Growing Up Wauwepex – a personal account of a sacred scout camp

Editor’s Note: The following account of life at Camp Wauwepex on Long Island is from Walter Lamb, an old scout who has stumbled upon the stories shared here by others describing how special this land has been to so many of us.

Growing up Wauwepex

By Walter Lamb

 I found your article while doing a search for things related to Camp Wauwepex. I have a patch and Neckerchief collection from the late 50’s and was trying to find a home for them if there was any interest. I live in the Matthews, NC and there is not much interest in things from Nassau County here.

My Wauwepex journey ended about the time yours began Bruce and covered seven years of my life. Scouting and Camp Wauwepex contributed memories and lessons that have stayed with me always. It all began in a similar way to that described by someone earlier. Eleven years old, brand spanking new uniforms with my newly earned Second Class badge sown on, shiny new gear, my Dad’s WWII footlocker, with great optimism and a little bit of fear. However, it did not start well. I woke up that morning with red spots over a good part of my body. Even the high socks held up with those red tab garters could not hide German Measles from my parents. So instead of joining the rest of my troop at camp, I spent the first week at home recovering. Fortunately, I was well enough by the next weekend to join the rest of the kids. Thus began my true adventure in scouting. On down to the waterfront for a dreaded swim test. I began as a white tagger so mornings always started with swim lessons. Swimming was never my strong suit. Several years later, Lifesaving would be my 25th and last merit badge earned. By the end of my week, I had moved into the red tag area.

As best I can remember we always camped in Indian Division. We home troop camped each year from 1955 to 1958, years flooded with countless memories which seemed to return as I read your article and the comments and related articles that followed. Days filled with skills classes, the weekend water carnival (remember the bathing beauty contests), bird hikes, and merit badge classes in later years. I remember the view of Deep Pond at sunrise covered with morning fog, the sound of reveille each morning and taps at night. August 1958 was my last year as a camper and we were in the Mattituck Campsite, picture attached. All the photos (there are more) were taken during that summer. The swim area is Indian Division. I wish the quality was better, but they are slides converted to digital.

My first year on staff was the summer of 1959 working on the maintenance crew for Bob Geary. I was a young 15-year-old and learned a great deal from Bob and Dick Horn. I looked up to Dick like a mentor that summer and he signed my OA Tab which I still have. It was great to see his name on this thread and that he also lives in NC. I remember Tommy Tierney and Joe Donnelly. Oh, how I remember the garbage runs and digging a long trench up behind the Trading Post, for a water line, I think. I remember climbing pine trees with long spikes to string wire. My absolute worst memory was cleaning the latrine that the women used after visitors’ weekends. 😝 I am so glad to have worked for Bob that summer, not knowing we would lose him the next year. He was a great teacher and like a substitute dad for a young kid away from home.

The summer of 1960 I worked in the Nature Lodge under Bill Paterson. It was a great season, teaching kids about trees and birds and everything nature. Camp Wauwepex was such a beautiful place to take early morning bird hikes. I remember Ralph Marten.

My memories of Onteoria were all good although I never summer camped there or worked on Staff. I did attend Operation Igloo for at least three years which was always a blast. Memories of sledding down that long road come to mind, seems like it might have been shaped like a question mark.

I am sorry you did not have great feelings for the OA Bruce. As a thirteen-year-old kid I was fascinated by what we then called Indian Lore, absolutely in awe the first time I saw a tap out, and that may have had something to do with why I was thrilled to be tapped the next year and again for brotherhood the following. I came from Troop 353 and Explorer Post 23 in Merrick which had a dance team and that also played a role. I have pictures taken at the 1959 OA Conclave if anyone is interested and some original copies of the Buckskin Lodge Tab (Newsletter) that I would love to pass on if anyone has an interest in history or preservation. At one time I was editor of the newsletter.

How times have changed. All things that were “Indian” then are now Native American. No disrespect is meant so please take my use of the word in context. I don’t know what they now call the ‘Indian Guides’ program associated with the YMCA. It was a wonderful experience with both of my kids.

As mentioned above, I have a collection of patches, mostly from Nassau County events and as well as a few from regional and national jamborees. I also have a collection of Wauwepex staff neckerchiefs from the early 50’s up through 1961. There are also more Wauwepex pictures. I am not looking to sell them and would prefer to pass them on to an organization rather than a private collector if there is an interest. If anyone on this thread has a suggestion, please email me.

