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May 25, 2018

8/25/2017 7:26:00 AM
Red Pine Camp turns 80 years old
Girls camp on Clear Lake has provided generations of friendships
Brian Jopek/Lakeland Times

Katherine “Kay-Kay” Saunders, left, Joan Heenahan and Ann Reidy were three of past campers at Red Pine Camp who attended the 80th reunion the second weekend in August.
Brian Jopek/Lakeland Times

Katherine “Kay-Kay” Saunders, left, Joan Heenahan and Ann Reidy were three of past campers at Red Pine Camp who attended the 80th reunion the second weekend in August.
Brian Jopek/Lakeland Times

 A poster outside the business office of Red Pine Camp, highlighting activities during the 80th reunion weekend that began Friday, August 11.
Brian Jopek/Lakeland Times

A poster outside the business office of Red Pine Camp, highlighting activities during the 80th reunion weekend that began Friday, August 11.

Brian Jopek

The Red Pine Camp For Girls off County Highway J in Woodruff finished its 80th camping season in early August.

As is the custom every five years, the weekend after at the camp is set aside as a reunion weekend for those who live in other parts of the state - and in most cases, the country - but come to the Northwoods the second weekend in August to spend time with old friends.

The 2017 camping season at Red Pine Camp began Sunday, June 11.

"We had a very successful camping season," Joan Heenahan, the camp's office manager, said. "There were 140 campers."

For the 80th reunion, there were 113 campers and former campers in attendance.

Three of those people were Ann Reidy, Kathleen "Kay-Kay" Saunders and Heenahan.

All three are originally from the Chicago area.

A countdown

Reidy lives in Denver with her husband and four children.

She's a fine arts consultant and advisor there.

"I have my own company that I've had for about seven years," Reidy said. "I help people procure and create art collections. I'm a curator for private collections and corporations around the country."

Her father attended Red Arrow Camp for boys and later, while in college, met Reidy's mother in Boulder Junction.

"When my parents had all of us, they were looking for a place for us to go to," she said. "They determined it would be a great thing to send us to the Northwoods. This is part of my dad's soul ... coming back up here."

Reidy's brothers went to Camp Highlands in Sayner and she started her association with Red Pine Camp during the summer of 1978.

"I was eight years old," she said.

Except for two summers when Reidy was recovering from knee surgery, she attended each year through the summer of 1989.

"I think in this day and age, there's so much protectiveness of our children," she said. "The number one thing my parents did was

teach me to be independent. Camp really kind of made me realize that I can do just about anything. To be away from my parents and not be under their thumb all the time. I could forge my own friendships and figure out things I really wanted to excel at or do something I can do in Colorado. We don't have this level of water, first of all."

Reidy said a lot of people go to Colorado to learn horseback riding or mountaineering.

"That's our gig we do all the time out there," she said. "So, for us, this is an experience, something that's fresh and new. "There's a level of independence you get to have at this camp and a freedom you have without

electronics, without any kind of news."

Reidy's three daughters have also all gone or are going to Red Pine Camp, just like their mother did.

"I have an 18 year old who has been here for 10 years," she said. "I have a 12 year old who's been here for six years and I have a 10 year old who just completed her fourth summer here."

Reidy's 10-year-old daughter broke both arms several weeks before camp and, as part of the recovery process, wasn't able to do many of the activities.

"Two days before camp started, she got these heat molded splints that were water proof," she said. "She was able to attend camp but I told her, 'You know, this is not gonna be your year for archery or waterskiing. This is your year to build friendships and this is your year to have fun and pal around.' She came home crying and said 'I already miss camp.'"

Reidy said going to camp was something she looked forward to and something her daughters do as well.

"It's a countdown," she said.

Saunders, one of those lifelong friends Reidy made during her years at camp, attended for 12 years and now has two daughters attending, her oldest completing her eighth summer and her youngest her sixth.

She said her daughters "live 10 months for two months."

"Or 11 months for one," Saunders said.

Reidy said her oldest daughter, the 18 year old, is going to attend the University of Michigan with her best friend from camp.

"It's just a different friendship, you know?" she said. "A different level of sisterhood. She's lived with her two months a year for the past 10 years. It's the camaraderie, a special bond that they have."

'Can I go back?'

Saunders first camped at Red Pine in 1980.

She works as a human resources consultant for a financial services company in Des Moines, Iowa.

Like Reidy and so many other Camp Red Pine alums over the years, Saunders believes another positive to attending the camp is "anything to help make the kids accountable for themselves."

"That's one of the things for my girls now," she said.

With her daughters growing up in the same school system for 12 years, Saunders said coming to Red Pine Camp is "like a fresh start every year."

"Especially through adolescence and some of that 'mean girl' time," she said. "It's such a beautiful option for them."

Saunders said both daughters love being technology-free during their time at camp.

"Driving home, my youngest was asking me, 'What's happened in the world in the last month?'" she said. "I said, 'Well, the North Koreans are acting up a little' and she's like, 'Can I go back?'"

Saunders said the friendships are authentic.

"Kids can be kids here," she said. "I completely echo what Ann said about breeding independence because they have to get themselves from activity to activity. They also develop friendships from all over the country so they're eager to explore other parts of the world and the country."

Saunders said her older daughter went to look at a college in Pennsylvania and linked up with another person who had attended and had been a counselor at Red Pine Camp.

"They went out for coffee the night before her tour," she said. "With social media and texting, I'm in more contact with Ann ... we probably had a 15-year gap in our friendship. But when I'm in Colorado for business, I call her up and I say, 'Ann, let's go to dinner.' I know her family now. It's a wonderful gift for the girls."

Saunders said one of the things she thinks is amazing is when she and others who've attended Red Pine Camp in the past return, it's 90 percent the same.

"Some of the songs, the tunes are a little different," she said. "But it's the same place, the same activities, same values that were instilled in us that we discovered helped us in our lives that are also being instilled in our daughters."

Counselor's nightmare

Heenahan first attended Red Pine Camp in 1962 when she was nine years old.

"I was a counselor's worst nightmare," she said. "I cried every night, but I loved camp so much."

Heenahan said she'd ride home to Chicago on a train.

"I'd get off the train sobbing and my parents knew I'd been homesick," she said. "They thought I was sobbing because I was glad to see them, but I got off the train and said, 'Next year, I want to go back for eight weeks. I love it!'"

Heenahan has been associated with the camp, off and on, for 22 years.

Before her current job as the camp's office manager, she was a special education secretary for the Lac du Flambeau school district.

Heenahan retired from the district two years ago and has been the camp's office manager ever since.

"I was away for many years, Heenahan said. "But I've had two daughters go through here and have had a granddaughter here six years now. It's home."

Brian Jopek may be reached via email at bjopek@lakelandtimes.com

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