Overnight Camp Ushers in the End of Carefree Days and Childlike Innocence

The late Fritzi Jane Vee and her husband Chris Vee (Vlachos), who died in 1992, ran several camps in Wisconsin, but most notably Camp Sandstone on Green Lake, from 1958 until it closed in 1972. This was the girls camp and the boys camp was called Camp Day-Cho-Lah. In September 2009, at the age of 86, Fritzi met an untimely death when she was hit by a truck while crossing the road at the intersection of Water and Lake Streets in Green Lake.

Green Lake

When I was in the sixth grade, my parents decided that I should be shipped off to overnight camp. I really did not want to go, but my younger sister Janet and I were getting into increasingly nasty spats, and in retrospect, I guess they thought this was a good idea. The previous summer we had gone on a family trip to California and I was blamed for the constant bickering with my kid sister. Not wanting to repeat what they claim was a vacation from hell, my parents opted for this alternative. Back then, camp representatives made house calls, giving personalized pitches on why this experience would be life affirming and wonderful. My friend Alison wanted to go to overnight camp and my parents went to her house to hear the pitch. A family friend’s son and daughter had gone for years and loved it so much that they became junior counselors, so the camp came with a personal recommendation. The girl, Kathy, was my age – she was an expert swimmer and later excelled on our high school swim team. Needless to say, because she was a junior counselor and a seasoned camper, our paths rarely crossed once I was up at camp.

It was decided that Alison and I would enroll together and opt for the 4-week stay as novice campers, rather than the 8-week stay. This was in the summer of 1970, and six months before I was shipped off to camp, we had acquired a sweet West Highland White Terrier puppy named Duffy, from a breeder in Barrington, Ill. One of the reasons I was reluctant about going to camp is that I would miss Duffy’s big debut at his first dog show. He aced it, taking a blue ribbon in his category – of course he was the only dog in that category! He finished in last place during the next round. The problem turned out to be his teeth – caused unintentionally by all of us letting Duffy tug at a small hand towel. Alas, his under bite ended his brief career as a show dog.

Duffy Coiffed

I didn’t care much for Camp Sandstone, to put it mildly. Alison really hated it and after just a few days, decided she was too homesick to stay and her parents picked her up. I toughed it out and have some very vivid memories of my only foray into being an overnight summer camper. There were very strange girls in my cabin, among them a girl who had just finished the seventh grade and had wild tales to tell us. She claimed to have boinked her older brother – I highly doubt this, but she did exhibit some rather psychotic behavior and shared other sordid stories.

Back then most preteens used aerosol deodorant like Right Guard, and our counselor decided to show us a cool but highly dangerous trick. The floors of our cabin were painted with high-gloss gray enamel paint. She sprayed the deodorant in a swirly pattern on the floor, turned out the lights, and then lit the trail with a disposable BIC lighter. The fire traced the deodorant pattern. Given how safety conscious I am in my adult life and have written professionally about injury prevention, I bristle at the thought of this careless activity. Don’t try this at home, kiddies.

Camp Sandstone

I hated swimming in Green Lake and when I took my swimming test, the lake was very choppy, it was windy, and the sky was pregnant with ominous dark clouds. I really felt like I was going to drown during my test and was not having fun. As a result, I ended up in the guppies group, close to the dock. I remember a horrible, dead bloated fish floating by in this shallow area. Because my swimming skills sucked, I was not able to go water skiing, but did go boating once. Access to the lake was via a rather steep hill/bluff – going up this hill was a lot harder. There were very strict rules governing our daily swims. There were two wooden boards and each camper had a little metal numerical tag they had to place on the “In the Water” board or “Out of the Water” board. Well one day, yours truly forgot to place my tag on the “Out of the Water” board when I was done swimming. The meanest counselor that ever lived doled out my punishment. She made me skip lunch and run up and down the steep bluff 25 times, each time placing my tag on and off the boards and repeating some phrase about this out loud. You bet I never made this mistake ever again.

Much to my consternation, there were very few arts and crafts activities at Camp Sandstone. Given that this was my primary passion, I was quite disappointed. Surprisingly, I enjoyed BB gun target practice and discovered that I had an eagle eye and was a very good shooter. I was not so good at archery and remember being quite sore from this activity. Odd, but I never shot a gun or arrow ever again. Although I like carnivals, I never tried the shooting gallery because the sights are so often crooked, whether intentionally bent or because the guns are beat-up pieces of junk.

None of us wanted to take showers in the gross bathroom because the stalls were infested with hundreds of daddy longlegs. So we would take a bar of soap down to the lake and wash ourselves in our swimsuits. Given most of us had yet to develop and we were always in the water, we stayed pretty clean. Still, I could barely wait until I was back home, luxuriating in a Mr. Bubble bubble bath. I was horrified one day during my stay when there was a spot of blood in my underwear – could this be the precursor to that dreaded thing known as a period? I was rather naive because my dear mom NEVER had the talk with me.

