By Lauren Eckstein Forman (Dorm ’92, General ’95 and new Social Media Director at Camp Towanda)
It has been over 24 hrs since I left the Big 90th Reunion at Camp Towanda and I am still basking in the glow of my memories, photos and fully enjoying all the shared experiences flowing in on Facebook (click here for the official album). For those of you that were lucky enough to participate in the Big 90th Reunion, I think the coolest thing was being able to share the same emotions and experiences with so many different generations. I hope you enjoy my recap of this amazing weekend. For those of you who couldn’t make it down the dirt road, I hope you can vicariously experience the fun through my nostalgic reflections.
On Saturday, I pulled up to camp with my friend-for-life, Tina Kunkin Schweid. With a pit of excitement in our stomachs, we were warmly greeted by a new batch of alumni counselors that immediately felt like family even though we were meeting for the first time. We walked up the hill and headed for the Office, passing the White Rock and people playing Taps on the main basketball court.
You could already feel this event was going to be momentous. We signed the 90th Anniversary plaque, selected our bunk and bunkmates (Boys Bunk 1) and signed up for the Apache Relay! We then headed towards the Girls’ Softball Field where a big game was already underway. Crowds of alumni filled the bleachers and a familiar face (Eric Bolog) was on the mound. Erica Gulliver and her media team were capturing testimonials on the sidelines as line drives and outs were being made with athletic prowess. No matter who was being interviewed (including our famed alum Hank Azaria), the sentiments and emotions were so similar—Camp Towanda played such a significant role in all our lives and the bonds we already shared would bring us even closer over the next 24 hours.
We headed to lunch as the sounds of “American Pie” and smells of freshly grilled hamburgers filled the atmosphere. We all convened at the grassy knoll to listen to Mitch’s Alumni Address. Mitch and Stephanie set the tone for the weekend. They were amazing hosts welcoming us back home with love and excitement. They were genuinely thrilled to see each and every person and I don’t think I ever saw Mitch this relaxed!
Mitch handed out awards to some worthy recipients. Bobby Miller (yeah Bob!) is celebrating his 42ndyear at camp while Jonsey was given a letterman jacket for 15 years of freshly baked cookies. Other award recipients included Michael Pelton (clap, clap, clap, clap, clap), Spiz and Matt Miller. We took the big alumni photo and headed to the BBQ.
My favorite new addition to camp was the dining room porch. We dined there for our next three meals, overlooking the apple tree, Stephanie’s bears made of branches and the lake in the distance. A few watermelon slices later, we headed inside for the Big Apache Relay Draft. Bobby Miller looks exactly the same, and handed out numbers at random (I was Blue #75). FIRE BRIGADE! I was especially curious to see who was going to be the volleyball sweeper and was excited to see Hani Cohen as the chosen one. Pam and Richard Brawn were randomly selected as 1 & 2 for the Red Team. Pam got the honor of reciting the hamotzi in English and Hebrew. Hands on heads. SHE TOTALLY ROCKED IT!
Bobby Miller announced this was going to be a “walk don’t run” Apache Relay in honor of Jerry Maze. He also mentioned that every event was Phyllis Miller approved…if she couldn’t complete it, it didn’t make the cut. After an intense Fire Brigade (which is now on the soccer pitch), Bobby sounded the horn (loved hearing that sound), and BLUE WON! We couldn’t have done it without the incredible coaching of Joe Levine (father of Wendy and Brad Levine).
I got to spend time with Pamela Elizabeth Brawn to catch up about her sons (Jonathan, Thomas and of course Richard Jr.) and the past 20 years. She even gave tips on how to make the perfect hospital corner using a classic Brown & Gold blanket. Let me tell you, seeing Pam hold a broomstick to a hospital corner still makes me nervous.
Then it was GHOST with Mitch (cue the “Ghostbusters” music). I wasn’t as intimately familiar with this game that younger alumni so deeply love. But I was so impressed with the participation and physical intensity of both male and female alumni. Dodgeball is my least favorite game on the planet, so how could this game be so awesome? But in classic Camp Towanda style, the best thing is…NO ONE gets out!
After Ghost, Alumni dispersed for electives. Two donkeys (yes—donkeys) grazed by the infirmary lawn as old friends and new reminisced by the fire pit and picnic tables. Two more highlights for me were meeting the “3 Coopers”. The first Cooper is the Facebook-Famous son of Robert Mandelbaum. This kid definitely should have his own fan page as his Camp-Famous dad has proudly shared every single moment of his life. And here he was in person. AWESOME. The second two Coopers were a camp miracle. Camp couple from the mid-90s, Marnie Hunter Cooper and Craig Cooper brought their two delicious and beyond-outgoing young children, to prove to Mitch (and the rest of us) they were going strong after all of these years. AMAZING!
