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Camp Stories


Jack Lund

Camp Widjiwagan

My name is Jack Lund. I am a lifelong resident of St. Paul, and as of this writing, I will be 102 years old on September 4, 2019. Over the past several years my niece, Sally Lund, has interviewed me, as she did her Grandmother and other family members, in an effort to record family histories. Recently, she interviewed me about my 1930 canoe trip (to what today is the BWCA), when I was a camper at Widji.

I would like to share this story — at least as much as I remember — with Camp Widjiwagan on the occasion of its 90th anniversary.

In the summer of 1930, Al Johnson was the Secretary of the Midway YMCA, and my father, Henry (Heinie) Lund was on the board of directors. I was just shy of my 13th birthday, and my father decided, along with Mr. Johnson, that I should go on a canoe trip at the newly founded YMCA Camp Widjiwagan in Ely, Minnesota. Dad signed me up, and along with three other boys from the neighborhood, we packed our gear, and in August of 1930, we experienced an 8-day adventure that I remember to this day.

There were eight of us boys on the canoe trip, as well as our guide, Mel Powre. I only remember the names of three of the boys, but they were all from the neighborhood and kids I had grown up with or had gone to school with. My friend Don Lampland lived on Iglehart and Finn; Gene Hoppe was in my class at Longfellow; Brooks Robinson, another neighbor, was the step-grandson of Charlie Ward of Brown and Bigelow. The other boys on the trip were from St. Paul and also had some connection to the Midway Y.

Early on a Saturday morning, we all met at the Midway Y, our gear packed into duffle bags, and were driven by car to Camp Widjiwagan. The drivers were either parents or Y staff, and we went in cars owned by the drivers. We arrived at camp late in the afternoon and spent a couple of hours getting trained on how to pack our gear and paddle the canoes. Dinner was held at the mess hall (today known as Moose Cabin?), and as I remember, there were 1 or 2 other cabins at the camp. We slept in one of these cabins and left the next morning in three Old Town canoes. 

Our trip took us from Camp Widjiwagan to Little Long Lake, Bass Lake, and Low Lake, then up the Range River into Jackfish Bay and through Basswood (lower and upper falls). The trip continued through Crooked Lake, Curtain Falls, and Lac LaCroix, then into Agnes, the Nina Moose River, and Nina Moose Lake. We were picked up at the Echo Trail and driven back to Camp, where we once again had a meal in the mess hall, slept overnight, and returned to the cities the following morning in the same cars that had taken us from the Midway Y to Widji.

I remember that on the trail we slept 2 boys in a tent, and though we must have eaten, I do not recall a single meal served while on the trail. I do remember being hungry all the time, and though we must have eaten, I have no recollection at all of the meals, except those served at Camp. What is a vivid memory are the many beaver dams we had to lift the canoes over in order to make our way down the river. It seems that on several days we spent more time out of the canoes than in them. I also remember that on the other days we paddled endlessly and were exhausted when Mel, our guide, would finally announce that we could set up camp for the night. He was the keeper of the maps and always chose the campsites, so our job was just to paddle and portage. There were many portages, too, and some of them were brand new, just recently finished by the CCC (Civilian Conservation Corps, nicknamed Roosevelt’s Tree Army). 

Unlike today, we did not carry life jackets with us, but none of us boys — or our parents — seemed concerned about that. I was luckier than some of the other boys because I had spent years boating and canoeing on the St. Croix River, yet the amount of paddling and the physical work that went into this Widji trip was far more than I ever imagined it would be. I had thought this would be a “breeze” and that we would fish, which we didn’t, and enjoy a leisurely trip up north. That is not how it was for this 12-year-old, yet I had a wonderful experience and am grateful to this day that my Dad afforded me the experience. 

Three or four years later, my brother, Bill, would take a similar canoe trip, with a similar route, from Camp Widjiwagan. Both of us passed down to our children our love of the outdoors and canoeing, and several of our kids were Widji campers and /or staff between 1965 and 1983.

I am now 101 years old, and though many memories have faded, my Camp Widjiwagan experience has not (well not much).

Congratulations to Widji on its 90th anniversary and may the experience that Widji afforded to me continue for young people for years to come.

Jack Lund
St. Paul, MN

My thanks to my niece, Sally, and to Chris Bewell, for “jogging” my memory with a million questions about my trip, as well as maps of the BWCA that allowed me to accurately retrace my 1930 trip.


