There are places I remember…
Written by Becca Keene
To my Camp Dad, Ron:
We all knew this day had to come. Selfishly, I’ve been dreading it for so long. You’ve unknowingly taught me so much about life, happiness, hard work, and family. You taught me to breathe even if the world seemed to be crumbling around me. Your leadership showed me not to let it swallow me up.
You believed in me, whether I needed to bring a group of international staff together and teach them the ways of camp, to find a new location to run ski after our beloved lake emptied, or simply when you sent me off into the world after my last summer. You always believed in me.
As is the case with most of my fellow alumni, those rocky roads equate to our “happy place.” In a world that can be cruel, relentless, and sometimes terrifying as an adult, the support of my camp director, cabin mates, counselors and SITs can be easily remembered just by visiting my “happy place.” It reminds me of life’s greatest friendships, the greatest comfort, the greatest home. Camp Chi is where we all found our confidence and our weirdness. I discovered my interests there, which grew into a lifelong love of nature and led me to my career. It’s where I learned to accept my imperfections, to share, solve problems, trust, and listen.
This is how I discovered the importance of practice and how it is the best way to grow at a skill – that rarely are we just good at stuff naturally.
Camp also brought me closer to my older siblings, who I otherwise didn’t have much in common with during the school year. In doing so, I created relationships with my older siblings’ cabin mates, who are like an army of mentors. I gained so many additional big brothers and sisters who are still in my life today. Camp is also responsible for all of my long-term relationships, even the romantic ones.
Going to this “happy place” has become a tool to cope with my adult life that is sometimes filled with obstacles and hardships. And, of course most of us “life-timers” imagine a future where we are able to take a summer off of work, step back from life and our responsibilities, and drive up to camp. I like to call it “Pulling a Pine Brothers.” Melissa Keene and I have imagined how great it would be if years from now we returned – perhaps she would be the camp doctor and I would go back to the docks.
In all of these “happy place” dreams, there’s one constant – YOU.
Stopping in your office to get your advice about something big, or simply relaxing on that crusty old couch (now replaced) after a hot day, or standing in your office doorway to tell you a hysterical story – that is MY camp and my “happy place.” Even if I just walked past the office, I could always count on sharing a wave and a smile with you, usually while you were hard at work on a phone call.
To think of camp without you is like trying to run a ski program on a lake with no water. It doesn’t seem right. Unnatural. Impossible.
Luckily, I can easily close my eyes and go back to the “happy place.”
Thank you for being the heart and soul of the place that made me who I am today. I am a person who feels camp running through my veins every day, someone you forever impacted. I am a person who can close my eyes right now, years later on a fall evening in Chicago, and successfully navigate over every uprooted tree branch on every little pathway throughout camp, lifting my feet high to avoid tripping. Camp is who I am.
Ron, I love you, and I feel so honored to have known you the majority of my life. No matter where you are, you will always be my first and greatest mentor. I wish nothing but success, happiness, and health to you and your family. And, of course, lots of rock music, guitar sessions, and delicious food every day of your retirement.
Thank you for lighting the match, igniting the fire, and keeping the “flame” alive in all of us.
Becca Keene is a proud SIT of 2005 and a longtime member of the waterski team. Becca is a Zookeeper and is working on her Masters degree in biology, with a focus on zoo and aquarium science. Nature and wildlife is her life’s passion, discovered at JCC Camp Chi.