By guest blogger and long time staff member, Shannon Thurston
With the years passing and the world in a frenzy, the need to cling to memories of warm summer days on a cool Maine lake is stronger than ever. To have a vivid recollection of sweet smelling grass, cool, clear lake water, voices raised in song, and the gentle whisper of the tall pine trees as the moon rises over the lake is a true gift; a gift that many Vegans cherish and never take for granted. It is true that time diminishes memory. It casts a sepia filter, chipping away at the minor details that were once so fresh. However, the more Vegans I speak to about their time at Camp Vega, the more I realized there is a kind of magic that makes Vega memories susceptible to these aging maladies.
As her 80th birthday approaches, Camp Vega has set the reunion festivities for the weekend of September 2nd, Labor Day Weekend. Vega is already gearing up for the onslaught of campers, counselors and staff that have graced the Vega soil through the last eight decades. Tens of thousands of feet have tread on the plotted land that is now host to a twenty stall equine center, two dance studios, two arts & crafts buildings, eleven regulation courts, four top of the line water ski boats, multiple sports fields, a theatre, a brand new field house and so much more.
The reunion will not only allow new and old Vegans alike to revisit the sights and sounds of their old stomping grounds, but will also allow them to partake in the activities and events they were once so fond of. Tennis, small crafts, waterski, biking/spin, ropes and swim will be available to attendees. Not only will activities be revisited but some of Vega’s most anticipated events like Sunset Circle, Apache Relay, and egg toss will be reborn.
I was lucky enough to chat with three Camp Vega alumnus, all from different generations. Jennifer Miller Kraft (1970-1984), Alyson Lee (1984-1995), and Olivia Pucci (2002-2013) were excited to share their Vega stories, each bringing their own memories of joy, nostalgia and longing for their summer home.
Who was your favorite counselor?
Jennifer: “Irv Hechler, Head of Swim. Incredible man who managed the most perfect balance of being stern and compassionate with his constant shower of camper kindness. A true father figure to three hundred girls!”
Alyson: “Shondell Brase in Sugarloaf 1986. She was the most rock star counselor for a bunch of fourteen year old adolescents. She had the perfect balance of cool, fun tough, smart, funny, athletic, and we just wanted to be her…she modeled behavior that helped us all develop confidence, a sense of self, and sense of humor and a love for camp…”
Olivia: “Josh Lurkins [department head of land sports] . My Tamary summer we took a golf class with Lurkins and he turned the entire thing into a Big Brother competition, our favorite show, rather than just teaching us the basic skills. We ended up playing “head of household” challenges and talking strategy. I still have the Big Brother poster that he made to track the competition in my room at home nine years later.”
What is your fondest memory at Vega?
Jennifer: “Knowing that I was able to give this overwhelmingly wonderful gift of Vega to my two daughters who one day will likely pass this gift on to their own daughters.”
Alyson: “Practicing our Tamary song in the lounge for birthday banquet talent show and realizing I was sitting amongst my best friends but we were growing up and out of camp. Bittersweet.”
Olivia: “I’ll never forget my final equestrian activity period during my last week of my Tamary summer. I was cantering around the ring, crying while Linda Courtiss watched. To make me feel better she yelled out “Yea Vega Staff 2011!”…I will always look back on that memory with a smile because although I had no idea, Linda knew that some of my best years at Vega were still to come. I also loved when my sister, Ava, and I performed together at the 2013 talent show…attending camp together, me as a counselor, her as a camper, brought us so much closer together.”
What does returning to Vega mean to you?
Jennifer: “…The vivid words of so many camp songs still stay in the forefront of my mind and how easily I can recall them. I think about the incredible friendships I’ve made and how many Vegans I can still call my closest friends. I think of the independence, strength, tolerance, and perseverance I have garnered in my adult life and how I attribute those valuable assets to my years at camp; how the directors and counselors encouraged girls to feel empowered to be successful at whatever they went after in those formative years. Each summer I visit, I walk the grounds of camp and feel the connection to my Vega sisters who have walked there before me and will walk there after me; how we are all connected in support of each other and always will be…there is no other place on this earth for me that is more extraordinary.”
Alyson: “Only a Vega girl can truly understand what it means to step foot on camp and smell the smells, hear the sounds and feel all the feels. It’s the most natural, peaceful yet exhilarating feeling almost too much to put into words, but thinking about it give me goosebumps!”
Olivia: “…Vega taught me independence, not to take myself too seriously, and to not take anything for granted. However, I did not fully comprehend how much Vega meant to me until I returned as a counselor. Coming out of the first few years of college I felt like I had lost myself. For the first time I was really experiencing the pressures of the “ordinary world” on my own and was struggling to keep up. The second we turned onto the dirt road in 2011 I knew I had made the right choice in going back to camp. I was home. I never truly feel at peace the way I do at Vega. When you’re there it feels like you’re a part of something bigger, a part of something special. It’s like everyone knows that they have stumbled upon this magical place that’s kept isolated and secret from the ordinary world, creating a bond like no other…now that my time at Vega is over, I have made a conscious effort to maintain that same attitude and instill the same values in my everyday life. I know I can no longer depend on my return to ‘refind’ myself each year, but I could not be more excited to get back out there and remember what that feeling is all about.”
When Camp Vega attaches to someone’s heart it is not easily uprooted. As the years pass the roots grow and it becomes a part of the soul completely. It is when being a part of Camp Vega is not simply going to camp every summer, it is going home. It is those smells that comfort even the sharpest of pains and the special places that restore even the worst of days. It is the people who make us better and bring out the best. It is the safety to grow with a nurturing hand and become the best of what the world needs. The Camp Vega reunion is more than just reunion. It is a family reunion and a homecoming.
We look forward to seeing you in September. Welcome home.
For more information about the Camp Vega reunion please visit our website at www.campvega.com/alumni