By Judy Garrison
I was lucky that the perfect people to interview for this article were within easy reach. Reverend James Adams, rector of an Episcopal Church in Geneva, NY, and his wife Sue, co-directors of the Lake Delaware Boys Camp and the source of most of the information in this article, spend time in “downtown” Andes while setting up for camp. During a relaxed and wide-ranging conversation on the porch of the Andes Hotel in late June, I learned that they had actually met at the camp, their daughters have worked there as counselors, and their lives have been intertwined with it in significant and countless ways.
The camp, which comprises 125 acres of the Gerry Estate where the towns of Bovina, Andes and Delhi come together, was founded in 1909 by Robert L. Gerry, then living in the Aknusti mansion (the Aknusti horse farm became Broadlands under later ownership and was recently bought by Aman Resorts). It is to this day, on the centennial anniversary of its founding, endowed and led by the Gerry family. After Robert Gerry’s death, Elbridge and Marjorie took the baton until 1994. It was closed for a few years after Elbridge died. Now their offspring Elbridge, Jr., Marjorie (known as Didi) and Peter are at the helm. Every boy is on 100% scholarship, about $3,000 per camper. The camp is supported in numerous ways, including financially, by an active alumni association whose members from all over the country credit the camp experience with being the most formative one in their lives. They volunteer by maintaining the grounds and offering construction expertise and hands-on labor (the new bathroom and shower building project was done by the alumni association.)
Robert Gerry’s vision was that of making a difference in the lives of young boys. He believed the ethos of the camp should focus on the whole youth: body, mind and spirit. That meant healthy, nutritious meals and opportunities for leadership and structure and regularity aimed at building self-reliance, buttressed by a military theme. That model appeals to a camper’s pride in achieving rank, but without the hazing or put-downs that are sometimes part of military training. A Company and B Company were established as friendly rivals throughout the summer. To this day the competition prevails. Clearly there is a warmth and family feeling engendered by the director couple, an attitude that they radiate and can’t be measured or ordered. (I suspect that the boys feel respect and affection in equal measure for this husband and wife team.)
Originally, all campers came from one parish, St. Edward the Martyr Episcopal Church in East Harlem in New York City. Today, the boys come from varying religious traditions but all are expected to attend the camp’s Episcopal chapel once a day and twice on Sundays. Many campers, such as Jim Adams himself, came, as part of a family tradition, though the family was no longer from the city. An effort was made in the 1990’s to purposefully reach out again to boys in need. The camp was briefly situated in the hamlet of Bovina Center, and then from 1910-1911 at Tunis Lake where mosquitoes proved an annoyance. It has been at its present site since 1912. The chapel and mess hall built then are still used.
One hundred boys will be in residence this summer; 75 of whom have attended the camp before. I asked Jim and Sue Adams to describe a typical day for the racially diverse campers during their 5-week session. The 8-16 year-olds live in 8 tents, half for those in A Company, the others for those in B Company. They rise to a bugle call of reveille and the sound of a cannon blast at 6: 50 am, salute the flag, say the Pledge of Allegiance and The Lord’s Prayer and proceed to doing 10 minutes of calisthenics. At 7:20 they attend church for a full hour, with many participating in the choir. Someone works the bellows of the fine pipe-organ, built in 1880 (electricity arrived at the camp in 1960). After breakfast the drum & bugle corps practices marching. Following that is a raft of activities: swimming lessons in the pool, climbing tower, sports of all kinds, hiking, nature study, arts and crafts. After lunch comes rest period when the boys might play games or write home. The camp maintains the old-fashioned rule of compulsory letter writing to family, and no radios, walkmans or iPods are permitted. Without these and with no Internet accessibility, they can focus on living close to nature and making friends. There are 2 more class periods in the afternoon, maybe boating on Lake Delaware (the camp has had a boating program for the last 6 years and has a new kayak.) The alumni raised money for the 5-year old Olympic sized pool, which took the place of the old camp pond. After supper, the flag is ceremoniously lowered at 6 pm, and they play games by age group, such as softball and basketball. At 8 o’clock, games are over, and taps is at 9:10 pm.
I asked about field trips and was told the older boys traditionally go on a 3-day hike to Slide Mountain and the whole camp is treated yearly to a trip to Zoom Flume in East Durham.
Counselors, all over 21, are chosen for their maturity and skills (this year they include a recent law school graduate, a 3rd year medical student, and an engineer from Shell Oil. They come from England, Scotland, New Zealand, Australia and Poland as well as the U.S, and have instilled enthusiasm for soccer in the boys.
Rev. Adams gave an example of the life-changing effect the camp had on one boy. Dan Denose, from the inner city of Newark, came to camp at the age of 10. The Adamses were contacted the following winter by his school and informed that he was having adjustment problems and needed to get out of his setting if he were to achieve his full potential. They were able to place him with a family in Geneva, NY, which took him in as their own son. He grew up in Geneva attending camp at Lake Delaware every summer, and is currently in his third summer of being a counselor. He is currently attending Hobart College and has been elected as the student representative to their Board of Trustees. He maintains ties with his city family to this day. This is the kind of success story the camp aspires to and strives for. For photos and a fuller picture go to: www.lakedelawareboyscamp.org. For a real life experience watch all camp’s drum and bugle corps march in the Community Day Parade in Andes on August 8th!! ~