“Off-Season” Part II

“Off-Season” Part II

Off Season Camp Ondessonk 1

By Pati Egan

It’s the dead of winter and your housing is in a building heated by a wood stove. It’s the 1970s and Camp was very deserted, not much was going on. The building was located where the current Health Center is located. There was no running water. Your shower house is located on the edge of the parking lot. Norb Garvey’s hair would freeze on his walk back. By the mid-1980s, Camp decided to expand its summer programming to the “off-season.”

For the first time, females were included in the off-season staff. Mary Kay Marquenski and Susan Gillituk found themselves living in the Dorms. The male staff found themselves living in the DeGasperi (DG) Lodge. Neither building had adequate plumbing or heating. Kerosene heaters were used to provide heat. As Gene Canavan recalled about this first year of coed winter staff, “[I have] memories of the first big snowfall, sledding from Royce’s to the ad building. The girls walking with wet hair from Bathhouse C to the Dorms. Guys living in the DG when it was never built for that…some male staff living in the Cook’s Cottage.” Gene was looking to the future when adequate staff quarters would be available to all.

The DeGespari was built as a summer staff residence but quickly became needed as a male off-season staff residence. It is still used by male year-round staff.

The old Infirmary was changed into staff housing. It is still used by the professional staff.  

Norb Garvey offers a very interesting story of how his off-season journey began: “I decided to work hard to earn the Lodge Trip in 1975, and I was able to do so. There were many people I knew from Camp and from Evansville, Greg Stowe being one from Evansville. We sure had a bus full of fun people. There were several girls from St. Joe Parish, Elizabethtown – two of Bernie’s (Mike Herrmann) sisters, one of their friends and two of the Austin girls, Nancy (Joe Drone) and Judy. Judy and I became pen pals and later we dated, worked at Camp together, and I spent a lot of time driving to Southern Illinois to visit her and her gracious family. Judy made some trips to Evansville also, but sadly, in the Fall of 1976, she was killed in a car accident.

“I was at a loss for what to think or do. After months of not being able to get my head straight, I called Royce in late February or early March to see if he could use a volunteer. Royce said to come on down and I moved to Camp. I was the only off-season worker. There was a local fellow, Layton from New Burnside, who helped during the day. We did every chore possible from soldering copper pipe repairs from frozen pipes to caring for the horse herd. Often on the weekends, I would go to Elizabethtown and visit Judy’s parents at their farm. When Royce would leave for a day or two I would be totally in charge of Camp.”

He recalls feeding Tommy on vague directions from Royce. “I brought a big bag of dog/bear food in and poured it on the flat rock. Tommy got behind me and pushed me away from the gate blocking me in the cage. He wouldn’t leave, having just awaken from a long winter nap, he seemed groggy but I just kept talking calmly and eventually I reached out carefully and started to scratch his head, rub him down a bit, and gently push him and coax him off the gate. Not sure how long I was in there, but he eventually moved enough to allow the gate to swing in and let me out. I was the only person in Camp, maybe we were both lonely.

“When Royce got back, we went to work on building the Areopagus water cave and slide. I was assigned to two older concrete-forming experts from Belleville. We worked for several weeks, but I guess it’s still there. They told Camp Director there was no way it would span the length, but he told them God would hold it up. He’s right so far!”. 

Norb stayed at Camp until late August, and was ready for a change. “My spirit had healed somewhat, though my heart will always grieve Judy’s youthful passing. There is a plaque with her name in the chapel at Camp: Judy Lynn Austin. I’ve tried to lead a good life and raise a good family. It is all we can do out of respect for those we’ve lost. Camp means a lot to me for many, many reasons, but that’s how I ended up working the off season.”

Modern living in the Cook’s Cottage. Female seasonal staff now live here. The building has been improved many times, but has served Camp well. 

Staff and campers still enjoy the beauty of winter ice formations, the beauty of a winter sunset, and enjoying all that God has to offer in the great outdoors. Norb’s words still ring true, “My spirit had healed somewhat…” Winter magic does help heal our spirit.

One of the main big projects this past year has been building the Pete Korte Lodge staff duplex. This will house eight of our full-time staff – or what was called our off-season staff. This group of dedicated staff work all year at Camp. They run the Outdoor Education Programs, Retreats, Summer Camp Promotions and just about anything else Camp asks them to do! They live in “rustic housing,” some buildings more than 50 years old. Soon the Pete Korte Lodge will nurture future staff into reaching their full potential in God’s Winter Wonderland. 

Off Season at Camp Ondessonk-  The Pete Korte Lodge.

Click here to learn more about the Facilities & Event Meeting Spaces at Camp Ondessonk.


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