Rosemary Kerber – a Camp Pioneer
Camp Ondessonk wouldn’t be what it is today without the foresight and hard work of many people. Although Camp has evolved in many ways since it’s opening day, June 28, 1959, much has remained the same. Facilities have been added and improved to accommodate today’s campers as well as to adhere to the highest health and safety standards, as evidenced by ACA accreditation. Some of the health and medical standards that were initiated long ago are still in observance today.
The original camp Infirmary sat atop the cliff behind the original dining hall – over the Grotto. Although the small structure could be described as quaint and primitive, the quality of care was anything but. Rosemary Kerber served as one of the first Registered Nurses to volunteer her time during the early years of summer camp at Ondessonk.
Rosemary and her family lived on Church Lane in East St. Louis, right down the street from St. Philip Parish, where they were members. She was asked by the camp’s first director if she would consider serving as the on-sight nurse running the Infirmary for several summers. She spent two weeks at Camp Ondessonk during her first summer in 1961. Because Rosemary’s daughter, Kathy Arnold (Arnie), had been a camper in 1960, she was very familiar with camp. Kathy remembers that in 1961, she accompanied her mother and was a camper in Goupil both weeks Rosemary volunteered, which was unusual for a camper in the early years.
Rosemary dressed in her nurse whites on Sundays as she helped check campers in. During the week, she attended to those with medical issues like poison ivy, mosquito bites, sprains, and the such, but she also hiked around to each unit to help with cabin inspections. That hike was much different than it is today, as two of the units at that time – Garnier and Lalemant – were located deep in the canyon that would become Lake Echon in 1967.
Camp Ondessonk’s Infirmary has moved several times since 1959. In 1964, a larger building was placed high atop the steep concrete steps near the former CIT Lodge, now BOQ. Today, that building, ‘The Cedars,’ is home to several of camp’s full-time staff. In 1987, a new Health Center was built near the main parking lot, and now serves as a comprehensive medical facility that can also accommodate overnight care to campers when needed.
Rosemary and her family remained active at Camp for years. Both her daughters, Kathy and Janet, were involved as campers, lodge members, CITs, and staff members.
Rosemary Kerber passed away in December 2019 at the age of 94. We are grateful for her work in setting standards for medical needs at Camp Ondessonk. She truly was one of camp’s original pioneers.