Gather 'round the (Virtual) Campfire:

Stories from Camp Read's Past

For generations, summer after summer, scouts have been making memories at Camp Read. In 2020, the pandemic may have forced regular activities to pause, but campers from years gone by are sharing their stories here in an effort to fill in the gap. Read on to get your fix of Camp Read hijinks until we can safely fill a parade ground once more!

 

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Greg Pitonza

September 13, 2020

The Office: Denis Pisanello

Camp Waubeeka is the Curtis S. Read Reservation’s ‘Patrol Cooking’ camp. Units attending Waubeeka cook for themselves with supplies obtained from the Commissary, three times a day.

 

Denis Pisanello was the Waubeeka Camp Director and I was the Office CIT in the summer of 1982. Although the days in the office were long, Mr P. let me go to staff swim daily and make the assignments for staff to eat meals with the various units in their sites (this could have been a good opportunity to make some extra money but I was unaware of the power of this assignment at the time). One week, in a break from routine, I was sent to the camp’s Central Office in Buckskin to answer phones and operate the switchboard to provide 24/7 coverage. Once a day I was allowed to ring all the phones in camp, open all the lines together and listen to the resulting chaos.

 

My days went from breakfast to 9:00 pm under the influence of Mr. P’s humor, occasional wrath, and method of "innovative" problem solving: On a day when part of the food sent from the commissary had been omitted from each patrol’s bin, Denis proposed the following solution: under his direction, I pressed the big red emergency button, activating the siren summoning a member of each unit report to the parade field. When the runners arrived from each site we gave out the needed food.

 

Waubeeka Characters

Sean O'Donnell and Chris “The Colonel” Simone were two other influential staff members at that time. They came looking for me one night when I was out of camp past curfew, got me back to camp and said nothing more about the incident. Sean and Chris shared a coveted tent in the Waubeeka staff area. Their tent was a grand palace with various amenities including a balcony out the back with a great view of Brant Lake. An additional tent platform salvaged from the dump covered with tarps was a fine place to sit and view the scene. [1] The view took a little imagination, but if you knew what to look for, especially at sunset, you could catch a glimpse of glimmering water. Tree growth since then blocks the view of the lake. 

 

Since I was on staff with a variety of characters (multiplied by several years) it is easy to mix up my recall of correctly credited details but Sean had an interesting wardrobe for campfire skits. One memorable outfit which he wore for his campfire skit, Dear Liza, was a modest red & white gingham dress. Of course this was in the days before political correctness. [2]

Chris liked to wear goggles and direct weekend traffic with ping pong paddles.

Ranger Bob Newton

At that time Camp Ranger Bob (who served as ranger for 27 years from 1967-1996) always had his dog, Pep,at his side. [3] My daily wake-up call was the rattle of the snow plow lift on his truck.  BTW, and contrary to rumors - Bob never had to wake me up with the sound of a shotgun blank. Time spent working alongside Ranger Bob has had a significant influence on my personal outlook and the life philosophies that have made me successful.

 

Ranger Bob’s unique personality, colorful language and unstinting work ethic and his demand for outstanding performance from those around him were an inspiration. He certainly inspired me as the following story shows -- 

 

At a critical time during my college years, it was Ranger Bob who made arrangements with Bob Towne [4] of Westchester-Putnam Council to send me to BSA National Camping School for Aquatics (although I was only 18) which led to a real life or death situation on the Sacandaga River. Part of my role during this summer, when the Summit and Waubeeka staffs were combined, was to instruct and certify a BSA LIfeguard to function as White Water Rafting Guide. My friend and tentmate at the time expected an easy-pass on the stringent requirements for this position and wasn’t taking the instruction seriously. He eventually did take the lessons earnestly and qualified for the Guide spot. During a rafting run on the Sacandaga that summer, a scout caught his foot while swinging on a rope 20 feet from shore. This required a ‘Go’ rescue by my friend/tentmate/student that saved the panicked scout. With the intensity of the situation, it was a rescue where lifesaving maneuvers had to be performed correctly for the safety of both my friend and the scout.  Following the rescue, the scout was taken to the hospital and treated for broken bones in his foot.  When the group returned to camp later in the evening we heard the accounts of the accident. Later I received a profound comment from my friend: his statement was essentially that what I required him to do to get BSA Lifeguard certified made the difference of keeping him safe and successfully making the rescue.  This was significant, real and meaningful feedback that led me to start thinking about teaching others as a career.

This was also a significant lesson for me - it turned me around and led me into teaching.

Endnotes

1.  The platform and the tarp over it were salvaged from the dump - it leaked badly in the rain.  The patio lights (little owls, maybe?) were something Simone found.   It was also close enough to the Range that shotgun pellets would occasionally rain down on it from the less skilled skeet shooters. [Note provided by Sean O’Donnell]

2.  Sean O’Donnell was a theater electrician in the off-season while in college, and grabbed a few bits and pieces that wardrobe or props were discarding.  There was a set of vaguely aviator-helmet-looking hats for Junior Birdmen, but Greg is referring to a modest red & white gingham dress, from Annie Get Your Gun, that was large enough to fit many of us, and got passed around for different characters, and handed down for a couple years at least after I’d stopped working there. [Sean O’Donnell provided these notes, too]

3.  Pepper was Ranger Bob's dog (a grey medium sized poodle).  He was nearly always by his side.

4.   Bob Towne was a professional from the council who enjoyed his time in camp and was a positive influence on the staff.  His management style was supportive of the staff, he dealt with problems calmly and effectively, and he had long term goals for the camp and staff.  He was tuned into the mood of the staff and took a proactive approach when problems emerged, and had a voice/tone that captured your attention and created a positive feeling. *It was noted at the reunion last year, that he is 90+ and would have been there if possible..

About the Scout:

Greg Pitonza, Ph.D. presently teaches Middle School Technology in the Canajoharie Central School District. In 2019, he was selected as winner of the Regional Teacher of the Year Award. Coronavirus and subsequent Camp Read’s closing prevented Greg Pitonza from assuming the new role of STEM Ranch Director at camp this summer (2020).

 

Greg was a member of Valhalla Troop 1. He earned Eagle Scout in 1982. He first went to Camp Read as a Waubeeka camper with his troop in 1979 and then joined staff in 1982. In addition to his ongoing roles at camp, Greg spent several years as Scoutmaster of Canajoharie, NY Troop 81.

© 2020 by the Camp Read Association.

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