2023 Lodge Awardees Recognized for Dedicated Service

2023 Lodge Awardees Recognized for Dedicated Service

By Whitney Strang, Director of Development

Every two years Camp Ondessonk recognizes members of the Camp Community who exemplify leadership and commitment to Camp with awards established by The Lodge of Ondessonk & Tekakwitha, Camp’s service organization for campers, staff, and volunteers.  The awards presented include the Merit of St. René Goupil Award and the St. Jean de Brébeuf Award. The 2023 recipients of these awards were celebrated during Camp’s The Roaring 20s Gala Saturday, March 4, 2023.

The Merit of St. René Goupil Award is given to an outstanding non-Lodge member who has rendered meritorious service to Lodge, Camp Ondessonk, and their community.  The 2023 Recipients of the St. René Goupil Award are Kyle Keserauskis and Jo Ann (Wetstein) Mayer.

Always ready at a moment’s notice to travel to Camp and help with maintenance projects, Kyle Keserauskis began serving as a summer volunteer about ten years ago.  Rounding out a foursome that often includes Jim Shively, Jim Stern, and Ken Haas, he has helped complete many important projects at Camp including upgrading the St. Noel rooms, power washing the Noel deck, painting the exterior of the St. Noel building, mowing the many acres of Camp lawns, working “Week Zero” to help prepare Camp during staff orientation for the start of summer camp, and working the last week of Camp to help prepare for the Education and Recreation Season. Kyle has been part of the barbeque crew for the annual golf benefit and has helped with numerous parades in Belleville. Kyle is a quiet force behind many projects, we thank him for his gifts of time, talent, and treasure he so freely gives to Camp Ondessonk.

Jo Ann (Wetstein) Mayer enjoyed Ondessonk as a camper for five summers beginning in 1968.  Now known by campers as Nurse Jo, she has been a dedicated volunteer in Camp’s Health Center since 2016. 

Jo worked as a critical care Registered Nurse in the ICU, Emergency Room, and in other medical specialties for 37 years before retiring in 2018.  Working in these environments makes her uniquely prepared to handle any situation a camper may experience. Although no longer working full time, she retains her license so she can volunteer in the Health Center each summer.  In addition, Jo drives down to Camp each Sunday during summer camp to help with medical-services-related check-in tasks helping to keep the check-in process consistent and streamlined.  We extend our thanks to Jo for being a dedicated volunteer who cares for the campers of Ondessonk with such love and devotion. 

The St. Jean de Brébeuf Award is given to an active or associate Lodge member for rendering meritorious service to Camp Ondessonk, Lodge, and their community. The 2023 recipients of the St. Jean de Brébeuf Award are Jeanine (Reime) Heller, Stephen Rheinecker, and Dr. Chris Wangard.

Jeanine (Reime) Heller was a camper at Ondessonk in 1962 and became a Counselor in Training in 1964, with Nature as her specialty. She became a member of Camp’s staff as a hiking instructor in 1965, and by 1968, she was a unit leader. Jeanie was inducted into the Lodge of Tekakwitha in 1965 and participated in Lodge ceremonies each week for most of the time she was on staff. Her ties remain strong with Lodge, as for the past 15 years, she has made approximately 1,000 Lodge sashes, because she believes that it is a true honor for a Lodge inductee to receive their sash, as it is a symbol of their dedication to Camp.

Because of her expertise in finance, Jeanie was asked to join the Camp Ondessonk Finance Committee about 14 years ago and has been instrumental in guiding the financial policies of Camp since. Camp continues to be on a strong financial footing because of her untiring work on the Finance Committee.  We thank Jeanie for her support of Camp, the Lodge, and her community. 

Stephen Rheinecker’s commitment to Camp Ondessonk began when he was a camper in the 1970s.  Fifty-some years later, his dedication continues.  He has served the organization in about every way possible.  A partial list of his paid jobs includes wrangler, maintenance crew, kitchen crew, head cook, unit leader, frontier trip leader, and the all-encompassing position of “other areas as needed.”  He has also served Camp on dozens of volunteer construction projects, the Properties Committee, and as a member of the Board of Directors.  No matter the job, he leads with contagious enthusiasm and his “never say never” attitude and persistence helped encourage his fellow volunteers during the renovation of Fournie Lodge. 

Steve, his wife, Mary Helen, and daughter, Jen, have contributed time, talent, and treasure way beyond the Fournie Project.  Their dedication to the stables goes back to the 1970s as they regularly make time to participate in Stable Round-Ups. Thank you, Steve, for your commitment to Camp Ondessonk.

Dr. Christopher Wangard became enamored by Ondessonk when he attended summer camp during the summers of 1981 through 1986.  To this day, he is grateful to his parents for encouraging his summer camp experiences. 

Dr. Chris, a Pediatric Emergency Physician, became a Health Center volunteer in 2001 and has returned for one or two weeks every summer since.  A founding member of Camp’s medical services committee, Dr. Chris is a key part of a small group of talented individuals who help oversee this critically important area of the operation.  Dr. Chris developed Camp’s current Health Center operation’s procedures and serves the organization as an on-call consulting physician, even when he is not on-site.  

Early in 2021, Dr. Chris’s contributions to camp medical care transcended Camp Ondessonk, ultimately impacting summer camps throughout the state of Illinois.  At that time the Illinois Department of Public Health was reluctant to prioritize the creation of COVID operation’s guidance for overnight summer camps.  Without such guidance, Camp Ondessonk and other residential camps in Illinois would not be allowed to operate in 2021.  With the help of a Camp Friend with access to high-ranking public health officials, Dr. Chris submitted a beautifully written pediatrician-to-pediatrician plea to Dr. Ngozi Ezike, who was serving as the Illinois Department of Public Health Director.  His letter focused on documented and personally observed increases in post-traumatic stress, depression, anxiety, and suicidality among children.  Emphasizing that the camps of Illinois could be operated responsibly by utilizing common-sense disease transmission mitigations, Dr. Chris wrote, “while summer camp may not be a cure-all for the societal impact of the pandemic, for those children and adolescents who participate as campers or staff, the beneficial impact during typical times is profound and likely to be amplified in the face of pandemic-related hardship.”  His message resonated with Dr. Ezike.  She issued an order to begin drafting summer camp-specific guidance within twelve hours of receiving the letter.  Camp Ondessonk served 2,970 children during the summer of 2021 while observing mitigation practices without experiencing a known COVID outbreak. 

The children at all of Illinois’ summer camps, especially Camp Ondessonk, are incredibly fortunate to be so skillfully and passionately served by Dr. Christopher Wangard. His ongoing gifts of time, talent, and treasure are noticed, appreciated, and admired. 

2023 Lodge Awardees Recognized for Dedicated Service- Camp Ondessonk
Left to right: Kyle Keserauskis, Jo Ann (Wetstein) Mayer, Jeanine (Reime) Heller, Stephen Rheinecker, Dr. Christopher Wangard, and Executive Director Dan King

Click here to learn more about The Loyal Lodge of Ondessonk & Tekakwitha.


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