Fun you can still have as ‘adult who needs to be adulting’
By Sara (Bell) Clifford
There are two communities Margaret (Hayes) Keenan trusts and adores so much, she wanted her children to be a part of them, too. One is Nazareth Academy in LaGrange Park, Illinois, where her children attend school and where Margaret works as an administrative assistant in the Guidance Office. The other is Camp Ondessonk, where she was a camper in the summers of 1987 and ’88.
She was introduced to both places in the “before A.D.” period of her life, “A.D.” marking the time after her mother passed away from cancer while Margaret was in her 20s.
This summer, Margaret brought all five of her children, ranging in age from 8 to 14, to Camp Ondessonk for a week, and Margaret stayed, too, as a volunteer. It had been 34 years since she’d experienced summer camp, and the feelings of safety, warmth, and love she remembered from childhood came rushing right back.
“I was very excited to come back and participate in something that was so meaningful to me, and I was very excited to share with our kids,” she said.
“The songs – we were laughing our butts off when they taught the kids the Camp song. I started tearing up watching my kids learn all these things, knowing how much I love it.”
Four of her children – 8-year-old Nico, 9-year-old twins Minnie and Zuzu, and 12-year-old Harry – attended the same week Margaret volunteered, the girls in Aonetta and Harry in Lalande. Bea, 14, rescheduled to the final week of the summer due to an extracurricular conflict; this was her fifth year at Ondessonk, and she wasn’t missing it.
Margaret volunteered in Council, the spiritual activity area. It was a great “Ondessonk 101” course for a first-time volunteer, she said, and, considering her background, it was fascinating on another level, too. She has degrees in anthropology, historic preservation and architecture, and had worked for two bishops in two different dioceses. Origin stories, and the culture that emanates from them, are right up her alley. In Council, she taught campers about the North American martyrs, the Camp symbol, and ways they can find God in nature and among each other. “It’s appreciation for your fellow camper, a reverence,” she explained.
That spirit is easy to catch, even among adults. There were so many things that made Margaret smile during her week: “The campers … seeing young people so engaged and engaging, giving random high-fives or a fun hello,” she said. “My son was talking about how they hopped the dining hall and they had a huge dance party, and he was showing me the moves he did in the middle of the dining hall. They’re making new friends and excited that they have each other, and everyone’s being their highest and best self and bringing that to the table, and everyone’s benefitting from that.”
Seeing Camp again now as a parent, she said she’s proud of all the campers and the way they react to situations that could be challenging, like a scary noise in a three-sided cabin in the middle of the night, or a straight week of 90-plus-degree days spent outside. “Everyone works together and learns how to cope,” she said. “There’s tremendous skills learned in having fun in 100-degree heat on an all-day hike, getting the negative out of the way so you can focus on the positive. It’s awesome.”
Midway through her week, Margaret was already anticipating missing the friends she’d made among her volunteer group. That group included her first cousin, former staff member Lizzy (Hayes) O’Connell, but most of the rest she’d only met that week. “The vibe of everyone happy to be here, happy to help out—that’s, like, an ideal day, and here it happens, and when you leave, you have to work at it,” she said.
“It’s almost a refresher in things that felt more organic when you were younger, that you could still have as an adult who has to be adulting.”