Where are they now? Eric Schauster
Where are they now?
By Ondessonk Staff
We recently sat down with Eric Schauster Assistant Director of Economic Development for the City of Belleville, IL.
Tell me how you first got involved with Camp Ondessonk?
It all started when a Camp representative spoke at my school in 1983 when I was in fifth grade. My friends and I immediately signed up to be campers. I was a camper again in 1985 and 1986.
What is your first memory of Camp Ondessonk?
My first Camp memory is waiting in the huge line to get in for Sunday registration. Back then units were first come, first served, so you had to get there early to get the unit you wanted. We sat in the car about half a mile outside of the Camp entrance until the gates opened.
What has surprised you most about working with Camp Ondessonk?
Working with the campers was much more rewarding than I ever expected. Initially, I just thought working at Camp would be a lot of fun. However, I was not prepared for how profound of an impact Ondessonk would have on my life. What surprised me most was how much I learned about myself. It brought out things in me that I didn’t know were there. When I was younger, I was not a great student or athlete and was very introverted and insecure. However, being a camp counselor was where I found my niche. At the risk of sounding melodramatic, working at Camp Ondessonk was the first time in my life that I felt that I could be good at something.
When your friends/family find out that you (volunteer, donate, etc.), what do they say or ask?
I talk to many people who were once Ondessonk campers but have since lost touch with Camp. They are surprised to hear about how many opportunities there are for campers today. They are also unaware of the many opportunities to volunteer and get involved. Several of these people are now volunteers and/or donors and are sending their kids to Camp. It is great to help people reconnect.
What do you think will change about Camp Ondessonk over the next five years?
Camp Ondessonk will continue to grow. It continues to evolve and offer a variety of experiences while remaining true to its core values and traditions. That is a real testament to the Camp administration and staff.
Tell me about some of the people you’ve met while working with Camp Ondessonk?
There is not enough space in this article to talk about them all. However, the most important person that I met while working at Camp is my lovely bride, Jen (Drainer) Schauster. We met as summer staff in the early 90s and recently celebrated our 20th wedding anniversary. Our son, Luke, was on staff this summer and our daughter, Lizzy, was a fourth-year camper. It is incredibly meaningful to watch them carry on the Ondessonk tradition. Camp friends are the best friends that I’ve ever had. Many of these friendships are still going strong after 30 years. It is great to watch our kids grow up together and share that love of Camp.
What would you say are some of your strongest beliefs about Camp Ondessonk?
Camp levels the playing field. It doesn’t matter how popular you are at school or how good you are at sports or how weird you might be. Camp allows you to shed whatever label that you’ve been given and you can just be yourself. It also offers the opportunity to figure out who you are and what strengths you have. Camp brings out the best in people. I genuinely believe that if we could send everyone to Camp Ondessonk for just one week, the world would be a much better place.
What do you wish other people knew about Camp Ondessonk?
Everything! It is the greatest place in the world. I wish everyone could experience Camp Ondessonk. It is not something you can accurately explain to someone who has not been there. However, the best description of Camp Ondessonk that I’ve ever heard is “I am the best ‘me’ when I’m there.”