Going to the Gala?
By Pati Egan
Not if you were only involved in Camp in its early years – you went to the Appreciation Dinner! It’s hard to date when the first Appreciation Dinner took place. It is featured in the 1960s yearbooks. It appears to be first held at Assumption High School (all boys school until the early 1970s when it went coed) in East St. Louis, Ill. Assumption is long gone but the spirit of the Appreciation Dinners lives on in the Gala!
Judy Blase Woodruff and Liz Zelenka revived this tradition with a modern twist, called it the Gala, had an auction, awards, and dinner at the Shrine in Belleville. It was a huge hit! It is held every other year now, and each year it gets better and better!
The oldest, continually given award is the Merit of St. René (Goupil). This is awarded by the Lodges of Ondessonk & Tekakwitha for outstanding service to Camp by a volunteer who is not a Lodge member. This award is still given today. Originally, the Lodge of Ondessonk gave one to a male and the Lodge of Tekakwitha gave one to a female.
Camp gave out three more levels of awards at the dinners. The Bronze, Silver, and Gold Crest. Below is a description of these awards – please excuse my 12-year-old sister’s handwriting! This is from one of the last dinners in 1973.
More award recipients up through 1978 are pictured. If you recognize anyone in these pictures, feel free to add it in the comments.
These pictures appear to be taken at Assumption High School which would date them early to mid 60s.
These pictures are probably from the last Appreciation Dinner. The dinners were then held at Augustine’s Restaurant in Belleville.
The Merit Of St. René award recipients
If you’ve ever been in the dining hall for dinner and saw someone with a green Lodge sash, this means they have been awarded the Merit of St. René – the oldest continually presented award at Camp.
Featured Speakers – this dinner was a big deal to our local politicians.
These names probably won’t mean much to you but at the time these people were a big deal! The Appreciation Dinners featured a nationally known speaker at each event, from politicians to the Director of the Peace Corps, to Jean Dixon.
The Lodges Save The Day (and the American Legion Auxiliary Juniors 22nd District Color Guard)!
During the early 1970s, things like Appreciation Dinners were, I suppose, losing popularity. Tickets cost $50 each (interestingly the same amount the first Gala charged for tickets in 2003). $50 was a lot of money in those days! Camp decided to offer Lodge members and their families tickets for $25. Yep, $25 was a much better price. Lodge members were the top selling group for the banquet. Still, camp could use a little pizazz to these dinners. My mom was very involved in the American Legion Auxiliary. She arranged that if Camp would pay for her, and the 22nd District Color Guard would get their tickets paid for, they would be honored to present the colors prior to the dinner. This, by the way, is the only dinner my mom, dad, and youngest sister attended. My dad must have purchased his own ticket. Peggi was in the color guard and a Lodge member. The Color Guard brought their parents – who had to buy tickets. Win, win for everyone – Camp had a well-trained in flag etiquette group advance the colors and their parents bought more tickets.
The End and a new beginning!
It appears that the dinners ended by the mid-1970s. In 2003 Camp was building a new dining hall and funds were needed to get this off the ground. Judy Blase Woodruff and the late Liz Zelenka came up with a brilliant idea. Let’s have a Gala. Since about 40 years passed since the last Appreciation Dinner was held; people were enthused, excited, and more than willing to come to the Shrine of Our Lady of the Snows.
The concept was different – no featured speakers, but a long tradition was born – the Verbal and Silent Auctions! This featured Camp specific memorabilia and other items donated by Camp supporters everywhere.
A few of the more interesting items were:
Oil Painting of Pakentuck
Own this original painting by one of Camp’s former staff members, Patty Mullen.
Donor: Patty Mullen
Hand-made Wall Hanging
Decorate your home with this unique 40X40 wall hanging. This beautiful item is machine pieced with origami flowers, hand quilted and beaded with the Camp logo. A lot of love and care went into the creation of this wall hanging. See Rose Hogan for care.
Donor: Rose Hogan
Here is a bit of Ondessonk nostalgia with a quilt that includes the color of each unit plus other favorite memories of Camp. Own this one-of-a-kind creation to hang on a wall or to use on your bed!
Donor: Jean Gilomen & Sarah Gilomen
Oil Painting of Pakentuck Falls
This piece was painted in Korea specially for the Stowes, and it is based on a photograph taken by Stephen Pitt in the winter of 1977/78.
Donor: The Stowe Family
The Silent Auction featured Camp items such as Camp’s Original Base Drum played at Inspections refurbished by Mike Woodruff, out-of-circulation yearbooks, arrowheads, and apparel.
A highlight was a showing of the newly-made, historical Camp video.
Awards such as the Merit of St. René were revived and a few new ones created.
Recognition of Former Lodge Chiefs & Princesses presented with silver sashes
St. Jean de LaLande Award – Mike Jennings
St. Jean de Brébeuf Award – Sara Bell
St. René Goupil Award – Selma Wuebbels
Presenters: Kate Perek, Princess and Roxie Frank, Sub Princess
Todd Kuethe, Chief and Dan Frierdich, Sub Chief
Rookie Staff Member of the Year
Veteran Staff Member of the Year
Presenter: Lee Smith – Assistant Director, Camp Ondessonk
The Gala withstood the pandemic two years ago with a Virtual Gala being held, and it will be held in person again this year.
Yes, it does cost more than $50 a ticket now, but you will have an awesome time!
Click Here to learn more about the 2023 Camp Ondessonk Gala.