Wayne Grover

Camp Icaghowan

I attended Camp Icaghowan in 1945, 46, 47, and 48 along with my lifetime friend Bob Fors. We are both 82 and just today spoke over the phone about how the camp was so good for our young lives. We both lived in Minneapolis and left for camp from there. The price was I think was $18.00. Bob still living there and I live in Palm Beach FL. I remember every word of every song we sang in the center as a fire blazed in the huge stone fireplace. Those four years started my athletic future in track and field. Thank you, YMCA for the best start a kid could ever have. 

Richard Liepold

Camp Warren

I attended Camp Warren in the early '40s for a 2-week session.

I was very shy and was picked on by many of my classmates in a middle school in Winnetka, IL My parents felt I needed some help in growing up, and felt this experience would help in that regard.

What a great experience that was. I finally grew out of my shell and opened up, and gained a lot of confidence in myself.

I was able to obtain a counselor's position the following summer, and this allowed me to learn to teach sailing, swimming, and I took the campers on their 2-day and one-week trips. These trips were the highlight of my experience at Camp Warren.

I went on to a very positive High School and College experience, and ultimately became President of a Lighting Manufacturer In Meriden CT.

I am now fully retired at age 88 and remember my days at Camp Warren with great fondness and appreciation for its positive impact on my early growth, and ultimate success in the working world.

Thank you.


Christine Butter

Camp St. Croix

I pulled into the Camp St. Croix office on a Friday, nearly closing time, to inquire about 'my age group being invited for a DAY at Camp'. I had seen a posting the week prior and could envision myself hiking in my adult children's pathways and even those of my Grandest 7 Children's, to say the very least I was feeling twitter-patted with this opportunity! Oh MY Gosh; I found out the registration date had already passed, but I was allowed to still sign up! Thank you staffer's for your flexibility. Sure some of the offered activities were filled up but there were so many more open and available for me. Let me tell YOU this was the best day of all my Springs! From the Administrative Employees to the behind-the-scene Kitchen Staff, the Grounds Keepers who were so friendly and helped to redirect me when I just cut myself loose of being on a time schedule. Also of course our amazing Guidance Leaders who I once again, (as I did with my own beautiful children) gave over my TRUST so I could participate fully in all of the offered opportunities, scary or not, I knew in my heart you had safety first in mind which really let me just gleefully live in these bright moments before me. With your patience, accepting openness and helpfulness MY time was fully fulfilled with an experience I didn't even know that I so desperately needed.

Our Counselors had all the responsible skills of leading with joy, guiding or teaching us our activities and of course, they shared a most common thread. I'll call it: a vitality for striving to be filled with earthly respect and honor. Due to ALL of you, I was granted a day in my later life so filled with joy, contemplation, and memories of all my YMCA life's experiences. This very opportunity gave me my inner past as a child and then as a Mother and now in cooperating my story as my Grandest 7 hike and sing in these same timeless lesson-filled age groups. I now realize more than ever that this was the very best lesson my parents installed in my personal value system and that I and YMCA partnered to do our utmost best to pass along to my wonderful daughters, who at the time were ages two and barely one. Now they've chosen partners of this same earthly honoring orientation and these 4 adults are now bringing up my Grandest 7 with their own core of this value-based system!

I can't even fathom being able to form words that could possibly match my deepest appreciation for ALL of my YMCA years and that of my loved ones. Now at 68 years young I quietly recognize YMCA folks everywhere I go and how I've become a better human person because our paths have crossed. Now I add my day camp experience that provided me a step into my personal cycle of living brings me more joy! Thank You for ALL of YOU making my glorious day even possible.

I didn't realize I was about to be given the gift of reliving my youthfulness or to be myself as the kid camper. I have hiked in my own full circle or cycle and this revelation is a most profound event now included in my journey upon this earthly walkabout. 

May we ALL meet again on this pathway or another, and Thank You again for coming into my life to deliver your gift of self to me, mine, and to all of our YMCA Family. I'm Humbly Honored to call myself part of THE YMCA FAMILY.

My respect, honor, and joy to you ALL,

Christine Butter

My story includes 1952 to 2019 and on and on ...

Barbara (Rietzke) Edwards

Camp Widjiwagan

I was the daughter of a YMCA employee, and during a couple of summers as a pre-teen, my family lived at Widji in the summertime when my father was the acting camp director until Armen Leuhers was hired. I couldn't wait until I was 13 to be old enough to go on my very first canoe trip as a camper. 

