The First 100 Years (Part 2)
From the 100th Reunion's Event Program; Presented in Three Installments
In case you missed it - here's Part 1
Fran Marchand was hired as Executive Director in the Fall of 1987 (as well as Camp Director, Maintenance Head, Program Director, and Camp Chef on the chef’s day off!). Enrollment in 1988 was half that of 1987, which in turn was also down from 1986. In April 1988, an alumni group was formed with the main goal of supporting camp. The group organized a phone-a-thon fundraiser, calling a thousand families whose children had not returned to camp in the past two years to encourage them to try camp again under the new Executive Director. The camp was only at one-third capacity for the 1988 season.
Favorite all-camp activities during the 1960s through the 1980s included talent shows, mock trials, plays put on by campers and staff including The Wizard of Oz and Man of LaMancha, Ms. Mohawk contests, color wars, campfires, Saturday movie nights with films shown on an old 16MM projector, and a couple who came every year to show the campers small wild animals including snakes. There was also a lot of guitar playing and singing.
The mid to late 1980s were some of the toughest years Camp Mohawk has seen. There were multiple Director changes including one Director being used for multiple camps, which did not help to stabilize Mohawk’s management. In the Fall of 1987, the Board of Trustees hired Fran Marchand as Camp Mohawk’s new Director. They hoped Fran would help revitalize camp with new ideas, a positive outlook and bring back the true spirit of Mohawk.
At the start of Fran’s employment, camp was underwater financially and at risk of not being able to meet its fiscal obligations. From 1986 to 1989, camper enrollment had dropped 77%, resulting in small staff and camper numbers; the Senior and Ute units were not operational because the beds could not be filled. The camp annual report in 1988 read, “camp had a crushing debt, an enrollment crisis, crumbling facilities and escalating expenses.” Camp negotiated a credit line with Litchfield Bancorp to help carry them through the year into 1989.
The summer of 1989 was a summer that will never be forgotten. At 4:45 p.m. on Monday, July 10th, a tornado struck camp. There were no personal injuries, but the facilities at camp were severely damaged and there was debris littered all across the property. Several buildings were destroyed, vehicles were crushed, and the electrical infrastructure was off line. Ski lift fragments and parts of the Mohawk Mountain Ski Area lodge roof were found in camp’s ballfield. All of Mohawk’s canoes were missing (some to be found deep in Mohawk’s forest five years later), and fifty-five truck loads of red pine were removed from camp (even though there were no red pine trees growing on the property before the storm). Camp was without power for five days, and access in and off site was blocked for days as well. Fran recalls meeting with the staff immediately after the tornado struck and them collectively saying, “How can we help?” They held chapel at the flagpole, because chapel was inaccessible. This specific chapel was one of the most memorable chapel services camp has presented.
The day after the storm hit camp, Rick Corbo, the camp office manager, walked to Torrington to use the Torrington YMCA office phones to contact all the parents and let them know all the campers were safe and accounted for. Chef Paul Calberg managed a baked chicken dinner that night, despite having no power. The campers enjoyed eating all the ice cream in the freezers before it melted, as the clean-up efforts continued.
The summer of 1989 ended with $500 cash on hand with unreimbursed expenses of $32,367 and loan interest of almost $15,000. Camp applied for a FEMA grant and was awarded one for unreimbursed expenses totaling $120,000.
In 1991, Camp Mohawk broke even financially for the first time since Fran became Director. Camper enrollment saw an increase, as well. However, camp was still paying a disproportionate percentage of income on interest expenses.
The CIT Program was reintroduced to camp in 1991, and while few in number, they outshined in personality and participation. The following year, Sperry DeCew donated to camp its first computer, which increased office management productivity after Trustee Carl Buck sent his associates to help train the office staff. Another substantial donation made by parents helped purchase a new database, which replaced the poor system that was being used.
As camp enrollment steadily grew, so did parental involvement. Parents were donating more money to help revitalize some of the infrastructure that had been neglected over the lean years. In 1993, donations allowed camp to replace the old wooden (sinking) waterfront docks with an aluminum dock system, with much praise from the campers.
1995 saw further expansion in camper enrollment, which enabled the Dining Hall and Rec Hall roofs to be replaced. Cabin roofs were also replaced at a pace of five per year, with lots of sweat equity from Fran and his four sons (Andrew, Patrick, Jeremy and Christopher). The year also saw sadness with former staff member, trip leader, Trustee and intense advocate Peter H.G. Wallach’s sudden death. The outdoor living porch and fireplace in the dining hall were dedicated to him in a ceremony lead by Roger Coutant with a service at the Chapel.