The highlight of my 4 weeks was when I received letters and candy from my family. I still have some of the hysterically funny letters from my dad. I do remember that my parents sent a box of Bazooka bubble gum and this was confiscated – we were not allowed to chew gum. We took several day trips – one was to the Milwaukee County Zoo, which was quite a hike all the way from Ripon. We also went to a strange little lake with a sand beach crawling with crayfish. We had to listen to this old bat sing My Bonnie Lies Over the Ocean every few days – she was a total freak with a voice like Tiny Tim. The food was lousy and there were flies and bees inside the refectory where we ate. When my family picked me up, we went to the Wisconsin Dells for one night, which was a lot of fun.

I did befriend a sweet little wisp of a girl with blonde hair. I think her name was Robin and she lived in Wheaton – well, I’m not sure about her name, although I can picture her face perfectly. One day in early fall and just after I had entered the seventh grade, Robin’s mom drove her to Lincolnwood and we went to Kiddieland. By then I was surfing the crimson wave and had horrible menstrual cramps that would plague me my entire life. The memories of summer camp were quickly replaced with the overwhelming fear that a boy would find out I had my period – uggh! I was never shipped off to overnight camp again – after I graduated from eighth grade I took two studio classes downtown at the School of the Art Institute – now that was definitely my cup of tea.

Perhaps for me, the summer of 1970 was a time of childlike innocence. But soon thereafter, the last vestiges of my carefree preteen days faded into the sunset as teenage angst and hormones kicked in with a vengeance.

Camp Sandstone Memories

15 Comments:

  1. Marilyn Lichtman (nee Vickman)

    I attended Sandstone Camp from 1946 for 4 summers. I was a very reckless camper–often getting in trouble for disobeying the rules. My cousin Howard attend Camp Day-Cho-Lah and it was through my uncle Morris Kroll that I was able to attend this camp. My clearest memories are activities such as archery and riflery. I also recall going up to the bluff each morning and raising the flag. I particularly hated the food–I still am a picky eater so I suspect it was me and not the food.

    I remember the green team and the white team and some kind of contest and shields on which we received our decals for achieving certain levels. But I am talking about a very long time ago. Is there anyone out there who was at camp in those days? I came from the south side of Chicago.

    • Carole Landsberg Auerbach

      Hello Marilyn,

      It was just by chance that I came upon the Sandstone Camp website. I was at the reunion in Evanston but was never notified, I’m disappointed to say, of any other reunion. I would have loved to attend. I believe I was at Sandstone Camp 1949, 1950, and 1951. The last year I was a CIT in the cabin located at the entrance to the path that led to the beach. I’m writing to you to let you know that I just recently gave the shield that you mentioned to one of my grandsons. He seemed to be impressed that his grandmother went to camp and participated in all those sports. I don’t know why I have kept it all these years, somehow I just couldn’t part with it.

      I have kept in contact all these years with Joyce Newlander Abramson. Sadly, I received a call from her husband that Joyce had passed away. Joyce was from Detroit but lived in later years in Florida. In fact, sometime in the 1970’s we met at Sandstone Camp with our families and the owner allowed us to take out rowboats and tour the grounds. What fun we had!! The cabins looked the same except they all had bathrooms. How luxurious is that!! My husband and I stayed at the Heidel House a few years ago and although Sandstone Camp is now a beautiful condo development the association has kept one of the cabins from Day-Cho-La on the grounds filled with camp memorabilia.

      Whether or not we have ever met it is nice to share some memories of a delightful time in our lives.

      Best regards,

      Carole “Topsy” Landsberg Auerbach

  2. Was just looking around on the Internet and found this. Joyce was my mom’s cousin – her father and my grandmother were brother and sister. I was trying to find Leslie, but I don’t know if he still around. If you have any information, I would appreciate it if you could forward it on to me. Thank you and have a good day.

  3. jason vuletich

    My big sister Dolly attended Sandstone for seven different 8-week summers. My brother Vincent and I attended camp day Cho La for boys for 5 years. We had the time of our lives at this camp. I was probably the youngest camper ever at age 5.

    Odd how people’s perception of space and time differ. The Vees who owned the camp were “exceptional people” as I recall. Funny, I remember Dale Epton (the Eptons were a top class family). I thought Dale was one of the most beautiful females I ever saw at the age of 5. Judge Saul Epton was campaign manager for his brother’s Bernard’s unsuccessful bid for Mayor of Chicago against Harold Washington in 1983.

    The cabins were kept spotless, as you know. Mr. Vee used to do a white glove inspection looking for dust! The place was incredible, beautiful, and our days were filled with constant activity. The food was above average for a summer camp – we loved it!

  4. henry krasnow

    I went to Camp Day Cho La for 7 years – it was my life. That is long ago and far away, but I would love to find some of the boys I knew. We were too young and shy to have known any of the Sandstone girls, in any meaning of that word. Did you all grow up and if so, who did you grow up to be?