1961 was my last year on staff and the first part of it is a bit hazy. I seem to remember working in the Craft Lodge briefly before being drafted as a provisional scoutmaster for the remainder of the season. I cannot remember if I was employed by Wauwepex or the troops I was serving as scoutmaster. My name doesn’t show up on the staff rooster for that year, but I sure was there. I remember taking troops on overnight hikes to the LI sound but cannot for the life of me remember where we camped. I think Wauwepex had a dedicated area used to qualify for an overnight hike and camp. I do remember walking down the shoreline at night and going up into a small café or restaurant. It had a juke box and ‘Rockin Robbin’ by Bobby Day was playing. To this day my mind goes back to that place and time when I hear the song.

Weekends for camp staff were often spent trying to get dates with the sisters of campers. One of those nights led to my run-in with Ed Gilmartin. He was not happy with my leaving the kids with a sub while I borrowed someone’s car and went out. I had no clue how he even knew I was gone. When I got back to the campsite one of the assistant directors had replaced the guy I got to sub for me. The next day I was in Ed’s office getting chewed out. I was a seventeen-year-old kid and thought I was going to be fired. It scared the crap out of me but fortunately it was close to the end of the season, and I do not think they had anyone to take over.

At the end of the summer, I took every penny I made and bought a 1954 Ford convertible from two guys who worked at the Frontier waterfront. I think they had been working on it all summer trying to make a buck. I had just graduated from high school and here I was with my first car, driving down Highway 25, Wauwepex in the rear-view mirror, top down, radio blaring Del Shannon singing Runaway, headed off to the rest of my life.

Mattituck campsite, Camp Wauwepex, BSA. Photo courtesy of Walter Lamb. Note: This was my first campsite at Wauwepex in 1961 – BAS

Flag Pole and Totems at Indian Division in Camp Wauwepex, circa 1958. Photo courtesy of Walter Lamb.

Canoes on Deep Pond at Camp Wauwepex, courtesy of Walter Lamb

Swimming area at Camp Wauwepex, Indian Division, circa 1959. Courtesy of Walter Lamb.

This is an OA tab worn by members in the Nassau County Council, BSA. Note: This council is now known officially as the Theodore Roosevelt Council. In 1917. Teddy Roosevelt camped on the lands of Wauwepex just before Cornelius Vanderbilt sold it to the NCC in 1922. When the NCC purchased the camp, the mortgage was paid by Mortimer Schiff, whose family continues to support Wauwepex and Boy Scouting on Long Island. Hence, the camp is now know as the Schiff Scout Reservation.

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10 Responses to Growing Up Wauwepex – a personal account of a sacred scout camp

  1. John Mc. says:

    Another great story there Bruce, of life at Wauwepex. Walter seems to have a pretty good memory, for a man of his years. Never figured out what an OA Tab meant. I am pretty sure the letters O and A stood for something though.

    Hope your doing well, and almost got your Mom’s place ready for listing.

    John

    • brucesmith49 says:

      “O A” stands for the Order of the Arrow. It is an “honor camper” association, and members are selected by their home troops. The selected are admitted during a “tap out” ceremony that is the highlight of a camp-wide campfire during the summer encampment. In the Nassau County (NY) Council that ran Camp Wauwepex – and the upstate camp known as Onteora – we had a special patch and “tab” for the OA members. The patch was sown over the right breast pocket, and the tab was a-fixed to the button of the pocket. The tab was oval-shaped and had a hand-drawn animal, a wolf perhaps, painted on the front of the tab.

      • John Mc. says:

        Thanks for the speedy reply. I never would have got that definition of O A

        LOL…..that one I understand.

      • Tim Holmes says:

        Hi Bruce…I read the account by Walter Lamb and I wonder if he was my neighbor growing up…but 10 years or so older. I don’t see where I can reply to Walter, but if don’t mind reaching out to him to ask if he lived at 10 Colonial Ave, Merrick, NY…if so, we were neighbors and I knew his parents well until they retired and moved to NC to be near Walter. I still have his old Tarzan comic books with his name written on the front of them. 🙂 If he is interested, please feel free to share my phone number with him: 919-414-7759 and/or my email address: tjholmes999@gmail.com. Thank you and always glad to read what people write about Wauwepex and Onteora! Tim Holmes

  2. brucesmith49 says:

    “Operation Igloo” was a special winter camp-out at Onteora Scout Reservation in Livingston Manor, NY. Located in the southern Catskill Mountains, it always had a lot of snow back in the 1950s and 1960s. I loved Operation Igloo, as it was a real test of a scout’s camping skills. In my troop, one had to be 14 to attend Operation Igloo, and we had to attend at least one preparatory meeting with other scouts and our scoutmaster, Mr. John Peters, to review equipment and strategies to survive the cold. Yup, the sledding was fantastic. I can still remember it vividly. Yes, we certainly deserved our special patches for it.

