Happy Campers

Someone was talking like Mickey Mouse over the camp office P.A.

Friday, July 30, 1976: I’m attending a church camp in Motley, Minnesota—Camp Shamineau—sponsored through our congregation’s youth group.

That year was one of the last I’d be able to attend, since I’d be a high school junior in the fall, and the camp served mostly younger kids. But it was a highlight of my summers, actually. I liked meeting new kids from other neighborhoods. I liked getting away from busboyhood for a week. And I’m pretty sure the ’rents didn’t mind the break either.

The previous Sunday, July 25, I’d missed the camp-bound bus from the church, so I walked home. My church pal Loren finally pulled up in his maroon Volkswagen Bug, so I hopped in with my sleeping bag and duffle and we headed north.

With us was Loren’s long-blonde-haired girlfriend Sherri Erickson, who was in my class. Loren was a year older than us. Sherri was shy and didn’t say much on the drive north.

At the camp, we parked the car and got our cabin assignments. Loren and I were in the Ottawa cabin with ten other guys: Joe, Biya (Brian), Kurt, Kent, Kevin Dahl, Eric, Bruce, Rick, Russ, Duane Anderson, and our counselor for that year, some guy named Steve Taylor.

After we arrived, we dragged our sleeping bags up to the knotty-wood cabins. It started to rain. I lay awake listening to the rain all night, wondering what the week ahead would hold.


We had a schedule: 8 a.m., wake up; 9:00, devotions around the flagpole; 9:15, breakfast in the dining hall; at 10 bells, skills classes (that year I signed up for two, Skin Diving and a long-distance swim-across-the-lake class called “I Swam Sham.” I’ll just cut to the chase: I failed Swam Sham); afternoon Bible hour at the main chapel with Pastor Lloyd; 1:30 p.m., lunch back in the dining hall; 2:30 to 6:00, free-time activities like Polish softball, water polo or volleyball.

One of the favorites was 3:30 Canteen time. The “flap-window” of the cabin near the main building opened up and we could purchase candy, snacks and little 10-ounce bottles of Coke, spoiling our appetites in time for the 6:15 supper bell.

There was an evening service at the chapel, followed by something fun such as a melodrama or skit performed by the campers or staff.

It all sounds so quaint now, but it was actually a self-defining time for me. I wasn’t always hanging with my fellow campers. I walked a lot, dozed in the woods, hung out down by the beach and watched the sunlight sparkle off the waves on the lake.


Then there were the girls.

On Tuesday night, the guys from Ottawa cabin stole the girls’ bathing suits from their clothesline and put them in another boys’ cabin, Kickapoo, after they’d won all the day’s activities.

The next day I wrote in the diary, “There’s kind of a cute girl in Sioux Lake that I’d like to get to know, named Jill, but I don’t know. There’s a lot of girls I’d like to get to know better.”

While it wasn’t Jill, there was another girl, Lisa Tepley, who always hung around Loren when he played Elton John songs, like “Levon” or “Tiny Dancer,” on the dining hall piano. I first mention her in the Thursday, July 29 entry. Lisa was a pretty, thoughtful and trenchant brunette from Crystal, Minnesota. We connected immediately.

By Thursday couples had formed: Biya went out with Karen, Joe hung with “some Mary.” The big night was Friday’s week-concluding banquet and talent show in the dining hall. Everyone planned to bring a date. Lisa and I went together. The staff served us roast beef, and “John Priestly & the Scribes” sang “Teenager in Love” a capella. Meanwhile, Loren came down with the ’flu and was bunk-ridden back at the cabin.

At the evening chapel service Lisa and I sat together. I’d forgotten all this because, to my memory, Lisa had a boyfriend back home and we became friends, but I never recall being romantically involved with her. The diary bears out the truth: “Lisa and I got close all evening and after the concert we went down to the beach and did some pretty heavy stuff (no joking!!!).” Italics mine, there’s little doubt that it got no heavier than necking, but hey, I’d completely forgotten it at all.

That day’s euphoric entry said it all: “We saw Kurt and Jill (the same one from Sioux Lake) down at the beach and as I walked [Lisa] back, we waved to Biya and Karen. It was a long day and night. Joe was going with Mary during the week but they broke up that day.

“When we all got back in the cabin, Loren was better and had a lot of stories to hear.”

~ by completelyinthedark on October 23, 2011.

5 Responses to “Happy Campers”

  1. Hi! I’m at work surfing around your blog from my new iphone! Just wanted to say I love reading your blog and look forward to all your posts! Carry on the outstanding work!


  2. Good Post. You do a good job. Thanks!


  3. any photos of Lisa Tepley? Tried looking at the aforementioned “July 29 entry”.


    • There’s only one photo of Lisa, but it’s such a bad exposure and composition that I chose not to publish it.


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