The “Minnow Club.” I had known about it for quite awhile. Every June or July, I spent several weeks at a place called Kimball Camp, up in Reading, Michigan.
Things were quite a bit different back then. But even in the early and mid 70’s, some things were the same. There were lots of caring people, including the summer counsellors and staff.
As long as I could remember, the YMCA camp was run by a compact, balding man with a ready smile, and his tall wife who brooked no nonsense, but obviously cared deeply for everyone. Later I understood that the C. stood for Conner, but to all of us, they were Mr. and Mrs. C.
Perched on one side of a long strip of lake appropriately named Long Lake, Kimball Camp was a respite from the regular grind of grade school. Where people at home pretty much had you in a box, at camp you got a fresh start. This was like heaven to me, and it was tough going back to the real world at the end of the summer.
Every week, new kids would cycle in and out. Most only stayed a week, but I loved it so much, my parents would let me stay extra weeks every year. Finally, at 15 and 16, I was old enough to become a day camp counselor, and spent most of the summers there.
Somewhere in the middle of those years, I became old enough, and a good enough swimmer to take up the Minnow challenge. This was where you swam without stopping, from the beach on the Kimball camp side, to a lake cottage on the other side, and then all the way back again.
Mr. C was pretty firm about only letting kids try that he knew were strong enough swimmers. A couple counselors swam with us, and as a backup, several counselor also went alongside in rowboats, just in case.
I don’t remember how many of us got in the water that hot July afternoon, but I do remember being excited! That was the day I was going to get my name on the plaque on the wall, in the camp meeting lodge.
Every year had a plaque represented on the wall, with half a dozen or so names of kids who had made it there and back. These were the ones that went down in history as camp legends, and members of the Minnow Club! I’m sure that’s how Mr. C. explained it, right?
By that time, I was a pretty good swimmer, as it was about the only physical activity I really had a chance to participate in. My parents had already had me swimming for therapy at the college in town where Dad worked.
Called Tri-State University (now Trine University), I had been swimming there in their huge pool for years. The moist air was good for asthmatics, and the exercise was supposed to develop lung capacity.
I just tore it up. I was so serious about getting across that lake, they had to dispatch my own counselor and boat to go with me. I can’t remember how long it took, but I do remember coming out of the water on the other side thinking the lake house was pretty cool.
We had a little break until everyone got there, and then it was back in the water to the other side. I don’t recall ever stopping, although I did break out of the crawl into a modified breast stroke from time to time. It’s still my go-to stroke.
It seemed like it took about a half hour to get across, but I can’t really be sure. But I still remember all the other campers waiting there, yelling out congratulations as we made it back to shore!
Summers were pretty special back then, and I have some other good memories. Like the time a counselor named Luke carried me all the way back to the cabin after a serious asthma attack one night breathing in smoke at a campfire. He wasn’t my counselor, but he was big and strong enough to do it, and kind enough to make an impression.
I also remember the first time I was allowed to take out the small Sunfish sailboat all by myself. Falling asleep to Cat Stevens “Greatest Hits,” and Pink Floyd’s “Echoes.”
But my proudest moment, my best moment, was stepping out of the water to all those cheers, and then coming back the next year and seeing my name on the wall. I was in the “Minnow Club!”