Summer camps leave a lasting impression on students, faculty and alumni
Camie McKee ’09 was back at Camp Waldemar in Hunt, Texas in April 2022, a summer camp where she, her mom and her grandma spent their childhoods. This time, however, she was back at camp for a different reason. She was there as a bride surrounded by her family and friends.
As the school year winds down and summer approaches, many students get excited to return to summer camp. Whether 8 years old or 18, many decide to spend time during their summer away from home and the internet.
According to the American Camp Organization’s 2016 Camp enrollment survey, about 80 percent of the camps that responded, reached the same or an increase in enrollment than prior years. In a May 10 survey of 78 upper school students, 20 percent of respondents said they are going to sleepaway camp this summer, 35 percent used to go but don’t go anymore and 3 percent are returning to camp as a counselor.
Some campers like McKee have such a strong connection and memories from their camp days that they decide to get married there. Kaki Miller ’14, got married on April 29 at Camp Waldemar as well after being a camper there for eight years and a counselor for four. A lot of the friends she made at camp were also at her wedding.
“My mom went to the camp and her mom signed her up for it so that’s how I learned about it,” Miller said. “My mom signed me up when I was zero, she put me on the waitlist when I was little bitty, and then she took me to go visit the camp when I was probably six or seven. I fell in love with it.”
Senior Lyles Etcheverry will be returning to Camp Mystic, an all-girls Christian camp in Hunt, Texas, for her 11th summer. However, this year will be her first as a counselor.
“I really like the friends I’ve made,” Etcheverry said. “It’s kind of been the only reason that’s taking me back every year. I’ve just made some of the best friends in my life through camp.”
Claire Mrozek, upper school history teacher and junior class dean, went to camp for 10 years as a teen. For her first two years she went to a camp for two weeks and when she was nine, she started going to Camp Island Pines in New Hampshire for a month and then two months when she reached the age of 12 or 13 and then went back as a counselor.
“I was a pretty active kid and I loved the idea of having different activities like archery, canoeing, sailing and hiking,” Mrozek said. “I liked being outside [and] I wasn’t fussy, so in sort of not luxurious circumstances wasn’t an issue for me. My mom worked, so it was a fun way for me to spend my summer [and] much more fun than what I would have been doing at home.”
Mrozek also went back to camp as a training junior counselor, senior counselor and would have been a head counselor, but the owners closed the camp when she was 17. Mrozek feels that her time at camp as a counselor introduced her to leadership skills.
“I didn’t know that I wanted to be a teacher when I was that young, but I think that it introduced me to a lot of things that I enjoy about being a teacher,” Mrozek said. “Helping people understand things better, working as a team, organizing things, some of which are fun, some of which are serious.”
However, not everyone enjoyed camp growing up. Senior Maddy Hammett went to Sky Ranch, a camp in South Texas, for six or seven years for a week at a time. She stopped going to camp sometime when she was in middle school.
“I hated the heat [and] there’s a lot of outdoor activities [and I’m] not a very outdoorsy person,” Hammett said. “They made us do a lot of sports-related things [and] I’ve always hated sports and running, like exerting myself. I don’t like strict schedules and I had that too.”
Regardless of whether or not McKee’s guests enjoyed camp as a kid, her family and friends got to experience a weekend at camp during her wedding weekend at Waldemar. Her friends and family enjoyed taking a break from their devices and work and experienced camp activities.
“At the time, my now husband and I were looking for a destination that was within Texas and accessible for friends and family, but also somewhere that was increasingly meaningful and an added bonus full of natural beauty,” McKee said. “For a lot of our peers who are young professionals, getting to take a break from the busyness of life and work and get to just be outside and especially having both of our respective family members and friends really get to know each other through similar to camp shared activities like a kickball game, and just getting to enjoy being in the outdoors, go on walks or hikes, or do archery, things like that.”