This is Jean McMillen interviewing John Hedbavny at his home on Rt. 44, Lion’s Head, Salisbury, Ct. He is going to talk about Camp Sloane and things related to Camp Sloane, Ole Hegge, Rotary and the Methodist Church. The date is April 8, 2013. This is file #44.
JM:What is your full name?
JH:My name is John Hedbavny.
JM:Where were you born?
JH:I was born in Kew Gardens, Queens, New York.
JM:Your birthdate, please?
JH:Dec. 27th, 1944.
JM:Your parents’ names
JH:My mother was Laura Isabella Davenport Hedbavny and my father was John Hedbavny.
JM;Do you have siblings?
JH:I have one younger brother, Charles known as Chuck. He lives in New Jersey.
JM:What is your educational background?
JH:I graduated from West Babylon High School on Long island, one year I spent there. I spent from first grade through 11th grade at a school in Queens. I did some part time work at Queens College, working full time in New York City to earn enough money to attend Springfield College where I did graduate in 4 years as a transfer student in 1968. I got my Masters in Education there and pursued my Doctorate the University of Massachusetts, Amherst.
JM:That’s impressive. You said to me when we talked earlier that you always wanted to work in the YMCA field. Why?
JH:I grew up in Queens, N.Y. and as a child attended the Flushing YMCA where I actually learned to swim there. Through high school and on vacations from college I was a Saturday youth group leader, I spent a lot of time as a volunteer and a paid person in that stage of my life. When I was probably as young as 8, my parents sent me to a YMCA camp where I stayed my first summer for 4 weeks.
JM:And that camp was?
JH:It happened to be YMCA Camp Sloane in Lakeville, Ct. From that summer I spent the following 17 summers, so I was there for 18 summers as a camper and then a summer staff person.
JM:You have been from the ground up.
JH:Yeah and when I was there as a teenager, as a camper, I was in the leadership training program, and eventually that lead to becoming a junior counselor on the staff. I was the hostler for the riding program; then I wound up running the riding program for several summers. I was a unit director which was called section heads at the time. I headed the junior counselor program a summer and eventually I was the Boys Camp Director for 4 summers.
JM:So you were roughly from 1954 to about 1972…
JH:It was exactly 1972 and I know that because my first child was born in March of 1972, and my wife and I brought him as a 4 month infant to Camp Sloane in June where I had for a number of years been running what was known as the pre camp crew. A bunch of staff would be invited to come early to Camp Sloane for staff training, to set the place up, to the necessary ground work, painting, and all of that. My infant son, my wife and I stayed in the infirmary for those 3 or 4 weeks. When staff training began, we left. I drove down that hill saying, “I will probably never be back.”
JM:You did come back in 1995. We’ll get to that a bit later. Tell me a little bit about Roberts D. Burr.
JH:Roberts D. Burr was the Executive Director at Camp Sloane from 1953 until he had a stroke in 1968, I believe. Roberts D. Burr was “the Great White Father”. He was a staunch Methodist from Westchester, New York. He had a background in YMCA work and also a Springfield College graduate. He was the Executive Director for all those years; the camp at that time was 4 weeks. There were only 2 sessions, and each one was four weeks in length. Campers came for July or they came for August. It was interesting because it was always felt that in that 4 week period was an opportunity for the kids to get to know each other, the staff to get to know the kids, and the kids to get to know the camp. It really developed loyalty and that more involved experience. Today because of a number of factors throughout the U.S. camping has become mostly one or two weeks. That was a hallmark of the camp at that time; the 2 four week sessions. He was amazingly dedicated; the office at that time was in White Plains. It was known as the Westchester County YMCA Camp. Camp Sloane has been an independent camp since it opened on this site in 1928 although it moved to Lakeville from a previous site on Calves Island.
JM:Where is Calves Island?
JH:It is off the coast of Long Island, New York.
JM:You told me before that you had been offered the Executive Directorship a number of times at Camp Sloane, but turned it down. However, you did accept it in 1995 and that’s where we are going to pick up. You became Executive Director from 1995 until when did you retire from that position?
