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Memories of Camp Frank A. Day by Jon Knowles

I was literally a happy camper at Frank A. Day from 1946 to 1952, and then a happy counselor too in the Junior Unit for two years, 1953 and 1954. What a truly wonderful place Camp day was - and amazingly, still is! Since there are only a few entries in the alumni logs from those years, I thought fellow alumni (and alumnae!) might be interested in some remembrances from those earlier days - now almost 60 years ago (60, that can't be right, can it?)

My first year I was among the littlest tykes in Cabin 21 in the Midget Unit. Larry Bramhall, the nature counselor, was the unit head. I still recall the creepy feeling of a large snake Larry wrapped around my neck. (And to this day, I know the names of very few plants, at Camp Day or anywhere else. Could it have been the snake? Nah.) My counselor in either 1946 or 1947 was Dick Elton, who liked olives. I remember this because Chef Brown would chalk up "Olives for Elton" on the menu board about once a week. Camp sure seemed big, and so did all the large Juniors and enormous Seniors, even the kids in Cabin 24 and 25.

Sleeping in cabins was novel for someone who had never been to camp before - come rain, the shutters would go down and we would lie on our bunks during rest hour reading comic books like Green Lantern or Wonder Woman in the humid air while the drops beat down on the roof. Hopefully, one didn't have to go outside - to the 8-hole outhouse - in the pouring rain. The only specific comic I remember from those days was one in which women ruled the world and boys were thought silly if they wanted to become doctors, lawyers, etc. Must have struck a responsive chord somewhere!

We wore uniforms in those days for every day camp life - gray and green shorts and white T-shirts with the green YMCA triangle. And of course white ducks on Sundays for chapel in the mosquito-laden woods. My mother had to sew my name tag each spring into each and every piece of clothing, certainly a laborious task. Clothes were sent weekly to the laundry in E. Brookfield or Spencer and often came back with a green tinge, and some years, pink.

I remember camp as being very athletic, competitive, and, one could even say, Spartan. For example, there were no showers, only cold Lake Quacumquasit to bathe in - once a week under Coach Fisher's strict eye and loud commands. Of course we swam every day which at least got the dust off. The large round cold-water-only stone sink which is still in the Junior unit may have had a duplicate in the Midget Unit and we brushed our teeth and washed up there in the morning after reveille sounded. (Amazing how much meaning can be gotten from 3 notes on a bugle - especially when echoing over the lake and grounds of a wonderful camp.) Camp was also rigorous in that we had intense athletic competition - for the plaque of course - each and every day during the hot summer. We really put out the calories. I can remember often lining up exhausted for a quick drink of iron-tasting water from the fountain in the junior field area after a game of flag football or basketball on the dirt court. We got good and tanned out there too in the July and August sun. When the activity period bugle would blow ending a period, a big cheer would go up - from the winning team, at any rate.

Camp Life was also spartan in that food was not in all that great an abundance. Or to put it another way, Chef Fred Brown claimed he fed each camper on 22 cents a day (as I learned when a counselor.) He was a grandfatherly looking man with a big smile who often stood in the doorway wearing his tall white hat and accepting a cheer for some particularly good meal. On 22 cents a day, I'm not sure what that might have been - perhaps good meatloaf with brown gravy - but in any case we wolfed it all down and it tasted great. Breakfast might be orange juice, milk, a box of cereal - with disputes over Rice Krispies vs. Wheaties vs. Cheerios (some things never change). We would collect the tiny cereal boxes, fold them on the crease, and build short and long doggies from them. On a few days, we would have a treat such as pancakes or a precious sugar-coated doughnut. There were sometimes seconds at meals and extra food was invariably raffled off by each counselor. To get the food, the waiter had to wait for Coach Fisher or Doc Simmons to put up his index finger, then quick walk - but not too quick or you might be sent back - to the serving window. The waiter would then hustle the tray back to our round green table and we would dig in. When I graduated to Cabins 10 and 16 in the Junior Unit, we had to wait for Coach Fisher's pinkie to go up in addition to his index finger. As a Senior in tents 7, 4 and 1, it was index, pinkie and thumb. All this interspersed with Doc Simmons coming out from the staff table once per meal, blowing his whistle and admonishing us to "Keep it down to a dull roar".

