Mabel was the 4-H Club Leader for the Slaughter Neck Champions 4-H Club. Her son was a member of the club and at the young age of nine did not quite meet the age requirements to attend camp. However, since he would turn ten shortly after camp, he was allowed to attend based on her recommendation and the approval of the state leader.
Her son was a little apprehensive since camp was an unknown for him and he didn't really know what to expect. He thought he would give it a try to learn more about it. The 4-H camp program had only started six years previously in 1949. As he entered camp after a seemingly endless drive to "nowhere," the first item was registration and he was then instructed to pull a piece of paper from a container. After the draw, the staff member said, "Congratulations, you will be in the Seneca Tribe here at camp." Those words didn't mean anything to the new camper, since everything was new and there was very little understanding about what would be happening.
It was then off to the "bunkhouse" to find a home for the next five days. The wooden structure was more like an old barracks with bunk beds throughout. Campers were arriving from all over the state and everyone was busy meeting all of these people and getting settled. Through the years to follow, these newly found friends would become lifelong acquaintances, all because they met for the first time at camp.
Although this new camper was rather quiet and learning about camp, he knew that he really liked the things that were taking place at camp. Archery class was really neat and in the craft classes, the campers got to make things that they could take home with them after camp. He also learned more about being a SENECA especially for the Council Circle activities.
Since his mother was a club leader, he did know some of the 4-H staff as they had visited the house and some of the club meetings. The State 4-H leader was Jim Baker and he was at camp serving as the "Big Chief" for the Council Circle. It helped that there were at least a few familiar faces in camp.
That first year went so well, that the new first year camper couldn't wait to get to go back for the next year. Although, he didn't know it at the time, camp would become a major building block in structuring his personal character for life.
Mabel Bennett went on to be a 4-H club leader for more than 25 years. Her son, Everett Bennett, now looks back at that first year of camp as a primary catalyst in promoting his youth development. Yes, it was during that first year of camp that I saw the value in camp ideals and the effect that it has as an education for future character building.
I returned to camp many more years as a camper in the Seneca Tribe, with personal growth experienced each and every year. The individual that I credit the most for my personal development during my camp years is James Baker. As State 4-H leader, he was the person responsible for the camp program. There were many others that contributed greatly to my character. Sam Gwinn, Marion McDonald, Ted Palmer and Dean Belt are just a few of the staff at camp that helped me with my personal growth. Sam Gwinn, Jim Baker and Marion McDonald have all since been very appropriately named to the National 4-H Hall of Fame.
After seven years as a camper, Jim approached me with a special invitation. He asked that I return next year at young age of sixteen as a counselor. He mentioned that the choice would not be without sacrifice on my part. One particular item would be that, if I chose to become a counselor, I would never have the opportunity to be the Chief or Sagamore of the Seneca tribe.
My camp career continued as a counselor, not as a camper. First, it was an honor to be selected by Jim and responsibilities were immediate. I would be teaching archery and rifle marksmanship to campers that were older than I was. Second, Jim had such a way of relating to young people that when he asked, answering his request was really the best option.
Working with mentors as a counselor was a great experience in my 4-H career. The learning and development continued. For the next five years, I served as a counselor while finishing high school and then on to college. My last year as a counselor was the camp in the summer following my junior year in 1966. After graduation, it was time to fulfill my military obligations and I would be attending different type of camp instead of 4-H camp in 1967.
It was then that I began to realize that my 4-H experiences had become experiences that provided a great foundation. Leaving home for an extended time for college was not a major event because of my 4-H experience. Also, selecting the university to attend was a simple choice because of my 4-H experiences. (4-H and Cooperative Extension are part of the University of Delaware) Some of the field training in the Army was easy, because I had been taught many of the required skills and had similar related experiences to 4-H camp. I realized the attributes learned at camp were translated well to Army life.
Self motivation, attention to details, speaking in front of a group, taking charge as a leader, and other skills were developed on those hollowed grounds called Camp Barnes. "To Make the Best Better" is such a powerful statement. All of the attributes learned at camp, simply helped to lead to personal improvements for that young lad as he was growing up and taking his place in life's adventures.
This foundation training led to many successes in my life: Returning to graduate school and earning two Master's Degrees; Becoming a commercial pilot and flight instructor; Operating in successful businesses; Becoming a successful manager for an insurance company just to name a few.
