By Clifton Lamar Jones
Special to the Mountain News-WA
The following was written after reading Bruce Smith’s accounting of his scouting history. After reading his article I was so taken back with his heartfelt words of Camp Wauwepex and my Dad, I thought I should write what it was like to actually live in that place where he felt so comfortable as a child and young man. Yes, Bruce, I can relate to many of your stories. While we had different experiences, I think we both left a piece of our heart and soul on that piece of land called Wauwepex.
“Life in a Boy Scout Camp” is an accounting of the life of Clifton Lamar Jones, in my own words as I remember it. There may be some variations in accuracy due to age but as I have always said, “it is what it is.”
Born in Rockville Center the son of Ruth Arey Wyckoff Jones and Johnnie Lamar Jones, my parents. I was told of first living in Freeport, Long Island, then moving to 2407 Atlantic Blvd. in Wantagh, which I remember. And a final childhood move to Wading River, Long Island to live at Camp Wauwepex, owned by Nassau County Council BSA, where Dad took the position as camp ranger on December 15, 1960, in a blizzard. The remainder of my childhood would be spent on this 640-acre parcel of land with an 83-acre freshwater lake called Deep Pond.
When I was 13 years-old, Dad left his job at the Joseph H. Gray Pontiac-Cadillac dealership in Freeport to move us to Camp Wauwepex. As I was told later in life, he wanted something more for his boys; so, he moved his family to the camp. At first, I just remained at the house and played in the woods surrounding the ranger’s home.
The first winter at Wauwepex was awesome, there were snowstorm after snowstorm, the snow was piled up on the sides of the roads so high you could touch the telephone cables. My aunt had bought my brother and I new Flexible Flyer sleds for Christmas that year and we went sleigh riding every opportunity we could. Walking to the top of Indian Hill and sledding down. We could actually sled from what was known at the time as Times Square, all the way down through the parade grounds and down between the seats of the Buckskin Amphitheater and out on to the lake. When the lake was frozen enough to skate on, we went ice skating until the sun went down. As I got older, Dad would send me down to the lake to measure the ice by drilling a hole with a brace and bit and then measuring the thickness in several places.
There was the transition to a new school, which I didn’t enjoy much as I always had visual difficulties and was laughed at due to my slow reading ability. I struggled with dyslexia and other problems, so schoolwork was a major chore. But somehow, I survived. It would be more than 40 years later that I would actually obtain my college degree from DePaul University in Chicago.
As time went on, I was allowed to go into camp with my Dad and help him with the many duties he had taken on. There was much to do to maintain the 640-acre property. There were the early spring chores: repairing roads after the spring thaw, turning on campsite water and repairing broken water lines, getting the three dining halls ready for summer camp and so on. It was all a learning experience for me.
As I got older, I was able to work with some of the older scouters who brought their talents and professions to the camp on work weekends. There was a scouter Mr. Al Roth, who worked for Breyer’s Ice Cream as a refrigeration technician, who taught me how to maintain the walk-in refrigeration. There was Mr. Richard Franz, Mr. Stanly Dubreski and Mr. Dick Horn who taught me how to maintain the three-digit dial telephone system at the camp, a skill I used years later when I managed the telecommunication systems in seven buildings for the Port Jefferson School District my long term employer. I have one share of Wauwepex Telephone Company Stock. There was Mr. Gus Katz who taught me plumbing skills, there was a gentleman who worked at Grumman Aviation who’s name escapes me, who did gold leaf on the jet planes, who taught me how to gold leaf as he lettered the camp trucks. Mr. Sal Leman, an electrical inspector for New York City, taught me electrical skills and so many more that I can’t remember. Yes, I learned many trades that helped me later in life, as my background was well-rounded before entering the adult workforce.
Time never stops, and as I grew older, I learned to respect those who taught me so much. At the age of 15 I joined the camp staff at Wauwepex, in 1962. It was the year that they closed the Pioneer Dining Hall for the 4th period due to declining enrollment. Well, that gave me mixed feelings on life as they laid off some of the camp staff. What was difficult was that they had hired me and the camp director’s son for the second half of summer camp but when the layoff came, they kept both of us on. I went to my Dad and said “this isn’t right,” we should go first, but he said that there was a reason that he couldn’t tell me, and he never did. So, I finished out the summer and joined the camp staff the following year, and worked under my Dad in the maintenance department, and remained in that department for several years after that, until I graduated high school and needed to get a permanent job.