Many years later, when I paid my first visit back to Camp Day with camp in session (August, 2004), I was very relieved to see that there was an ample salad bar and Dick McKnight had made a huge and delicious fish chowder. No one seemed in a hurry to get to the food and everyone seemed well fed. This contrasted sharply with my camp days in the late 1940s when packages of brownies or oranges from home were most welcome, even essential. For energy we could also buy soft drinks and candy bars at the camp store, then located at the front of the dining hall. We used coupon books instead of cash and tore out nickel or dime coupons to pay for an Orange Crush or Baby Ruth bar.

Mustachioed Vinnie Morotto was music director and sailing instructor and he would often lead us in the dining hall, playing his clarinet with enthusiasm, in songs like "Home on the Range," "I've Got Sixpence", "McNamara's Band", and "99 Bottles of Beer". He also led evenings of skits and songs performed on a wooden platform in the dining hall. The only girl in camp most summers was Vinnie's daughter, Brenda. The main music I remember hearing on the radio at camp was a popular Tommy Dorsey big band tune, practically the camp theme song, other big band sounds, and songs like "Mairzy Doats", "Don't Fence Me In" and "April in Portugal". In the early 50's the beat changed with "Rock Around the Clock" and then the King.

Of course for new campers and even juniors, it was the job of older campers to scare us, and of counselors, to trick us, on occasion. I can remember coming out of the dining hall at night after a movie, perhaps wearing a poncho for the rain, and running down the dirt path to the Midget Unit with flashlights on. We might have seen Tarzan or King Kong or a western, all in glorious black and white. Suddenly a junior or senior would scream and pounce out on us from the bushes, scaring our little hides off. Ghost stories in a darkened cabin were also effective. Often a counselor would read us to sleep or tell a tall tale, or we would read comics under the covers with flashlights after lights out.

In addition to tasks like sending us to get a skyhook or similar implement, one day the counselors decided to time us in racing across the Midget unit. The distance was perhaps 40 feet. One boy would run and the counselor would call out the time on his watch. There were about 12 of us. Slowly the times got better and better. 6 seconds, 5.5 seconds, 4 seconds. It was a bit puzzling because kids I knew were slower were posting better times than faster kids. Then it got down to 2 seconds, 1 seconds, and finally 0 seconds! Some doubt came, but not much. Innocent, we ran as fast as our little feet would carry us, and the counselors sure enjoyed it. In such ways, one learns the ways of the world.

Most days consisted essentially of team competition - basketball, volleyball, softball, flag football. Then there would be instructional swim and later free swim or crafts or boating. We found time to play horseshoes quite a bit too, with giant metal horseshoes. Swimming in Lake Quacumquasit as a very thin 8 or 10 year old in mid June or late August was no fun! But in July and most of August the water was fine. To pass the test to be able to swim in deep water, they rowed you out to the "middle of the lake" and you swam back in, accompanied by the rowboat. Later this was deemed a tad risky, so a lap requirement was begun between arms of the H dock, which amazingly today (2004) looks just as it did in 1946. The diving board is in a different position, but the dock looks identical, even to the dips. Under the direction of Smitty (Reginald Smith) you went from Minnow, to Fish, Flying Fish, Shark and Junior Life Saver. You might make only one classification each summer - and better not twist on the back dive if you wanted to make Shark.