In 1954 I turned 13 and finally was able to be a camper! I was so excited. My throat started to get sore before we left on the trip but I never said anything to the nurse. We were out on the trail for a couple of days and I began to run a high temperature. The counselor stayed with the group but our guide paddled and portaged to the nearest forest ranger station and sent a message for help over the "wireless". The seaplane came in the next morning and I was flown back to the seaplane port in Ely. 

The pilot had to go fight a forest fire on Sugarloaf Mountain and gave me some money and instructions to use the payphone on the shore by the seaplane dock. I called Mackie's resort, told them I was a Widji camper and was at the seaplane dock in Ely, and they sent a seaplane from their resort to come and get me. When we arrived at the resort, the camp director and nurse ("Whitey" Armen Leuhers and the nurse Ginny whom he later married) were there to pick me up and take me back to camp where I ended up in the infirmary until I was well. 

A couple of days went by and then I heard that our guide, Lauren (I think that was his name) had slipped and cut his knee badly on a sharp rock. He was also flown in by seaplane for medical help. Someone else went out to continue to guide the group of campers and counselor on our trip.

That winter we had a reunion, and our story ended up being the talk of that reunion. In both of those medical situations, the safety plan was carried out — I was brought to Ely and then to camp safely, and Lauren was brought to the hospital in Ely safely. 

As sad as I was that I didn't get to go on the entire canoe trip, I did get to fly in two seaplanes, and for a thirteen-year-old girl, that was pretty exciting, in spite of my temperature! 

James Hall

Camp Warren

Camp [in the '50s] was very different in some ways (and much the same in others). There were two four-week sessions, with the opportunity to stay over the break, which I did. I was very much a loner then — and still am — but some of the memories linger. I learned to sail there (Class D and E Inland Lake scows — in later years I owned an E) and also to canoe — perhaps not well as our teacher did (an Indian, whose name, regrettable, I've forgotten) but passably; something I've never given up. Games, particularly Capture the Flag! In those days we had a daily short chapel, plus Sunday — the highlight of the daily chapel was that it concluded the Taps, by a lone bugler across the lake, just at sunset. There were three overnight canoe camping trips — one to a lake I don't recall; one to Big Race Lake (and we all got caught in the most awful rainstorm on the far side of the lake from the camp — oh well) and one, over the break, on the St. Louis river — during which I discovered that one runs rapids one canoe at a time, by the expedient of starting my canoe a bit too early (a lovely wooden Old Town) and ramming the preceding canoe (a Grumman) amidships when they'd gotten caught between two rocks and flipped. Didn't do the Grumman any good at all ... so we were short one canoe for the rest of the trip. But good times ...

Larry Jones

Camp Widjiwagan

Late June 1957, we were on day 2 of our 13-day long trip when the wind forced us ashore in the main body of Basswood Lake. We stayed about 3 hours — and found ripe blueberries atop the hill. We picked a large bunch and carried them in a sack made of a shirt with the sleeves tied. Later at camp, Ned Therrien, our counselor, made blueberry pie by rolling out crust on the canoe bottom with a can and baking the pie in the reflector oven. Never before or since have I enjoyed a pie so much!


Mary Tallman

Camp Widjiwagan

I was a summer camper at Sherwood Forest Camp in Grand Rapids MN and twice I took a boundary waters canoe trip with Sherwood Campers arranged by Widjiwagan. I can remember every detail from being one of the few campers tall enough to carry a canoe to a campsite on an island between two waterfalls where a lake ran into a river. One time at this site we found an injured young man with his father, who set him on a rock so he wouldn't bleed on the camping gear. We were all dumbfounded and I paddled with the guide across a lake to an emergency phone ... no satellite or cell phones then. A plane was landing on the lake to evacuate him by the time we got back. I like to think that we might have saved his life. I developed a good deal of self-reliance on these trips where your responsible behavior was vital to the success and safety of all. [These are] certainly lessons that have carried me throughout all of life's ups and downs. Thank you Widjiwagan!

