The more things change... (an update for Camp Wood YMCA alumni)

By Ken Wold, Executive Director

Executive Director, Ken Wold, has worked for 20 years to be a good steward of Camp Wood YMCA for current and future generations.

Executive Director, Ken Wold, has worked for 20 years to be a good steward of Camp Wood YMCA for current and future generations.

I recently spoke at a YMCA conference. The session centered around camping and the impact that camping has on kids. In the room was a group of CEOs of small to mid-Size YMCAs in the United States. Within that group, sat the CEO of Frost Valley YMCA (one of the largest YMCA camping facilities in the country) and the CEO of the Sioux YMCAs in South Dakota that serve reservation communities. The Sioux YMCA operates the Leslie Marrowbone Memorial YMCA camp, probably the smallest YMCA camp in the country. And, of course, Camp Wood YMCA was representing a mid-sized camp. I wanted to emphasize that the impact of camping has nothing to do with the size of the Y or the bells and whistles found at any camp. The impact has to do with campers experiencing:

  • growth in independence,

  • increased self-esteem through learned skills,

  • an increase in tolerance and acceptance of others, and

  • relationship-building. 

These are the common goal of any camp and, if achieved, it is successful camp. These remain the goals of Camp Wood YMCA and we hope that as alumni, many of you can attest to these impacts in your own lives as a result of attending or working at camp.

If you were able to join us last May for our Centennial Celebration, you may have noticed that the Camp Wood you were familiar with has undergone many physical changes. Many of them were needed for safety and good stewardship of the property and many were done for the pure enjoyment of having the ability to offer programming to all in a comfortable atmosphere. With these grounds and facility changes, Camp Wood YMCA is now ready to serve campers (many of them children and grandchildren of our alumni) for another 100 years. Here are a few of the changes camp has undergone over the past 14 years. Come on out and see them sometime.

Updating camp facilities for future generations

In 2003, it was decided to conduct a capital campaign for several projects, including the goal to get the barn out of the sweltering heat below the dam. A new facility with indoor riding arena (the Koger Horse Pavilion) was built at the highest point on camp and now catches a very nice breeze. A Health Center was constructed to replace a small, outdated facility that is now renovated into staff housing. With five failing leach lines for sewage, a new, camp-wide sewer system was created. Because we were at capacity for a couple weeks in the summer, new cabins were built (the Jones Village). This eventually would allow us to replace the red cabins. (You can read more about the red cabins here.) And because the campaign was going well, we were able to move forward with a new lodge and administration center (the Ritchie Lodge).  A total of $6.8 million was raised during that first campaign. With these first improvements, the camper experience was greatly improved and camper fees could be directed towards program improvements instead of towards maintenance and repairs to aging camp infrastructure.

In 2011 it was decided to move ahead with a second campaign. This one would be much smaller but had some very important projects. Probably the most important project was the water system. (Many alumni may remember the tea-colored water that was standard here or when the water would run out during evening showers or inclement weather.) Since 2001, camp had been hooked up to the Elmdale water system. It had become clear that Elmdale’s system could fail at any moment and there were no funds to fix it. If this had happened during camp, we would have had to close camp for the summer. With a few years of negotiations, camp came to an agreement with Elmdale and the state to build a separate water plant with a new well that would act as a backup for Elmdale’s aging system. While we were planning a system we planned for backup power, holding tanks and additional lines on camp for future growth. Campers can now flush toilets and take showers during a power outage.

Ken speaks with visitors during Hutch Hall's renovation. The old wooden backstage was removed and the original views to the hills beyond was restored.

Ken speaks with visitors during Hutch Hall's renovation. The old wooden backstage was removed and the original views to the hills beyond was restored.

In addition to the water system, Hutch Hall had a face lift. The Arts and Crafts building was renovated into the Trussler Arts Center. The old canteen/staff hut was transformed into a family living unit for staff. The tennis courts were redone. A new skatepark was constructed.  The Preston Outdoor Education Station was created.  We also purchased 238 acres to the south of camp. And yes, the red cabins and bathhouse (the Kastle) were replaced. We also have new signage and stone steps from the waterfront. These steps are a great place to catch a glimpse of collared lizards basking in the sun.

