Category: Alumni News

Leaving Home to Go Home: A Message from Closing Vespers

by alum Alice Decker Burke (camper, counselor and parent of 1st year camper)

For the past 25 years the following essay written for Alice’s AP English class in 1994 is read at the final Vespers on the last day of camp. Parents often tell us that Sunday is such a hard day. Hard to understand. Hard to know what to say. Hard to know where to be or not be at any given moment so as not to impose. On one hand, the excitement of seeing your daughter/s after a long hiatus is hard to contain. On the other hand, the struggle is obvious as campers are torn between the sadness of leaving a tight-knit family and the connection to a place that is also home and seeing parents and family. The good news is that all of these conflicting feelings are normal!

For some, the beautifully chosen words Alice uses may give a little insight to the mixed emotions and awkwardness of Parents’ Weekend. For others, it will bring back memories and nostalgia of being at Woodland whether away for 10 days or 10 years. Either case, we hope you are enjoying whatever this side of summer brings before another busy school year is in full swing. We look forward to seeing you at Camp Woodland in 2020!

The car hums quietly beneath me as we turn onto County D. My father comments cheerfully about the houses on either side of the road, my mother marvels at the beauty of the tiny lakes as we pass them by, at least one every five minutes. But I sit, perfectly still, feeling my heart beat stronger with every roll of the tires. As we follow the twisting road, we round a curve and look straight into an open field, canopied by Eagle River clouds. My soul stretches to the tips of my fingers as I reach my hand out the open window and towards the sky. My parents hear my indrawn breath and smile at one another, a little sadly, knowing this love is one they can never share.

We turn the corner, and I lean out the window quickly, drinking in the air with a thirst that has grown steadily for nearly a year. I welcome every trace of sunlight filtering through every tree stretching over every curve of every trail that branches off the road onto the shadowy forest. I know exactly when the stable will peek through the branches, and which horses will greet me with quiet whickers and shimmering manes. I see the tips of the sailboats over the edge of the hill, waving at me with their graceful masts bobbing in the waves. Pure happiness bubbles up from the depths of my blood, and I laugh with familiar wonder as I feet it course through me.

I jump free of the car, and wander up the hill, feeling my soul run ahead of me, peeking into corners and rolling with delight in the sun-warmed grass. Friends run out of cabins into my arms, and I am scrunched in a twenty-person hug. They grab my bags and set off for my cabin, but I cannot follow yet. My soul is still up in the trees, and I stand with my face turned up to the sun, twirling around with unconditional joy, my arms spread wide, my soul singing the familiar song of wind in the birch trees.

Eight weeks later, I throw my duffle into the trunk, amazing my father with my strength. Mom laughs and tells me that I am stronger than my dad now. Mom. Dad. Those words stumble off my tongue like a long-forgotten language. I need to remember it now.

It is funny, really, how the beginning and the end are the only concretes here. The minute I arrive, it is as if I never left. The minute I leave, it is as if I just came. The middle is a maze of joy and laughter and memory, like a disorganized stack of colorful photographs. I throw them into the trunk of my mind along with my duffles – I will pull them out some cold November night when I cannot fall asleep, and look through them quietly until the peace of their memory drowns out my fears.

My mother strolls out of the cabin, letting the screen door shut carefully behind her. She has a look of incomprehension and mild distaste, as if she wonders how I live in these conditions for two months. My home, but not hers. I start to tell my mother that the director needs to speak with her before we leave, about the payment, but she interrupts me, laughing. She says that she cannot understand a word I say, that we speak a dialect up here, and I will need to start annunciating when I get home, if I want anyone to understand me. My language, not hers.

Dad shuts the trunk and announces that we must be leaving so we can get back “home” by ten o’clock. They must go to work tomorrow, he reminds me. He tells me to say my goodbyes. Not as if he understands. I cannot say “goodbye” to happiness, then climb in the car and roll off around the corner and leave love behind. It is not that simple.

I am bombarded by my friends, who cling to my arms and cry on my shirt and ask in choked sobs why I’m not crying, too. Am I not sad? How can I stand leaving home to go home? Very few understand that there are bands of loss around my chest that are squeezing so tightly with agony that I can hardly breathe, but I fight the tears. I do not know why. I keen with them all, clinging as tightly to them as they do to me, but the tears never come. Pain, but no release. My own kind of grief, I suppose.

My parents stand patiently behind me. They do not understand, but they do know enough not to try, and I am grateful. At last, Dad gently takes my arm and leads me to the car, and the others let go. My family tears me from my family, and the car door shuts me in.

