you got picked at the sunday campfire and were whisked away? We were always hoping it would be us.

Anonymous said...

Was googling Camp Wamsutta and came across this site. Great to
hear that some of the people that I went to Camp Wamsutta are still
getting together. Mike Sack and I were best friends at camp. We went
to Mickey Mantle Day back in the 60's. Would be great to hear from him again. Jeff Fishbein

Paul Levy said...

How do we find you? Please comment with contact info, and I won't publish it.

Ken Segal said...

Hello Paul!!! Ken Segal here. Yes a blast from the past coming across this blog about Camp Wamsutta. So many memories and terrific video ... just to see Marty and hear his voice and Mike, Howie and Eddie... egads!!

Unknown said...

Just came across this and invite all Wamsutta alums to join us on Facebook at