Beyond buildings

Now that camp grounds and facilities have been restored and improved, we’ve now entered into a third campaign—an Endowment Fund--with the goal of ensuring Camp Wood YMCA will be able to serve children for another 100 years to come. As many alumni know, Camp Wood YMCA has seen ups and downs, much like any camp, and to protect it from the hard times, we are raising money for an endowment that will serve as a very important tool. In the good times, the endowment will allow us to build new programs, improve facilities, and serve more kids. In the down times, it will allow camp to properly maintain facilities and provide quality programs. We are currently half way to our $2 million goal and are very hopeful that the goal will be met. For me, this type of fundraising is the most rewarding. Many of the people who give to an endowment have a story to tell concerning camp.  Whether it is Camp Wood YMCA or another camp experience, these donors understand the importance of a camp experience and want to ensure it is available to as many kids as possible for as long as possible.

Campers enjoying their last evening together at closing campfire. It's still just as hard to say goodbye to camp friends at the end of a week.

Campers enjoying their last evening together at closing campfire. It's still just as hard to say goodbye to camp friends at the end of a week.

All for the benefit of our campers

Improvements to camp have been a good thing, but the best thing about any camp is its ability to create relationships that last, improve self-esteem among its campers, foster independence and encourage tolerance and care for others. Facilities are just a tool. An endowment is just a tool. But these tools allow for the important work of camp to take place.

If you’re interested in visiting camp and seeing what has changed (and what has stayed the same), we hope you’ll join us for our free Open House on May 6, 2017 from 1-5 p.m. New and returning campers will be visiting with staff and trying out popular summer activities like archery and arts and crafts. We hope our alumni and their friends and family will join us as well. Call us at (620) 273-8641 with any questions.

Alumni Spotlight: Sarah Baade

With 15 summers spent at Camp Wood over the years, Sarah Baade became a familiar face to many camper and staff alumni. Read about what Sarah is up to now and about some of her favorite memories from her time spent at camp.

Sarah and her brother were sad to leave after a great week spent at camp. nice tie-dye shirt, sarah!

Sarah and her brother were sad to leave after a great week spent at camp. nice tie-dye shirt, sarah!

How old were you when you first came to camp?

I was eight years old when I first attended camp. I recall being nervous because I was an extremely shy kid. However, camp has a way of bringing you out of your shell and I ended up having the time of my life. I cried when my parents came to pick me up and, as the story goes, I told my parents I would stay there all summer long when they were no longer the boss of me. (NOTE: Sarah kept her promise to her parents and would go on to spend nine summers as a camper, two summers as a volunteer and four summers as a staff member.)

Tell us about some of your favorite camp memories and people over the years.  

With 15 summers under my belt it is really difficult to choose just one memory or just one person to reflect on. In my very early years, we would do a midnight chapel service on the last night of your week at camp. There are tons of memories from those nights. Later on, Matt Bayer was my hero when I nearly fell off a horse on a trail ride. Once old enough to participate, I recall Julie (Frank) White guiding us through the Raggers program. As a volunteer, there were games of Dead Fish led by Ryan Wright. During family camp canoe trips, Anne (Haake) Winter and I demonstrated exactly how strong tiny women are by hauling canoes up a very muddy hill without any slips or falls. When working at the Alpine Tower, I would laugh so hard with Travis Cooper that Edouard Djiba and Amber Carlson could hear me from the water front.

Sarah and fellow staff members, Jessica and jill, flex their muscles for the camera in jones lodge.

Sarah and fellow staff members, Jessica and jill, flex their muscles for the camera in jones lodge.

Do you still keep in touch with friends that you met at camp?

The friendships I made at camp are some of the most precious I have ever made. Over the years, they have provided support during life transitions (both happy and challenging). They have given me reasons to travel and seek adventure. They have taught me lessons about the world I likely wouldn’t have otherwise learned. I absolutely still keep in touch with friends I met at camp – both as a camper and as a staff member.

When you were a camper, what impact did camp have on you?

As a young person, camp staff encouraged me to push beyond my comfort zone in safe ways. They also had a way of celebrating traits that made me uniquely me. This probably helped me develop more self-confidence than just about anything else in life. I began seeing myself as capable and outgoing. I became better at making friends and was more willing to try new activities outside of camp.

What about now, as an adult? 

