Friday, July 23, 2010

We Haven't Had That Spirit Here Since 1969

Or thereabouts.

I got to take a trip back in time, or relive personal history, or just feel pretty damn old this week. Work took me to Wausau, Wisconsin for depositions. And, yes, I got several "oh lucky you" comments when I told folks where I was going. But it really was lucky for me.

Growing up in Michigan, my parents had the foresight to send my brother and me to Camp Mikquano in the town of Nelsonville (no kidding) Wisconsin. Nelsonville is about 15 miles east of Stevens Point, which in turn is about 35 miles south of . . . Wausau.

I didn't make it all the way back to Nelsonville, but did travel down to Stevens Point, where we spent some time as campers, and even more as counselors after the kids had gone to sleep.

The memories started even before getting to Stevens Point though. The initial jolt of nostalgia: Central Wisconsin Airport. After carting us around Lake Michigan from Southern Michigan to Nelsonville for two years, our Mom and Dad decided that Jeff and I could handle a plane trip on our own.

So for the next four years we boarded a plane at Reynolds Municipal Airport in Jackson, Michigan, and ended up eventually at CWA in the town of Mosinee, about halfway between Wausau and Stevens Point.

I flew into CWA this week and, no knock against the fine folks in Mosinee, it looks exactly the same as it did in the 1970's. This is the picture I took on my arrival Tuesday, not one from 1973.

Since I'd been so productive preparing for my depositions on the planes in, I decided to indulge my curiosity and take the 20 mile trip down to Stevens Point.

The last time I had been in the town was 1979, I think, after Jeff and I had ended our careers as counselors and went back to catch up with folks still at the camp and to show our hometown friends Michael and Brian the place they'd heard so much about. The details of the trip are best left to more discrete conversations, but suffice to say we jammed six weeks worth of central Wisconsin entertainment into one weekend. The highlight was a trip into Stevens Point, where we partook of the favorite local beer, Point.

Point Brewery was and is an anachronism -- small time, small town brewery that survived the onslaught of megabreweries like Miller, Old Style (still quite popular in Wisconsin, evidently), and of course Bud. It seems to have done a good job of repositioning itself as a craft brewer, offering up products like its "Whole Hog" high alcohol, six hop IPA which is very good. And, much like the airport, the brewery still looks like it did in the mid-70's, albeit with a fresh coat of paint.

After visiting the brewery again this week, followed by a quick trip to downtown Stevens Point, I hauled my rental car up to Wausau where I spent the next three days stuck in a conference room taking a deposition or stuck in my hotel room preparing for the next one. While Wausau is a pleasant town, the time for misty-eyed reminiscences was over.

So where is all of this headed, you may ask? I have no idea.

Nothing here about soccer, that's for sure. Not much about management, leadership, or decision-making either. But maybe a little something about the choices we make in an ever-changing world.

One of my biggest regrets as a parent is that our children never experienced the joy of attending a traditional summer camp. They've only been on a horse once in their lives, as far as I know. They've never shot a bow and arrow, and neither is a particularly good swimmer. They've never hunted for crayfish under rocks in a stream, pulled a bullhead or perch or sunfish off of a line, or spent a rainy day in a hot cabin trying to find some way to amuse themselves, having to rely on a board game, a card game, or a sing-along with a badly tuned piano.

They did not lack for educational or recreational opportunities, but everything is so regimented these days. It's a shame we can't give a little more space, let children and young adults figure out what to do and who they want to be by perhaps giving them a little more time to make the decision and a few more options to choose from. I think of the basketball and soccer camps that our son went to, and the French camp that our daughter is a staff member at now, and I think that's great, but can those kids tie a slip knot, bait a hook, or barrel race a horse? I bet not many have ever had the chance and I think a lot of them would have liked to have tried.

I don't think camp made me who I am, as much as it allowed me to believe that I could be whoever I wanted to be. Having the ability to make the choice, to find out what I liked and what I didn't, what I was good at and what I wasn't (I rarely darkened the door of the Arts and Crafts cabin), instead of running the next drill or reciting the next line was an awesome, powerful tool for an 11 year-old. And the chance as a counselor to help the next group of kids figure out what they liked and didn't was inspiring as well.

I've lost track of the kids that I went to camp with and the young men that I served as counselor with. But the fun we had together and the things we learned to do at Camp Mikquano will never be forgotten. It helped make me who I still want to be.

The Camp Mikquano counselors' softball team, 1977 (I think). I am kneeling on the left, my brother Jeff is on the right. Our friend Jeff Schmatz, the son of the camp owners (two of the most wonderful people that I have had the pleasure of being nurtured and mentored by in my life, Bob and Ruth Schmatz) is in the orange baseball hat over my shoulder. Note that at least four of us are wearing the team's official ball cap, a Point Beer hat.

Thanks to my brother Jeff and our friend Michael, who together indirectly suggested the title of this post in emails we shared about my trip.


  1. You've got your elbows on the table, Kevin Nelson! You've got your elbows on the table, Kevin Nelson! Seen you do it once before, now you've done it once again; you've got your elbows on the table, Kevin Nelson.

  2. So round the table you must go, you must go, you must go. Round the table you must go . . .