Nancy Johnson

Camp Widjiwagan

I was a Widji camper from 1959 through 1962, the last year being my Voyageur year. I was a Kitchen Helper in 1963, leaving for camp the day after I graduated from Sibley High School. As I'm currently working on a scrapbook of my Widji experience to bring to the 90th reunion this coming summer, I have been reflecting on my past experiences, sometimes laughing, sometimes reminiscing, and sometimes bawling my eyes out. I remember growing up barely able to meet someone in the eyes and barely able to speak to that person. So shy! I credit my camping experiences to Widji, which certainly helped me grow up, to eventually becoming an instructor at Michigan State University being able to lecture with ease to over 300 students at a time. Whitey once challenged me to write a "cookbook" as food, nutrition, and cooking have always been a passion. Well, I met the challenge and wrote two! I taught at MSU for over 30 years. I loved camping and canoeing with a passion and have tried to pass that passion on to others. Our daughter was also a Widji camper for a few years. Hope to see some long-lost friends at Widji this summer. 

Dave Burgraff

Camp Widjiwagan

I canoed 3 summers '62, '63, and '64. I can truthfully say that those weeks were some of the most rewarding and character-building experiences of my early life. The physical challenges and the conquering of fear set guidelines for the future. The trips gave me a love for the north country that is still with me today. Great memories. 

Don Shelley

Camp St. Croix

I went to Camp St. Croix 2 years in a row 1964-65, by selling Pearson's Mints for the St Paul Midway YMCA program. I was the archery champion both those years and I had never picked up a bow or arrow in my life. The instructor said I was a natural marksman with the archery equipment. They had a final bonfire where everyone was given a Native American-sounding name, mine was "Shooting Star" — imagine that. I remember Prof Johnson had to be a hundred years old back then but he was an inspiration to me and I went on to college earned a B.S. and M.S. in Biology which gave me the opportunity to work at NASA, Moffett Field California. I will never forget leaving camp the last year I went and got poison ivy from camp as we went to Missouri on a family vacation. I learned to swim at camp which made my mom happy because we had a lake cabin and I didn't like life jackets so she figured I had a lesser chance of drowning now.


Garcia Angelo

Camp Ihduhapi

I attended camp for a few years in the 1970s with the 4th Baptist Church in North Mpls. I was in Big Al's Carp Club, for catching the biggest carp I wonder if my plaque is still on the wall!? It was an honor to be a part of the Club and the Camp. I learned how to play ping pong at camp. I have nothing but fond memories of going to camp. My older brother, Albert Garcia Jr., and I went for years and gained stars on our Maple Leaf patches. We loved canoeing out to the island and staying a night, eating rhino meat out of a can! What memories!!

Dawn Logan

Camp Ihduhapi

Three summers 1971-1973 as an assistant cook working with Marion Larsen was a learning experience. At the time was an all-boys camp and I lived in the health services building. Big Al and Bruce Benidt were the movers and shakers of the staff. We had camp superheroes which included 'The Flash'. Guitar provided by Paul Norrgard and others. Viet Nam draft lottery, movie 'Little Big Man' with Dustin Hoffman had staff imitating using flashlights and saying 'go snake eyes,' ping pong games in the staff lounge, and walking down cabin row at night. Jerry, as Camp Director, often walked into the kitchen. One time Gregg Rosholt was juggling meatballs with one hitting the ceiling then dropping to the ground! And staff will not tell tales on how they often broke into the kitchen for nighttime raids?!

Bob Chiang

Camp Widjiwagan

Camp Widjiwagan changed my life. My first trip was during the summer of 1970, and a friend, Peter Schumacher camp with me. Although Peter and I both returned from the 14-day canoe trip covered with mosquito bites, only I was infected by the outdoors bug. I believe instead of a life of wilderness trips, he went to buy a series of ever louder Ford Mustangs. 

The second summer, our trip retraced a route of the French Voyageurs leading from their fur trading grounds to the shore of Lake Superior via "The Grand Portage". The Grand Portage is 2,720 rods, or over 8 miles long. I probably helped carry the canoe a total of 20 rods. 

My third trip was 21 days long and it rained on something like 18 of those days. I slept in a winter weight down sleeping bad made from a Frostline kit. I remember debating whether to buy the kit that would require a bunch of sewing for $60, or buy a less warm 'store boughten' bag for $55. Considering I still use this bag for cold conditions 46 years later, I guess it worked out okay.

When you think summer canoe trip, you hopefully picture a blue sky with cotton ball clouds, the sun sparkling on gentle waves ... so a down-filled winter bag sounds like a night in H-E-double-hockey-sticks (pardon my French). Except we were far enough north to wake up to a skim of ice in the cookpot one morning!

