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.