I sit perfectly still as the car starts underneath me. The motor is so foreign, so mechanical. We turn into the driveway, straight and narrow, that leads to the corner and the highway and the real world. A real world without sailboats, without campfires, without unconditional love and universal family. For just a moment, I hate it so intensely I dig my nails into my hand to stop myself from tearing out of the car and plunging back into the woods. But, like passing through an open door, feeling the sudden burst of wind then stillness, the momentary hatred fades, and is replaced with the long familiar emptiness. The corner turns behind me, and I close my eyes, with only my memories to keep me company on the long drive home from home.


Anne Jordan’s Love – You Want To Pass It On

Posted by on July 30, 2019

by Alice Lurain (shared at Anne Jordan’s memorial service on March 18, 2018, and again at a remembrance for Mrs. J as part of Woodland’s 50th Anniversary Celebration on July 13, 2019)

Grab a tissue!

A survey of the framed photos on my bedroom dresser reveals the faces of the people who have touched me most deeply and persistently over the course of my lifetime. You will find my parents, my sister, my two dearest friends from childhood, one of whom – The Other Alice – many of you know, and you will find Anne Jordan.

Mrs. Jordan first entered my life in 1985 when I was a 9-year-old camper in Silver Birch. I loved everything about camp – sleeping in a cabin, constant activity, skits, songs, attention from older girls who seemed so cool, and the fact that I could wear my favorite blue velour sweatshirt every day, and no one cared. Despite this, at some point in that summer, around week 4, I sent my parents the following letter, which I found last spring in their basement. It reads: “Dear Mom and Dad, I like camp but I miss you too much to stay. Please come get me or ask Gramma and Grampa to. This isn’t a joke. Love, Alice.” Apparently, my parents called Mrs. Jordan when they received this dire rescue request, because I also found the wonderfully thoughtful response that she wrote, reassuring them that this was normal and not cause for alarm, that she had checked on me and found me having a wonderful time. She wrote, “I can assure you that she will not be sorry that she completed the season.” This was the first of many times when Mrs. Jordan knew me better than I knew myself.The following summer, I was a 10-year-old Treetopper. One day, on the way back to the cabin after lunch, I was talking to another girl about one of our cabinmates in that mean, catty way only pubescent girls can, when Mrs. Jordan walked up behind us. She said my name in a calm, quiet way that stopped me in my tracks and made clear I was about to be required to account for my actions. I still remember the feeling of absolute mortification I felt as I turned to face her. With her steely gaze upon me, she said simply, “That wasn’t very nice.” I stammered out some sort of apology; it seemed as though she let me go on in flustered agony forever. Then she said, “Alice, you need to think about what kind of person you want to be in the world. What do you want people to say about you when they talk behind your back?” Over three decades later, that question still echoes in my head during moments when I am tempted to do something petty, ignore someone’s feelings, or just take the easy way out of a situation.

Throughout my childhood, into young adulthood, and well beyond, Mrs. J always brought out my better self because she let me know that she expected that self to show up, and I never wanted to disappoint her. I still don’t. Patient, unflappable, and insistently calm under fire, nothing ever seemed to surprise her. She let us know that she would still love us when we inevitably screwed up, but she would also hold us accountable. With Mrs. J, there was always a second chance, but never a free pass.

She believed that what young people most needed and wanted were limits and a safe space in which to test those limits, surrounded by adults who supported their growth with grace and humor. She taught me that the children are always watching us and made me believe that working with young people was both an incredible gift and responsibility. I’ve been a high school chemistry teacher for nearly 20 years, and if I trace back along the winding road that led me to the classroom, I find Anne Jordan at the beginning. Both consciously and unconsciously, I have, in many ways, modeled myself as a teacher after her. I enjoy knowing, for example, that students find me both hilarious and terrifying in equal measure, and I work very hard to let them know that I care deeply about who they are as people, that I see them.

Also in my parents’ basement, I found my notes, written in my 17-year-old handwriting, which shows slight improvement over the 9-year-old handwriting, from Mrs. Jordan’s lesson to the staff on “guidance techniques.” Among these pearls of wisdom are: tell them what you want or expect; don’t lose your cool – stay calm; when things are not going well, stop and start over, and a perennial favorite, don’t just do something, stand there. In my most challenging moments with students, I channel her calm; I say, “Maybe you didn’t hear me…”

I often wonder, as I’m sure many of you do, what my life would have been like if I had never found my way to Camp Woodland and Mrs. J’s watchful presence. What kind of person would I have been? So profound is the impact on my character that I am not able to imagine what that alternate Alice would look like. Through Mrs. J and Camp Woodland, I learned that actions have consequences, that sometimes it doesn’t matter what YOU want, and that you really ought to clean up after yourself, because that job wheel keeps turning, and eventually “clutter” is going to end up on your name.

Mrs. J and Camp gave me the chance to be unreservedly silly. By the time you’ve proudly worn underwear on your head or a bathing suit over your clothes for reasons that have been lost to time, led rousing renditions of the Ricket-an-doo (now what is that?!), and written and performed camp-themed lyrics to Billy Joel songs while dressed in a polyester bell-bottom jump suit, you’ve discovered that pride and self-respect do not preclude you from acting like an idiot and enjoying it.

Mrs. J and Camp gave me the gift of understanding that serious work and serious fun should be the cornerstones of a joyous and meaningful life. Long after I left Woodland, Mrs. Jordan remained a consistent presence in my life through the regular exchange of letters. I wrote to her about moments of success, failure, self-doubt, and learning. At some point, she could no longer write back, but I still felt a certain happiness and comfort in telling her my stories and imagining how she would respond.

I know for certain that Mrs. Jordan lives on in me, and I work every day to pass on the gifts she gave me to the young people in my life. As all of you know, it only takes a spark to get a fire going, and soon all those around can warm up in its glowing. That’s how it is with Mrs. J’s love, once you’ve experienced it; you want to pass it on.

Woodland’s Breakfast Club: Reflections of a Camp Alum and Parent

Posted by on July 22, 2019

by Becky Coady Langton

For those that remember the movies of the 80’s, there is a final scene in Breakfast Club where Jud Nelson reminisces on the day of detention he endured with the most untypical group of students from his high school. Over the process of the detention day, they break down their personal walls and expose who they truly are. Due to those brave acts, they walk away learning so much about each other and themselves. This classic film describes something very similar about my experiences as both a camper at Camp Woodland in ’88 and as a current parent of campers at both Woodland and Towering Pines.

I was a sophomore in high school in 1988. It was a year where I had begun to hang with the “wrong” crowd, and at 15 my parents decided to send me to camp in order to remove me from that environment. I was mortified to be “punished” by being sent to camp. What was I going to do without all my comforts of home and rowdy friends? My sister, Sarah, had gone to Woodland the summer of ’87, but she was ten that summer and in my 15-year-old mind was less connected to her life at home; therefore, she had nothing to lose.

Reluctantly, I began to accept I would be going. Shortly after the decision had been made, JoAnne assigned me a camp sister named Maureen. She had attended camp for several years and was going to be in my cabin – Aquarius (which in my mind was going to look like the song out of the musical Hair I’d seen at Great America my freshman year in high school). We wrote back and forth for a few months (we still have the letters), and I began to feel more connected to leaving my life and heading up to the Northwoods for the summer.

That summer turned out to be the most magical and personal growth oriented summer of my life. I learned how to shoot a rifle and an arrow, how to ski and sail (EN Forever!!), and I got to participate in the best CO-ED show ever! All of these activities I never would have experienced without getting out of my comfort zone just by saying YES.

Activities aside, the most impactful take away from that summer were the friendships. BEST friendships. Friends that I am still deeply connected to today, friends that know the real me and love me anyway. Friends that will tell me my butt looks bad in “those” jeans and friends that make me laugh so hard that I actually pee those same jeans. I just can’t imagine what my life would be like without these people. Camp for me was life changing…life lifting… and personal growth oriented. In no small part I believe I am the person I am today because of that love and caring I received all those summers ago.

Today my kids are at camp having those same experiences (for the 3rd year in a row – lucky ducks!). Syd and Sammy, you are both so fortunate to have the opportunity to do this earlier than I did. I can’t go back in time and attend camp any more years than I had, but you get to do all of what I did and more. I know the impact it’s had on my life, and I know your life will be enriched in a way that you’ll never know any differently. You are getting outside your comfort zones, learning personal communication skills, how to play well with others, how to be goofy and how to be caring and sincere. You’re eating yummy food, working hard at your activities, being a good friend, using your imaginations, setting goals, sleeping hard, and growing into the people that you’ll become. My hope is that one day you will send your kids and make it a 3-generation tradition.

In closing, I will say that each of my camp experiences aided in my gaining a deeper sense of who I was. I left camp that summer and made some different decisions on the friends I would hang with. I began to make better decisions which let to greater personal accomplishment and focus in school. I’m so thankful that my parents insisted I go to camp, my own Breakfast Club experience. It was the opposite of punishment, it was one of the greatest gifts of my life. It was the unexpected. The gloves are off, the emotions are flowing, my heart is open, and I am so deeply grateful for Camp Woodland and Towering Pines…here’s to another 50 years!

Homesickness – A crash course from a Woodland “Veteran”

Posted by on July 19, 2018

by Susan Austin Short, Woodland alum and parent

We all know our children will get homesick. Six weeks is a long time to be away from home. It’s only natural that they will miss us, the comforts of home, and the routine and known entities about being home. (Not to mention missing their connection to electronics -most kids probably go through withdrawals as they detox from their phones or other electronic devices.)