At that time (before the invention of beavers evidently) we drank straight from the lakes and streams. That reminds me of a skill: hardly breaking our paddling rhythm, we used to flip our canoe paddle vertically with the blade pointing up, and tip it expertly so the water ran down the paddle shaft right into our mouth :) Quick delivery of giardia and cryptosporidia!!!

During my three summers at Widji, I probably spent close to 60 days paddling, portaging, and camping. I learned many important outdoor skills and lessons that provided a foundation for future adventures:

There is a limit of how many blueberries you can eat, if you exceed this personal limit, you'll throw up. After 21 days of exposing your face to sun and wind and bug bites and perhaps not washing your face with soap very often, your appearance disturbs people. 

If you're the duffer (a passenger sitting in the middle of the canoe), sit on your life jacket or you'll get a wet butt. No matter how much you get rained on from above and soaked by splashing or wading from below, you don't melt. A spare pair of dry fool socks is worth the weight. Experiencing outdoor adventures with friends and family is one of life's greatest gifts, don't-cha-know!?

Dave Anderson

Camp Widjiwagan

In the summer of 1973, I was a Boy Voyageur. Our trip consisted of three distinct parts.

  1. Upper Thlewiaza River – A smaller, raucous river
  2. Nueltin Lake – 120 miles
  3. Lower Thlewiaza River – A larger, free-falling river

I came across a poem I wrote on our trip about the first stretch, and I added a few verses at the end of the poem later.


Upper Thlewiaza,
    Sometimes called Kasmere;
Many rapids had that river,
    Many not too dear

Some required portage
    That we had to walk;
But those in which we shot on through
    Demanded that we talk

Of course, we first would inspect them,
    To see where the channel lay;
Then before we would try to attempt their passage
    It was always wise to pray

But once you are out in the current,
    And it’s got you in its hold;
Confidence is most essential
    Lest you end up wet and cold

The first shock you receive in shooting
    Is viewing the mess from the top;
Somehow it always looks terribly different,
    And somehow you want to stop

The whitewater jumble untangles
    If you work it out as a team;
The rocks and the “V”’s are by rather quickly
    While your eyeball reflects a strange gleam

Now the years have flowed like the water
    Racing through the chute;
I long for the success and the thrill of it all,
    But nothing quite as cute

Each wonderful watery challenge
    Seen with those youthful eyes,
Run to the calm, brought new faith,
    And the makings of the wise

While the rapids taught me much
    Still that mix of fear and fun Will be my most trusted companion
    Till my life is done.

Mark Ulrich

Camp St. Croix

My brother and I attended this wonderful camp for 4 years back in the '70s. I really enjoyed canoeing and fishing the most. I caught a Paddle Fish one time. Swimming in the river, and doing things all kids should experience. The counselors made sure everyone had a great time. I'd love to thank them all, for their selflessness.

Most memorable things? We had the coolest bus driver one year. He liked to skateboard. We would all salivate on the new road they were building for the big bridge over the St. Croix. We talked it up on the bus and decided we were going to tackle this road. So a bunch of us brought our skateboards. And attempted to skate down the new road. This sucker was steep. This was before helmets and pads. But we all tried it. I remember seeing our bus driver fly past me. (After I wrecked out). He was going in a straight line, with his hands crossed in prayer. He wrecked out like the rest of us. Obviously, this would never happen today. But it was the 70's! The last bastion of freedom for all, and no insane regulations! (Could be why we have so many regulations now?) The last memorable moment was the sleep-over weekend. Everyone looked forward to it. Tons of team games and competitions. We were doing the tug of war over the mud pit. Our counselor tied the back of the rope to one of the buses. As soon as the hat dropped, someone drove the bus away. And we pulled everyone into the mud! Like a scene from a good "camp movie!" We moved back to Texas in '79. But the memories of this camp have stayed with me for the past 40 years.


From Jeanette Lahm

Camp St. Croix

I was a camper & then on staff for a decade (in the early '80s & into the early '90s). In many ways, I literally grew up at 'Dear Old' Camp St. Croix. I worked as a Program Director for the Y of Greater St. Paul in the early '90s. We moved to PA shortly thereafter with my husband's job transfer. After working in development at a couple of non-profits, I am now back full-circle to directing a camp & retreat center in the Laurel Highlands of Pennsylvania. