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This article by Kathleen McGinn Spring was prepared for the March

3, 2004 issue of U.S. 1 Newspaper. All rights reserved.

Sixty Years of Summer Camp

Pauline Humes will be returning for her 60th year at camp in June. She

and her husband, the late Earl Humes, founded Camp Regis in the

Adirondack mountains of New York State shortly after World War II.

Sitting in the living room of her home in Meadow Lakes, overlooking a

frozen pond backed by woods and occupied by a lone white swan, she is

joined by her daughter, Emily Spence, who has just interrupted a

career in high tech to work at the camp, which is now headed up by her

brother, Michael Humes.

The spirit of the camp, where boys and girls age 6 through 16 can

spend up to eight weeks in the woods and on the water, becomes obvious

immediately. In movies about life at sleep away camp, color wars are

nearly always the dramatic linchpin. Youngsters are shown in

no-holds-barred athletic competition with one another to bring honor

to their group. So, are there color wars at Camp Regis?

"Oh, no!" exclaims Humes. "Competition is in no way, shape, or manner

to be encouraged as the goal."

"But we do have Olympics," adds Spence.

"Yes," agrees Humes. "We do have Olympics, but not all kids are

athletically inclined. We divide the kids by skill and age, and there

are points for physical prowess and for playing at matches." The

matches, she explains, are set up to favor both the athletic, and the

not so. One contest involves swamping canoes, and then paddling the

water-filled boats back to shore. The resulting race involves laughter

rather than machismo, and the outcome is mostly a matter of luck, not

strength or years of private lessons.

Those who don’t run or swim quickly, and whose soggy canoes have

trouble making it back to shore, can still shine. "The children can

win points for banners and costumes," says Spence. "And for songs."

There are also points for sportsmanship. "That’s the most important

thing of all," says Humes, "to be there for one another’s glory."

At a time when working parents, especially, fret about what they will

do to keep their children occupied during the long hot months of

summer, the lessons of the veteran camper are worth noting. Humes

stresses that her camp is traditional in its activities, which include

sailing, swimming, tennis, hiking, singalongs, art, and stories around

the campfire. But it is unusual in its emphasis on diversity. She and

her husband founded the camp, in large part, as a way to bring

together children from all backgrounds and to teach them the value of

diversity.

The first year the camp was open, 1945, the French government sent

children who had been rescued from concentration camps. "They had been

hiding, living on barley water," says Humes. Joining them in camp were

little contessas from Spain, whose nanny had sewn the family crest on

all of their clothes. The first campers – and their counselors – were

Jews and gentiles, Japanese and German, black and white. The idea of

camp as melting pot was a radical one in the 1940s. "Everyone

predicted that we would fail," says Humes. "Everyone predicted

disaster for us."

Young and idealistic, the couple paid no attention. They had met some

10 years before when both were students at Syracuse University. "Earl

graduated in 1938, and I graduated in 1939," says Humes. Her parents,

who owned a jewelry store in Syracuse, had seen no reason for her to

go to college. "My father said he would send me to secretarial

school," she says. He promised her a job in the family store when she

graduated. When that plan didn’t fly, he suggested nursing school.

Determined to study education, she prevailed and enrolled in college,

where she met Earl almost immediately.

The pair married right after graduation. She went to work in the

psychology department at the university, and her husband became an

assistant dean. He then accepted a position as dean of students at the

City University of New York, and she was hired by the Little Red

School House, a school that pioneered educational reform. The pull-out

couch in their small apartment on East 22nd Street became a way

station for social activists. Dorothy Day, founder of the Catholic

Workers Movement, was a friend. Since graduating from college, the

couple had become Quakers, and in New York City they opened their home

to members of the American Friends Service Society and other pacifist

groups.

Interested in the outdoors and in camping, as well as in education and

social activism, the couple decided that a camp would be a perfect way

to teach children. "We didn’t think of it as a business undertaking,"

says Humes. "We thought of it as a way of education that was more

direct and meaningful than the classroom."

During the summers, using gas rationing coupons they had saved up all

year, they went looking for a camp to buy. The couple had been living

on Earl’s salary, and saving Pauline’s to buy a camp. They looked from

Connecticut to Maine, but could find nothing. Then a friend told them

that they were taking the wrong approach. Forget about buying an

existing camp, he said. He knew of an estate that had just come on the

market, and suggested that it would be a perfect set-up for a camp.

The Penfold estate sat on 100 acres in the Adirondacks. It had 50 out

buildings and half-a-mile of shoreline on a shallow, sandy bottom

lake. The owners had grown old, had no heirs, and wanted to sell. The

Humes realized right away that the property would indeed be the

perfect setting for a camp.

