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Help the Other Fellow
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Established in 1901, YMCA Camp
Abnaki has a proud history of service to youth.
|YMCA Camp Abnaki
has a humble beginning: in July of 1901, Byron Clark and a small
group of boys went camping on the shores of Lake Champlain on Cedar
Beach in Charlotte, Vermont. Mr. Clark was active in the local
YMCA, and was looking for opportunities for local boys to have
meaningful spiritual experiences in nature. These summer days,
filled with cooking, swimming, fishing, and other activities, were the
first days of what has become Vermont's YMCA boy's camp.
For the next 15 summers, Camp Abnaki
would move several times (including stops in New Hampshire and New York)
and have several different names (including Camp Stay-A-While, Camp
Robinson, Camp Iroquois, and Camp Manuel). Camp
Abnaki was officially adopted as the camp moniker in 1909, in honor of
Vermont's tercentenary. Mr. Clark, the camp director, came to be
known as "Dad" to his campers. To this day, he is known as Dad
Clark to campers and staff. It was Dad Clark who selected "Help
the Other Fellow" as camp's motto.
In 1915, the current location of
camp was purchased from Thomas Watson (famously Alexander Graham Bell's
assistant), thanks to the efforts of Dad Clark and William Van Patten.
Camp Abnaki's first summer on the new property was 1916. There
were very few buildings on camp that first summer. As in previous
years, campers slept in tents. The Long House, which had been
purchased from the Rutland Railroad Company and relocated to the new
property, served as camp's dining hall.
Over the next decade, improvements
were made to the facility, including the construction of the Great Stone
Seat, which serves as a monument to the young men from Camp Abnaki who
had served in World War I.
1926, a major construction project added cabins for campers and staff,
an infirmary, and the Administration Building. Dad Clark oversaw
all of these projects, and worked to see Camp Abnaki continue to
grow--even as his health began to fail him.
Byron "Dad" Clark,
camp's founder and first director
Future U.S. Senator Bob
Stafford and his campers (1933)
Campers dine in the Long House (1944)
Chippe campers prepare for a hike (c.1980)
After 5 years, Dave was afforded the opportunity to
direct Camp Becket YMCA in the Berkshires--the camp he'd worked for
previously. Dave is now the CEO and Executive Director of YMCA
Camp Mason, in New Jersey. He was replaced by Nelson Bagnardi, who,
during his three years as director, invested heavily in facility
upgrades--including renovations of the Long House, cabins, and
installation of new basketball and tennis courts. Nelson currently
works as the Executive Director at YMCA Trout Lodge & YMCA Camp Lakewood
These improvements were continued by Frank Gerdeman and
Adam Brooks as camp approached it's 100th anniversary. Adam
oversaw the planning for camp's centennial celebration, and alumni
weekend hosted during summer 2001. The centennial anniversary also
saw July 10th, 2001, declared "Camp Abnaki Day" in Vermont by the state
legislature. Each camp director brought his
own style and priorities to the experience, and each director worked to
push Camp Abnaki to improve the experiences of the boys who attended.
In 2003, Jon Kuypers became Camp Abnaki's 14th director.
Now in his 12th year, Jon is camp's 4th longest serving director, only
behind Dad Clark (29 years), Norm Van Gulden (27 years), and Clyde Hess
(16 years). Jon's tenure has been marked by steady increases in
camper enrollment and investment in camp's waterfront, including a
rebuilt skipper shack, new retaining wall, and new equipment. Jon
also started camp's day camp program in summer 2009.
YMCA Camp Abnaki is now entering it's 114th summer as a
boy's camp. From that humble start on Cedar Beach with a handful
of campers and adults, to 2013 with over 750 campers and 70 staff, Camp
Abnaki has provided a positive, character-building experience for tens
of thousands of boys.
"Help the Other Fellow" (2013)
In 1929, Dad Clark died from a goiter. He was laid
to rest in the camp chapel, where his epitaph reads "Here he lies where
he longed to be." As the camp founder and director, Dad worked for
29 years--the longest tenure of any Camp Abnaki Director.
Camp was guided by several men in the years following
Dad Clark's passing. Most notable amongst these was Clyde "Chief"
Hess, who served as director for 16 years. In 1951, all of camp's
cabins were painted gold in honor of camp's 50th anniversary.
In 1960, Norm Van Gulden took over as the camp director.
Along with his wife Nancy, "Van" oversaw the next major building
projects: the addition of two new villages (Madewehsoos and Chippewadchu)
and the construction of a new dining hall (built in 1971). Van was known for his kind an generous spirit.
Van served as the camp director until 1987. Before
he retired, he worked to prepare camp for the next phase of it's growth:
the Vermont State YMCA, which had owned and operated camp, sold the
facility and program to the Greater Burlington YMCA. The Greater
Burlington Y had more resources available with which to support camp
The transition of ownership was bumpy at times, with 2
different directors in 2 summers ('88-'89). In 1990 Dave DeLuca was hired to be camp's director. While it was his first
camp director job, Dave had been involved in Y camping since his youth.
During Dave's tenure, the program was overhauled, and small facility
Campers & staff celebrate Hawaiian Shirt Friday (2001)
Campers use the waterfront (2008)
DIRECTORS OF YMCA CAMP ABNAKI
||Byron "Dad" Clark
||Clyde "Chief" Hess
||Norm Van Gulden
||C.J. Aldrich, III