Learning Leadership on the Job
By Pati Egan
Today, Camp’s staff is well trained, attend an in-depth orientation, get to know each other, and are a well-oiled machine by the time the Camp Gate opens. This was not always the case. Staff orientation was begun by Gene Canavan in the mid-1980s.
Let’s take a look at the ways staff were hired. This is my story from camper, to CIT, to General Staff, to Program Director, to willing volunteer.
I was sitting downstairs at St. Noel last spring and thinking how lucky I was to be at Camp surrounded by people I once thought were way too cool to hang out with me! So here is my first day on staff – the year was 1971, and mom dropped me and a few friends off at the covered bridge. I believe Judy Blase Woodruff rode with us. I don’t recall a welcoming committee. My mom would not let me work on staff until I was out of high school. This was a good decision in retrospect, I was pretty immature. I went on the lodge trip in 1971 and was asked to be on staff. I carefully read the instructions for new staff and felt I was ready to go! I was told that I would be the Archery Instructor and maybe a Unit Leader. I did not have a car and really didn’t know anyone yet.
Ted Grannon was the first person I met when I went in the Staff Lounge. I heard the Staff Lounge was the coolest place in the world. I opened the squeaky screen door and saw a knife fly close by and land at my feet! Since I was a pretty laid-back kid, I probably just walked over it.
I figured out, with Judy’s help, that I was Unit Leader of Chabanel! I didn’t know some of your stuff could go in the Staff Shower House, so I hauled my “footlocker” to Chabanel and settled in. I was lucky, the other staff member with me was Patty Canavan. I remember thinking “well, I’ve been in a unit before – I know this job! Unfortunately, I did not know the job! My campers were pretty wild. I was put back in Archery the next week. To be honest, there were so many legendary staff members, it took a while to find my niche. I’m glad I did. I ended up working at Camp off and on until 1985. Now, I’m good friends with these “legendary” staff members.
Judy (Blase) Woodruff
“I might have had the most unique way of getting hired at Camp,” says Judy (Blase) Woodruff. After being a Stables’ C.I.T. in 1969, she waited and waited to receive the all-important letter asking for her to be on Girls’ Staff in 1970. It never came! There was an overabundance of Stable C.I.T.s that year, and no room for one more, no matter how dedicated she was to Camp. Frantic, she hastily wrote a letter to the Camp Director pleading for a place on Staff that summer. She even offered to be the dreaded Dining Hall Manager! Finally, well into Boys’ Season 1970, she was told that she was on Girls’ Staff, and yes, she would be the Dining Hall Manager! “It didn’t matter to me where I worked, I just had to be part of Camp’s Staff – a dream come true – and at my home away from home,” exclaimed Judy.
“With being hired so late, I didn’t attend any sort of orientation. When I arrived at Camp in 1970, I was struck by the senior staff with whom I would be working, like Barb Schutzenhofer, Susie Strange, the Gorman twins, Rosie Brefeld, Pam Schenck, Pat Lucas, Janet Harper, Vicki Curtis, Carol Sikora, and Peggy Hausmann (whom I C.I.T.ed for the previous summer). I was so excited to see Theresa (Clark) Kelley whom I met when I was a C.I.T., plus we went through Lodge initiation together in 1968.
“There was no orientation, since I arrived at Camp the Saturday before Girls’ Season began July 19, 1970. I was handed the small, red Staff Manual and was told to read through it – which I did. How difficult could it be to be a Counselor? After all, I was a camper for four years and hung on every word the Counselors said. I knew that I could do it, and if I didn’t know the answer to an issue or problem, there were staff willing to help guide me along the way.
“I was VERY excited that I was assigned to Brebeuf (my all-time favorite unit) with Unit Leader Susie Strange. We had a great time, and won the Golden Arrowhead one week that summer.
“After serving as Dining Hall Manager for two weeks, I was assigned to the Trading Post for two weeks (yay to air conditioning!). For the final two weeks that summer, I was assigned to Stable B, and my first summer was complete!”