My life continues to be impacted by my time at camp and probably always will be. I am not only willing to try new activities, I happily seek them out. My leadership and interpersonal skills also would not be what they are today if I hadn’t attended camp. I feel like camp also helped to prepare me for parenthood. I have a better understanding of child development; I have coping skills in challenging moments and I have silly songs to entertain with.

Sarah with her husband, josh, and their new daughter, Eleanor.

Sarah with her husband, josh, and their new daughter, Eleanor.

What have you been up to since camp? 

Over the years I have moved around to different corners of the country and have traveled to a handful of other countries around the world. I am currently living in San Antonio with my husband, Josh, and we welcomed our daughter, Eleanor, into the world in November 2016. Over the past five years I have worked as an audiologist at the VA hospital here in town. As a family, we stay busy with church activities and exploring local restaurants. I also spend free time baking and working out (to make up for all the baked goods).

Sarah Baade spent 15 summers at Camp Wood YMCA--as a camper, volunteer and later, as a staff member.

Sarah Baade spent 15 summers at Camp Wood YMCA--as a camper, volunteer and later, as a staff member.

Is Camp Wood still a part of your life?

Friendships are the biggest way Camp Wood continues to be a regular part of my life. However, memories also tend to sneak in at the most random moments of my day to day. I love sharing camp with my family and explaining its impact on my life. I have brought my husband out to camp and anticipate bringing our daughter in the future. Living 700+ miles away may limit the likelihood of our daughter attending as a camper but I will absolutely encourage her to try a Y camp closer to home if we can’t accommodate getting her up to Camp Wood.

What advice would you give today's campers and staff?

Embrace every moment. Be present in the joys and accept the challenging moments for the valuable lessons you are learning. Also, WEAR YOUR SUNSCREEN!

Anything else you'd like to share about your Camp Wood experience?

I think one of the greatest things Camp Wood has done over the years is accept and embrace everyone for who they are. Camp is one of the first places I learned about diversity of race, religion, socioeconomic status. It is such a gift that this early exposure provided a positive outlook and demonstrated equality for all.

Thank you so much, Sarah, for sharing your experience with us! In future editions of the Alumni Newsletter, we’ll be featuring additional camper and staff alumni members. If you’d like to be featured or have ideas about other news you’d like to see in the newsletter, let us know with the Alumni Contact Form.

Why I send my girls to Camp Wood YMCA

By Michelle Slattery

I made meatloaf for dinner tonight for my three girls and all three had different opinions. “Too spicy,” said Maddie, the youngest. “I think you should stick with the other recipe,” said Maureen, usually the more agreeable middle one.  While the oldest, Caroline said, “I like it, it’s really good.” This is how it typically goes with most things, but when it comes to Camp Wood, they all agree, they love it and can’t wait to go back!

We first came to Camp Wood for family camp. Ironically, it was because I was in the process of remaking our family after a difficult divorce. I wanted a place to be outside, have fun and reconnect. Since the activities and meals are all taken care of, I was able to relax and be completely present with my girls. That weekend was a turning point for us and somewhere between horseback riding and Gold Rush (we won!) we got our joy back. We felt like a family again—a new, happy one.

So we went back the next summer. But then, the next year, I will admit we cheated on Camp Wood. We were lured by a similar place with a new swimming pool, which was great, but the kids complained the whole time. They missed Camp Wood--the campfires, the repeat after me and do-as-I-do songs, the ABC prayer at dinner and fried chicken night. I think what they were really saying was they missed the spirit and traditions of Camp Wood. So, we went back to Camp Wood the next summer for family camp and everyone was happy again.

After going to several weekend family camps, the girls were ready for a week away on their own. I am a farmer’s daughter but as my dad says, my girls “live on the block,” so I wanted them to have the opportunity to get really dirty, explore the lake and see those amazing stars at night. I also wanted them to get the self-confidence that comes with trying new things and meeting new people--and it worked!!

Eight months later, Caroline considers her friends from camp her best friends and will be a Leader-in-Training with them this summer. Maureen discovered she can go away for a whole week and that she loves the horses and hates mud. Maddie learned how to fish and make potholders.

When I went to pick them up from Traditional Camp, they were all happy to see me but so sad to leave camp and all their new friends. So, family camp at the end of the summer now gave them all something to look forward to. And when we went back, after having a week at summer camp my girls became the camp experts. They were so proud to give me archery tips, introduce me to the fun counselors and teach me to fish. We’re all counting the days until it is time for camp again. In the meantime, we’ll keep making potholders and singing the shark song!  