Oh, then there was the time the summer pre-camp staff said they were going to teach me how to drive the stick shift pickup. I had mastered the Ford tractor several years before plowing snow to keep the camp roads open in case of fire. I had just gotten my junior license in the spring, and Dad had said he would teach me how to drive. Well, I told the staff that Dad said he would teach me how to drive and I was going to wait. But they persisted and I began to drive the pickup, learning how to use the clutch. Well, when Dad finally got around to teach me, I was too smooth with that clutch, and he said, “who taught you how to drive the truck?” Not to tell a lie, I told him that the pre-camp staff did, but, “please Dad don’t reprimand them, I am just as guilty, as I wanted to learn.”
Time marched on and as I grew, I was able to help Dad more and more each year. Since my major in high school was vocational carpentry, I was able to work on many of the building projects as they came up. I recall when my Dad proposed the program shelter near the Frontier Dining Hall (Hickox Hall) it was to be dedicated to the previous ranger and past scoutmaster of Troop 95 of Wantagh, Mr. Robert T. Geary. When the project started, Dad had to pour the concrete slab in preparation for building the structure. He then let me build as much of it as I could, as Bob Geary and my Dad were very close friends, it was like I was building a memorial for my Uncle Bob.
There were many projects like that, the new Kniffen Cabin which replaced the one that burned down several years’ prior. There were several shower houses and several more program shelters that I had a hand in constructing.
Oh yeah, there was the drain that had to be installed in front of the dishwasher in Hayden Hall. I spent my winter recess, yes, February, chopping concrete and digging a trench in preparation for the local plumber to put in the new drains. Boy was it cold!!
There was plenty of time to roam the woods, smell the pine trees and enjoy the great outdoors. There was plenty of trees to take a leak should the need arise. We called it soil and water conservation, LOL. There were many swims in the lake, even a couple of soap dips. There were nights of sleeping under the stars on the beach at Frontier Waterfront and so on.
Dad let my brother and I build a go-cart; well, Wally and I drove that thing up and down the camp roads every time we got the chance.
It wasn’t all fun though; we did have to play by the rules when camp was in session from 3 pm on Friday evening to 3 pm on Sunday or til the last troop left, and the gate was locked. Of course, there were the nine weeks of summer camp that the rules applied to us as well. But the rest of the time, Katie bar the door, we were free to do whatever we wanted. There were even trips to the rifle range for target practice.
One thing you learn as an adult is that time never stops. In my early twenties I met a girl who planned to go to nursing school upstate and we dated that summer and when she left for school our relationship became a long distance one. We finally got serious and engaged. At that point I learned, like Bruce, what a virgin was. The summer was warm, the sky was clear, and love is a beautiful thing. There were many places to learn what to do, oop’s don’t know if I should say that, oh well it is true. Linda came to love Wauwepex almost as much as me, so when I proposed the idea of getting married in the Protestant Chapel in the camp, she loved the idea and readily agreed. As we proceeded with wedding plans, I had to ask Dad if he thought the council would allow it and he had to go to the office and ask his boss. It would have to be approved by the camping committee and council scout executive before it could happen. While it sounded like it would be approved there was one little detail that might be a problem. There is no alcohol allowed in camp. Hmm, how is that going to work? A dry wedding, I don’t think so. So, off Dad went to the camping committee meeting to get permission. The plan was to get married on Mother’s Day weekend. The Director of Camping brought the proposal to the table, and it was unanimously approved. Now for the funny part – the discussion of having alcohol on property. Dad had said that we wanted all the scouters that I grew up with to attend, so they pondered the idea and one of them said “a dry wedding, we won’t be able to have a drink”, hence the alcohol was approved. At that point, the camping committee decided to close camp for that weekend.
The wedding was held in the Protestant Chapel and our reception was held in Hayden Hall, the Indian Division dining hall. My brother and a good friend Mr. Don Akerman catered the wedding, and a good time was had by all.
That summer my wife became the camp nurse, and we lived in the health lodge, now the Grace building, which was the original ranger’s home for Burt Grace, the ranger and his family. She was to be camp nurse again, a few years later. While we didn’t plan to have children right away, our son Clifton Jr. was born in February of our first year of marriage. That spring our son was christened in the Protestant Chapel with water taken from the lake Deep Pond.