Michael Humes, a Princeton resident, takes over the story of how his

parents bought the camp. "My father met with the president of the

local bank," he recounts. "He said ‘tell me your idea, your goals, and

the kind of camp you want to run.’" After hearing Earl and Pauline’s

vision, the banker said "’you’ve got the loan.’" Shocked at the ease

of the transaction, Earl could only say "’What?’"

The papers were drawn up on the spot. Asked what he and his wife

planned to name the camp, Earl, still not used to the idea of being a

camp owner, had no ready reply. The younger Humes recounts what

happened next. "’Well,’" said the banker, "’it’s on St. Regis Lake, so

I’m going to put down Camp Regis.’"

That was it. The transaction was completed that very day, and the

Humes family had a camp. That scenario could not be duplicated today,

and not just because banking has changed.

"You seldom see a camp for sale," says Humes. There was a shake-out in

the 1980s when a boom in demand for second homes caused a number of

camp owners to sell to developers, but the frenzy has ended. Sleep

away camps like Camp Regis require a large parcel of land, and they

pretty much need to be on the water. Put the two factors together, and

the cost of land alone is prohibitive. "And," Humes points out, "the

land is only used eight weeks a year, but taxes have to be paid year

’round. Maintenance must be performed throughout the year as well. The

only way to get into the business, says Humes, is to be born into it

or to marry into it.

He, of course, was born into the camping business. He made his first

trip to Camp Regis at the age of three months. "I’ve spent every

summer of my life at camp," he says. He attended Pace University

(Class of 1976) and considered a career as an environmental attorney.

But, while he was still in college, his father became ill with cancer.

"He was my best friend and my mentor," says Humes. He began to help

out more and more with the camp, and easily decided that he would make

it his life’s work.

He and his two sisters attended school in Westchester, except for a

stretch when his father worked at a Florida college in the winters,

and he lived in the White Plains house he bought from his mother until

about four years ago. At that time, he says, a family came to tour the

camp and sang the praises of Princeton and of its school system.

The father of three young children, Humes decided to move to

Princeton. "It’s a central location," he explains. The bulk of Camp

Regis’ campers come from the eastern seaboard, and a good many of them

from the Washington to Boston corridor. Camp staff are available to

visit families at home to talk about the camp. Fewer families request

these visits than used to be the case, but living in a town that sits

between New York and Philadelphia makes it easier for Humes to arrange

to see them.

The property he found in Princeton is perfect for his purposes. There

is a main house, in which he lives with his family, and a smaller

house that serves as his office, which buzzes with camp activity. Two

employees, one of them his sister Emily, are sending out information

packets to campers and evaluating applications from counselors.

In an earlier conversation, Michael’s mother had scoffed at a common

view of the life of a camp owner. "People always say to me ‘it must be

so nice to own a camp! You can swim and sail all summer, and you have

the rest of year off.’" Her reply: "Ha!" Running a camp is, in fact, a

year ’round job.

"This is a very busy time," says Emily, busy at her computer when she

isn’t answering the phone.

Applications from the most promising would-be counselors are stacked

neatly on a long table. "This one is a 47-year-old who is a high

school teacher and an attorney," says Humes, paging through the

application on top of the pile. "She has a small boat sailing

certificate," he says as he reaches the last page. She also has two

children.

"Her kids would go to camp free," says Humes, "and she would get a

salary." Her husband owns an outdoor specialty shop in Massachusetts,

and Humes is assuming that he would stay put for much of the summer.

"He could come up for long week-ends," he suggests. Meanwhile, the

teacher/attorney/sailing instructor would get her own cabin, and if

she decided to keep returning as a counselor, she would be assigned to

the same cabin year after year.

The fact that the camp was once an estate has been a tremendous boon.

The cabins available for counselors all have their own bathrooms and

fireplaces, amenities that would be hard to match in a newly-built

camp.

The next application in the pile also involves children – and a couple

who are perfect candidates for a Camp Regis cabin. He is a college

instructor and athletic trainer. She is a nurse. They have sent a

family picture, which shows two smiling school-age children. The whole

family would come for the summer. The children would most likely join

their age mates and melt into camp life. However, if a counselor has

pre-school children, they spend their days at the Teddy Bear day camp

on site, and rejoin their parents each evening.

Working down the pile of applications, Humes stops at one from a

19-year-old college student. A graduate of the Peddie School, she is

going to college in California, and is a certified life guard. Some

counselors come from much farther away. "This girl is from Australia,"

says Humes, holding up another application.

Last year, campers came from 20 states and 10 foreign countries.