  3. Cliff Jones says:

    Nice pictures of camp back in the day. In the last couple of years Kevin Lipman the current council ranger and Brian Pataki are in change of the Wauwepex museum and would love to see what you have to offer. Email me and I will get you further information Email: clifton1947@gmail.com.

  4. bfran65 says:

    My years on the staff at Wauwepex were some of the best of my life. Set me up for success in the Army and as a civilian in the Army Engineers.Thanks Mr GilMartin, Larry Nokes and Neal(George) Smalling.I do not know why but I thought it was completely closed many years ago.

  5. Walter (Wally) Lamb says:

    Bruce, if I understand your comment about Mattituck campsite, which was the last one I troop camped at in 1957, it was the first you camped at in 1961? Considering the number of campsites in three divisions back then I wonder what the odds of that are.

    Thanks for bailing me out with the background on the Order of The Arrow (OA). I’m emailing you a picture of the tab as you seem to be the only one that can post photos and hope you can add it below as it might help everyone’s understanding. The OA was (and I assume still is) a service organization and did a considerable amount of work at both Wauwepex and Onteora as well as promoting camping, both weekend and summer, throughout the county. Scouts were nominated by their home troops and became Ordeal Members. About a year later you became eligible for Brotherhood membership which by and large was a confirmation or full membership.

    To John Mc. Thanks, my memory really isn’t that great, but it was tweaked by all the wonderful stories and replies that have preceded mine. It also helped to find the Staff listings on Bill Cotter’s website. Thanks most to Bruce for beginning this whole trip down memory lane.

    Cliff, I sent you a separate email and will put together some pictures of what I have for consideration by the Wauwepex Museum. I’ve always been a keeper and it will be one less box for my kids to get rid of one day.

    I do remember Neal Smalling. He was also from Merrick but can’t remember if he was associated with Explorer Post 23 or I just remember him from Wauwepex and the OA.

    To Tim Holmes, while I’ll be darned. I saw your posts earlier but never connected them with the kid next-door. Your parents were Buddy and Loretta? Thanks for being there as a good neighbor to my parents before they moved to NC. No, I don’t want the Superman comics back. Now, if you happen to have the shoebox full of baseball cards my folks also gave away, we might need to talk but I’m pretty sure they went further down the street.😊. I will reach out to you by text. I’m curious if you were also part of Troop 353. That’s a whole other set of memories. If so, I wonder if they still went to the North Log campsite. It was behind then scoutmaster Ralph Voelker’s house. I think it was actually on state owned land that backed up to the parkway and right at a five-mile hike from Lakeside School where we met back then.

    Thanks to all for reaching out and I look forward to reading more accounts of our wonderful Camp. Wally Lamb

    • Tim Holmes says:

      Hi Wally,

      So great to connect!! Yes, my father was Buddy (Edward, passed Dec 1994) and my mother, Loretta, lives in Riverside, CA…she just turned 88 yrs old. I remember your parents very well and your father as a ham radio operator. I did belong to troop 353 for one year and then it disbanded due to adults not having time. My uncle Edwin was the scoutmaster for several years while my cousins Ronnie and Eddie were scouts and then stopped when Eddie dropped out which was a year or two before I joined. I then moved to troop 277. So great to connect. My last memory of you was in a military uniform leaving for duty. Your mom used to always talk about you. She was very proud of you! Your father didn’t talk much to me other than to say hi…and a few times not to throw the ball over the fence into your yard! 🙂 I remember their dogs…Blackie was one of them, but I do not remember the other dogs name. I do remember when they decided to sell their house and I remember that they said they were moving to the Charlotte, NC area…then I saw your story about Wauwepex and that you live in Matthews, NC…I figured you had to be the same “Walter Lamb”!! I have lived in Cary, NC since 1985. Yes…please reach out to me via text or just call me: 919-414-7759. Tim Holmes

  6. Philip Calabria says:

    Walter,

    A great remembrance. Many thanks for sharing. As a former summer camper & staff member, I second Cliff’s comment about donating to the Scouting Museum at Wauwepex/Schiff. Brian Petrowski has headed this effort with help from the Council’s ranger Kevin Lipman & others. It is completely dependent upon volunteer help & donated items. I am sure that Brian would be most interested in your CW collection. His email address is brianpetrowski@gmail.com. Thanks once more.

    PJC

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