Q: How did you become a camp director?
A: My grandfather started a program for wayward boys in 1934—it was for kids who were facing juvenile hall—and he took them to the Ft. Tejon Pass area with his sister and taught them skills that he felt would be valuable. He had gone to Berkeley and he thought that a person should be well-rounded, that they should know how to do everything from build a house to quote Tennyson.
Then they moved the camp to the southern Sierras in a very remote location. My grandfather met a girl who was a Campfire Girls director and they fell in love and got married. Then they turned it into a co-ed summer program.
The program was established permanently in 1942. My parents took over in 1979 and ran it through 2009. In 2005 I started working for them and I bought it in 2010.
I had gone to college and then into teaching but I realized that I like kids better when we’re all outside.
Q: Does anyone else in your family still work at the camp?
A: My sister is one of the assistant directors. And my parents are here, though they are semi-retired.
Q: How many kids come to camp each summer?
A: We run two weeks sessions, around 80 kids per session. Our program’s goal is to get kids on our self-sustaining ranch and have everyone contribute. The kids and staff and my family have built everything here. The lake was built with bulldozers and shovels and dynamite.
Campers built the sleeping areas, the stage, the crafts barn and now they can be like, “Hey, I built that!” We give people more sense of ownership and we do it in a fun way.
Everybody has their own job that they do for 20 minutes per day. Some jobs start at 6:30, before breakfast, like milking cows, collecting eggs, or working in the garden. Little boys like to catch gophers in the garden.
Then there’s the bell at 7:15 and the kids straighten up. Then we blow the bugle and the Pony Express comes in and drops a bag of mail.
Q: Is it a real bugle? And who is riding the pony?
A: It is a real bugle and the pony is ridden by advanced kids who have taken the riding test. Those kids run cattle with me.
Then we have different activities all over the place, like hiking and archery and swimming.
Q: What is the camp itself like?
A: We have 500 acres, and we have chickens, pigs, and cattle.We live simply. There’s no electricity for the kids and everyone sleeps outside. Everyone takes short showers and we have an outdoor oven.
Q: They sleep outside?
A: It’s a sleeping porch with a roof but the walls are open.
Every evening we have singing time and then the quiet bell rings. My dad walks around then and sings them to sleep.
Q: What kind of songs?
A: Like Harry Chapin and John Denver and a lot of older folk songs.
Q: How old are the kids who come?
A: The ages are 6 to 16. And we have a leadership program for teenagers 15 to 17.
Q: Have you seen Wet Hot American Summer?
A: My staff loves it! But those kind of movies are horrible because they make fun of camp. We’re about helping kids be something greater than they are. And I’m a little bit heartbroken because to my family it’s sacred, and I feel like, “You’re doing a shitty job of representing something kids need!”
Kids need to take risks, and I think we do a nice job of taking a kid outside their comfort zone but doing it in a way that’s supported. There’s just something about camp that lets the kids be their best selves.
You know, the hard part about describing camp is that it sounds like you’re in a cult or you’re crazy.
Q: It sounds really nice. What kinds of kids come to the camp?
A: We get all kinds of kids. We get kids from LA, from San Diego, from Panama, from Iceland… All of them are nice. The peer pressure here is to be nice.
And regardless of someone’s socioeconomic status, these days most kids are at risk. We’re taking them out of the situation where being a jerk is admired. And we’re doing in a way that’s not cheesy. Yes, we sing Kumbaya, but our version rocks.
Q: Is there a lot of singing at camp?
A: We have an impromptu music session after dinner. My whole family is very musical. I don’t play an instrument but I sing some and I can carry a tune pretty well. My sister plays piano and my dad plays guitar. My grandpa used to play accordion, though he passed away a few years ago.
And we have great talent shows. Our talent shows are where everyone should perform because our audience is the best.
Q: How is the food there?
A: I love our food. There are lots of casseroles, and vegetarian options. We like barbecuing—we have cookouts—but mostly we feed people what they want to eat. You’ll never find chicken nuggets here.
Q: Are there perks to your job?
A: People say things to me like, “You get the rest of the year off.” But I have to do marketing, recruiting, and retention. We’re part of the American Camping Association. We try to stay on top of current standards. Camping is a full-time job if it’s this kind of operation.
Q: Are you going to do this the rest of your life?
A: I think it’s what I do best and it’s definitely my favorite thing. I love myself when I’m at camp. I’m fond of the person I am. And it’s nice to do something that’s bigger than myself.