Counselors easily match that geographic range. This is the time of

year that Humes and his employees pull a staff of 100 together. Many

counselors, especially the adults, return year after year, but there

are always slots to be filled.

In addition to counselors, life guards, and instructors, the camp

employs a full maintenance staff, four cooks, two prep cooks, a baker,

and three to four dishwashers. Among the employees in the last humble

category is a young man who returns year after year to wash dishes,

and who is well on his way to earning an M.D. While he enjoys his

work, which undoubtedly carries less pressure than he encounters in

his studies, other dishwashers choose to move up within the camp. One,

a native of Trinidad, began as an impoverished young man. He is now

nearly finished college and is a favorite teen counselor.

Deep winter is a time for interviewing counselors and campers, and for

HR chores such as revising the employee handbook. By the time the

tulips are up in New Jersey, it will be time for Humes to swing into

the next phase.

"I start to check in in mid-May," he says. "I go up for two or three

days a week." He has a full-time caretaker at camp, and he joins him,

and the maintenance staff, to start getting all of the buildings open

in the spring. Throughout the winter, a close eye must be kept on the

camp. Until recently, the roofs of the buildings had to be shoveled at

regular intervals at a cost of many thousands of dollars a year. A few

years ago, Humes and his staff re-engineered the roofs, adding slopes

and reinforcement. Since then, he says, "knock on wood," there has

been no shoveling, and no roofs have collapsed. Meanwhile, special

machines run all winter to keep dock pilings free of ice.

Still, a harsh winter, with an average snowfall of 100 inches, takes a

toll. In the spring, buildings have to be repaired, athletic fields

have to fertilized, tennis courts have to be resurfaced, one mile of

private roads have to be patched, six miles of pipes have to be

inspected, 60 boats have to be put in the water, and supplies have to

be ordered.

"It’s like being mayor of a small town," says Humes. "It’s daunting."

From mid-June through Labor Day, the camp owner is in the Adirondacks

to stay, supervising all aspects of the operation. Then, as the days

shorten, he begins his Princeton to St. Regis commute again. "In the

fall, we have special projects," he says. "That is the time that we

build new additions and redo cabins."

All of that work goes toward creating a communal outdoor experience

for campers during the brief Adirondack summer. It used to be that all

campers spent eight weeks at Camp Regis, but changing lifestyles,

competing interests, and the desire of families to have vacation time

together has created another option. Campers can choose to spend just

four weeks. The tuition for the full summer, June 27 to August 18, is

$5,100. The tuition for the first half of the summer, June 27 to July

24, is $3,300, and the tuition for the second half of the summer, July

25 to August 18, is $3,300. Each year, the Humes family, which

considers diversity to be integral to the camp experience, gives

scholarships to 10 to 20 children.

While most campers spend four or eight weeks, the youngest campers,

age 6 to 9, can opt for an even shorter introduction to camping, and

spend just two weeks. "We specialize in younger campers," says Humes.

They stay in very small groups under the eye of a counselor who is

also a parent.

Teen-agers have their own camp within a camp. At first, it was located

at the Applejack farm down the road. But Pauline and Earl Humes found

they were spending far too much time on the road, and built a teen

camp on 20 acres of the main camp’s property. They had not planned on

keeping the Applejack name, but the first year the new camp was open

campers streamed off their buses wearing big red "A’s" on their

chests. They wanted their own identity, says Pauline, so the name

stuck, and the camp’s name became Regis-Applejack.

For all campers, whether they are in the first grade or are almost

ready for college, the Camp Regis experience is a mix of structure and

free expression. There are six periods each day. For three of them,

all of the campers in a group take part in the same experience,

whether it be boating or swimming or drama or art or music. For the

other three periods, the youngsters are free to choose their

activities. Some campers initially balk at the enforced activities,

but the Humes, mother and son, are quietly forceful in stating that it

is important for all of the kids to try everything.

"When I’m on vacation and I see someone taking out a catamaran, I

often ask where he learned to sail," says Humes. "Almost always the

answer is ‘at camp.’" The campers are learning life skills, he says,

and many end up thoroughly enjoying the activities they did not want

to take part in early on.

That said, the camp is happy to accommodate children’s ever changing

interests. "Last year cricket was all the rage for some reason," says

Pauline. And lots of cricket was played.

There are some games that do not make the cut, however. Are Game Boys

and similar hand-held computers allowed? Apparently this is a touchy

subject. Spence answers indirectly. "When would they have time to play

them?" she says. Her brother doesn’t want to answer directly either.

"We don’t encourage Game Boys," he says. "Kids just sit in front of

them all day and zone out." But are they allowed? "They are on our ‘do

not bring to camp’ list," he finally admits.

The question of cell phones is dispatched much more easily. "We don’t

get reception," says Humes. Land line phones are not much in use

either. Parents are not allowed to call for the first week. After

that, campers are limited to the occasional three-minute call home,

and only at mealtime.

"Look," says Pauline Humes, "the kids are at camp to form a community

and to learn to be independent. We don’t have loud speakers the way

some camps do, calling kids to the phone." Think of a six-year-old off

with this friends, happily examining frogs, she suggests. "His mother

calls and says ‘oh, your room looks so empty without you,’ what does

that do to him?"

If anyone knows kids and the way they react at camp, it’s Pauline

Humes. Her role now is that of camp disciplinarian. She has her method

down pat. When a child is brought to her for fighting or disobeying,

she listens to his story, and then puts him in a room by himself with

a notebook, a pen, and instructions to write down what it was that he

did to land himself in hot water. She leaves him for an hour, watching

surreptitiously to make sure that he is all right. When the hour is

elapsed, the youngster is invariably thrilled to see her, and ready to

bound away to join his group.

But she is not finished. She looks over his written confession, talks

it over, and then leaves for one hour while he draws up a plan of

action to correct the problem. This introspection is enough to get

most miscreants back on track. To make sure, she has the child visit

her at regular intervals in the dining room to update his progress.

There have been times when the Pauline treatment was not enough, and

campers have been expelled. She speaks sadly of one such incident, an

incident that nearly closed the camp.

Camp Regis had reached out to the brother of a high-profile murder

victim, offering him a scholarship and a plane ticket to camp. The

young man was angry, and neither the glorious camp setting, nor the

camaraderie of the other campers, nor the camp’s gentle approach to

discipline could reach him.

"He got up in the night and poured sand in the gas tank of every camp

vehicle and every boat," says Pauline Humes. "We had to take out a

second mortgage. It nearly bankrupted us."

The young man was sent home. A few campers also have been sent home

for repeatedly causing trouble within their groups, and for "sneaking

out at night." The latter refers to attempts at romance between

opposite sex campers. The camp has always been coed, and with campers

well past adolescence, the occasional problem could be anticipated.

Asked about any issues arising from the coed format, Spence says, "but

what could they do?"

"Have sex," snaps her octogenarian mother.

"But," protests Spence, "there are mosquitoes, and it gets down to 40

degrees at night, and they are watched 24 hours a day."

Nevertheless, there have been incidents, but not many. Most likely,

the 24-hour surveillance is a greater deterrent than the bugs, but in

any case, any couple found out at night together is sent home

immediately.

While some things, such as teen-age romance, are constants, there are

some aspects of camp life that have changed. Remember computer camps?

Wildly popular 10 years ago, they have become passe at the same rate

that computers have become commonplace. Camp Regis once echoed with

the tapping of keyboards, but now the machines sit unused most of the

time. "On rainy days, kids sometimes play games on the computers,"

says Humes. "And we use them for putting out the camp paper." That’s

it. The craze is over.

But another craze is just gearing up. With the food police out in

force, the camp wiener roast may well be in danger. That should not be

much of a problem at Camp Regis. Humes has been eating and serving

healthy food for decades.

"We switched to low-fat milk 20 years ago," says Humes. At the time,

the concept of cutting growing kids off from their whole milk was

revolutionary, and some parents complained. Humes no longer hears

complaints, and would really prefer to serve the kids skim milk. "But

my chef tells me it does not work as a soup base," he says. Milk the

kids do not drink at meals ends up as soup, so he has to content

himself with serving 1 percent milk.

The camp serves 1,000 plates of food a day, and offers a vegetarian

option that is growing in popularity. Even omnivores rarely get beef,

in large part because Humes himself does not eat it.

While fads, whether they be electronic or culinary, come and go, Humes

says that, by and large, kids remain the same. He becomes a little

emotional as he describes the last campfire of each season. The

youngsters write the most important camp experiences on a log, and

then burn it. Its ashes are added to the ashes of all the year-end

camp fires of the preceding 60 years.

"It’s very moving," says Humes. "The kids never forget it."

He hopes that these campfire rituals will never end. He hopes that one

or more of his children, now age 5 to 11, will take over the camp one

day. If none of them, or none of his nieces or nephews, wants the life

of a camp owner, he plans to have Camp Regis-Applejack run by a

foundation presided over by camp alumni.

As enduring as it is old-fashioned, the lure of a summer out-of-doors

fueled by S’mores, long days on the water, nights around a campfire,

and new skills mastered in the company of new friends should ensure a

steady supply of youngsters to fill the camp’s cabins and light up its

lake with shouts and laughter.


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