An Open Letter To YMCA Camp Jorn’s Board of Directors

Nestled in the woods of Manitowish Waters, WI exists a place I’ve always considered a home away from home. Camp Jorn holds a special place in my heart. I distinctly remember my first journey to the Northwoods. How it was the first time I’d ever been away from home for more than a few days. It was the summer of ’92. The summer that changed my young life forever. The moment I stepped off the “Lamers” bus, I breathed in the fresh air and savored the new scents, tasting the many rustic delicacies of my new surroundings. I wasn’t thinking of home or of the friends I’d left behind. They were too cool for camp, but no, not I. I was already contemplating the big beautiful blue sky with white puffs of cloud scattered here and there. It was all laid out as if it was just for us – for Camp Jorn especially. And then there was Rest Lake in all its rippling, subtle beauty.

As I sift through the many memories I amassed at camp, my heart skips a beat, but this time it’s for a very different – one I’ve been remiss to share until now. In hopes that you, the board, would be forthright and acknowledge not only a great leader who has served all of us in a tremendous capacity, but also a man who has changed numerous lives spanning just over two decades. You’ve remained silent on the matter, offering up nothing but broken hearts and shattered resolve. By now you must know that you’ve hurt so many who love Camp Jorn in the process of carrying out what appears to be an outright passive aggressive, hostile takeover.

My intent was to wait for your reasoning behind letting Dennis go before offering my thoughts on the matter. I wanted your reasoning to be concrete; born of genuine transparency and keeping in line with the traditions and culture Camp Jorn has thrived on since I was first introduced. I hesitated writing this letter in hopes that those who have poured out their hearts before me would be steadied with reassurance and be provided explicit honesty. However, those heartbeats are much louder now and you are unable to get away with simply discarding the multitude of thumps that now beat in unison. Do not dismiss us in like manner and further alienate those who have a passion for camp.

Recognize your impact on Camp Jorns financial success? We do. But even so, I scratch my head and wonder if some of the board members were not also campers turned staff members turned staunch supporters of the home of Kalijah – who faithfully looked out for us and our fearless leader year after year. We are all forever intimately connected to this place of beauty and none of us can ever forget being both a large and small part of camps preserved reputation.

While it is clearly understood that the writing of checks is pertinent in the grand scheme of keeping a camp or any useful entity operating efficiently. With no real emotion behind it other than what we can only assume to be the self-serving interests of pseudo philanthropists, how can I/we (collectively) not wonder what would prompt such blatant disregard for a man regarded by so many who love the very place you purport to be protecting the best interests of? This entire affair has been further justified by you, the board, by stating that the decision was made in the best interests of everyone, without explaining what exactly prompted such a resounding conclusion.

Why should you continue to be given the trust of your constituents? Because your constituents are not the campers, or the staff, or even the camp parents. Your constituents are the stakeholders, the owners, the financial contributors and donors. Is the reason you have no answers for those asking and others demanding because you are entrusted to the money changers, and not the actual difference makers? There is a trickle down effect and every action has a reaction. Your lack of transparency has prompted my and so many other letters, and deservedly so.

Among your duties as board, not only are you tasked with determining camp’s mission and laying the groundwork; setting strategic vision and plans of action, but you are also responsible for enhancing your public image and assessing your collective effectiveness. Because the things that truly contribute to my ongoing love affair with camp Jorn – has always been the people. Not how smooth the marble steps look and feel as I make my way down to the swimming area, not the carpeting beneath the kids feet as they scurry about their cabins preparing for the next days adventures. What makes camp truly special is the amazing staff, unique and unforgettable experiences, tradition, relationships that develop while there and after, the quality outdoor experiences and adventures, the familiarity, and last but not least the perfect location. All the bells and whistle resources that are currently available are second nature to the tradition of putting others before ourselves, and especially our pocketbooks as it relates to integrity and decency on a basic human level.

This rustic, protective home away from home is part of a tight knit community of special people that continue to impact each others lives, to this very day. That is the core of Camp Jorn. The letters you have received represent those values on display, without reserve. The values attained while attending as campers and for those of us that became staff later on – they are always within us whether we choose to acknowledge them or not. They are a powerful force that many of us have reflected on throughout the course of our lives. This rings true for me. So when I talk about Camp Jorn, I talk about stepping out of the regular summer camp stereotype that most people take from movies like Meatballs, and shaking it up with the fun adventure that new skill learning, diverse people integrating, different perspective gathering and sharing, with unity as the focal point is an integral life stepping stone for any parent wanting to instill within their children a firm sense of integrity. Just a few of the life skills gained from camping under the direction of a man who is by all means not perfect, because none of us are, but who has been perfect for Camp Jorn.

Creating a safe haven for kids with respect to natures beauty and authenticity; this is Camp Jorn. I savored my years at camp and now I look to the future and wonder if I’ll send my little girl, knowing the back handed camp politics that brew deep beneath the surface. Knowing full well that I don’t have to send her to a place where I feel her best interests are not taken to heart if they don’t align with the board or its handlers. Where, dare I say, the mighty dollar might rule over common decency which takes a back seat while drooling and offering no further explanation in the process.

I learned more than I could ever say with words from not only Dennis, but also the people he placed into the leadership roles. In doing so I met some of the finest people I will likely ever know.

I came away from camp with the understanding that the CJ motto is not only resigned to Camp Jorn. It is one of the most practical life lessons to live by. That God is first, the other person is second, and I am third. So I ask if this motto meant anything to any one of you when you decided to close the chapter on a man considered by many to be one of Camp Jorn’s many living legacies. Many of us have waited patiently, and to no avail, for the board to reveal the reasons why this happened. Never once imagining that he would be dismissed in such distasteful fashion. Seemingly cruel and unusual for someone who has touched countless lives; not with money, but with compassion and HEART, understanding and genuine concern.

I am disappointed by your decision. It could be considered cowardly, but that would be giving credit where it is no longer due. Your lack of response to my friends questions regarding Dennis’ dismissal leave me dismayed and distrusting of a board who lacks entirely the understanding of what makes camp such a special place. The community, the bonds; the comradery. At the end of the day, it is people over profit – and never at the expense of ones morals and character.

With towering trees surrounding the woods around camp, I was always able to reflect on the kindness of others and how a man with a good heart was able to affect change while remaining selfless. So when I hear of the callousness of his departure, and listen to the hushed rumors of the reasons why, I am no longer surprised. Reputation carries far and wide, and camp should have reflected a value for all of us to be mindful of the company we keep. I recognize a clear disconnect between the staff of a major contributor/corporation and the regular summer staff at camp. I pray this holds no bearing on the boards decision to effectively terminate Dennis. The camp politics that obviously exists has done nothing to put out the fire that currently rages.

And your silence fans the flames. If nothing else, in one fell swoop you’ve managed to bring many of us former campers and staff back together again. Thank you for that, at the very least. What will it take for you to ultimately do the right thing?

Your show of integrity with regard to this very special matter remains to be seen.





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