Camp Brooklyn Remembered (Bill Dixon)

June 9, 2016

     I was in Camp Brooklyn for eleven consecutive seasons.  I do not know if that's the record, but that has to push it.  To do that requires that you worked on staff during college, which would also mean that you had one of two or three senior staff positions.  All jobs paid poorly, but the program, administration and waterfront paid better,  So a few, like me, stayed around with jobs. Others with long tenure might be Phil Nelson, Dan Riviera, Marv Antonoff and John Cleary...at least those that I know.

    
     I joined the Boy Scouts in the spring of l944.  It was a very big deal to me!
    
     I joined 90 days before my 12th birthday, which was in July. Troop 240 had that as a rule...90 days.  I had been turned away earlier. The troop was in a Congregational Church on 18th Ave and East 5th street...one block from Ocean Parkway and across from P.S. 134.  The neighborhood was mostly Jewish and the troop at the Ocean Parkway Jewish Center attracted those boys. Troop 240 had a wide area of participation since there were not that many Christians around. One of those was our SPL, Dan Riviera, who dominated the activities of the troop.
     
     Joining was also a big deal for my Mother.  We were a single parent family and money was something you talked about, but never saw.  I was on the free milk list at P.S.134.  A scout uniform cost $12!!  Somehow, we got the money and off to Sears we went.  It was a block off Flatbush Avenue, near the Brooklyn Union Gas Company, where the Board of Review was held.  For $12 you got a big hat (great hat)  knickers, a shirt and a pair of long socks.   Oh yes, and a neckerchief with a metal holder that is now probably a collector's item.  The handbook was fifty cents extra. That handbook, as worn as it is, sits in my library as I write this.  I wore that uniform for a week after!!
     
     Then my patrol started talking about camp.  It was great just to listen. They were going third period.  Dan Riviera was the scoutmaster at Camp Oneida.  My patrol leader talked to my Mother.  Do not know how we did it, but she gave me $20 for two weeks at camp and $4 for transportation, which was the Erie Railroad to Tusten Station.  The Patrol all went down together to 105 Court Street to pay the money.  They had a little counter in the reception area.  That was the first time I saw the Cabin.  What a great store that was!
     
     Well, we had a great time at Camp Oneida in l944 and returned for two weeks in l945.  In l946, I followed the Scoutmaster (Jim Minor) to Pathfinder and that was the year I was inducted into the Order.  I tried to get a job in l947, but I was only 15, actually only 14 when I applied, so I returned to Pathfinder as SPL.  And what happened that year??  The  D3 name was stolen by a new Division!!  It should have been called D5 and we would have avoided all the confusion that followed.
     
     Since the D2 dining hall was gone, and a tiny little place it was to start, D1 took over all the camps, which resulted in a very fun, but very crowded, D1 dining hall.   The new D3 was made up of a few tent camps stolen from the real D3 and lean-twos carved into the side of a hill.  The main area had the romantic name "compound" and was gravel!  The walk up to the new Camps was following a water pipe.  I assume the location was selected because it made an easier walk to the lake and waterfront. The D1 walk was very steep but we were young and it worked.  Of course, no one ever saw a D1 waterfront staff person in the Dining Hall for breakfast and rarely for lunch. They came up at dinner for supplies.
     
     The worst...a patrol has the magical number of eight.  Eight works, and thirty-two works!!  But the shelters only held four...eight to a camp and troop.  D1 had eight-boy cabins and D2 and D4 had eight-boy tents and D3 had four-boy shelters.  A mistake.  Of course there was not a level spot in the camps to put a tent platform.
     