I headed down to the old Rec Hall (now dubbed “Alumni Hall”) for a real trip down the yellow bench road. There was a CLUB and DORM bench ready for us to sign, perfectly commemorating this weekend back at camp. The smell of the Rec Hall immediately brought back feelings of “sheer contenT” from Friday Night Services, plays and breakouts. Displayed on the tables were lyrics to almost every single girls’ sing of years past, official Olympic rules books (complete with team line-ups), photo albums and memorabilia (do you remember when you got your Apache assignment on a paper plate?). But the best thing was the stack of converted DVDs with videos from the 40s through the present.
We cried with laughter watching old Airbands, Friday Night Sermons and Olympic Skits. It felt like yesterday and the jokes were still funny, but it definitely looked like we were in the 90’s. There were also t-shirts hanging from all the girls’ sings of years ago (Dorm Delicacies? What were we thinking?). I was overwhelmed by how Mitch and Stephanie have done such an INCREDIBLE job preserving the tradition that is Towanda. When my children go here they will experience these very same things, this very same spirit and bonds that run deeper than the tunnels under the White Rock.
When I headed back up the hill we witnessed Pam Brawn and Amy Miller reuniting for the first time in years! It was like the passing of the Olympic Torch. From one Camp Goddess to another.
Before I knew it, it was shower hour and hors d’oeuvres. Time to recharge our batteries and our cellphones (there is literally NO service at camp, which made my job very challenging).
“5 minutes to line up” was the announcement over the PA before we met at the flagpole. Mitch said, “feet together, hands by your side, salute”. The sounds of the flagpole music came on and I immediately got that pit in my stomach again. I remembered how I felt at line-up every night as a camper looking at boys’ camp and how cute they looked all cleaned up (or were those camp goggles?). Lemon chicken, corn, rice, salad bar and Oreo cake were on the menu. After free play we were called to report to the campfire for S’mores.
Singing, Sunset, and S’mores were the perfect way to end the day. The new gymnastics pavilion shined in the distance and we had to check it out. Is there anything better than seeing grown people doing cartwheels on the tumble trak and jumping in the foam pit? If only this place was here when I was a camper. SO JEALOUS!
As the fire burned, we headed back across girls’ camp and up to the Canteen for Jonsey’s famous cookies and the Heat/Celtics game. For those who were really feeling the spirit, the dining room was converted into a dance club and they were blasting this song by Ashley Wolf (the younger alum went crazy for it!). I was hoping for a something more along the lines of “Scenario” and “Paradise by the Dashboard Light”. Before retiring to Boys Bunk 1, there was a kitchen raid with ice cream sundaes.
We got back up to B1 and some of us changed into our cool new “Towanda PJ Pants” before reminicing on the porch overlooking boys’ camp. I loved being with my old camp friends. People that know me better than anyone else I know. Friends I lived with. Friends I grew up with. Friends that knew the intimate details of my life that made me who I am. I just loved being back here with that spirit uniting us.
The night came to a close and Tina and I hopped into our Star Wars and Toy Story sleeping bags (can you tell we have boys of our own?). Before saying ‘Good Night Camp Towanda’ at 2am, one of us was looking for something and a bunkmate pulled out the ‘iFlashlight’ app…times have really changed!
At 5:15am a flock of birds chirping was a lovely wake up call. I mustered up all my strength to fall back to sleep. Somehow I don’t remember there being no shades on those windows. I also didn’t remember how loud those bathroom doors slam, but immediately I was UP! 7:45 reveille sounded just about as good as it used to, and my bunkmate asked if he could still stay in bed until “2 minutes before line up”. Matt Miller got on the boys HC mic and announced all the sports scores from the night before (who knew they do that on boys camp?). We brought down towels and sheets to the HC and made our way to line up.
Breakfast consisted of eggs made-to-order (I like this Jonsey guy), Fruit Loops, french toast sticks and COFFEE!!!! We all collected our care packages with enough Towanda paraphernalia to help lure the next generation of campers at home (my son really did bring his new collapsible Towanda cup to show and tell today). The icing on the cake were Brown & Gold trucker hats being handed out by the First Son, Jared Reiter (he also designed them). Oh the memories of when Stephanie and Mitch made him scream his name over the PA system at age 3. And now he’s 23 and a Group Leader.
Tina and I looked at each other in our new trucker hats and said, “let’s hit the dirt road”. I think Alyssa Tomback posted the most true thing on Facebook Sunday night when she said, “Really jealous of all the kids who are packing their trunks as I unpack my bag :)” I couldn’t have said it better. Can’t wait until the 100th Anniversary Reunion…what do you say Mitch?