I continued to support my Dad until his retirement, and later my brother Wally who took over after Dad retired. Unfortunately, situations did not let me spend as much time with my brother as I would have liked, life just got in the way.
So, I had a childhood that would be a dream for any child. There is so many more stories that I could tell, and maybe there will be a series of accounting of my childhood at Camp Wauwepex.
I must close with the following: to all those scouters who shared their valuable skills with me, thank you. To my Dad, thank you for moving us to camp, you knew what you were doing. If I only acquire an eighth of your understanding, wisdom, and love for the camp I would be satisfied. It was a wonderful life. I only wish I realized it much sooner in life than I did.
Yes, I left my heart and soul on those 640 acres many years ago. A life I will never forget, and I am totally indebted to my Mom and Dad, and the Nassau County BSA for giving me the opportunity of a lifetime. Thank you.
Pictures of Camp Wauwepex
Editor’s Note: The above photo and those that follow are provided by Bill Cotter, unless otherwise noted.
Editor’s Note: Camp Wauwepex is such a special place in so many hearts that a group has been formed to hold those memories dear: The Wauwepex Society. Picture provided by Philip Calabria.
Editor’s Note: Every summer, Wauwepex would issue a new “patch,'” commemorating that year. Camp Wauwepex closed to regular summer camping in 1975 due to declining enrollment in Boy Scouts in Nassau County, New York. The camp had been in active use since 1922 and the land needed “a rest,” as one Scout official told the Mountain News in 2018. In addition, the Nassau County Council has purchased a new camp in the Catskills Mountains – Onteora Scout Reservation – which is now its main camping facility. However, Wauwepex is still used on weekends during the fall, winter, and spring for local troops.
Editor’s Note: This picture of Deep Pond is taken from the southern shore, aka, Indian Waterfront. Looking north to Frontier Waterfront. Pioneer Waterfront was off to the left, and was active through the mid-1960s, closing as Cliff has described due to declining enrollment. Picture provided by Cliff Jones.
Editor’s Note: Again, this picture is of Deep Pond from the southern, Indian Waterfront perspective. Picture provided by Cliff Jones.
Thank you, Cliff! I remember Dick Horn very well – he taught me how to throw a wrench up into the air so that your Dad could easily catch while he was clinging to a telephone pole via his spikes. The trick,a s Dick showed me, was to hold the wrench flat in my palm, balance the center of gravity, and toss it up straight in one motion. I think of Dick every time I have to toss someone a tool. That’s 50 years of memory!
And someone else had a “Junior License.” That was an oddity for those of us who grew up on Long Island. It was a special designation for 15 and 16 year- olds who didn’t qualify for a regular NYS drivers license, but had access to a vehicle and private property to drive upon. Like you, I learned how to drive stick-shift on the camp trucks and was able to drive in camp with a Junior License, but I was not able to drive on the outside, public roads. That was my claim to fame at the first camp staff banquet, when my “place mat” joked about how I couldn’t drive “regular.”
Funny, Suffolk County Jr license allowed us to drive during daylight hours like to and from school.but after dark we had to have a licensed driver in the car with us. I think it was because of all the farms at the time. I recall my dad telling me years later that one of the fireman followed me to work every day and told him what a good driver I was. So, you never knew who was watching you. Somethings never change, only in today’s world it is at the speed of light LOL
Cliff was it your father or grandfather that had a BAD encounter with a fire engine in Wading River?
Editor’s Note: Johnnie Jones’ friend, Robert T. Geary, was the CW Ranger who died in a Wading River Fire Department accident. Circa July 4, 1960. Johnnie became CW Ranger in December 1960, and remained so until 1980, when his son, Wally, took over.
Whoa. I don’t remember that!
Sorry, Bruce set me straight. I was referring to Bob Geary who was a great man as was Johnny Jones. I will crawl back into my cave.
Thank you Cliff for the memories! I attended Camp Wauwepex as a younger scout in the early 60’s and then worked in Indian Dining Hall (Summers of 1969 & 1970) as dishwasher and then food handler/cook (the cooks originally hired were fired after 1 week due to drug use) with John Scarpato (In the 1970 staff photo…John and I are in kitchen whites in the top row, far left). I learned to drive the old “bread truck” that was used to move food from the commissary to the dining hall. I remember you, Wally and your father fondly…especially how hard you guys worked to maintain the camp. Again…thank you for sharing your memories and I too have left a large piece of my heart at Camp Wauwepex! Cheers! Tim Holmes
Hi Tim! I don’t know if you remember me but I worked with you in the kitchen at CW. I believe I was there in 69 and 70 also as a dishwasher and food handler. I remember you well and your many stories bring back many fond and funny memories.
