When Sarah Wagoner’s first child was born, the doctor announced during delivery, “It’s a girl. Do you know what to do with a girl?”
Without hesitation, Wagoner responded: “We’re going to send her to Clearwater Camp!”
For many families, summer camp is a thing passed down from generation to generation.
Wagoner, who lives in Chicago, spent many happy summers as a camper and counselor at Clearwater Camp for Girls in Minocqua, Wisconsin. She hopes her daughter, Abigail, now 2, will someday embrace camp life and the important lessons it has to offer.
“Camp gave me so much confidence and taught me how to make good decisions,” she said. “I want her to experience that.”
Returning to the same camp over generations is an ideal way to enhance family connections, said Dimitris Xygalatas, a professor in the departments of anthropology and psychological sciences at the University of Connecticut in Storrs. Family traditions ``provide a feeling of continuity, and this is very important for our sense of collective identity and unity,” he said. “When we do things the way our ancestors have done them, we feel that we are continuing their heritage.”
It also gives families a shared experience to talk and reminisce about.
As a kid, Jack Angelo enjoyed talking with his dad about canoeing, hiking and other activities he took part in at Keewaydin, a camp in Salisbury, Vermont, because his dad had also experienced those things there as a boy. Today, 50-year-old Jack shares those stories with his son, 11-year-old Julian.
“It reminds me of all the conversations I had with my father, and that makes me feel a connection to him,” he said.
It’s also a way for Julian to feel connected to his late grandfather. At camp, Julian can look at the boards that list the activities his dad, uncle and grandpa participated in.
“I hope he feels like he’s not really alone at camp — that when he’s there he’s with all of us,” says Angelo, who lives in Los Angeles.
Clearwater, which opened in 1933, has many campers whose mothers or grandmothers attended, said Liz Baker, great-granddaughter of the founder. Traditions are a big part of the camp experience, she said, and grandparents and grandkids can enjoy talking about Tuesday Muffin Nights, say, ``or recall what it’s like to sit around the council fire and say the Clearwater pledge or sing the council fire song.”
“There’s something timeless about camp,’’ she said. ``A lot of people like knowing that they can walk on the premises of Clearwater Camp and feel like it hasn’t changed a bit.”
Connie Scholfield, camp director at Red Pine Camp for Girls in Woodruff, Wisconsin, explained: “The parents had an experience that helped them become who they are today. They made binding camp friendships, developed self-esteem and confidence. They want their daughters to have that same opportunity.”
Sheila McNulty, 58, of Glenview, Illinois, loved Red Pine as a kid because she was in the outdoors, learning to sail, build fires, portage a canoe and experience many other new things. She feels she learned from both her successes and her failures there.
“One of the greatest things that camp does is provide you an opportunity every day to get out there and try things,” she said. “It leads to a real sense of accomplishment.”
Her daughter, Jillian Entenman, felt the same about Red Pine, and appreciated the fact that her mother, aunts and many of her cousins had attended. “I was desperate to go,” said the 29-year-old, who lives in Queens, New York.
She remembers getting a thrill each time she saw one of her cousins’ names carved into the rafters of a cabin, or saw family members in old photos.
“It definitely felt like a family tradition,’’ Entenman said. ``It was exciting to get there and find out that it felt that way for a lot of the girls.”