Camp Millhouse

April 23, 2012

I have talked a lot about family and stories related to me by family, but I haven’t talked much about things that meant everything to me alone. Camp Millhouse was one of those things.

A still-existing residential summer camp for physically and mentally disabled children and adults, our family became acquainted with Camp Millhouse when Grandma Beanie heard about it at the hospital that cared for Tommy. He became a camper at Camp Millhouse in the early 1970s, and I became a Counselor-in-Training (CIT) in 1974, an Assistant Counselor in 1977, and a Counselor in 1978. Tommy and Cindy also worked at Camp Millhouse in the 1970s, with Tommy as a CIT and Cindy as a Counselor.

It is a truly wonderful place. Cindy and Tommy had long since left when I completed my fifth summer in 1978, leaving behind me a trail of sad-about-leaving tears and taking with me memories of growth experiences I could not have found anywhere else.

I had to juggle things some summers to be at Camp Millhouse as much as possible. Cheerleading camp took up part of 1974 and 1975 and the Spirits of ’76 Summer Bicentennial Extravaganza (school corporation choir and swing choir) on the St. Joseph River and the exchange program to Japan took up a very large chunk of 1976, but by 1977 I didn’t want to be anywhere else. I missed cheerleading camp that year in favor of spending the entire summer at Camp Millhouse. By 1978 I am not certain I noticed that there was anything else available to do in the summer. I had to be at camp, without question.

CITs were volunteers who worked hard. We were responsible for being at the main lodge to greet the campers for breakfast, lunch and dinner, prepared to lead them in rousing camp songs while everyone lined up and waited to enter the dining room together. We were responsible for serving all of the meals, collecting all of the dirty dishes, cleaning the dining room, and washing and drying all of the dishes. We were responsible for doing anything that any counselor, nurse, cook or the director asked for us to do. Those responsibilities included recreation and pool duty, arts and crafts, helping with personal, medical or laundry needs of the campers, taking the campers on daytime hiking trips to nearby farms, guiding the campers to the nightly campfire circle and leading them in the singing of camp songs, camping at various camp outposts with campers who wished to rough it, setting up tents, shoveling, raking and general slavery.

I loved it.

I learned over the years that while the CITs were slaving (and sometimes sneaking) away, the Assistant Counselors, who were paid $250 for the summer, and the Counselors, who were paid $600 for the summer, were also slaving away. I didn’t serve food or clean dishes as I moved up through the ranks of the Camp Millhouse counselor structure, but I did learn to plan activities to cover every moment of every day, and while I was at it, learned along with the other Assistants and Counselors to ensure that every moment of every day was safe for the campers and all of the staff. Every plan had to have rain plans and contingency plans and emergency plans. Every duty had to be assigned with enough backup that not a single duty ever went uncovered, regardless of what was happening. The safety of everyone in the camp depended on it.

Most staff members when I was there were under 23 years old. There were four employees—the two cooks, the nurse and the camp director—who were older. We were up to the challenges, however, and listened to every word the elders said to us.

I learned a valuable lesson about working at Camp Millhouse, just as I had learned a valuable lesson about working during my first job at Mr. Simmons’ farm. I was fortunate for the opportunity to earn dollars from Mr. Simmons, a man who understood and taught me the value of a dollar. At Camp Millhouse I learned the lesson of earning a dollar—and sometimes earning no dollars at all—while doing something I loved. There’s nothing like it.


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