I grew up in Garden City and along with Bruce Smith, was a member of Troop 166. In the 1970 photo I’m in the front row, fifth from right. I well remember the whole crew, Gene Thomas, Don Chester, Gene Thomas, Jeff Cramer, yourself, John Scarpato and Rob (I think), Joyner. Ironically, I have been married to Jeff Cramer’s sister since 1979. Sadly, Jeff passed away from cancer in 2008. I believe I saw John Scarpato for the last time in 1977, shortly before he died. He had come to visit me at my parents home in Garden City and we went out that evening for some drinks. I remember learning later that summer that he had been killed and was so sad to hear this news. John was a very sweet and soulful guy and I always enjoyed being around him.
I have many memories of you Tim, including an indelible one when I think we were both food handlers (probably 1970). We were in the “potato room” , at least that’s what I called it, I distinctly remember listening to the Guess Who doing some of their hits as we were loading potatoes into the large automated peeler and singing along to “No Sugar Tonight”, “American Woman” and “No Time”. If I remember correctly, you had supplied the record or 8-track tape. Just one of those little moments I’ve never forgotten!
I think I bumped into you once when you were working in Roosevelt Field too…Long time ago and some memories are a bit hazy! Anyway, I moved from Long Island to New Hampshire in 1988 and then to Colorado in 2005, where we still live. I’ve loved the mountains and skiing out here and was a volunteer with the National Ski Patrol at Beaver Creek ski resort for nine years. We will be relocating to northeast Florida later this year. I hope you’re doing well Tim and I just stumbled on this wonderful memoir of Camp Wauwepex by Bruce Smith. Like everyone else that has written, it was an absolutely amazing time and place and I have so many fantastic memories of the lake, the camp itself and all the great people!
JIM!!!! Yes! I remember you!! 👍😎 Those were very good times! Yes…I still have that Guess Who album and others from that summer…believe it or not! I am a pack rat!! 😊 I am not a cold weather person…so after finishing my undergrad degree in Rochester New York…3-winters were enough for me…I went to grad school at the Univ. of Georgia, Athens…lived in GA for 9-years and then took a job with Burroughs Wellcome pharmaceuticals in North Carolina in 1985 as a synthetic organic chemist and have been here ever since. Changed companies several times after Burroughs Wellcome was bought by Glaxo…but I still live in the Raleigh, NC area. Since 1998 I have been a clinical supplies manager managing the medications and supplies for clinical trials globally. Still doing it. One of years I will actually retire. 🤣🤣🤣 Yes…we did see each other when I worked at Herman’s World of Sporting Goods, Hunting & Fishing, at Roosevelt Field. Great memory you have!
Yes to the potato room! That sharp stone lined “washing machine” looking contraption we dumped the potato’s in to peel them…as long as we didn’t forget them and have them come out VERY TINY!!! Did that once…😏…got chewed out by cook Val Edwards!
Sorry to hear of Jeff’s passing…he was a crazy but great guy! We hid in the truck of his big old car to sneak into the drive-in movie that is “Barbarella” with Jane Fonda as we were too young to get in as it was rated 18+. 🤣
John Scarpato…after CW we would see each other and hang out about every 6-months or so. After I went to Rochester it was about once a year. Right after I graduated in 1977 I went home and went to see John before I left for Georgia…he had died 2-weeks earlier. His brother Jimmy told me and I was devastated! So sad.
I went back to the Indian Dining Hall late 1970’s (?) and went to the food handlers tent platform, opened the “hatch” in the floor and found a six pack of beer under the boards still…I put it back for old times sake. 😊
Thank you so much for reaching out to me and wish you all the best in your move to North Florida…it will be a big change from Colorado!!
