Boondoggle Forever! Handicrafts at Camp Ondessonk

Boondoggle Forever! Handicrafts at Camp Ondessonk

By Pati Egan,

Many a camper and staff member have spent countless hours working with multiple strands of plastic lacing to create a lanyard, keychain, bracelet, or any number of creations. This is called boondoggle! The Camp 50th Anniversary Book doesn’t mention when Handicrafts became an activity. I imagine it first made an appearance in the Camp schedule in the very early 1960s. This photo from the early 1960s shows campers learning the fine art of boondoggle and leathercraft. Both have been mainstays of the Handicrafts Program.

Boondoggle Forever! Handicrafts at Camp Ondessonk 1

Where did the strange word “boondoggle” come from? I was checking how to spell the word and found a fascinating page on the history of the word at this site https://www.history.com/news/where-did-the-word-boondoggle-come-from. “During the late 1920s and early 1930s, Boy Scouts at summer camps spent their days not only swimming and playing games but participating in the latest scouting craze in which boys braided and knotted colorful strands of plastic and leather to fashion lanyards, neckerchief slides and bracelets. According to the March 1930 issue of Scouting Magazine, Eagle Scout Robert Link of Rochester, N.Y., coined the term for this new handicraft – ‘boondoggling.’”

Handicrafts had very humble origins – campers would buy supplies in the Trading Post that was located in the Original Administration Building or current Staff Lounge depending on when you were/are involved in Camp. Campers would go out to picnic tables and learn the crafts.

When the current Trading Post was built in the late 1960s, Handicrafts moved to that location. Campers would have the craft lessons at the picnic tables. The Trading Post staff sold all supplies. Each unit had handicrafts twice a week. 

Boondoggle Forever! Handicrafts at Camp Ondessonk 2  Trading Post

The new Handicrafts Building was constructed in 1975. Students from Gibault High School in Waterloo, Ill., funded and constructed the building. It is dedicated to Treva Barker who did much to bridge relations between Camp and the town of Ozark in the early days of Camp’s existence.

Camp Ondessonk 1970s

A major feature of the new building was a four-story tower that campers could climb to get a bird’s eye view of Camp while creating boondoggle.

A major feature of the new building was a four-story tower that campers could climb to get a bird’s eye view of Camp while creating boondoggle.

The new building was the first building solely dedicated to Handicrafts. The pictured building this staff member is inside of is the same building that staff store supplies today. 

The opening of this building also opened up a whole new set of activities campers could choose from.

Camp Ondessonk Postcard 1970s

These postcard-sized pieces of plywood were quite a hit! This was the age of decoupage, and campers could purchase a post card, burn it around the edges, and then paint shellac on top to seal the picture. 

Boondoggle Forever! Handicrafts at Camp Ondessonk

Another huge, but very messy, project was plaster crafts.  Camp had a number of plaster of paris molds that campers could choose from to create their project. Since all units had Handicrafts twice, they would paint it during their second visit.

Camp Ondessonk plaster of paris mold

A project introduced in the 1980s involved picking out a small piece of log and decoupaging a post card on top of it.

Campers still had to pay for their supplies until the very late 1980s. Before that the Camp staff began looking for projects that the campers could do for free. Rock painting and decorating were born! 

Leatherwork, decoupage, rock painting, and plaque making would come and go throughout the years at Camp, but there was always one constant – BOONDOGGLE!

A Peggy Hausmann original

Campers now have so many choices of projects, but you still see campers gravitating to this one activity. Thanks to the skill of former camper, staff, and current volunteer, Peggy Hausmann, the fine art of Boondoggle has created a dedicated boondoggling Handicrafts staff.

The Handicrafts Building has had a renovation and an expansion. The staff are creative and patient, which have always been a must in Handicrafts. Staff have 36 to 40 campers all needing instruction and supplies at the same time. It is impressive how they manage to make this activity so much fun. 

An activity that began at a picnic table has grown into a creative place where campers can create, relax, and enjoy a little downtime from the hustle and bustle of daily Camp life.  Just like in the beginning of Camp, it’s a chance to make new friends, make a gift for a family member, or just make something cool for yourself. It’s creativity at its best!     

Click Here to learn more about Camp Ondessonk’s history.


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