Travel Back in Time To 1973…

Travel Back in Time To 1973…

By Pati Egan

If we dropped a unit of campers at Camp Ondessonk in 1973, what would their experience be like? First, we would need to get them the right clothes…get your bell bottom pants, light blue work shirts, bid overhauls, Converse tennis shoes (at least number one in my family), cut off jeans, jeans, jeans, and more jeans!  Check out this picture from a Sunday Skit.

Travel Back in Time To 1973.  Counselors participating in a skit.

Below, these boys seem to be in the Spirit of 1973. Unit leaders did not have a print out of the daily schedule. One had to check the Program Board outside the dining hall to see what the schedule was for the day.

Travel Back in Time To 1973.  Campers reviewing a map
This picture is probably not from 1973, notice the stripes on the socks. It does show how campers knew what they were doing each day.

There were 12 units for the campers to choose from, and there was no pre-registration. It was quite hectic on Sunday. Campers would scramble to get their favorite unit or unit leader. The Camp Gate opened at 11:00 a.m. There would be a long line of cars waiting to be allowed in and directed to a parking space by Ranger Royce Reeder and his crew. No money was collected ahead of time nor were health forms turned in early. Be prepared to stand in a long line clutching your money and your health form. Once you signed in to a unit, it was time to head to the Trading Post, Infirmary (Health Center), the Stables, and take your swim test.

A welcome addition was added in 1973. A full smorgasbord was available in the Original Dining Hall at a very reasonable price.

Travel Back in Time To 1973.  Campers having a meal.
This photo is from the 1980s but it shows the delicious meal available – salads, fried chicken, roast beef, ham, mashed potatoes, and numerous hand-made rolls and desserts. The staff also ate this meal, and a great Sunday lunch was most appreciated.

Now, it was time to get your shirt at the Trading Post. Your choices were the striped ones. The light blue shirt with orange, white, and black stripes is Brebeuf’s unit shirt circa 1973.

Travel Back in Time To 1973.  70s style unit shirts

The infirmary was quite a hike but that was usually your next stop. After the long climb up the steps, you saw the nurse (often times a nun), and gave her your health form signed by your doctor.

Travel Back in Time To 1973.  Camp Ondessonk

The next stop was usually to go to your unit. Raganeau and Teondechoren were only a year old at the time – both treehouse units. This was the first summer that both units would be offered during Boys Camp. The other units, except Amantacha, were the original cabin style.

Teondechoren – a few years later than 1973.

Travel Back in Time To 1973 A photo of Raganeau
Travel Back in Time To 1973.  A photo of the unit of Brebeuf.

No luggage haul in those days. After you arrived at your unit and selected a cabin, you put on your swimsuit and headed to the stables to learn the parts of the bridle and saddle and rules of the barn, and then went on to take your swim test!

Travel Back in Time To 1973.  Campers preparing for a swim test.

You’re all checked in – now let’s explore some of the things you might find very different from today.

A very distinct difference the campers today would notice is that Camp was on well water. “City water” would not arrive for another year. Camp water had a distinct iron taste. Most staff changed the taste by adding Kool-Aid or Instant Tea to their canteens. 

The time traveler campers would go here for the Sunday and Friday night campfires. The last year this site was used was 1973 when campfires moved to the Grotto in 1974.

Travel Back in Time To 1973.  Camp Ondessonk Chapel

The 1973 campers would attend Mass every other day. The Chapel was not expanded until a few years later. Benches would be placed outside for Sunday Mass since the Chapel was smaller than it is now. There was no air conditioning, just screens.

There were two separate staffs: Boys Season (the first six weeks of the summer) and Girls Season (the final six weeks of the summer that extended until the end of August).

Ranger Royce Reeder is first on the right in the first row. One of our current dedicated volunteers, Ken Haas, is the first on the left in the second row, blue shirt, red Lodge sash. The top row in the middle has Mike Dotson and George Boatwright with the Lodge Chief sash. Fifty years later and they are still lending a helping hand whenever they can.

The 1973 staff had several members from New Orleans, La. It also featured staff from Camp America. Gerald’s mural that he painted in the Cooks Dining Room lasted until the kitchen was torn down after the completion of the new Dining Hall.

The Frontier trips were still developing and the third trip rotation was done in 1973.  Previous trips went to Colorado and Florida. This trip went river rafting in Utah.

Other 1973 happenings were that new Lodge Members did not get their sashes at Camp but needed to go to St. Peter’s Cathedral in Belleville in December to get their sash. This coincided with the Boy Scout’s Marquette Trail Awards presentation. This was discontinued because it was not fair to campers from Chicago and other areas.

Lodge Officials also received their sashes at the Cathedral. Front row l to r: Claire Hatch, Sara Newton. Front row 5th from left: Mary Helen Whitright Rheinecker. Front row 3rd from right: George Boatwright. All were active in Lodge in 1973 and are still active today.  

Our time traveling campers are now finished with visiting camp in 1973. They probably enjoyed all the activities but thought listening to hourly bugle calls a little strange. They would miss the Marathon but enjoy Field Day and Water Carnival. Marathon would come to be in 1975 but it might have already been spinning around in Dan Hechenberger’s mind. They would not miss drinking the iron filled well water!

They would find the same Camp Spirit that still burns brightly 50 years later. The same ability to make friends that will last 50 years. They would share the love of this special place that campers and staff 50 years ago called home, and campers and staff now call it home. Camp is a special place…it was to the campers and staff of 1973 and it is to the campers and staff of 2023.

Click here to learn more about Camp Ondessonk’s history.


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