    • Hi Henry:

      Thanks for your comment – I see that you “grew up” to be a very successful lawyer. I don’t know if your question about growing up was rhetorical or literal! I have no idea what happened to the majority of girls that attended Sandstone the one year I went. Alison, the girl who was homesick, is very successful, more youthful looking than me and married to a prominent Chicago physician. Kathy, the longtime camper and counselor is a hospital administrator in California. The only reason I know about these two is because we graduated from high school together … I am in touch with Alison.

  5. JASON VULETICH

    Every Sunday, both the boys’ camp and the girls’ camp would dress in (pure white). We would all progress to the very top of this beautiful sandstone bluff. Benches were there and enormous evergreens towered above us. The boys on one side, girls on other. At the precipice of the enormous sandstone bluff was a large sculpture of a “golden deer” made of bronze with a large rack overlooking (great Green Lake) at dusk.

    There was a very small pulpit, at which Mr. Vee would instill positive values upon the campers, and gratefully expound on our ” mere luck” to be part of all this. All true, all done quietly, and with great respect. A decent dinner, a movie (e.g. I remember specifically The Time Machine – unbelievable! Or skits and a nice treat, before you climbed into your crisp, clean bed, safely with a counselor present all night long. Security patrolled the campgrounds at night. This experience does not exist today, I am almost sure.

  6. Who was Miss Galdis? Thought she was the speaker at the Sunday afternoon Vespers service?

    And, for what its worth, I once met a former male counselor who swore to me that it was not uncommon for boy counselors to get to “know” girl counselors very well behind the “mess hall” where the two camps shared a boundary.

    And didn’t the camp owner also own the Lake Shore School of Education on Hampton Place in Lincoln Park?

    • Michael Kevin

      I remember Miss Gladys and AJ as the camp leaders; this was back in 1959 or so. Amazing experiences for an 8-year-old kid! Michael Levin

  7. JASON VULETICH

    Do you see the boy in the water in the swimming dock area? Well let me tell you, it is over 10 feet deep there easily. I can still see the long reeds at the bottom of the swimming area. We were all pole fishing in the area. I tripped over a line and went straight down, at least 10 feet. From there I could see the counselor who was focused on baiting a hook on shore, in complete clarity and the sand he stood on.

    Now this is a physical impossibility, because one cannot see thru water and land.

    At first he did not see me. I had to wait for his attention to understand. I guess someone yelled. I saw him run 10 feet, dive in the shallow end, 2 feet deep. Speared toward me, and pulled me up onto the dock. Laid me down and I came to with Mr. Lieberman, who saved my life, and the girls camp nurse present. I walked back up the bluff 100 stairs + to my cabin and fell asleep.

  8. I went to Day Cho Lah near the end of its history. I learned skills there that have served me well throughout my life. I loved the horseback riding, archery, and swimming and still enjoy doing these things (I became a large animal veterinarian due to my exposure to the horses at Day Cho Lah).

    At that time, hazing was an acceptable behavior. I remember “Onion Day” (where one would have to undergo mild humiliation in order to have the privilege of eating chopped onions on hamburgers) and the “Worm Day” initiation rites which were approached with dread by all “first-year” campers. All-in-all, pretty unhealthy behavior!

    The campfires were wonderful and are probably my greatest memories of my days at Day Cho Lah. One mile hikes to the little roadside store, weekly trips to Ripon (where we bought sparklers which were illegal in Illinois), and the nighttime stories told by our counselors (the Epton brothers, Larry Israel etc) were also things that I remember to this day…

    Unfortunately, Mr. Vee had incredible problems with the counselors during the last couple of years that Day Cho Lah was in existence. They went on strike during the summer and the spirit and fellowship at the camp exploded into bad feelings. I believe that Day Cho Lah closed down in the early 1970’s. Sandstone went on for several more years.

    • Thanks for sharing your memories of Day Cho Lah. That’s so cool that overnight camp played an influential part in your career choice! I enjoyed the one or two trips we took to Ripon. Yes, back in those days, hazing and other “mean” behaviors were accepted. I imagine this caused inner turmoil for some kids.

  9. Becky Wistein

    Hey Fred – did you use to hang around with Andrew Cohen? Anyhow, I worked in the kitchen with Tina the cook. Lois Gerber was the Baker and Patty Little also worked in the kitchen. One night the boys came and got Patti and I for the onion ritual. They told us we’d be the only two girls initiated. I remember burping onion for two days straight. But oh, how I loved that place!

  10. I went to Day-Cho-Lah from 1958-1961 I have nothing but fond memories. I learned how to ride, shoot, sail and water ski – things I never would have done being from the south side of Chicago. Mr. Vee was actually my gym teacher through eighth grade – that’s how I found out about the camp. It’s amazing that I would stumble on this site after all these years!

  11. Hi there,

    My name is Patrick and I’m writing today because I found about 15 pictures from the 1950’s by a dumpster and one of the pictures is from Camp Sandstone in 1956. I cannot throw these photos out because I’m sure they’re very special to someone. If anyone knows a Betty or Judy from Camp Sandstone 1956, I have a bunch of their pictures. Feel free to email me if you think you know these people: ptballer1523@gmail.com.

    Thanks,
    Patrick

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *