Category: Alumni News

Charting a Course for Life

by Alice Lurain (camper, staff, sailing director, alum)

Last July, I returned to Camp Woodland for the first time in 22 years. This small slice of heaven was the locus of my universe for 10 summers in the 1980s and 90s, and what struck me most the moment I turned onto Camp Road was how little it had changed. Despite the accelerated pace of modern life and the constant churn of new technology that alters the way we interact with our world and each other on a daily basis, Camp Woodland has remained wonderfully steadfast in its values and commitment to developing each girl’s sense of herself and nurturing independence, confidence, and good old-fashioned fun. Everywhere, this was in evidence – from the intricately choreographed song contest performances, to the quirky outfits and boundless enthusiasm for best-dressed cabin, to the Inspiration Hour led by Silver Birch Cabin.

For me, one of the most impactful experiences of the alumni weekend was sailing on Sand Lake. I still remember the sense of weightlessness, freedom, and elation I felt the first time I went out on a Woodland X-Boat at the age of 9; I couldn’t stop smiling and I never wanted that feeling to end. When I was a camper, I would have spent all 6 periods down at the waterfront, if they had let me. As it was, I could usually be found on a sailboat at least 3 hours a day. When I became Director of Sailing as a counselor, I could hardly believe that someone was paying me to do something I enjoyed so much. This notion that work and responsibility could exist in tandem with fun and self-determination is an invaluable lesson that I carried forward in life.

When I walked down to the Woodland waterfront to see the sun glinting off the waves and the boats bobbing on their moorings, I felt my chest expand and a lightness enter my being. The buddy board still hung reassuringly on the side of the beach house, and when I entered, the smell of sunblock mingling with wet towels, soggy life jackets, and
lake detritus and the scrape and crunch of sand on the red all-weather carpeting instantly transported me back through the decades. How many times had I changed in that very room, hurriedly pulling on a bathing suit so as not to miss one precious moment of sailing or swimming or water skiing? How many confidences had I shared with friends while changing for the next adventure? How much sand had I personally tracked in from the beach or swept back out with the broom? It was impossible to know.

During alumni weekend, I sailed a Minifish until it hummed with the perfect sail trim; I breezed by Camp Menominee, which always looked to me more like a resort than a summer camp; I wound my way through conversations about life and love with old friends as we tacked back and forth until even camp life seemed far away; I was admonished by
JoAnne, who drove out in the ski boat to tell me I shouldn’t sail in the cove. How many times did that happen over the years? It is impossible to know.

What I do know is that sailing continues to be an essential part of my life as an adult, not only as a recreational activity, but as way of investing myself in my community. For the past 11 years, I have been involved with a non-profit organization, called Hudson River Community Sailing. Its mission is to use sailing to teach science, math, and engineering concepts, build leadership skills, and support the academic and personal growth of underserved New York City high school students. Despite growing up on an island, many of our kids have never set foot on a boat and have certainly never thought of the Hudson River as a resource for recreation and learning. I have seen participation in this program literally change the direction of kids’ lives and the possibilities they see for their futures. When we head out from the docks, I feel as though we pass through a portal to an alternate universe. Manhattan, with all its noise and fervor looks quiet and serenely beautiful from the river; time slows, and all that matters are the other people on my boat and how we will work together to make it glide seamlessly through air and water.

In my “day job,” I am a high school chemistry teacher. In addition to teaching about the behavior of matter, I encourage my students to figure out what they care about, what brings them happiness and makes them want to engage deeply and share part of who they are with others. Then I urge them to find ways to turn that into meaningful work, whether in the form of a future career or volunteer service. I feel incredibly lucky that Camp Woodland offered me the opportunity from a very young age to identify my passions for sailing and for working with young people, passions upon which I have constructed the foundations of a joyous and meaningful life.

“Coming Home” – Then & Now (from Camper to Lawyer)

by Alex Karahalios, former camper & counselor

I remember the feeling I had when it was time to head up to Camp Woodland for the first time. My parents kissed me goodbye and I begrudgingly stepped onto a large coach bus to confront a sea of unfamiliar faces. As an eleven year old who had never been away from home for more than a typical school day or sleepover, knowing that I would not be coming home for four weeks was paralyzing.

Two weeks into the summer, my parents came to visit. I ran out of Tamarack, jumped to hug my parents, and then promptly sat them down to talk. With my friends – not so subtly – hiding behind a tree in the assembly area, I asked my parents if I could stay for six weeks instead of just four. “Oh, honey, I wouldn’t do that to you! I know how much you didn’t want to come, and I don’t want to make you stay one second more than you already are,” my father said with a smirk to convey his victory. “Dad, please!” I insisted, “I can’t leave. I’ll miss Coed Show and Woodland Fair and everyone says the last two weeks are the best and when you think about it two weeks really isn’t that long of a time anyway…” My parents looked at each other, smiled, and told me I could stay. Immediately, I turned around to give my friends a thumbs up, to which they all jumped out of their hiding places to celebrate. Flash forward one year to a twelve-year-old girl who cannot push her mother out of the door fast enough to get in the car and head north. That feeling of excitement and impatience to soak up as much Northwoods sun as I could get my hands on would flood me every single June for the next six years: every time I was finally coming home.

Since graduating from college at Northwestern University, I have been fortunate to come home twice: once as a counselor the summer following graduation and once for Woodland’s 50th Anniversary Celebration. The first summer I came home to reconnect with the roots of my childhood and reset before three years of law school at the University of Virginia. The second visit was another coming home celebration, but this time only for three short days. Those three days as a visitor, however, gave me the perspective I did not realize I needed before beginning an intense interview process to work at a law firm.

I arrived at the Rhinelander airport after an early morning wakeup call in Washington, DC and was greeted by four of my best camp friends. Back together after many years, it was all but too natural for us to revert back to our camp routine: we arrived at our base, put our things down on our respective beds, washed our hands, and turned right back around to the next activity. The rest of the weekend allowed us to delve completely into our old camper selves as we ran from one activity to another after the bell, changed quickly into our appropriate activity-wear, and arrived at each meal ravenous and already ready for seconds. Those three days went by just as quickly as I remember every six weeks.

What I didn’t realize until after the 50th Anniversary was that weekend was all of the interview preparation I needed. Having just reconnected with the place where I developed all of the skills I would need as a law firm summer associate, they were fresh in my mind and ready to go: my fluency in Spanish, my ability to work in a group, my independence in completing tasks, my ability to multitask and manage multiple responsibilities at once, my timeliness, and my intellectual curiosity. Unsurprisingly, my nine summers at camp came up quite a few times during my interviews. I detailed how supplementing my Spanish education over the summer through practicing with my best friends from Mexico pushed me to fluency and inspired me to pursue the language as one of my majors in college.

I confidently assured them that spending six weeks in a cabin with seven other girls and one bathroom prepared me well to work alongside any kind of personality even in the most pressured and dire of circumstances. I recalled how cabin cleanup taught me the importance of playing my part in the team. I explained how the ability to choose the activities of my day and the goals I wanted to reach within each of them meant that I could independently manage the responsibilities I assumed. I understood the importance deadlines and promptness from running out of instructional swim to riding so that I could start my lesson on time. And I demonstrated how the encouragement I received at camp to always try new things – food included – inspired my curiosity to also try new classes, legal internships, cities to live in, and career paths.

Coming home as a camper, CIT, or counselor every year was the release of pent up excitement and impatience that grew throughout the school year and culminated in a new summer adventure. Coming home as an alumni was the timely reminder that those nine summers continue to shape me and propel me forward to new professional adventures I never could have foreseen when I confronted that sea of unfamiliar faces eleven years ago.

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!