Winadu Dreams

The future blogger Jeff Slater at Camp Winadu in Pittsfield, Massachusetts in 1962

From 1961-1969, for eight weeks each summer, I spent my formative years at sleep- away camp. Nestled in the Berkshire Mountains of Massachusetts, Camp Winadu was truly a haven for boys. The camp got its name from three men who founded the all-Jewish summer camp: Doc Winick, Mac Nadelson and Irv Dube.  Camp filled me with many memories that are as vivid today as they were almost 50 years ago helping to shape who I am today.

My cousins Michael and Mark Winick, Aunt Lolly and me.
Since my father was a camper as was my Uncle Robbie, Cousins Michael and Mark and my brother Mitch, it was truly a family affair. 

We all had a shared experience of a place to go that allowed each of us to excel and develop strong and lasting friendships. In our own ways, this beautiful place along Lake Onota was a chance for us to grow up, expand our potential and enjoy an idyllic bucolic setting away from the regular routine of life in the suburbs.

The ritual of camp is so ingrained in my personal life experiences that it’s hard to isolate just a few stories to tell. But three come to mind:

Jack, Jeff and Bea in 1967

Camp Winadu 1961

Sportsmanship- I was a good athlete as a child but I think Camp Winadu instilled in me a positive competitive attitude that made me even better. My arch rival in all things sports related was Scott Rogers who competed with me for #1 status in every event from baseball, basketball and running. Some years I would win top honors as the group’s All Around Athlete and others he would take the prize. But our competition was also supportive where we could share in each others victories and learn from our own defeats. What resonates with me most through the lens of all those years isn’t the competition but the way we were taught to compete never losing sight of the bigger picture. 

Bill Spiegel inspired thousands of boys to appreciate the game not the victory
"It is not whether you win or lose, its how you played the game"

Bill Spiegel one of my early mentors

The Camp Director, Bill Spiegel, used to say over and over, “it is not if you win or lose but how you play the game.” This seemingly trivial comment has stuck with me over the years as a calling in everything I do. Yes, I’m competitive as the next person but winning isn’t everything…in fact; it is often a weak second place to personal integrity and the way you play that game. Bill was somewhere between a spiritual leader like the Dalai Lama and an incredible winning coach like Phil Jackson.  Bill Spiegel was an older man, which to a 9 year old could have meant he was 57 years old. (my current age). I distinctly remember him telling us that life is more than keeping score and Bill reinforced that message in the powerful way he talked about sportsmanship and winning all in the same breath. He wasn’t ever really talking about sports- he was really talking about lessons for the rest of our lives.

Friendship- There was such a collection of characters that inhabited this special place that it’s hard to know where to begin. Since most of my bunk mates were at camp for most of the same years as me, their names and faces are ever present: Jay Cohen, Joel Rosen, Morris Shabot, Eddie Friedman, Lenny Thylan and my buddy from Springfield Jamie Farber. And our counselors like Eddie Cedars were like actors from Guys and Dolls- street smart with just enough attitude to keep things interesting. 

Camp Winadu 1962

Note the finger our counselor was giving us by Jamie Farber ear

Beyond the bunk, there was Robert  ‘Sey Hey’ Shindler, Scott Saft, Glen Ellenbogen, Harold Cohen, Steve Koeningsberg, Gary Jacobs, Eric Wachtel, Maurice Pogoda, David Winick, Joel Etra and Gary Rodbell to name a few. And of course we had the legends like Doc Folb who was your classic country doctor. I haven't a clue where he got his medical degree or if he was really an actor who played Doc for all the boys. A trip to the infirmary was an adventure unto itself. There was Bill Fyfe the head counselor and an all star cast of college-age athletes, actors and card players who took care of the campers. 

A prized possession in the sixties
The list of boys names could goes on. I had many friends and I would flip back and forth between my baseball friends or my baseball card flipping friends. I think I may have spent 100 hours each summer throwing baseball cards against the inside of our bunk…a sport that involved “knocksy down” and “setsys up”. 

Keep in mind we were 9 and 10 year old boys and this was pre-Ninetendo, pre-Walkman, pre-Internet years. We actually played with physical things like baseball cards, bats, balls and Frisbees. Evenings after dinner were filled
 with stoop ball.

Flipping baseball cards on a hot summer day
"Playing baseball, gee that's better, mudda fadda kindly disregard this letter" From Allen Sherman's classic hit

I was friends with a wide collection of smart, talented and challenging boys who all just wanted to have fun. Most of the boys were from the greater NY area with a heavy dose from Long Island.  They all came to camp to play sports, taunt the counselors and to learn some incredibly valuable life lessons.  I would be shocked if most of these kids today don’t share many of these same strong feelings that camp implanted in their hearts. Of course in our later years at camp, our antics became more irreverent as we moved toward our teenage years. See for example the salami incident from bunk C.

Color war breaks out and my cousin was captain of the white team
Heros- Camp Winadu was truly a place to find role models. My first was my older cousin Mark Winick who was the consummate athlete and leader. He was like the pied piper with a wide group of friends who all wanted to follow him. Mark was closer in age to me than my Uncle Robbie and older cousin Michael. I would watch Mark lifting weights, playing strange games like lacrosse or practicing kicking field goals for hours on end. I remember him having a motorcycle at camp when he was a counselor and I always looked up to him.
The penultimate moment came when on Friday August 23, 1963, he was named the captain of the white team versus Mickey Jacobs as captain of the blue team. Color War was a big deal and everything led up to this exciting end of camp activity. Although I was often the lieutenant for my age group, I had a role model in Mark that I wanted to follow when I was 9 and he was 17.

Playing Doom the Balloon at the Winadu circus- Llama in
the Hartford sweatshirt
There were other role models too. These were the cool guys- the guys who the girls liked most when we would have our socials (dances) with our sister camp Allegro. Guys like Matt (can’t remember his last name) and David Winick who I always thought had a certain coolness about them. And Paul Lehrer, AKA Llama, who was the “Kramer” of the group who made everyone laugh at his antics and was an aspiring role model since everyone liked him. 

We awoke each morning with the sound of the bugle being played over the loud speakers. Revile would wake us up and all throughout the day, we went from activity to activity to these calls. From flag raising, to breakfast, inspection to milk call; we ran from one thing to another at the sound of a bugle. To this day, I can’t hear any bugler playing without wanting to run to my next event. Some nights when I have trouble sleeping, I wish I could hear taps being played on a loud speaker just to ease me into my dreams.

Another color war 

From the knocks and boasts section of the bugle in 1962
The photographs and memorabilia from my albums are triggers for reminding me of these days gone by. The Winadu Bugle, the newsletter that was distributed at camp is filled with the sights and smells of these reflections. I spent so many hours honing my athletic skills and building enduring friendships that these memories reverberate within. In our 24/7 chaotic lives with gadgets galore to connect us to the world, those hot and humid summers were a perfect place to live and enjoy life through lasting personal connections.  Camp Winadu was a place to be- a state of mind; a rest stop on the way to the next part of our lives. 

Winadu dreams. I’m ready to return. 

Carefree summer days at Camp Winadu 

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