‘It’s really about your character’: The 30-year-old backstory of the Lodge Packet Program 

‘It’s really about your character’: The 30-year-old backstory of the Lodge Packet Program 

‘It’s really about your character’ The 30-year-old backstory of the Lodge Packet Program 

By Sara (Bell) Clifford 

Thirty years ago, this past summer, Ondessonk campers were, for the first time, given the option to work toward Lodge Membership during the school year, rather than wait to be elected by peers or nominated by their unit staff during their week at Camp. It was called the Lodge of Ondessonk & Tekakwitha Initiate Program, later known simply as Lodge Packets.  

The idea was hatched in December 1992 when Gene Canavan, then-Executive Director of Camp, took several older teens and 20-somethings to Canada to Sainte-Marie Among the Huron. Eric Schauster, the 20-year-old Lodge Chief (which is the same as “Senior Lodge Official” now), was one of the kids in that van. So were Dan King (now Executive Director of Camp), Michelle (Kreppert) Bretscher (who would go on to serve as Camp’s Program Director in the late 1990s), and a couple others. 

Sainte-Marie Among the Huron is a mission and interpretive center that tells the stories of the Huron Native Americans; the Blackrobes, such as priests Brebeuf, Lalemant, and Raganeau; the Donne, French laypersons; and other figures who were woven into Camp Ondessonk’s culture. 

Canavan wanted to make sure their stories were being represented accurately in the Lodge Ceremony, which had been modeled after the Boy Scout Order of the Arrow Ceremony. Both were steeped in Native American references. Turns out, they weren’t being portrayed accurately, and in fact, the Huron elders in Canada refused to meet with the Lodge group because they performed the Eagle Dance, Canavan remembered. 

On that harrowing winter drive between Canada and Illinois, the group had a lot to think through.  

Several text changes were made to the Lodge Ceremony between December 1992 and the summer of 1993. In addition, the Eagle Dance was cut, and a new dance – the Friendship Dance – was added.  

Packets were introduced as a new way to get into Lodge that same summer. The thought behind it was that not all worthy Lodge candidates had outgoing personalities that would attract votes from campers or nominations from staff. Sometimes, good kids – who also loved Camp and would make good Camp ambassadors and eventually, good staff members – got overshadowed. 

It was a lot of change all at once, and those changes as a whole weren’t well received, Schauster remembered. About Lodge Packets specifically, there was concern that people wouldn’t be truthful and could somehow fake their way into membership. 

But that was possible with election, too. You didn’t know if someone was just pretending to be a model camper for the week to get into Lodge. “I thought it was better (to get in with a packet) because you earned it,” Schauster said. “And the first ones were really difficult.” 

A packet from 1994-95 – the earliest found in Camp archives – required campers to volunteer for one primary and one secondary service project in each of three areas: friendship, conservation, and religion. Examples of primary projects included: “Reliably take over a household chore for your family (garbage, lawnmowing, cooking, etc.) and do it cheerfully and on time for six months”; “Do three quiet nature sits outdoors for one hour in the fall, winter, and spring, open up your senses and see, hear, smell, and feel what comes in, and write a one-page narrative on your experiences for each season;” and “Volunteer to clean up a portion of your churchyard for a six-month period.” 

“I was like, ‘I’m glad I didn’t have to do that,’” Schauster remembered thinking about all those projects. “And then they still had to do Second Campfire and work projects (while they were being inducted).” 

Canavan acknowledged that the language in the mid-1990s version of the packet sounds like him: the emphasis on conservation and respect for nature, especially, and the instruction to “be pleasant and brief with those you ask to monitor you, be direct about your request, but try not to tie up a lot of their time.” 

So, too, does the packet’s description of service work: It is “not meant to be easy,” the packet reads, “but is meant to be enjoyed by initiates. Good Camp Counselors and Lodge Members understand that as enjoyable as Camp fun is, Camp volunteer work, or work done for others in good spirit, is even more satisfying and deeply enjoyable.” 

“This is what I like so much,” Canavan said over breakfast at Stable Roundup work weekend last month: “I noticed that when people talk about Camp, they say, ‘Yeah, I work at Camp.’ It’s not, ‘I have fun at Camp,’ ‘I play at Camp,’ ‘I party at Camp’- which, of course, we do all that too – but ‘I work at Camp,’ because the work is beautiful and fun, and you get a work ethic and you sweat your butt off and it’s great. And you do it in community.” 

The Donne, a speaker in the mid-to late-1990s version of the Lodge Ceremony, shared a similar message with campers of cheerfully dedicating oneself to the service of a community. Donne, in French, means, “a person who gives of themselves.” 

“As we travel through our lives, there will always be temptations to follow the easy trail that leads downward into darkness and uncaring behavior,” the Donne cautioned. “We must attempt to stay on the high trail of good behavior, even though it is often rocky and difficult to follow. … The power of love and respect will light our lives with spirit, the same spirit that campers and staff call ‘Camp Spirit,’ the same spirit that guides the Lodges of Tekakwitha & Ondessonk.” 

Lodge members are meant to lovingly carry and display that spirit – while at Camp and while at home in their communities. So, the way that a member gets in – whether through election or nomination, or through a packet – doesn’t matter. “It’s all Lodge, and it’s really about your character,” Schauster said.  

Lodge Packet requirements haven’t changed all that much in the past 30 years. Prospective members still must complete projects in the areas of friendship/family, conservation, and community, but in lieu of a list of specific projects, the minimum requirement is five hours of work in each area. Candidates also must write at least a one-page essay for each project they complete, “reflecting on what you did, whom you helped, and what you learned.”  

  According to a binder of Lodge records in the Ondessonk Archives – which the records compiler acknowledged might not be accurate – the number of Lodge Packet completions ranged between two and 80 packets per year between 1995 and 2006. In 2021, the most recent summer for which complete records exist, a packet was the path to Lodge membership for 20 campers – 17 percent of all new initiates. 

Each week of Summer Camp, each unit is still allowed to nominate up to two campers to put through Lodge, and campers who completed packets don’t count against those two. 

Keeper of the Scroll Nolan Hurst expects packet completions to increase now that they can be submitted through an online form rather than the paper form, which often didn’t even make it home from Camp. Hurst also has the email addresses of campers who took packets and can send reminders throughout the school year. It was only 2021 that Camp started tracking who took home a Lodge Packet, so completion rates hadn’t been tracked before. 

These days, any camper who was not a discipline problem during his or her week can request a packet, Hurst said, but most kids who take them received a suggestion to do so by their unit leaders. All campers working on packets must send them into Camp by May for their work to be reviewed by the Lodge officials – and even then, they’re not guaranteed a spot. “It guarantees that you don’t have to be nominated by your peers,” Hurst said, “but also, if you come in and assume you’re going to be put into Lodge because you completed a packet and you’re a complete jerk for the week, we reserve the right to say, ‘Hey, you’re not exhibiting the values of a Lodge Member, so we’re not going to put you in this week. Maybe if you come back later this summer, you can show us more.’” 

Hurst has seen evidence that the packet founders’ vision – to allow a path to Lodge Membership for the Camp-loving, quiet kids, too – is working. “It’s usually the kids that are not the most popular, biggest personality in the unit that get looked over,” Hurst said. “… So, I see (packets) as just another avenue.” 

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


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