boys huddle

History of Kawaga

All camps have traditions — special rites of passage, songs and cheers sung year after year, tales of legendary campers and counselors, achievements and accomplishments.

At Camp Kawaga, our 100 years of history and tradition form the backbone of who we are and what we do. No camper leaves untouched — often in profound ways — by Kawaga’s rich and meaningful history.

boys hanging out

In the summer of 1915, a rabbi from Alabama, in search of a site to build a summer camp to become the platform for his mission of helping boys develop meaningfully into manhood, purchased a 160-acre plot of forestland in the Northwoods of Wisconsin. His name was Dr. Bernard Ehrenrich, though he became known to all simply as “Doc E.” When he found this particular parcel of land on the northeast shoreline of Lake Kawaguesaga near the town of Minocqua, he knew he had found what he had been searching for: a beautiful, inspiring birch and pine-forested peninsula —  a natural wonder that was his “Great Out Doors.” Kawaga was one of the first 25 camps in the country. One hundred years later, thousands have been fortunate to have been touched deeply by spending their summers  “on the shores,” as Kawaga continues to hold ever firmly to Doc E’s original vision, philosophies, and ideals.

As the camp grew throughout the 1920s and ’30s, Doc E. incorporated different Native American traditions into camp culture, not only as a sign of reverence and respect for those who occupied this beautiful land before it became Camp Kawaga, but as a special way to connect the boys to the natural surroundings, to each other, and to the values upon which Kawaga was founded. These humble — yet purposeful beginnings — catapulted Kawaga into becoming one of the country’s premier boys summer camps. As Doc E himself described Kawaga’s goal for his campers: “Fun, yes, but always with the thought of the final effect on the boy.”

Each generation of Kawaga leadership and campers has built upon Doc E’s  traditions, bringing new ideas and traditions to Kawaga — all consistent with Camp’s guiding values and philosophy. Among the most sacred of these are the honorary tribes that shape our summers and began in the 1930s.

boys hanging out

Kawaga rewards diverse participation and achievement by admitting campers into the honorary tribes of Mawanda and Sachem. Campers earn points by participating in every area of camp life – both athletic and non-athletic. In achieving their personal goal and earning their way into an Honorary Tribe, campers are rewarded by receiving a feather and headband when they join the tribe of Mawanda and when admitted into Sachem, each camper is given a personalized Indian name and a special paddle. We celebrate these traditions at our small and large Pow-Wows (campfires). The pow-wow is one of the longest traditions at Kawaga and promotes the philosophies and values that have been a part of Camp since 1915.

As the camp grew and Doc E was succeeded by his son and daughter-in-law, Lou and Dag, and later Ron and Liz Silverstein, camp culture also began to emphasize sports and competitive camaraderie. Under the ownership of the Fisher family, and the leadership of Directors Ty and Lauren Simpson, Kawaga continues to incorporate its past while always looking ahead to its future. An active camp philosophy combined with superb and innovative programming, first rate facilities, a passionate and devoted staff, makes Kawaga ready for the next 100 years.