JH:April, 2006. I think we should be clear. I wasn’t offered the position; I was in discussions about it because of my background and history with the camp, it was felt that there could be a good match there. We never got to where I, I was under consideration and I think at the time each of those 2 or 3 times I was the only one under consideration, but we never got to where…
JM:It didn’t become a perfect match until 1995. As CEO of Camp Sloane what were your responsibilities?
JH:CEO is responsible for the entire operation from its finances, overseeing the day to day operation which includes programs, staffing, long range planning, and board development.
JM:When you took over, how staff and how many campers?
JH:That is an interesting question because going back to those years when I was a camper and a staff member up through the 1970’s, Camp Sloane had a reputation of being the largest co-ed YMCA camp in the United States. There were 250 boys and 250 girls and 150 staff at its peak. When I came in as Executive Director in 1996, I think we probably had a staff of about 100 and enrollment might have been total of 200 campers, both boys and girls total. Back in the day, Camp Sloane was known as Camp Sloane for boys and camp Sloane for Girls. There were two separate facilities for everything including duplicated dining halls, arts & craft lodges, nature lodges, sports fields, a boys’ part of the lake and a girls’ part of the lake. Over the years a swimming pool…
JM:Separate but equal.
JH:Separate but equal. The programs were different to reflect the girl’s interests and boys’ interests. In fact at the time it was only the girls’ who had a social hall where they did performing arts, but over time a performing art center was built, a swimming pool was built. Horseback riding was the only co-ed activity until performing arts and a swimming pool was established. Then over the years because of declining enrollment program areas began to be combined. There would be combined, co-ed activities, and the camp was always considered a co-ed camp, but it was distinguished from a brother sister camp which a lot of camps are completely separate. There were opportunities for mingling and co-ed activities, but it really was a boys’ camp and a girls’ camp. Today and when I was Executive Director, there was still a girls’ camp where the residences are for girls and a boys’ camp where boys lived, but the majority of the programs were co-ed all day.
JM:Is it a full year program?
JH:Now it is.
JM:When you came was it a full year program?
JH:it was when I returned in 1995. Mike Beck (see #138A) had started it back in the 1980’s to develop an extended season program. That was to attract school groups in the early fall and late spring that would come up for various environmental and adventure programing.
JM:By adventure programing do you mean outdoor education?
JH:Well it became known as outdoor education. Adventure education is the inclusion of activities like ropes courses, group problem solving, initiatives and that type of thing. Mike started that back in
the 80’s and that was growing. When I returned as the Executive Director in 1995, it was very separate from the rest of the Camp Sloane summer operation. One of my first charges and directive projects given to me by the Board of Directors was to make that program more integrated into the camp program. Within my first year or two we were able to integrate the finances as well as some of the staffing and we got to where it was a stand-alone activity, or department. The summer camp was subsidizing that program for a long time. Within a couple of years of my tenure, we got it to where it was standing on its own and represented about a 30-35% of the annual income and expenses in the summer camp was 70%-65%. Both were supporting each other.
JM:I think you told me that you changed the week program so that you a one 4 week session, and 2 two week sessions.
JH:When I returned, there were a number of members of the Board of Directors with whom I had grown up on the campus, staff and campers myself. They recalled and were committed to the idea of a 4 week experience, prior to that there were 2 week sessions, one week sessions, and a variety of combinations. We were feeling that in order to help the enrollment which was struggling at the time that perhaps going back to at least one 4 week session would engender that kind of loyalty and involvement with the camp that resulted in more loyalty and we’d see a greater percentage of returning campers. So we did do that for several years. We also eventually went back to where we would also do 2 week sessions.
JM:One of your innovations was partnering with Berkshire School. Tell me about that.