     In l948 for reasons I do not know (Bob Broadwell had a reason) the staff of D1 was changed significantly.  Phil Nelson went to D4 and Dan Riviera went to D1.  Mostly new staff was hired, and then I got my first staff job as an Ass't SM.  It was great.  I was in Kennebec and Tim Laurencelle was Scoutmaster.  You could not find a nicer person than Tim and you could not find a nicer or better staff (although l952 and 53 was also very good).  I met Dick Weidman for the first time and got to know Marv Antonoff much better and we have stayed, along with Dan Riviera, life-long friends.  Also met Lenny Marcus who was another Ass't SM and who was in Delaware.       Kennebec had some great campers, and many later became staff like Marty Stein, Shelly Weil, Neil Spielholtz, Stan Weinstein, etc..  My troop, 240, always followed the senior staff guys, and they came to DI also.  What was great about scouting was: no one cared that it was a Kosher dining hall, etc.  The season was so successful, and we had so many kids who wanted to stay over that I was made a Scoutmaster (25 dollar bonus) and given a structure as you come into the camp.  I have no idea what the original use but it was large and I had a camp of 16 boys.  I named it Ticonderoga after the Dixon pencils. Years later heard people still calling that building by the same name.
     
     But the real highlight was our Nature Director Eric Reeber!  Eric was a funny guy (not Ha Ha).  Dick Weidman, who was Ass't Campcraft to Marv Antonoff devoted the entire  season to bugging Eric.  It was not hard. They lived on the side of the ball-field and Eric soon found his glasses regularly disappearing. urt the highlight, and there is no way I can explain this in words, was Dick eidman in the Dining Hall doing an imitation of Eric Reeber giving artificial respiration to a salamander. And I can hear today the high pitched voice of Eric yelling "Weidman!!!"  It was a fun season.  It might have been too much fun since Broadwell had me go back to D1 as a scoutmaster. but Dick and Marv were sent to D2 and D3 in order to split us up ( I guess).  Another great season and another great staff at D1.  I had Kennebec and my Ass't was Marty Stein.  Marty was young (maybe 15) but he was tall with that deep voice, but most important he was my friend who lived across the street from me in Brooklyn.  Tim was back, Eric was back, Lenny was also a SM, as was a real nice guy named Dick Agar. Brian Kandell was campcraft, I think.  Harvey Smith had hired Frank Switokes for administration and a little guy we called "Might Mouse" for program.  Mighty Mouse had to leave early, and Harvey appointed me Program Director for the 4th period.  As would be like Harvey...no extra pay.  But I enjoyed my two weeks of power and the best part:  I got to know Harvey and Frank much better. Harvey died in the late 80's and I have no idea what happened to Frank. That year, Dan Riviera had a knee operation and did not work at TMR. but spent a number of weeks working at Nick Dale's.
     
     All of this brings me to l950 and D 3.  Dan Riviera was appointed the Program Director.  Of course, he hired Marv, Dick and me.  I really liked D1 but Dan was such a friend and then there would be Marv and Dick.  I talked Marty Stein into coming with me as well although that was not his first choice. I really did not know many of the people there.
     
     I recall the nature man although not by name. This guy had made the front page of the Brooklyn Eagle. He had a Boa and a few diamondbacks in his apartment in Bay Ridge.  He got to camp late since he was attending a National Jamboree being held that year. He was the snake expert! The two of us took a hike one day and we went up a mountain and just like the Handbook said, he found a rattler in the sun on the rocks.  He put it in a little bag.  I was impressed!  Weidman did not fool around with this guy.  Weidman was a Scoutmaster as was I and we were up on that damn hill.  I do not recall even the name of the Camp. Dick was on one side and another new friend to me and a really good guy was on the other side, George Riordian.
     
     George was the chapter chief. This was also a new chapter to me. The general guidelines were that the summer chapter chief was a member of that chapter as inducted or formally became one. It usually was someone with a scoutmaster or higher summer job. The following year when I was in D2 (another story) I was the Chapter Chief. It was considered by all of us a pretty important position. As the chapter was run independent of the camp administration but by definition integrated into the camp life in a very big way.  George ran a great meeting. I was impressed.  Remember we were still black-balling in spite of votes and that was a sensitive issue which the Chapter Chief had final say.  About the third period we had the tap-outs on the ball field (the one that really belonged to D2).  I was not involved in anything myself other then attending the meetings and dinners.
 
     That was l950. Last September Dan, Marv, Dick and I were together at the reunion (thank you Art)  at TMR. That was the first time the four of us were together since l950...fifty years. We went to D3. It looked like the bulldozer had just left yesterday.

 

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