Judy says, “My experience on staff gave me the confidence and skills to become a leader in my chosen career of professional development work for non-profits. I have held leadership roles in universities and non-profit organizations, and I owe much of my success to Camp Ondessonk for both learning-on-the-job, but also for making me feel safe to spread my wings!”
Suzy (Munn) Mahoney
Suzy (Munn) Mahoney had a more organized start to her Camp career. She recalls, “My first year on staff was 1987. I remember going for orientation and thought I would be returning for Girls’ Season only. When I was asked to stay to be a cook during Boys’ Season, I was elated! I lived in the dorms with Susan Gillituk, Michelle (Kreppert) Bretscher, Jenny (Joseph) Gillituk, Amy Menard, Janie Pate and Annette (Schefers) Hohmann. I was only 16 and slightly anxious to be working amongst some of the best and more senior staff members. They took me in and showed me the ropes. I always say I learned a lot and I learned fast. I’m still close friends with a few of them today.
“During orientation, we had a team-building session at Kane Lake. This is back when there was more of a swimming area/beach, but the grass wasn’t well-kept. Needless to say, we all discovered tiny seed ticks in the shower house! Gene Canavan and I were recollecting this memory at Fall Stable Round-Up 2023.
“Being a cook was a difficult job (long, hard hours). But I’m sure I picked up some cooking tips. I even got to make donuts one time. And no, they weren’t as good as those Saturday morning donuts that are delivered nowadays.
“During Girls’ Season I was on staff in Daniel with Annette, Jenny Jo and Julie (Brossart) Mussell. Pretty sure we won tug of war the week of the unit shown in the first picture. A few of those kids became staff members, so we must’ve done something right! Somehow Julie and I managed to get a stables “initiation” that summer. Matt says I ran my mouth about something. Guess Aquatics gals should just stay on the docks!
“Weekends away from camp were always fun! That first summer I went roller skating in Harrisburg one weekend with Annette and Jenny Jo (and their now husbands Matt and Michael, respectively). Tell me if you think I felt like a young, awkward teenager then – see picture.
“Speaking of weekends, I had never been to a Walmart until I worked at Camp my first summer. They were more of a southern thing back then, I guess. But trips into Marion always meant a trip to the “old school” Walmart off Route 13.
“I always looked forward to returning to Camp as a counselor each summer. I don’t remember the anticipation of my first year as much as I do my third year which would’ve been 1989. I graduated from high school on a Friday night and I was out the door the next morning southbound from Decatur, Ill.! Would I go back and do it all over? Heck yeah! Already looking forward to my return in January. And there will be a great sense of anticipation, no doubt.”
Janet Harper’s first five weeks on Staff were spent out in Teon at Pine Lake. She explains, “The first day was wild! All the turkeys and chickens were running loose in the woods, so the girls pitched in to help us catch them all. That was pretty much how we spent that first day!” She felt that somebody knew what they were supposed to do. She said, “Peggy Boyer was amazing! No prep whatsoever for me, just go out, drop your gear, and start trying to catch our feathered meals! Jimmy Klein made a machete for me. Kept it for many years – never used it though. Primies was super exciting for me because I loved the pine forest and Pine Lake. I was so glad to be there.”
Steve had a triple major as a C.I.T. – Primitives, Nature, and Woodsmanship – and he said, “Jim Klein really ‘made the Primies’ – evolved us from the Conastoga Wagons to the tree houses coming up with the tree platforms. Great fun, novel, and totally practical, and turned Primies into the place staff wanted to visit on Wednesday night campouts. Thanks to Frank Pikul and Jim Klein, Staff and programming were pretty well developed on the fly. It was the staff’s determination, their dedication to the campers’ experience and a full commitment to overcoming any obstacles that made it successful. Proud of what we accomplished, and the family we all became.”
Norb also received his Staff initiation in Primitives. He credits Jim Klein with the skills they developed, and as he and Steve say, “We were the Wild West Days of Camp Ondessonk.”
Leadership is a quality that can grow and flourish at Camp. I wonder who our next “legendary staff” will be?
Click here to learn more about Camp Ondessonk’s leadership programs.