I was no exception when I attended camp. I still remember crying on the porch of Silver Birch- what seemed like every night – after dinner and before evening activity. That was my worst time of day. But, on the flip side, I also remember being comforted. My own homesickness didn’t curtail me returning to camp for eleven summers. I loved camp like it was a part of me, probably because it was. Homesickness was just part of the deal.

Then why did I panic when my own 12 year-old daughter started telling me she was homesick much more this summer, didn’t know why, and wanted to come home? She had changed her mind and could I come visit after all? (She had told me multiple times leading up to camp that she did not want me to visit her this summer. She wrote me a letter the first week of camp confirming, “You can cancel your reservation. I don’t want you to visit.”)

Okay, Okay, I get it. Honor she’s growing up and just cancel the darn reservation. This is what we want for our kids! Become more independent! Rely on the friends and counselors to help you through the tough times! Mommy isn’t going to be there for every challenge or setback to help you through! This is a part of what being at camp for the whole summer is about, right?

I embraced her independence as best I could and canceled the reservation. Case closed.

Then the letters started coming about how homesick she was. I started doubting the choice to cancel the visit. I worried she would feel abandoned if I didn’t come. I wondered if there was something more serious going on that she couldn’t tell me about in a letter -that only seeing her would make the difference. But, I also knew from my own experience that when parents leave after a visit, the kids usually dip even more. It can be helpful and reassuring to be with them, but when they leave again, it can feel worse. Was this to the point that that temporary setback was worth it?

Her sadness was in between comments like, “The aquatramp was really fun!” or “I passed out of level 4 in swimming,” but I was still stunned and worried. This communication was from a girl who barely wrote letters her previous summers, and now I was getting 4 or 5 a week.

I checked in with camp leadership to ask the counselors if they thought it would be better or worse if I came. The feedback was to visit – that this could help her over the hump for the last 3 weeks.

I found a hotel! I reorganized responsibilities with my family and work at home! I was going to see my baby and make everything alright again! I was needed! Mom to the rescue! (Easy Ego)

That first hug was amazing. Of course. And, it was so good for me to see my daughter in the flesh, confirm she was safe and sound, and see her in a few of her activities. To listen to her tell me about some of the wonderful occurrences and some challenges was only further confirmation that indeed all was well. In fact, I’d even say she was thriving.

As I said to JoAnne after spending some time with my daughter the first day: “She is beyond fine.”

She was going through typical challenges at camp. It’s just the way it is. I was with her for 2 activities on Friday, and 3 Saturday morning. We stayed in the camp environment, and I left quickly after a last hug. We had our time to talk. I had time to see her in her world. And, ironically, it was just enough time for me to begin to annoy her; thus reminding her of one of the many reasons why she was counting down the days until camp all year: to get away from Mom. 😊

Would she have been okay if I hadn’t visited? ABSOLUTELY. I may have even robbed her of some additional learning and growth by coming. I’ll have to live with that possibility. But, I would have spent the rest of the summer wondering if I had let her down by not coming. This time, I don’t regret my decision.

If there’s a next time, though, I just might make a different choice.

The Joy We’ve Had in Knowing You!

Posted by on March 23, 2018

Anne Jordan (1931-2018)

As many of you may remember, one of Anne’s special gifts was to write toasts for camp birthday honoring campers and staff reaching 5- and 10-year milestones and at banquet to recognize the growth that occurred and achievements made over the course of the summer. To pay tribute to a truly remarkable lady, we would like to celebrate Anne through a special toast.  We will miss you!

For some of the old timers, she was known as Commander Anne;

For all of us, there were no “I Can’ts”; it was only “I Can.”

Driving down the Woodland Road brings a smile to each and every one;

Mrs. J was loved by all for turning camp into a summer home.

Friends from around the globe she would welcome each June;

Washington Waddle and more, she could harmonize many a tune.

We will remember her infectious laugh and telling a joke or two;

She added much needed humor to carry us through.

For guiding campers and staff she was like no other.

We loved to see her dress up for the highly anticipated, “Mother, Mother.”

Cooking was a favorite, and Anne could do it well.

How many donuts or biscuits were downed, we will never tell.

She liked to visit activities, but at tennis she was an ace.

If it was TLC you needed, going to Mrs. J was always the right place.

Driving the golf cart around, Anne was certainly on the go.

She played the piano and accompanied songs for the co-ed show.

Through her music Anne was positive and upbeat;

At camp we like to stay on the “Sunny Side of the Street”.

For generations of girls, this strong woman helped find their happy;

Through Anne’s children and grandchildren, special it will always be.

A fond memory is hearing the wind blowing off Sand Lake creating a gentle breeze;

Linking hands right over left, Anne passed on the traditional friendship squeeze.

Each campfire lights anew, the flame of friendship true;

The joy we’ve had in knowing you, Mrs. J, will last our whole life through!