Tim, so great to reconnect with you and am delighted to hear you still have that Guess Who album!! I finally sold my record collection around a year ago after dragging them on several cross country moves and another one coming up…Most of them were pretty trashed anyway after too many keg parties in college.🤠 I was interested to learn that you were at RIT in the mid-late 70s. I was just north of you at SUNY Brockport probably around the same time 1975-1977, except unlike you I didn’t get a degree in real science…I majored in beer drinking and lacrosse. Through some miracle I did manage to graduate with a bachelors degree in political science. I got over to Rochester a few times…We played at RIT in lacrosse once or twice and I saw a couple of legendary Grateful Dead shows at the Rochester War Memorial.
It sounds like you’ve had a very successful career as a scientist Tim. I think those years as a dishwasher and food handler at Wauwepex prepared you well for success! I remember you were a very conscientious and hard worker! You were wise to leave Long Island when you did and head south. For me, it took several years of commuting to lower Manhattan from West Babylon and then having our house broken into and car stolen in the same year that I figured it was time to leave NY and headed up to New Hampshire before someone kidnapped my kids…I worked for Nynex Corp for around ten years and then as a journeyman in technical sales for many years. I held several regional sales gigs and got to travel all over the country but eventually got burned out on sales quotas and travel and have been a ski bum out here in Colorado for most of the last ten years….best years of my life!
I had to chuckle when I read your description of the Wauwepex potato “contraption”…You’re right, it did look like a washing machine! I do remember Jeff Cramer’s car and guys hiding in the trunk to sneak into the drive-in. Those were the days! We were all young, footloose and not a care in the world, except where our next beer was coming from! You must love what you do since you’re still doing it and that’s awesome! I love your story about finding the beer under the old tent platform and leaving it there! Now I have a real reason to go back to Wauwepex again, which I haven’t seen since the mid 70’s…
As previously mentioned we’ve moving down to Florida later this year. We’re having a house built and although I never thought I’d move down there due to the humidity, I’m looking forward to being near the ocean again like on Long Island! Colorado is awesome but there’s not much water out here and the last few years with climate change, we’re in a long term drought and the wildfires are getting worse all the time, which is very scary!
Well Tim, great to connect with you again if you ever get down to the Amelia Island area in FL, I’d love to see you! Here’s my contact info: 303-478-0043. email:email@example.com
Best wishes Tim!
Thank you, Cliff – your words are full of respect and love for your dad, your brother, and Wauwepex. I was a bit of a troublemaker at camp (on staff 1967-1970) and your dad had my number right away! He also enjoyed a good prank with his firehouse buddies – like the time I was with him in one of the trucks and the fire siren went off with a string of “toots” in a pattern. Your dad looked at me, smiled, and said, “That means a keg party at the firehouse!” – I got out and off he went!
It remains remarkable tp me how strong a pull I and others have for Wauwepex.Our “place of good water” is magical, indeed!
I remember you (after looking at the staff picture from 1970), but I don’t remember you as a “troublemaker”… 🙂 …I think most of us had a “little trouble” in us waiting to come out. Like the July 4th weekend when the Indian Hall kitchen staff (underage) snuck out at night and we went drinking at the Greenbrier…we were “sneaking” in the front gate as we got a ride back from some girls we met…but Johnny’s dog sounded the alarm someone was walking in…it also turned out to be the night Johnny and senior camp staff/adults played cards/poker…we ran back out the gate up to the corner with the gas station and went through the farmers sod field through a back wooded entrance to our tents at Indian hall. About 5-minutes after we jumped into our beds (still fully dressed) Ted Firetog showed up (we didn’t know they had already seen our bunks were empty)…read us the riot act…we each lost a day off. But we had had a great/fun night. 🙂 Tim Holmes
I never heard that story before, John! Thanks for telling it 50 years latter!!!
Tim, your tale of sneaking out sounds very familiar. It’s a part of Camp Life, I suppose.
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On a whim I can’t explain I did a search for Camp Wauwepex and came across your story. I have warm and wonderful memories of Wauwepex both as a Scout and working for Linda one summer in the Health Lodge. Linda might remember me as the Scout who always said “I’m Sorry” in 1975. I remember many a philosphical conversation with Linda, though I can’t remember the content.
Your story shed light on the other side of Camp Wauwepex. Although I knew Linda and CJ and had met you, at 16, “Johnny Jones” the Camp Ranger was still a mythical figure to me, even if he did come into my cabin one morning to wake me up because I had overslept and he didn’t want me to get in trouble with Linda (I think I did anyway, but I’m sure I was sorry).
Thank you for sharing.
All the best to you and your family.
Welcome to the conversation on Wauwepex, Stu.