Campers convene for Green Mountain Camp reunion

Wednesday May 22, 2013

DUMMERSTON -- Campers and alumni traveled from all over the country for Reunion Weekend at Green Mountain Camp.

"It's great to be back," said Green Mountain Camp Director and camp alumna Billie Slade, who moved back to Vermont from Wisconsin a year ago when she got the position as director. "It's coming home in every sense of the word."

On May 18, present day campers as well as their families and alumni were invited to attend the reunion. Some of the girls were excited to show their brothers where they would be staying for the night.

"Normally, boys don't come," said Slade, whose mother and grandmother had attended the camp, too.

The camp has been around since 1917. It is the longest running camp in the state of Vermont.

"Campers used to have to stuff their mattresses with straw," Slade said. "I grew up at this camp. I came since I was 7 until I was 11. It was my favorite!"

Last year, a camper was scheduled to attend several specialty camps for certain disciplines.

"I said, 'We're not really a specialty camp," said Slade. "And she said, 'Oh yes you are!'"

The camper told Slade that Green Mountain Camp's specialty is making memories and having fun. One of Slade's goals of the camp is to preserve childhood and provide old fashion fun.

"We can't choose what the kids will remember," she tells the counselors. "You never know when you're making a memory."

Previous owners of the camp, "Coach" and his wife Pat Battino, sat in chairs greeting campers. They have both since retired but decided to come from South Carolina to attend Reunion Weekend.

"Coach" received his nickname because he was a gymnastics and track coach. He was very well-known for his talents as a gymnast and coach.

Alumni came from places such as San Francisco, New York and Georgia.

Slade said she expected 100 to 120 people to make it to the camp site, where families had reserved cabins for the special night. Some alumni were coming just for the festivities.

"(The alumni) are excited to relive the experience," added Slade.

There was a memory book set up for visitors to write in and postcards for campers to write to themselves. In a few weeks, those post cards will be sent to the campers to remind them of the reunion and get them excited for the actual camp.

The Green Mountain Camp site has a pool and several cabins for its campers. There is a kitchen and dining hall, where Slade hung up old articles and pictures from decades ago as well as of recent.

Reunion Weekend started on Saturday night, with a spaghetti dinner, a dance and s'mores around a campfire with songs.

The dance in the barn was hosted by Amy Cann, a well-known fiddler, who brought a band with her. The barn is 100 years old and it is called Hildreth Hall.

"I just found out the man who donated the money to build this barn is making us a new wooden sign," said Slade.

On Sunday, there was a pancake breakfast and open house for potential campers to familiarize and meet some staff.

On June 19, orientation begins for counselors. The first day of camp will be held on June 24.

Some campers stay for a week or two. Others stay for the day then leave at night. A camper must be 6 years old or up to stay the night.

"This year, we're trying to strike a balance between the traditions the girls look forward to and new things," said Slade. "We're trying to be the place for kids to be kids."

She said that campers learn songs and motions that go along with the songs. They'd also be taught how to make bracelets and are encouraged to have conversations with fellow campers.

One tradition of Green Mountain Camp is a wishing log decoration night, where campers decorate and paint a log then put it into a camp fire at night.

"They make a wish for the camp," said Slade. "Then there's a candlelight ceremony by the pool and we sing a song we've been singing for 50 years."

Cindy King-Johnston came all the way from Georgia for the reunion. She was a camper from 1955 to 1962.

"It just stirs up so many positive memories," said King-Johnston. "It was a growth experience then. It was fun. It was all happiness."

She remembered the dining hall, the camp fires, crafts and when she became a counselor. Her mother, who used to live down the street from the camp on Arden Road, went to Green Mountain Camp as a child, too.

King-Johnston showed the Reformer a bracelet that was part of an Honor Camper award she won. She also brought photographs of Hildreth Hall, the cabins and other campers from when she was a kid.

Debbie Smith came from San Francisco for the reunion. She was in the area visiting her mother in Portsmouth, N.H., and decided to stop by the reunion.

Smith was a camper during the summers of 1971 and 1972. Her first year, Smith and her sister stayed six weeks, which was all three sessions the camp offered. They both were homesick at first but then couldn't wait to come back the following year.

During their first stay, Smith's family had lived in Massachusetts but the next year, they had moved to Florida. That didn't stop Smith and her sister from returning despite the long distance.

"I'm here because it was one of the best times," she said. "I'm still singing the songs."

Smith has worked with children who have disabilities and said that they often ask her where she learned all the songs she sings.

"I'd say Green Mountain Camp - in Vermont!" she laughed.

Smith told the Reformer that her sister was the first black counselor at the camp and "Coach" had recruited her.

Before the spaghetti dinner, a few campers were unpacking and making their beds. All of them had been attended the camp for at least a year before.

When asked about what the campers liked the best, the girls seemed to agree.

"I like it all!" they said, one after another.

Chris Mays can be reached at 802-254-2311, ext. 273, or Follow Chris on Twitter @CMaysReformer.


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