As camp saw an increase in enrollment, Fran knew he needed to implement plans to ensure its camper and financial growth. With the help of former Board of Trustee member Amy Witryol, they developed a financial plan that provided a five-year format that proved to be invaluable. In 1997, staff numbers increased as enrollment increased. Camp began implementing training for counselors in program planning, policy development and facility improvements.
1998 was memorable, as Fran hired Christina Smieja, camp’s first full-time associate director since he became director more than ten years prior. Campers also remember this year, with the renovation of the Lighthouse and individual showers that were installed. Fran and Camp Mohawk were especially grateful to Sperry DeCew (former Trustee and Alumni) for his legal background and guiding wisdom through some of Mohawk’s most challenging years.
Mohawk reached full capacity in the Summer of 1999! More highs were to come with a new riding camp initiative (with help from Patrick Telman) that maximized income potentials of existing camp facilities and the start of a Mohawk radio station, which was broadcast over the air.
Good news was short lived as a norovirus hit camp during session one and affected campers and staff alike. Fran said it “began a destructive path through camp culminating in camp’s most challenging moments since the financial crisis from 1988-1991.” Exceptional circumstances generated exceptional responses from Board of Trustee members Bill Mascetti, Parker Prout and MJ McCarthy, who were all instrumental in establishing a required plan of action from the Department of Health. Jeff and David Foulds jumped in to assist the kitchen when the cooks were incapacitated. Rebecca “Farmer” Tillotson provided essential coverage in numerous functions as Sally Marchand took over as Executive Director when Fran succumbed to the virus as well. With everyone’s help and dedication, the Department of Health found that camp followed all appropriate practices protecting the health of its campers and staff. Fran showed enforced restraint, Sally kept her cool composure and attorney Stefanie Weaver played an integral role in generating a positive outcome.
2000 and 2001 showed continued growth and camper capacity was increased with the introduction of a second staff member in select cabins. Mohawk lost a wonderful woman, Cindy Morse (former cabin counselor, unit leader, Arts & Crafts Director, Program Director, Camp Director and Trustee) in 2003. In her honor, Mohawk established the Cindy Morse Leadership Fund (with help from Parker Prout, Kevin O’Connell and Hope Hutchinson) in 2004, which raised over $60,000 for the express purpose of supporting the leadership development program at Camp Mohawk.
2005 brought a wet summer, with 22 days of rain. This did not dampen the increase in pre- and post-camp activities, due to Patrick Marchand’s efforts to recruit a variety of new organizations to use camp’s facilities off season. Adding these programs to camp allowed Mohawk to generate more income over the course of the year and allowed organizations from other areas of New England to learn about what Camp Mohawk has to offer. After 18 years serving countless hungry campers and staff, Chef Paul Calberg retired and is remembered for his incredible service to Mohawk. Paul originally took the job because Mohawk was a small operation and he had spent many summers at larger camp establishments and public-school programs. To his credit and Mohawk’s very good fortune, Paul stayed with Mohawk as it grew and was, no doubt, one of the reasons camp experienced continued success. He was also a great sport after the 1989 tornado crushed his car outside his cabin.
2006 was a great year. Camp finally paid off its loans from 1989, Nadine Thompson joined the staff full time, the Club Mohawk day-camp was instituted for local boys and girls, and Sally started a Project Fund solely from registration cards that raised $6,000 for staff lounge improvements.
Long-time staff associate and Trustee Arlene Foulds passed away in 2007. The Board of Trustees established the Arlene Foulds Memorial Scholarship Fund to generate a modest scholarship for a deserving Mohawk staff member each year. Rick Corbo (Office Manager and holder of every position except executive Director at Mohawk) resigned the same year. Rick’s commitment to Mohawk and the YMCA, his incredible work ethic, sense of humor and his exceptional customer service have all contributed inestimably to Mohawk’s success. Kristen Judd joined Mohawk as Assistant Director with Elmer O’Dell as head Chef (who is still on staff in 2019).
As Fran describes it, Kristen Judd (Assistant Director) tried to kill Fran in a tug of war contest in 2008.Fran had open heart surgery on the first day of staff training in 2008, which initialized the implementation of the Crisis Management Plan.Nadine Thompson filled in exceptionally well as Camp Director with tremendous help from Kristen Judd.Patrick Marchand provided invaluable support during staff training and after-hours help.Sally, once again, assumed the role of Executive Director and ran the business of camp until Fran was back on his feet in Session 1.