Hello Kawaga Family,
We’ve been so fortunate this summer to welcome back Marc Appell, who — after a 20-year hiatus from Kawaga — joined us as our Assistant Director. Marc is a high-school social-studies teacher in Portland, Oregon, where the tall pines rival those on the Shores.
As if Marc’s homecoming wasn’t sweet enough, he was joined by his wonderful wife Christina, who’s one of our camp nurses this summer, and their ridiculously cute one-and-a-half-year-old son Mateo. And, there’s more: Marc’s mom, Sybil, is helping out this summer with Mateo. And, his nephew Sean Gooze (pictured above with Marc and Christina) is a JC this year. As, I always say, Kawaga is family!
So, enjoy Marc’s “sermon,” as he recounts a lesson he learned as a camper that has stayed with him for all these years and has helped guide him as a teacher and as our Assistant Director.
I don’t need to tell you how much I love Camp Kawaga, because I know that you all feel the same way. I see it on your faces everyday.
This is one of our favorite places on the planet. I know for so many of us, it is our favorite place. We go through our “regular lives” away from camp and cannot wait for the summer to finally arrive. We daydream about Lake Kawaguesaga and the towering pines and the echo of a Tapping Ceremony on Diamond One and “carrying Harry to the ferry” and the sky blue of the Omni. We think about the awesome counselors we look up to and, of course, we think of our good friends. All these people we love in a place we hold so dear to our hearts.
I was a Kawaga camper for seven years and a counselor for one year. But then, as often happens in life, I didn’t return. That was 20 years ago!
I remember so much from those days. Countless vivid memories quickly rush in: faces and games and the bugle call of Reveille. I remember catching the final out in my first intercamp competition as I played short center on Junior B Softball. When I caught that ball, we all screamed for joy in the throes of victory. Asleep in Chip One later that night, we were awakened by our coach and counselor, the legendary Woogie, who brought us a few pizzas from town to celebrate our Junior B Softball victory. That was probably the best pizza I’ve ever had.
But along with the victory and pizza, I remember a mistake I made — ironically during that same competition. I was nine-years old and beyond excited about the upcoming competition. When we went to the neighboring camp for the competition, we were happily eating lunch in a building similar to our Rec Hall. When I finished eating, I curiously walked around the room to explore this foreign space of another camp.
Along one of the walls, all by myself, I discovered a dark piece of fabric rolled up on the floor. I held it in my hands, felt its weight in my young fingers, and slowly unrolled it. Inch by inch, I could see that this was a camp banner — something important and meaningful — and it proudly beared the name of the camp we were visiting. Then a thought came over me, one which surprised me, but I didn’t resist it. And, I regret it to this day.
What I did next is still as clear in my memory as the softball I would catch later that day for the final out. I felt a very slight tear in the fabric and pulled on in, intentionally tearing it more. In fact, I made sure that I tore the banner so that it was permanently damaged. I’m sad to say that I knew exactly what I was doing. I was intentionally ruining something that wasn’t mine — something that was meaningful to our competitors.
I knew how wrong I was. Yet, I left the banner on the floor, hoping that it would go unnoticed. I did not speak of what I had done then nor have I talked about it since then. Not once. Not ever. That was more than two decades ago.
That night, when we were back at camp and eating dinner in the Mess Hall, I remember how my fellow campers’ spirits were still high from the competition, even though we were exhausted. When the meal was complete, our Director, Duke Fisher, talked to the whole camp about how proud he was of the way that we competed and behaved. But then he stopped. And, he told us about a phone conversation he had just had with the Director of the other camp. Their Director had called Duke to let him know that a Kawaga camper had likely ruined his camp’s cherished banner. Duke explained, in front of the entire camp, how this act is not the way of Camp Kawaga. He talked about the Kawaga Ideal and about Sportsmanship and how we should always strive to be and do better. I quietly sat there in the Mess Hall, with my head hung low, feeling ashamed of what I had done. Yet I told no one. Until right now.
You see, the memories I have of camp are as much about my mistakes as my victories. I’ve learned life lessons from both. Yes, Kawaga is about Enthusiasm, Fellowship, and the amazing fun we have here. But, Kawaga is also about fostering a community that pushes you to grow and be better. Ty calls it “ABI,” Always Be Improving. It’s the backbone of what we strive for at Kawaga, and I think this idea is at the heart of our experience here.
So, after all these years, I wanted to share with you a story that still bothers me greatly, but it’s one from which I’ve learned so much. In many ways, this one mistake — together with so many things I’m proud of from my years as a camper and counselor — have helped to form who I am today: a son, friend, husband, father, uncle, teacher, and now proudly, Kawaga’s Assistant Director.
This summer has been filled with so much joy for me. I’ve been able to share these Shores with my wife, my son, my nephew, and my mother. This new role has proved so fulfilling. I’ve been inspired every day by a staff so dedicated and hardworking. But the greatest joy for me is simply to be here with all of you, Kawaga’s campers, because I see myself in each of you. I see myself receiving my paddle after swimming the bay, and I see myself playing roofball between Cabins 7 and 8. I see myself sleepily standing in line for Polar Bears, skiing my first miracle, and weaving lanyards in Arts and Crafts. I see myself reading the small text of the Ideal from the back of a Kawaga business card and repeating the words over and over to myself, slowly memorizing each line, one at a time.
Campers, your time here is limited. We say this at almost every Saturday sermon because it’s true. But maybe you, too, can return to the Shores in 20 years and relive the spirit and joy of Camp Kawaga with your family. Just remember what Duke talked about that day in the Mess Hall. Let’s remember who we are. Let’s always help each other and take care of each other. Let’s live our days with love and respect and strive to be our best. We all mistakes, and we should all understand them, grow from them, and be accountable for them.
I have spent 20 years dreaming of returning to Camp Kawaga. And, here I am. When it’s time to leave this summer, I know it won’t be for another 20 years before I return! And in the meantime, I will keep striving to be better. I will try to learn from my mistakes. I will continue to try to internalize the Kawaga Ideal and live up to its infinite wisdom.
“Then I, his father, will dare into the recesses of my own heart to whisper, I have not lived in vain.”