YMCA Camp Storer

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"These Experiences Molded Me"

by Becky Spencer

 

December 29, 2018 

Dear Camp Friends and Family,

When I was three years old (1962) my dad, Frank McClure, discovered the perfect family vacation – family camp at YMCA Storer Camps.  We went, we loved and it has turned into four generations of our family attending for 56 consecutive years.  We connected with the staff, the families, the lake for swimming and sailing, and for me, the horses. My mom loved that she didn’t need to cook.  I remember the water troughs just outside the bathroom where we would brush our teeth in the chilly August morning with the dew getting our shoes and socks soaked until we learned that flip-flops were the best choice of foot wear for camp mornings.

Over the years, my involvement changed at camp.  From family camp as a preschooler, to summer camper, trips, CIT, ranch camp, volunteer, weekend staff, summer staff, trip leader, village director (this was the summer I met my husband Larry), outdoor education after college and now, in charge.   Larry and I were recruited by Clark Ewing to become camping professionals, but we couldn’t see how to raise a family and have balance we needed at camp.  We took our camp experience to the city, where I became a program director for the Toledo Y and Larry with a position at the University of Toledo.   I operated day camps, developed afterschool and early education programs, always driving the non-camp people crazy with my insistence for songs, skits and cheers in everything we did.   During this time (1982 to today), I maintained involvement with camp.  Greg McKee and I took teens Christmas Caroling to Storer alumni, donors and board members. Greg and I also helped our national office develop youth safety practices, interviewing techniques, supervision practices that still are used to day (can you say “side hugs?”).  As a program director, one of my responsibilities was to work with the Y Indian Guides and Princesses. That evolved into nearly seventy weekends at camp in the 80’s.  My young family attended family camp, I sat on the Storer marketing committee, and did the annual child abuse training for Storer staff for about twenty years. My children attended summer camp while Larry volunteered with Project 600 and on the board with a passion for the properties committee. My camp people continued to support and mentor me throughout my life and career.   When I worked outside of the Y for a few years, I volunteered to be the annual campaign chairman for Storer that lead to what I am doing today.  You will see in the stories below, that meaningful work paid or volunteer, relationships and serving others are my camp life themes. 

These experiences molded me:

Judy Long Harbaugh singing to me at night during family camp when my parents went to the dining hall to play Bridge and singing endless folk songs in the dining hall after meals or around the campfire.  At a later date, my Indian Guide and Princess name became Songbird.

As an intermediate camper, my counselor, Sue Dwight, asked me to go back to the cabin and get Halley because she was homesick and needed a friend.  When I got there, Halley was on her top bunk crying because she was homesick.  I coxed her down from the bunk, and we went to make a paper plate nature hat at the craft shop.   Halley was fine – she just needed a distraction and to get busy.  

Another year in intermediate, I began to understand that I had a good life. There was a camper in our cabin who didn’t have enough clothes to get through the two week session. Our counselor, Judy, asked who could help. Very discreetly, her suitcase filled with the items she needed. 

When I was thirteen years old, Judy Harbaugh invited me to be a volunteer during the summer.  I became a babysitter for the Harbaugh children, Molly and Will.  I also ran the Playschool for about five summer staff preschoolers.  I believe that what Judy taught me to do that summer laid the foundation for my career with the Y. She taught me about child development, safety, nutrition, scheduling, consistency and providing a variety of interesting activities for the children.

As a CIT, I was asked to be in a cabin with a group of girls with juvenile diabetes. They were there as a group to have fun at camp, but to also learn how to be more independent in their diabetes care and lifestyle.  This was a valuable experience that helped frame my attitude to serve all children.

In high school, I was able to be an Outdoor Education Cabin leader for Toledo Public Schools. (DHS ’77 – TPS Proud!)  I had another epiphany that I had a good life when the students in my cabin didn’t have the basic items needed to say warm outside.  I have a vivid memory of getting coats, scarfs, mittens, hats and boots for many of my student campers.  After the first time getting kids outfitted, it became a normal thing to do, but my memory and realization that all kids don’t have everything I have hit home.  My sense of understanding and empathy for those in need was once again ignited.

I was not the perfect camper.   As a family camp child, we had more freedom at camp, more ownership and opinions about camp and thought we owned the place.  As a summer camper, this caused problems when I hit my teen years.  I learned after getting lectured a few times to knock off my attitude and just be a camper and to remember that the counselors and village directors were in in charge.  This didn’t stop me from coming to camp. I loved the place, my people, and serving others, and realized that I would just need to wait my turn to “be in charge.”

In high school, it was common for me to be at camp volunteering over a weekend.  Bryce Harbaugh would tell me that my family wanted to see me and that maybe I should stay home that weekend.  The volunteer program is where I met my best camp friends.   I see those friendships in our other alumni, with a group of volunteers from the 80’s who have also stayed very connected throughout their adult years, The Boat Boys, The Woodcutters, the Fence Crew and the Boomeranged Gang.

My first week on the Outdoor Education staff was a great learning experience. We had a Toledo Public School, and I was having Monday lunch with a group of students.  We were having fun and getting a little rowdy. Mary Mennel came over to me and whispered “you are losing them, Bec.”  There was another great lesson learned; tight rules to start the week.  When I worked OEE, we had a select little club called the first broom society.  We were the three that were the first to get the brooms moving and the floor swept so we could get to bed after the evening activities. 

In my current position at camp, I get to meet alumni who have wonderful stories to share. Most of the stories are about rule breaking adventures, how camp impacted their lives, status of camp friends or the horse they rode.  The rule breaking stories are about adventure and testing boundaries.  When I hear these stories, they come from very successful adults who have done well in life and are generous sharing their time, talent and resources with camp.  The friendships that are spoken about are enduring.  We have alumni who have kept in touch and are coaching each other through life events, supporting each other through loss and finding ways to stay involved.  The horses names change, but the memories of that first ride is intact.  My favorite horse was a cob named Julie.  I loved her and pretended that she was mine. She was just my size; not as big as some of the other horses.  I was and still am a little afraid of the horses, but I love ‘em!

In closing, I hope that you can stay connected with your camp friends, find your way back for a visit, to find meaningful ways to stay involved and help me in my commitment to serve and make camp available for all.

Sending camp love, 
Gratitude,
Wishes for a fantastic 2019,
A song in your heart,
And a big side hug!

Songbird

P.S. This was fun to write.  You are invited to also share your camp story and submit it to Derek Bycraft, Director of Alumni here at YMCA Storer Camps.  Email him your story at dbycraft@ymcastorercamps.org.

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