JH:One of the things I’d like to say is an approach that I was comfortable with but I think was fairly successful was a number of collaborative efforts that resulted in a variety of benefits to everyone but to the camp it benefitted enrollment, finances, the Berkshire School partnership is the result of a long-time staff member whose sister was on the faculty at the Berkshire School. His name was Norman White; her name was Cindy Dixon. Norman had been at the camp some 20 plus years. I didn’t know him until I came back in 1995. He was with us for several years while I was there. He died one fall and his sister Cindy, knowing of his long term involvement and love for the camp as well as his love for the lake, proposed a partnership as a result of a major donation to construct a boathouse on Long Pond, Lake Wononpakook. This was to be used as the boat house for Berkshire School’s crew program and Camp Sloane historically going back to the late 60’s early 70’s was about the only y camp or otherwise that had a crew program. Camps had canoes, rowboats, sailboats, but there weren’t too many camps even to this day that do crew. It was a partnership that gave Camp Sloane a place to house its crew program. Berkshire School, instead of having to trailer their canoes to a local lake from Sheffield, Massachusetts, had a home at Camp Sloane.
JM:All they had to do was to transport the boys.
JM:That’s right, Berkshire is co-ed.5.
JH:The students would come down in a school bus every afternoon and they had their regattas as well as their practices. I also partnered with an organization called “The Young Adult Institute”. It is the national institute for children and adults with disabilities. We started what was called a MAC program, mainstreaming at camp which is a tremendous success. We are one of three YMCA camps in the United States doing that program; only one of those three is still doing it. We partnered with the American Camp Association in New York City to work with charter schools that had evolved in New York City which combined the camping experience with academic support. Partnerships like that and bringing groups from other countries boost the Camp Sloane enrollment and added to its diversity. I like to think these three partnerships were among my contributions.
JM:I am sure because you did talk to me about your international program that you really fostered.
JH:I remember when I was a camper and a staff member during those Burr years out of 150 staff there were probably 1 in a summer, maybe there could have been 2 males from countries other than the U.S.; similarly 1 or maybe 2 female staff from another country. Over the years finding American staff in camps though out the U.S. became a greater challenge as tuitions increased for colleges and universities. College students felt they needed to make more money than a camp might be able to pay. Nationally as well as at Camp Sloane the use of international staff grew over the years. During my ten years there were as many sometimes as 33 countries represented at Camp Sloane. I was always trying to find the fine line between getting the staff you needed, having that diversity but not being so overloaded with internationals that finding transportation to get them of site on their day off. But the positive thing is that there were opportunities to involve them in the community and Camp Sloane’s face became an international face. Organizations like Rotary would be invited to have a summer picnic. They would often host international students.
JM:Oh I remember that.
JH:It had a lot of benefits, but I also coming here from another Y camp experience had already established a number of international partnerships overseas with YMCA using Germany, and a couple of other countries like Spain. I started bringing groups of 10 or 12 children with a group leader, and they would come for several weeks at camp. They would have a week of home stays in the community and then 3 or 4 days of travel; we’d take them to New York City, but adding the diversity of international campers to the mix that also was beginning to include children with disabilities. This really made for quite an interesting and unique experience for children and staff which was a good thing.
JM:What was the pay scale for counselors?
JH:As an aside this past Saturday night a fellow, who is now retired faculty member from a small college in Pennsylvania, and I got to know each other at Camp Sloane. In 1959 we were campers and then staff together for years and years. He happened to be up here this past weekend with his wife and we got together Saturday night. We were recalling how when we were first on the staff back in the early 60’s, our salary was somewhere in the neighborhood of $250-$275 for 9 weeks, plus room and
board. You can’t even buy books for that now at college. When I left Sloane in the spring of 2006, the average pay for a staff member was in the neighborhood of $1800-$2,000. Then the supervisory staff, those responsible for directing the program area like arts and crafts or athletics and those who were responsible as section heads, the unit division leaders, and those staff would be making perhaps $2500-$2700. If you had been there, usually there was $100-$150 increase to come back each summer as an incentive. If you were on the waterfront staff and had additional certification like lifesaving, or instructor levels they used to be additional pay at $25 per certification. This was all designed to be an incentive to compensate them for experience and certification. Now the draw to work at a summer camp may not only be money but there is so much life experience that looks good on a resume and provides a good background that a lot of recruiting efforts include, room and boards doesn’t seem to make it anymore for them, but if you throw the package together of room and board plus some money plus the value of the experience you are getting and a good reference, there are those people out there. There are more and more people who are interested in majors like recreation, environmental studies, and a lot of programs that can relate to the camp experience that make it worth it and more popular than a few decades ago.