A big thanks to Michelle for sharing her family's experience with Family Camps and Traditional Camp. We can't wait for them to return to camp again!

It all started with Hi-Y.

A Hi-Y pin that would have been worn by club members.

A Hi-Y pin that would have been worn by club members.

Most campers know Hi-Y as the hill at camp where a wooden cross was erected in the late 1950's. However, Hi-Y is much more than a scenic hillside. Hi-Y refers to the YMCA clubs that began Camp Wood YMCA’s early commitment to empowering young leaders.

In fact, the idea for a YMCA training camp in Kansas all began with the Chapman, Kansas YMCA in 1889, where Hi-Y clubs for teenage boys were first founded. The clubs were designed to build Christian character through sportsmanship, scholastic achievement and leadership training. Soon, Hi-Y clubs spread to YMCAs throughout the United States. 

In Kansas, Hi-Y clubs started hosting camps each summer. The camps soon became very popular and were attended by boys from throughout the state. Young men, (and later, young women) flocked to Hi-Y camps to enjoy not only archery and canoeing, but to attend trainings and speeches on the importance of leadership and values and service. In Kansas, these Hi-Y camps were held at various locations throughout the state and even as far away as Colorado. But in 1914, Kansas Hi-Y leaders decided that a permanent location was needed.

A photo of campers playing atop Hi-Y Hill, named after the original YMCA clubs that first used the camp.

A photo of campers playing atop Hi-Y Hill, named after the original YMCA clubs that first used the camp.

A search committee was formed and letters were sent to every YMCA field secretary in Kansas—“Do you know of a site that might be available?” One of those letters arrived on the desk of field secretary, Clarence Wood. He shared it with his elderly father, Stephen, a retired stockman and farmer living in Elmdale, Kansas. In December 1915, the Wood Family donated 40 acres to establish the camp for “the young people of Kansas”. The camp opened its doors the following summer— welcoming its first Hi-Y campers in May of that year to begin their leadership training at Camp Wood YMCA.

The leadership legacy of Hi-Y clubs continues today with camps designed for 11-17 year-olds. Explore our 2017 leadership camps.

Leaders in the real world (of camp)

By BJ Murray, Senior Operations Director

I want to confess a pet peeve of mine. Our summer camp staff often hear from well-meaning adults that after working at camp, they’re going to have to enter the “real world” someday. I find that pretty funny, because here you have a college-age person who has been given an enormous responsibility—caring for the safety and well-being of children—and just because they have fun while bearing this responsibility, it’s not the “real” world?

Our summer staff are some of the most amazing leaders I know. They speak and sing in front of hundreds of children—keeping them engaged and learning the entire time. How many adults could do the same? Our staff lifeguard down at the lake, belay children 50 feet into the air at our Alpine Tower, introduce them to horseback riding up at the barn, guide them into the prairie for campout night, shoot bows and arrows with them at the archery range and so much more—all with a joyful heart and an unparalleled attention to safety. They understand that they have been entrusted with the care of something more priceless than anything—a person’s child. What could possibly be more real than that? And though camp is fun, it’s no fairytale where all the children are well-behaved and everything goes the way you hope it will. Camp is a real world filled with challenges and surprises and our young staff go beyond their job duties and transform into exceptionally caring, responsible leaders under the weight of their responsibilities.

What’s more, in addition to their duties to master logistics and safety, our staff are also aware of their responsibility as role models—teaching campers values, good character and relationship skills. They are planting the seeds for campers who will soon become leaders themselves. By the way, they are doing all of this in 100 degree heat, while working 23 hours a day (they get an hour break) and with very little pay. They play the role of mom, dad, big brother, favorite aunt, best friend, confidant, and guide. They understand that they have a lot of influence over the children in their care—and they take it very seriously. I believe these college “kids” have much to teach us all about true leadership. And because of our summer staff’s caring example, campers are inspired to become leaders themselves.

So, please let me assure you, camp is a very real world, filled with responsibility and hard work. It’s just that the amazing young men and women we hire as staff every summer make it look like it’s all fun and games. Their enthusiastic model of leadership is already transforming children’s lives in this very real world we call camp.

We are still looking for a few exceptional role models to work at camp this summer. Apply to be one of our summer leaders today.