The Primitive Units of Couture and Teondechoren – 1969 through 1971
By Pati Egan
This iconic picture showing the Primitive Unit of Teondechoren after going through Augustine’s Agony has come to epitomize the spirit of adventure of the staff and campers who chose to spend one or two weeks in the Primitive Units. Janet Harper states, “I was at Pine Lake Primmies…Most remarkable time of my life, I think!”
I interviewed via Instant Messenger many of the A-Team of Primitive staff and campers. All expressed in one way or another the same belief that Janet had, that “it was the most remarkable time of my life.”
The Primitive Units were located at Pine Lake – Teondechoren directly across from where the dock is now and Couture at Lower Pakentuck. They were short-lived but had a remarkable impact on those who chose to be in these units. It can best be compared to today’s Camper vs. Wild but minus the good equipment – it just wasn’t available in 1969.
Our beloved Lucia Hodges was a Unit Leader for two weeks. Let’s take a look at a photo of Lucia at her site. HEEPWAH to Jim Klein for providing this and all subsequent pictures!
Lucia really got into the spirit of the Primitives and wore grain sacks from the stables as her primitive attire. Lucia recalls “I was Primmie UL for only the last two weeks of the summer.” It may have only been two weeks but she feels it made an impact on her life.
Some things never change! Milk crates are still an integral part of life at Camp.
Most legends and lore surrounds Teondecorum due to the creativity of the staff and campers who lived there.
A Conestoga Wagon was located in Teondecorum. How did Camp get a Conestoga Wagon to Pine Lake? Jim Klein recalls, “The Primitive Unit at Pine Lake was put where it was because it was the easiest place to get the Chuck Wagons close to Pine Lake. I remember when we got the Chuck Wagons from SIUC. They came into the main area of Camp on a flatbed semi-trailer. I rode on the Chuck Wagons while they were on the trailer and showed the drivers how to get to Pine Lake through Ozark, then helped unload and position them.”
The new wagons, below are the “in reality being used” wagons. People still look for the remnants of the wagons. I would bet that those who lived in this unit could find the spot in a heartbeat.
Like Camper vs. Wild campers, Primitive campers cooked all of their own meals. Water was purified by diving into Pine Lake and going at least 10 feet down and filling a large container with water. The water was then purified with bleach. It was felt that since Pine Lake was a stream-fed lake, if you dove down to the source of the stream water, the water would be purer.
This is typical Camp life for the Primitive campers. Maybe it’s just not in this picture, but I can’t find a cooler in any pictures. Notice there are no cook stoves like the campers use now. They weren’t trying to be more rustic; the stoves did not exist on a practical level. The units also had live chickens and turkeys that needed to be taken care of each day. I asked Janet what they ate and she replied, “We also had GI powdered eggs and a GI version of spam. MMmmm, yummy! We cooked over an open fire. Birds were cooked on a spit, and we had a few pans.” Others recall eating lots of foil burgers. This was Camp’s first attempt at a unit not being in the main area of the camp and on their own.
An Ingenious Solution
Jim Klein, other primitives’ staff, and his campers built amazing treehouses for the campers and staff to live in.
Norb Garvey, a primitive camper for two years, recalls that “The first tree house we built was about 14 feet off the ground. As soon as it was done Jim [Klein] said, okay boys this one’s for staff, now build another that is 4’ lower for campers. So, we built the next at 10’. The staff climbed a rope with loops tied in it that they made to access the tree house. We made a lashed-up tree ladder for the camper tree house.”
These tree houses stood until the Primitive Units were closed after the summer of 1971.
Those who participated in this program seemed to have a unique bond through their shared experiences. They all felt that the Primitive units made a huge impact in their lives.
“Being in Primmies was a fantastic experience that solidly became part of my self-identity. Campers and staff developed deeper self and group reliance, as we were in charge of our own programming and cooking. Our love of, and respect for nature also deepened, I believe.” Dan Hechenberger
“I’m sure thankful for the two years I was able to be in Teon Primitive, it changed my life, and as I look back it was equal, in many ways, to Outward Bound or NOLS, but for grade-school-aged children.” Norb Garvey
“I was at Pine Lake Primmies with Peggy B. summer of 1970. Carol S. and Connie P. were over at Pakentuck. Most remarkable time of my life, I think!” Janet Harper
These Primitive campers and staff during the few short years of its existence had no idea that they were setting the stage for today’s Camper vs. Wild experience. These two programs show that 50-plus years can separate two similar experiences and reap the same reward – fellowship, teamwork, self-reliance, and just loving being in God’s magnificent outdoors. Keep on being adventuresome campers; you’ll be part of a Camp tradition that began in 1969.
Special thanks to Jim Klein, Steve Rheinecker, Janet Harper, Lucia Hodges, Dan Hechenberger, & Norb Garvey for their excellent recall of life in the Primies
Click Here to learn more about Camp Ondessonk’s history.