Other competition for the plaque consisted of track meets, swim meets and boating meets. These were vigorously contested and often exhausting. Even as a Junior it was very hard jumping into the water and climbing back in several times during a canoe race. Another difficult event was gunneling where you stood on the gunnels at one end of the canoe, and rocked it up and down to move forward. All this was child's play compared to, say, an overnight canoe trip to Quabog or Lake Lashaway. Paddling up to the bridge, through the weedy passage to Quabog, then across Quabog to Lashaway with mosquitos everywhere, hungry, in 90 degree weather, and two ten-year-olds having to do all the paddling - it sure toughened us up.

In 1946 and 1947 there were 3 three-week periods, and in 1947 plaque competition began, with three plaques being awarded. From 1948 on there were 2 two-week periods, and two plaques. Most of us were really into the plaque competition. In the Midget division, teams were appointed, but in Junior and Senior, captains chose the team. The entire unit lined up and the captain with the first pick then had to wait for the choices to go all the way down the line and back up, so he might have had the first pick and the 14th, while the final captain choosing would have the 7th and 8th. This evened things out and plaque races were almost always very close.

I remember one year as a captain "agonizing" over whether or not to choose a person whose name I saw on the alumni pages just now - Forbes Keith. He was the best athlete in camp that year but was sick at the time and it wasn't clear how soon he would be able to join the team. I ended up choosing him. We started out 3 wins and 2 losses without him, and when he joined us we did have a very fine team with Walter McDonald, Dick Cleveland, David Scheffler, Paul Josephs, Paul Doering and Thomas King (names courtesy of webmeister Phil Levine!) and won the first half plaque in 1951 as the Red Sox.

When I visited camp in 2004, I got to talking with Dick McKnight (who with Sonya has done such a marvelous job in maintaining the camp look, feel and tradition!!) We of course talked about plaques right away and soon realized we had been on the same plaque the first year they were given - the Apaches, 1947, along with Jerome Bonazoli, Gary Hoyt, Robert McAndrew, Ted Wasserman, and David Yaffe. I had also managed to get on the very first plaque, the Cherokees. Dick asked me how many plaques I was on and it turns out it was 7, 3 from 1947. I see Ted Wasserman was also on those 3 plaques. In the Juniors we were college football teams, of course, and I always chose Notre Dame. I was part of two Notre Dame plaques and two more in the Senior unit as the Red Sox. I don't know how we got to be the Red Sox because everyone idolized Ted Williams and the team, but somehow we did. The plaques meant a lot to many of us, standing for so much team effort and achievement every day for a month, and effort that had been successful among your peers. On award night, it was exciting but intimidating to stand up there before everyone under the dining hall lights while Doc Simmons or Coach Fisher read out the medals and honors one had gained - white ribbon for third place, red for second, blue for first in track, swimming and boating. Since every camper had to do this, the banquet and ceremony went on for quite a while!

The highlight of the camp season, for me, was the Treasure Hunt. During the last two days of camp in late August, all regular camp activity was suspended. Counselors and staff worked taking down the dock, putting boats in the boat house, and generally getting things ready for closing. All the campers, by unit, took part in the Treasure Hunt. All day long, in teams of two, we ran down clues from waterfront to Senior Field to dining hall to Infirmary to tennis court, to outside the camp grounds, even. It was exciting and tense to strain your brain to figure out a clue and then run as fast as you could to get to the clue before another team. You wrote the symbol for each clue onto a pad and then checked off your symbols at the end of the day with the counselor in charge. All day too you were comparing notes with other teams, trying to get an edge, seeing how far they had gotten, etc. The prizes were a baseball or bat to the winning team, and lesser prizes after that. But it was the exhilaration of that all-encompassing two-day quest that made it so great.

One final note - on the record board, which is happily still there after all these years. The only record from my era is for the baseball throw, and it is a retired record. Back then records were by unit not by age, if memory serves. The record I have in mind was a baseball throw by Alan Akeson in 1948. I was there that afternoon when he threw the ball a ton from home plate on Senior Field. Others had had their turn, including me, but none of us came anywhere near 200 feet. When Alan unleashed the ball, a gasp went up, because it seemed uncanny. Where did that come from? Alan was strong, but not that strong. The ball landed 224 feet away, disrupting some other track event out there in centerfield. I was 10 in 1948 and Alan was a year older, so I figure he was 11. Alan's record has been retired but I see it still exceeds the age record for age 11. Retired or not, here's to Alan Akeson and his magical baseball throw!