When I left for the Army, I thought that was probably the end of my 4-H career. During my military service, I served overseas and when I returned, I entered the work force and actually had very little contact with 4-H. When my daughters, Katy and Nancy, became eligible to join the 4-H club, they too became active in 4-H and attended camp. They had very similar growth experiences while at camp. Camp provided a profound impact on their youth development as well.
During their camp careers, they also were campers and counselors just like their dad. At that point in time, Michael Hudson was serving as the camp director. When they returned home from camp, you could sense the excitement as the conversations continued about camp. My wife Sue was a little mystified by our discussions, since she didn't have the good fortune of being a 4-Her or attending the 4-H camp in her young life.
The years continued to pass without much further involvement with the 4-H programs. Although I am a LINK member, I was simply no active. There was always the stop at the 4-H building during the State Fair, but that was about it.
Then one day, the phone rang and suddenly, I was unexpectedly speaking with Ted Palmer. He was inquiring if I would be available to meet with him and Michael Hudson. I knew Michael's name as the camp director while my daughters were attending camp. "Sure, when would you like to meet," I asked after having my curiosity aroused?
The three of us meet 36 years after I last left camp as a counselor. They did most of the talking. Ted and Michael explained that they were looking for someone to oversee camp as a replacement for Michael as he would be stepping down following the next camp after serving ten years in the position. The name of Everett Bennett was mentioned as a possible candidate and they wanted to present the idea to me for consideration. I am quite certain that my daughter Katy helped with having my name put in the hat.
I was absolutely stunned. When I was a camper, Jim Baker served as the camp director since he was also the state leader. I was not aware that things had changed and now the program was headed up by someone other than state 4-H staff, a civilian if you will. This person now has the assignment of running the camp program in conjunction with the University of Delaware. I never dreamed in the 36 years that an "outsider" would even have the opportunity to run camp, let alone having me being considered as one of the candidates.
It didn't take long to realize the ramifications of assuming this "extra duty." If selected, I would want to run camp in a manner that would make Jim proud of that young lad he helped to nurture during his early years as a camper. Since I had mostly worked with Jim during my camp years, I wanted to emulate and restore his ideals in camp with the foundations that Sam Gwinn had started.
I was granted the position and spend the first year in camp as an understudy with Michael. I have to say it was absolutely great to be back at Camp Barnes. It seemed that I was able to continue from the point where I left in 1966. Actually, it would just be a continuation of the work that Michael had accomplished in his tenure. Sure the faces were new, but they were 4-H campers and some were children of families that I had known earlier.
Having lived some of the history of camp, I was able to restore some of the past history as well as celebrate the changes. After having served as director for a very quick five years, we honored sixty consecutive years of Delaware State 4-H Camp at Camp Barnes.
A reunion would be in order to celebrate the event. "Living Sam's Dream" referencing Sam Gwinn's beginning of the camp was the theme for the 2008 camp and reunion. We shared looking back at the history of the camp while actually experiencing the 60th year at camp, all while helping to ensure that camp would continue for another sixty years. What a great program for our 4-H youth as thousands of youngsters have secured the advantage of sharing some time in their early years at camp. Many of the youngsters attended camp repeatedly year after year, as I did.
As for that nine year old that became successful by building on principles learned at camp, it is now his way of giving back so that other youngsters of today can have the same opportunity for building their successes. In a sense that thought is very similar to Sam Gwinn's reason for starting camp in the first place. Sam wanted the 4-H club members in Delaware to have the same opportunity that he had as a youngster in West Virginia when he was a 4-Her there.
It has since been learned that the true joy was not in attending camp years ago, but in seeing others attend camp and having their lives enriched by experiencing the program. By building on the past, we can help prepare young 4-Hers for their future.
ADDED NOTE to Original: During the 2019 camp, my granddaughter Addison, also attended her first camp as a nine year old. She also drew a selection from the container which indicated that she would be a "Turtle" (which is the same as the previous "Seneca" Tribe). One could see just how much she liked camp when she returned. The 4-H camp at Camp Barnes continues to be a special place.
The pictures show both sides of the coin that was produced to celebrate 60 years of camp that Sam Gwinn started. The coin measures 1 3/4 inches in diameter. I still have some available if interested.