Reflections from the Shores | Mike Grayson’s Visitors Weekend Sermon
For those of you who joined us for the Saturday-morning service on Parents Weekend, you had the rare pleasure of hearing from Mike Grayson, who played a formative role at Kawaga during his summers on the Shores in the 1960s and ‘70s.
We asked Mike, who lives in Columbus, Ohio, to share some thoughts with us about Kawaga, its rich history, and the impact camp has had on his life. Mike was joined by all of his children at Visitors Weekend: Kim, 42, with her boyfriend Andy; Jay, 40 (who was a Kawaga camper), and his son (Mike’s grandson) Jackson, 15; Robin, 37, and her husband Nate; and Mallory, 26. This marked the first occasion Mike and all his children were together on the Shores. Talk about special!
Parents, during the past few weeks, you’ve read how college-aged counselors feel about Kawaga — the life lessons they’ve already learned. So, now please enjoy this perspective from a special alum, who looks back on his 60-year association with Camp Kawaga.
Good morning, Kawaga Braves! It’s great to be back at camp, surrounded by all this spectacular beauty — Lake Kawaguesaga, the tall pine trees behind me and the white cabins marching up and down the hill behind you — and to see camp so beautifully improved yet looking just as it always has throughout its 105 year history.
I am proud to say that 60 years ago, I CHOSE KAWAGA. During the winter of 1958, several camp directors visited our home. They all showed us movies and told us what great camps they operated. For me, there was only one choice — Camp Kawaga and Lou Ehrenreich. Little did I know that first overnight train from Chicago to Minocqua would take me to a place that would have such an impact on my life.
Lou was the son of Bernard Ehrenreich — Doc E — whose picture hangs above the mantel in our beautiful new mess hall. Doc E was a rabbi from Montgomery, Alabama and the founder of Camp Kawaga. Unfortunately I never met Doc E as he passed away two years before my first summer at camp. Doc E’s first job was as a playground director for the city of New York. He was an early advocate of the juvenile court system.
For several years, Doc E had attempted to find a suitable site for a boys’ camp in Maine, but he wasn’t successful. In 1915, on the last day of a vacation in Wisconsin, he found a spot he considered ideal — 160 acres of forestland with a mile of lake frontage. Camp Kawaga was established and in 1916 camp opened with 13 campers from Doc E’s congregation in Montgomery.
Doc E retired in 1941 and his only son, Lou, became Kawaga’s director. His 6’3” stature and deep gravelly voice could be intimidating. But even at ten years old I was drawn to this larger-than-life man who would become my mentor and beloved friend. Lou Ehrenreich helped me develop self-confidence, individuality and a sense of humor.
The last time I saw Lou was in 1974 at my wedding. He was touched when we used Kawaga’s Alma Mater, “Marcheta,” as one of our musical selections. Lou passed away Christmas day that year but his legacy is with me to this day. In 1962 he commissioned Curt Mundstock of Chicago to create a manuscript of Kawaga’s creed: “As God Gave us the Fire, so gave he us the warmth of friendship.” Hand painted in bold colors, bordered by Native American symbols, elaborately trimmed in 24-carat gold leaf and beautifully framed in blonde oak, this unique work of art hung behind the desk in Lou’s office in Bide-a-wee. It was truly one of his most beloved possessions and represented not only his appreciation of Native American culture, but also the dedication to his life’s work. After his funeral, many of us gathered in his Glencoe home. His widow, Dag, took me aside and told me that Lou wanted me to have the manuscript but that it wasn’t time yet. A few years later, just before Dag’s death, this beautiful piece of artwork arrived at my home with a simple note that said, “It’s time.” I still have it, but have promised it will return to camp again…when it’s time.
The first four words of the Kawaga Ideal are “Build me a Son,” four words that inspire everything you campers learn at camp. There’s a plaque in my home with the Kawaga Ideal. I see it every day and I can still recite it.
Originally discovered by Doc E, the Kawaga Ideal was an essay called “When a Father Prays,” published in a 1932 anthology entitled “Tony’s Scrapbook.” The author is unknown and with only one word changed it became Kawaga’s Ideal. Of its many ideals, I relate to “Build me a son who will reach into the future but never forget the past.” I see the future of Kawaga right here in front of me. I thank the Fisher brothers and Ty and Lauren for asking me to share a bit of Kawaga’s past with you this morning. It is quite possible that 60 years from now, one of you will stand here as a link to Kawaga’s lasting tradition.
From 1959 to 1964 I was a camper and CIT and in 1965 my dream job as a junior counselor for which I was paid $50 for the summer. Halfway through that summer, Lou asked me to put together the camp yearbook — The Annual Pineneedle. I accepted the challenge, along with another $50 making me the highest paid junior counselor in camp history! I buried myself in the Pineneedle Office, and with a lot of help, that summer’s Pineneedle was completed. For the next seven years I would be nicknamed “Pineneedle Mike,” but I had found my place at Kawaga.
During the summer of 1968 I wrote the ceremony at which Lou and Dag Ehrenreich passed the torch to Kawaga’s next leaders, Ron and Liz Silverstein, who also became lifelong friends. Kawaga’s traditions and values remained unchanged through that transition. The heart of Kawaga didn’t skip a beat when that torch was passed, and that torch burns brightly today thanks to the Fisher and Daube families together with Ty and Lauren.
Thirteen plus summers at Kawaga helped prepare me for adulthood and fatherhood. And I’m still in that Pineneedle office having had a career in commercial printing and now, semi-retired as a print broker and graphic designer — skills I first learned and developed here at camp.
A summer at Kawaga is FUN — building boys into men — men who, when they return, become boys again recalling the fun they had and the values taught here — sportsmanship, fellowship, spirit and enthusiasm, and of course an appreciation for the Great Out Doors.
Cherished memories and lifelong friendships originate here. No matter how many summers you spend on the shores of Kawaguesaga, you are a part of a legacy that draws us back year after year.
Lou Ehrenreich gave me my Sachem name — True Heart — in 1962. The name came from one of his favorite camp songs, one Ty assures me is still sung today. It goes like this: (singing) “Show me the Scotsman who doesn’t love the thistle; show me the Englishman who doesn’t love the rose. Show me the True Heart, son of Kawaga, who doesn’t love the spot where Kawaguesaga flows.”