And here's to Camp Frank A. Day - long may the camp flourish on the shores of Quacumquasit!!
Jon Knowles

 

Memories of Camp Day by Warren Bechtold

To all:
I remember: I was supposed to be Waterfront Director for one summer, filling in for Roger Bryant, but was there for eleven years. All the fine young men over the years who made the waterfront the best. Thanks to all you guys who taught swimming, canoeing, boating and sailing to so many!! How cold it got in late August! Doc Simmons, our mentor and inspirational leader. And still marvel at Dick McKnight's devotion, love and stick-to-itiveness over so many years!! The tradition of Camp Day lives on beautifully under his devoted leadership. Canoe races, tug-of-wars, 17 laps - Bobbie Suvalle doing them swimming in vertical position the whole way. Buddy up!, Soap baths, crystal clear water, the fireplace, putting in the docks, taking them out, and many other great and pleasant memories. Warren Bechtold former Waterfront Director (late 50's and early 60's).
Warren Bechtold

 

Memories of Camp Day by Forbes Keith

I will never forget all of the wonderful people that I had the opportunity to compete with as a camper. I spent several years as a Unit Head in both the Midget & Senior Units. Several of my soccer players from Lexington H.S. served as counselors and came away with the same impressions that I had. What a great place to work with young people and help them grow up. I will never forget what that experience has meant to me . Doc, Coach, Vinnie,Chef, Silent Ed and all of the counselors thatIhad in my many years as a camper helped immensely in my formative years. I will be forever greatful. As a Unit Head working with Harry,Ed,Chef ,Doc,Warren, Smitty, Dick and lets not forget our nurses and maintenance you will not find a more professional and caring staff to have worked with. The memories that I have are priceless.
Forbes Keith

 

Memories of Camp Day by Harold Suvalle

It is almost 80 years since I went to Camp Day. However at that time there was only a senior group which consisted of 7 tents. They were located where they now are. 8 campers and one counselor per tent. Waterfront was the old boathouse. Small beach area. No walkways or dividers, just a line as far as we were allowed to go. A few rowboats and one canoe. The messhall was the same, used for everything indoors. Clyde Hess was the director. In the 40's when I sent my first son to camp, changes were taking place. The Junior Unit was formed and the area for washing etc. was set up. In my plumbing business, I installed the bathrooms that were used. Eventually the midget unit was also formed. Camp never had much money and all the help we could get for free was used. I remember coming up early with Bob Procter and gang to help set the barrels and walkways in the lake. Emergency calls from Doc Simmons that the water boiler in kitchen was leaking and no hot water, come quick. Those were great days. Fathers Day was someone's idea and it worked out fine. We raised extra money and had the pleasure of being with our kids for a few days. Some days it was a stretch with 3 of them there, but it was well worth it. Three generations of Suvalles have had the good fortune of spending time at Camp Day. The leadership has always been top-notch and has continued with Dick McKnight. May the camp continue for many more years to help young people learn in life. We love Camp Day.
Harold and Harriet Suvalle

 

Memories of Camp Day by Richard Nesson

I have so many fond memories of Camp Frank A. Day, both as a camper in the mid-fifties and, then, as a counselor of Midgets a couple of years later.  I remember the terrific staff, including the great Doc Simmons, John Danielson, Dick McKnight (who was head of the Midgets unit the summer I was a Counselor), Smitty,  Ed Poskitt (whom I have more memories of as the coach of our tennis team at Newton High), Coach Fisher, Chef Brown, Vinnie ("Pull the tiller towards ya")Marrotto,  Warren Bechtold, Mert Tefft,  Bob Gately, and Mark Arnold and Eddie Behie (who were my Counselors).  As a camper,  I have the following vivid  memories: (1) the epic battles I had with Stu Cohen on the way to winning the tennis tournament; (2) the day "Porkie" Strom and I took out a canoe with no idea how to maneuver it and wound up in the public beach area across the lake where some good samaritan redirected us back to camp; (3) the weekly baths in the lake and Doc's reminders that we make sure to "wash the family jewels"; (4) the mandatory chapel services at which the other Jewish kids and I were mostly silent; (4) the joy of getting a hit against the Springfield College pitcher who was helping coach the camp baseball team and the disappointment of our subsequent loss in a game against East Brookfield; (5) the summer the camp closed early because of flooding from a hurricane; (6) the time I reluctantly agreed to compete for my team in the backstroke with no idea how to do so and remain on the surface and, despite almost drowning, getting third-place because others were disqualified; and (7) the pride I felt during a father-sons basketball game when my out-of-shape father kept making long-range two-handed set shots. As a Counselor, I remember: (1) being so thoroughly disgusted by the personal habits and behavior of some of my campers that I considered quitting after the first week; (2) discovering that I could influence their behavior by withholding certain privileges/bribing them with "fireball" candies; (3) the evening some of the Counselors snuck out of the movie to go play basketball and, after the lights suddenly went out and someone yelled "Hey, what's going on?," hearing Coach say "I'll tell you what's going on" and then giving us hell; and (4) at the reunion held at the Y following that summer, realizing that back in the real world my counterparties in the summer's negotiations (with nicknames like "Squeaky" and "Chip") were just little kids.
Richard Nesson

 

Memories of Camp Day by David Shapiro

I think my brother Jon and I may have the record for most years for one family's attendance at Camp Day and would like to hear if anyone can top it. I attended from 1948 to 1956 and my brother attended from 1954 to 1962, and was on maintenance in 1963 (that makes a total of ten years). And that is eight weeks each year. I remember Doc Simmons well and found it interesting that he had a PhD in Physical Education. He believed that boys and girls (emphasis on boys) needed single sex camps and got very upset when the staff's girl friends and sisters came to pick them up on their days off and did not promptly leave. It was only after his death that the concept of coed campers was introduced. He would have looked over his glasses, puffed on his cigarette and made it clear that he was unhappy if he had had the opportunity to express an opinion. This may be why the Newton YMCA Board of Directors waited until he was dead before considering this move. The two sessions were four weeks each (sorry John Knowles you may have only wished the sessions were two weeks long). We had use of outhouses (which got ripe as the season progressed), bathed in the Lake which could be cold on a Sunday morning, and washed using cold water at the wash stands. The food at best was only passable and lacked in taste and appeal. How many people remember a visit to Coach Fisher's cabin to have your transgressions reviewed for you and corrected? The Senior unit consisted of tents on raised floors and you had to stay away from the flaps on a rainy day or you could get quite wet. The ultimate goal was to be in Tent 1 or maybe 2. If you were REALLY lucky you got to be a waiter at one of the tables occupied by Doc Simmons and the Unit Heads. You got better food and did not have a counselor trying to get you to eat the usual food.

 