JM:What are some of the traditions that you have revived when you came back?
JH:Camps that are thriving and popular for over the years for a lot of different reasons, and among them are traditions that campers and staff look forward to coming back to each summer. When I returned I asked several returning staff, “What do you consider to be the traditions here?” It is interesting what I was told; they weren’t really traditions. If you do something one or two summers that is not really a tradition, it is a new program. It depends on how it continues, but a lot of things that I had recalled as traditions at Sloane seemed to have been lost. I was walking a fine line in that you don’t want to return to a situation where you spent 18 years as a camper and a summer staff member and try to relive the past. You want to move forward and keep up with the times, on the other hand it seemed like there were some things that used to work that still could work even if you put a new spin on it. Among those things that we brought back were the Olympics which is a glorified field day experience that lasted three days and the camp colors was a tradition. Camp Sloane’s colors were blue and white and that had been completely lost; the Olympics were an opportunity to have the blue team and the white team. Then at the end of this big three day event a competition because camp Sloane never has and still isn’t a competitive sport oriented camp. It is a very traditional program, but for two or three days you can have these fun and games, but at the end you bring everybody back together in your one camp again. Between the Olympics, the colors blue and white there used to be what we called Vespers which every evening the counselor would have time with their group before bedtime and kind of talk about the day’s activities, and it was often back in those days and a lot of this was Mr. Burr’s influence had a religious kind of context. Most of that has been lost because of the religious aspect of it and not wanting to offend the diverse group, there were Jewish campers and others so I brought back the concept that instead of calling it Vespers, we called them tent chats which was an opportunity to have quiet reflective time where the staff member would have with their group of kids. Camp Sloane has always been unique from the beginning as the tent camp, raised platform tents which made a challenge
especially as you got into the 80’s and 90’s. Parents are looking at Camp Sloane competing with camps that have so many creature comforts, cabins that have bathrooms built in them, carpeted floors in the cabins, and stuff. Camp Sloane is still a tent camp, it is unique and it has to find its own niche. My spin on it was “Tent camping, the way tent camping is meant to be”. My successor has taken an interesting twist; you know the commercial for milk? “Got milk?” He got “Got tents?” Camp Sloane has to find a niche and a market. The kids love it; it’s the intrepidation or concern at the outset but once they get in them, they love them.
JM:You also brought back the motto.
JH:Thanks, I had no evidence of the camp motto which was simply one word “Others”. “Others” was and is a derivative from the Golden Rule. So we got signs back up and around that said “Others”. I also started a newsletter with “Others” as a little reminder. Now I am not too involved at all, but a do become aware of some things that they are doing now, but for this generation will be their experience to remember and their traditions.
JM:I am going to move on to a mystery. In some of the interviews that I have done with local people, they mention a missing girl from Camp Sloane. Can you briefly tell me about that?
JH:My first summer was in 1954 and I think this happened before that (Constance Christine Smith July 16, 1952 Ed.) A young girl camper who I believe was something like 12 years old at the time. This is all documented in investigative reporting in the ”Hartford Courant” and other journalistic efforts. This girl apparently walked down the camp road and out the camp entrance and that much is known because people who observed her doing that. They saw her walking, no necessarily walking off the property, but they saw her going down the road at some point. The story goes that in Lakeville in a field that still exists there was an annual summer carnival with a Ferris wheel and games and all of the typical small town summer carnival setting. She wound up there and she walked off the Camp Sloane property into Lakeville which is only a mile and one half walk. To this day she has never been seen or heard from since. FBI has been involved; her father I believe was still living in Colorado and has finally dropped the investigation. But that is only relatively recently, say in the last 5 to 10 years. I don’t know that specifically either. I knew her name (Connie Smith ED.) I don’t remember it right now, but I can get that. It is a mystery that has never been solved of the northwest corner of Connecticut and more specifically of Camp Sloane. By the way there were all kinds of speculations that she was kidnapped, but no one knows.
