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Stories from Santa Barbara’s Ex-Summer Campers

Teens at Bass Lake for Bible camp, circa 1978.
Courtesy Photo

Prayer in Action

When I was about 13, I went to my last summer camp. It was with my friend’s church. We all got on a big old bus and headed up to Bass Lake in the northern part of the state. It was a beautiful big lake with pine trees and nice shady campsites next to the water. The camp was a Bible retreat for young teens where they were supposed to teach us how to pray.

The first thing I remember are the leaders pointing out to us what poison oak looks like. One of the kids, Pauly Kaluza, 13, bragged to all of us that he was immune to the poisonous plant; he daringly rubbed the leaves all over his face and body to prove it. That was the first emergency.

You need some fun activities to lure kids to church camp ​— ​besides just learning about Jesus and reading the Psalms. Water skiing got our attention. The camp was led by Pastor John, who, even though he had a beard, did not fit the mountain man stereotype. He had secured a fancy speedboat for the trip, loaned to him by a church member. We got out there on the lake and were having a lot of fun ​— ​considering that the grown-ups in charge had absolutely no nautical or water skiing experience. I think they figured out how to tie on all our life jackets because there were actual instructions on them. We raced around the lake with joy and excitement.

In the back of the boat, I eagerly awaited my turn. Unfortunately, I never got a chance to water ski. After a couple of runs with the first kid or two, the pull rope wrapped around the propeller, and we suddenly had to abandon ship. I was commanded to wave the red flag until we were rescued by some other boaters. But the shepherd of our flock went down with his vessel. The engine smoked terribly and then bubbled into the water. The last vision I remember was Pastor John balancing on the tip of the bow as the flashy hull sank into the depths of the lake. He was praying as fast and desperately as he could. “Please don’t sink! Please don’t sink! Save me, God, for the waters have come up to my neck!” And it worked! By a miracle, he survived ​— ​but with only a few inches of the boat, and himself, still above water.

We definitely got a lesson on how to pray that summer ​— ​one that I will never forget.–Alan Hurst

Sleeping Under the Stars

The night before was always very stressful ​— ​packing the backpack with everything you needed for a week, making sure it didn’t weigh too much. Trips to the Granite Stairway Mountaineering store paved the way to the world of the outdoors and showed how little you really needed to survive.

I had the wonderful opportunity of backpacking with the City of Santa Barbara’s summer backpacking trips to various places such as Jade Cove, Salmon Creek, and, my favorite, the Minarets in the High Sierra. We were all but about 14 or 15 (looking back, I think: the liability, the risk, the fun).

We crossed raging waters on fallen trees (unbuckle pack), played tic-tac-toe on our dried-out skin, basked in the sun by the edge of glacier-formed lakes, learned about moleskin for our blisters, Vibram soles, switchbacks (oh, those dreaded switchbacks), and the feeling of accomplishment from the day’s hike while making Lipton Cup-a-Soup on Sterno-powered collapsible stoves.

We would sleep under infinite stars, clear and calm, sunrise so welcomed to bring light and a warm fire to dry wet socks and cook by. Music, guitar, singing, scary stories, conversation were the evenings activities if you weren’t too tired from the day’s hike. We looked up to our counselors, Kerry Kellogg, Susie Thielman (Thompson), Dave Dietrich, Carol Moyer, Roland, and other wonderful mentors who led the way and patiently dealt with teenagers in the wilderness. Today, these are outstanding people in our community. I am so blessed to have had the experience of backpacking with them as they guided us through the turbulent years of adolescence.

The motto I remember we cherished: “Leave only footprints; take only memories,” and those memories were some to cherish. –Mimi (Macko) MacDuffee

The author on one of her youth backpacking campouts.
Courtesy Photo
The author (left) and a cocounselor on their cabin porch.
Courtesy Photo

Best Camp Ever

The best summer of my life took place at sleep-away camp. I was 21 and had the opportunity to be a camp counselor at a summer camp outside of New York City. I packed my bag and took my first solo trip, eyes locked on the Big Apple. Little did I know that the summer ahead would prove to be not only one of the most challenging jobs I’ve ever had but also the most unforgettable, and I learned some beautiful lessons.

I understand that saying a summer camp that is intended for children between the ages of 5 and 15 changed a grown woman sounds a little crazy. On the surface, camp is friendship bracelets, color wars, and campfires. But I would have never guessed that a friendship bracelet really meant lifelong friendships and that my time at camp would add up to more hours than an entire school year. I’ve never experienced so many emotions in eight weeks as I did when I was a camp counselor.

Most importantly, summer camp taught me how to fall in love. I fell in love with independence and with New York City. I fell in love with heat lightning, summer storms, and my polka-dot rain boots. I fell in love with picnics in Central Park, and I fell in love with the boy from the Bronx, my fellow counselor, who showed me the city. I loved my crazy 13-year-old campers, who reminded me how tough it is to be a young girl sometimes. I’ll never lose space in my heart for my summer at camp, and I’ll carry the memories and friendships forever. -Alana Beal


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