WINTHROP — Bill Munsey still fondly remembers his first summer at the YMCA Camp of Maine, in 1946, when he passed — just barely — his first swimming test, which opened up the wonders of the Cobbossee Lake camp’s waterfront to the then-8-year-old camper.

It was the start of a lifetime of memories the camp has given him. He said what he liked best was meeting counselors from all over the world and fellow campers from across the country. But he also enjoyed the camp’s many activities, especially those on the waterfront.

In the mid-1950s he returned as a counselor-in-training, in time working his way up to counselor, then counselor in charge of the counselor-in-training program. Now, at 77, he’s a member of the Y camp’s board of directors, and he helped celebrate the camp’s 100th anniversary Saturday afternoon with around 100 other camp alumni at the pristine lakeside property, which totals more than 300 acres and includes three islands.

As a new camp counselor, he said, the realization of the responsibility before him came on suddenly.

“You have the responsibility to make sure they enjoy the same experience you did as a camper,” said Munsey, of Orono, as the camp’s current batch of campers watched and listened.

Camp alumnus Tom Reeves, of Gardiner, said he was very shy as a boy, and that during his first time at the camp, in 1958, his counselor put him at ease by giving him a warm greeting. Reeves said he got out of the car and was immediately asked by the counselor who he was.

“I said, ‘Tom Reeves,’ and he said, ‘You’re Tom Reeves? I’m so excited. You’re in my cabin. I’ve been waiting for you all day.'”

Reeves returned as a junior counselor in 1965 and a counselor in 1966, and recalls the camp, during his time working there, celebrating its 50th anniversary.

He credits his experience working at the camp, which was his first job, for his decision to pursue a career in law. After a junior counselor he was responsible for overseeing was suspected of violating a camp rule, Reeves did such a good job convincing the deputy camp director not to punish them that the official suggested he consider becoming a lawyer.

Reeves said he still has a list, provided by the camp’s office, of his first campers during his first session as a counselor. He said he has kept in touch with a couple of them.

The camp, which officials said has had about 70,000 campers over the years since it opened in 1915, marked its centennial by inviting camp alumni and others to a Cobbossee lakeside celebration Saturday. It first was a boys camp, then opened to girls, too, in 1975.

Multiple speakers at the 100th anniversary celebration spoke of the camp’s nurturing of spirit, mind and body, which make up the three sides of the YMCA’s triangle logo.

Chandler Woodcock, commissioner of the state Department of Inland Fisheries and Wildlife, said campers who have been taught to focus on their spirit, mind and body, as well as other YMCA tenets such as respect, responsibility, caring for others and honesty, will have an advantage in life that will serve them well, no matter where they go or whom they meet.

The camp for boys and girls ages 8 to 16 sits on more than 300 forested acres on Cobbossee Lake, off Route 135.

Newell Auger first came to camp in 1975, spending parts of the next nine summers as a camper there, before moving on to become a counselor.

He said he was struck, driving to the camp Saturday with his two children, remembering the exact moment, 40 years ago when he first set foot in the camp. He said the world has changed dramatically since then, but the essentials and setting of the camp, and the lessons it instills in youths, have not.

He said his first realization of what responsibility was took place at the camp, when he took on the job of camp counselor and eight sets of parents dropped off their children, entrusting them to him for the next two weeks or more.

He joked that he’s traveled extensively and the camp is still the only place he’s found that refers to bathrooms as the TIPS, an acronym for “toilets in the pines.”

Auger noted the Maine National Guard is responsible for much of the camp’s infrastructure, including one of its athletic fields and some of its cabin villages. Several Guard members attended the ceremony Saturday, as did the Army National Guard Color Guard.

Attendees, campers and staff members sang “The Star-Spangled Banner” as the United States, Maine and YMCA flags were raised on a lakeside flagpole.

The anniversary celebration started Saturday afternoon with a parade including a band of bagpipers.

Planned evening activities included music by a jazz band, children’s games, swimming, camp tours, a bonfire and fireworks.

Camp alumni also had a chance to revisit some of their old camp activities, including canoeing, field games and swimming.

The backs of counselors’ T-shirts had the quote “It’s always 72 degrees and Sunny” printed on them.

Counselors said the phrase was coined by longtime camp director Barry Costa. Tom Christensen, a board member from Bath, explained the statement refers to campers leaving camp with no recollection of rainy days, or mosquitoes or the bats in the auditorium, and instead remembering only their friends, the memories they made together and other good times at camp — so that by the next summer, they recall the weather at the site as always 72 degrees and sunny.

Though Saturday started off sunny and somewhere around 72 degrees, as the ceremony’s speakers wrapped up, rain and heavy wind blew in, scattering pine needles throughout the sky and sending people into the camp’s auditorium and spacious dining hall. There, camp alumni resumed chatting with old acquaintances and talking about camp with other alumni from other time periods until the storm passed.

Keith Edwards — 621-5647

[email protected]

Twitter: @kedwardskj


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