JM:I am going to skip onto Rotary. I know from my own experience that the rotary was connected with Camp Sloane because my husband and I had various international students for a day. We had a Dutchman, we had a Scotsman, we had a young lady from Singapore that I can remember, and I think we had a couple of young men from Australia at one point. Does the connection with Camp Sloane have anything to do with the Rotary Interact Club?
JH:No, not to my knowledge? But I do recall during those Burr summers, especially when I was an older camper and then on the staff, that Robert Burr was an active Rotarian in Westchester and then continued his involvement during the summers he spent up here, so much so that he would annually invite the rotary group to come to Camp Sloane for a picnic. His successors tended to be Rotarians also, or at least a couple of them that I am aware of. I am a Rotarian. The relationship during my tenure I invited Rotary to come to see the annual Performing Arts production and also to do the picnics. We had them hosting international for a day; I would take them sometimes to Rotary for lunch to give a brief presentation. Rotary is an international organization, the YMCA is an international organization and certainly Camp Sloane developed and international dimension. I am familiar with what Interact is and I am not aware of a connection, although I will tell you during my tenure I did have Interact come to Camp Sloane for a Saturday morning; we did an activity here too.
JM:You joined Rotary here in 1995?
JH:I joined Rotary in Pennsylvania in 198 something and when I returned to Sloane as Executive Director in 1996 I transferred my Rotary membership to the Salisbury Rotary club where I am still a member.
JM:Have you held offices in Rotary here?
JH:I have been on the board in past years, and at one point was scheduled to become its President. After I retired from Camp Sloane I wound up taking a full time job with the International YMCA.
JM:You failed retirement.
JH:I failed retirement the first time around; my travel schedule and work schedule were such that I not only couldn’t become President of Rotary, but I rarely could attend weekly meetings. I am now active again and I am currently the second vice President scheduled to be President in two years.
JM:I am now going on to the Methodist Church. Did you come to the Methodist Church here from another Methodist church, was it the Burr influence? Or was it just that this was the church that you enjoyed the most?
JH:It is funny you ask because when I returned here I had never gone that Methodist Church. Camp Sloane used to take all the catholic campers to St. Mary’s. Although during my tenure I got the priest at St. Mary’s to come to Camp Sloane.
JH:No, before him.
JM:I don’t remember before.
JH:We had Sunday mass at camp Sloane for the catholic campers, and there was always a non-denominational chapel service at Camp Sloane. I don’t know if that has continued or not. I do remember when it was Mr. Burr’s tenure, those Sunday chapel services we were singing Methodist hymns. I remember Mr. Burr being involved both at the Methodist Church here in town. I did grow up in a Methodist Church as a child. Yet I married a catholic and we raised the children catholic, but when I came here in 1995, I never joined the Catholic Church, so I went to the Methodist church. Now I am there. I am secretary of the church council, I am on the trustees, and I am on the pastor-parish relations committee.
JM:You have covered a lot of territory in the Methodist church. It is a lovely church and next year we’ll be celebrating our 225 anniversary.
JH:You may not know because it was only announced yesterday that Rev. Kim is leaving at the end of June, and his successor is I met on Saturday. Her name is Peggy Laemmel. She is starting in July, and she seems wonderful; I think there is going to be a bit of a revival there. I don’t mean that in a religious sense. I don’t mean a Holy Roller Revival.
JM:Are there other civic activities that you have been involved in are?
JH:I was a member and a board member of the Tri-State Chamber of Commerce which I got involved in as I have become involved in the community in other ways when I came back to the area in 1995 full time. There was a rather extensive period in Camp Sloane’s history when there was a conscious effort on the part of the board and its administration i.e. executive directors over the years to keep Camp Sloane separate and isolated from the local community. Camp Sloane was just going to do its own thing; we were only up here for 10 weeks in the summer; we wanted to be good neighbors, but we didn’t want to be too visible and that kind of approach. Then as the extended season effort progressed, it evolved to environmental education or school buses coming up and a lot of activity, there was still an effort, there was still not major integration with the town. I do not know exactly how or why, but my involvement in the community wound up having Camp Sloane become a little bit better known. You become the face of an organization in a sense. I don’t think it is as prevalent in the community for the last 5, 7, 8 years.
