When I first met Mike, he always talked of owning his own camp. And when we got married, we began the search for our camp. Upon taking ownership of Kamaji, we faced several years of fumbling our way through updating the facility, revamping the program, re-establishing the spirit and atmosphere that is uniquely Kamaji, and struggling to recruit campers. Until we accomplished all that, we never really felt that Kamaji was truly ours.
Throughout those early years . . . indeed throughout our 29 summers at Kamaji, we’ve heard the campers continually refer to Kamaji as “my camp.” Not stopping to think what they meant, it was some time well into our directorship that I finally came to realize to whom Kamaji really belongs.
This realization first surfaced several years ago while having lunch with a friend in a St. Louis restaurant . . . when parents of a Kamaji camper sat down at an adjoining table. A lively conversation ensued — during which both the mom and the dad kept referring to Kamaji as “our camp” as though it really were their camp! Initially, I felt an inner tug-of-war with these parents who seemed to be pulling Kamaji — my camp — out from under me. These parents must have been mind-readers because at some point they began to apologize to me explaining that, on some level, they truly felt that Kamaji was their daughter’s camp . . . and, through her, vicariously their camp. Brushing aside their apologies — not so much out of politeness but rather an awakening — it dawned on me that Kamaji didn’t belong to just me and Mike; it really-and-truly belongs as much to the campers and their families as it does us. Too, I realized how great it made me feel to hear others take ownership of Kamaji — laying claim to camp as theirs. What higher compliment could there be??!!??
With that in mind, I further realized that Mike and I often refer to Kamaji’s campers as “our kids” or “our girls.” I was reminded of this when I recently saw the mom of two former campers/sisters and I asked “How are my girls doing?” Without a moment’s hesitation the mom went into a dialog about where both girls are and what they are currently doing. She seemingly never gave it a second thought that I had claimed her daughters as my own. I guess that particular mom, when she sent her daughters to Kamaji, was allowing us to become, in a sense, a member of her family with a claim to her daughters — however temporary that “claim” might be!
What it comes down to is that Kamaji really is one big family of sorts — with all sharing a part of each other’s lives in a place that belongs to all of us. Camp Kamaji is not just my camp or Mike’s camp or our camp; it truly belongs to all — past, present and future — who share in the Kamaji experience!
P.S. Following are photos of several generations of Kamaji “owners”.