Memories of Camp Day by Ken Rosenberg

I attended Camp Frank A. Day for 8 weeks each summer from 1950-54, first as a "midget" then a junior, and finally one year as a senior. As I was swapping stories with my brother (he also attended as a senior for one month - August), I started telling him about my camp experiences in the early 1950s and the impact that that I thought those experiences had on me while growing up. I guess it would be fair to say that I was a bright but somewhat spoiled child at the age of 8, and I gave my counselors a run for their money. In my family I was the youngest of three boys, separated from my older siblings by 5 and 7 years, and by far the biggest “pain” of the three. I can understand why summers playing golf without me underfoot was appealing to my dear parents, so they shipped me off to Camp Frank A. Day for 8 weeks for five consecutive summers. Mom’s problems would, at least for 8 weeks each summer, be the camp’s problems. It turns out that my mother saved the reports that the unit directors would periodically send home to the parents. (Remember the KYBO reports?) In one, which was written in 1950 by my midget counselor (Jack Leonard?), he emphatically pointed out in his report that his experience as my counselor had “ruined his summer.” I don't think my mother ever shared that with me in 1950, but we found the report in her papers in 1979. Unfortunately, I cannot in good conscience contest the accuracy of that report. Walking naked from the junior cabins to the lake to soap up and bathe while Coach Fisher admonished us to "get into those stinkin' arm pits" was a stretch for me, as well as other modesty issues, but I overcame. Social skills soon followed, but it was an ongoing challenge because of my limited athletic skills and chubby physique, both of which made it more difficult to fit in. I can remember how proud I was to see my name on one of the plaques that were hung in the dining hall when a team finished high enough to warrant that recognition. In his summary report Coach Fisher once wrote, “Although Ken occasionally steps out of line, he is basically . . .” He was being kind. My Junior counselors were John Field, “Oakie” O’Connor, and one unpleasant fellow, Bob Friedman. So, as a Junior, I did well two out of the three years. Each year seemed to be better than the last as I grew up and cemented relationships with other long-time FAD alumni. The one season I spent as a senior was with a great counselor (Mark Arnold). The visiting day just for dads was also quite special. One summer the counselors rigged up a speaker underneath the junior “green house,” which, as you may remember, was a “12-holer” outhouse. I have never before or since seen it’s equal. Anyhow, as one of the dads would come in and occupy a hole, a voice would come from below: “Ahh, Mr. Shapiro. Could you please move over a few holes. We’re painting down here!” The dads also got to know each other through the years and looked forward to the experience. Later in life, with summer camping in my blood, I got my Water Safety Instructor certification while a student at Tufts U. and worked as a camp counselor (Assistant Waterfront Director) one summer at Camp Bauercrest (Amesbury, MA) teaching life saving to the advanced swimmers -- unthinkable for me in the 1950s. My initial reason for poking around your website was to find the name "Coach Fisher." He was a dear man, and whereas I could remember many others (John Elder, John Danielson, "Smitty,", "Vinny," Doc Simmons, Ed Poskitt, and others mentioned in your history) for whatever reason I could not remember Coach's last name. Thanks to Mark Cohn for writing the history.

Ken Rosenberg
Bluffton, SC

 

Memories of Camp Day by Craig Lovell

I found out about this site today and it’s brought back so many memories.  There couldn’t have been a better camp than the one we had.  I thought it didn’t exist anymore and it was just a memory passing . I attended camp from 1958 to 1963.  I can remember begging my mom to let me come home.  After I was there for about two weeks I begged her to let me stay for the second semester. I can still see the staff as I read about them.  The competition, the laughs and even getting “the paddle” from Coach Fisher when I was in the Junior unit.  The chanting in the mess hall waking up early so I could be the first at the flagpole to raise the flag with Larry Mazor.  Being a little hypochondriac and going to the nurse’s in the morning.  The smell of the mosquito repellant and having to use the greenies (those smells I could do without), the inspections, learning how to swim, sail and canoe.  I even remember when it hailed one day when I was in Cabin 10, playing tetherball in the midget unit.  I was so proud to have my name on a few plaques. When I was a senior I wanted all the blue ribbons and I was so mad that I couldn’t beat Jeff Diamond.  The funniest thing was when we had our Dads there, I was playing goalie in a soccer game, my Dad dribbled up, kicked the ball and it hit me flush on the face.  We all had to laugh.  I could go on and on.  Unbelievably I still have all my awards and they look brand new as if they have been put in a time capsule.  They have been along with all the great experiences I had at Camp Frank A. Day.  Even then I felt like one of the luckiest people in the world and I was. All this time has passed but it’s crystal clear. 

  Love To You All,
 Craig Lovell