JM:This is why we are doing the interview so that it becomes part of the community experience. Tell me about Ole Hegge.
JH:Ole Hegge was born in Norway. He came to this area and delivered eggs locally for a long time. Eventually he became the caretaker at Camp Sloane (1952-1962 ED.) and moved into what is known as the gatehouse, the first house at the entrance to Camp Sloane with his wife Solveg. He was the Maintenance Director which all those years ago Camp Sloane operated 8 weeks in the summer preceded by one week of staff training and a couple weeks of pre camping to get the place open and set up. He was also an avid cross country skier and ski jumper. As part of another part of Salisbury-Lakeville
history, was one of 2 or 3 Scandinavian ski jumpers that settled in this area. There was the Satre family and others. Ole Hegge was in the Munich Olympics as a jumper, cross country skier. He missed the Bronze Medal by a tenth of a second. He was still considered a national hero and when he returned to Norway, he was presented the King’s Medal by King Olaf at the time. I got to know him as a camper and summer staff member at Sloane, but maintained contact with him and his family until his death. (June 2, 1994 Ed.) He said all of his years when he would tell that story that receiving the King’s Medal from King Olaf, people would think how disappointing it would be to not get the Bronze Medal in the Olympics. He said being presented the King’s Medal by King Olaf far superseded anything he could have achieved at the Olympics. Like a true Olympian his point there was that it was greater to be a participant than to be a winner. To know that you did compete in the Olympics is about participation; maybe today’s athletes can be reminded of that attitude.
I’ll tell you another cute story about Ole. , and when I was Dean at Springfield College, I often came back to this area in the winter to visit and I skied myself at Catamount or butternut Basin, I would always visit the Hegges. When you were invited into their home socially, he would always invite you to have a drink with him. It doesn’t matter how many times you had done this, it was the same routine. He would take you over to part of the living room/dining room area where he had breakfront of sorts and a drinks cart. He would say, “We could do this one of three ways. We could drink like a Dane, and he would bring out a tiny little jigger and put the little jigger on the table, or we could drink like a Swede and he’d take another jigger a little bigger and put it on the table. Then he would bring out a glass and he’d put the glass down on the table and he’d say, or you can drink like a Norwegian.” Of course you’d drink like a Norwegian since you were with one.
JM:He didn’t mention the Finns?
JH:He didn’t mention that and you are the first one to question that. That is a great piece; I love that.
JM:Is there anything else that you would like to add to this interview, I know we have covered a lot of territory, but it has all been absolutely fascinating.
JH:I want to add one thing. When I came back in 1995, there were several challenges. There were 2 or 3 opportunities that did not materialize prior to that. It just felt that I would be coming here for the wrong reasons, but this time it seemed like I had a good match with what the camp was looking for, and needed. There were some financial difficulties that I inherited; I was pleased to say that in a couple of years the deficient turned around and we did quite well. Unfortunately by the time I retired 10 years later, many of those partnerships that I mentioned for one reason or another did not last. They ended in large part as a result of each of the organizations having their own difficulties and making decisions to downsize their programs which resulted in downsizing Camp Sloane’s programs. Losing those groups like the MAC program which brought these wonderful young people with disabilities to camp for several weeks, full tuition paid, increased enrollment, and the same thing with ACA and some others created a void in our summer enrollment that had to be made up in other ways. It all happened at a time which
was characterized by and still is so many options out there for today’s youth in the summer. In addition to the economy being a challenging issue, sending your child to camp is discretionary money you use and if that money isn’t there, maybe camp is not there for those children. Maybe it is a family vacation where they go stay with the grandparents for a week or two, but between the economy and so many other competitive summer options for children to do such as sports camps, specialty camps, and travel opportunities. When I did retire, Sloane was at a point where enrollment had begun to fall off again. That became a real challenge so part of what I know has happened since my retirement is going to smaller options like one week sessions or whatever is helping to bring enrollment back. I would say I was pleased and happy to have achieved not only a balanced budget but also some very good summers and towards the end of my time we saw the enrollment start to be a challenge again.
JM:We always need challenges.
JH:Yes, we do. They always seem to be there.
JM:Thanks you very much for all your information and your time.