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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
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
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
"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
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
"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
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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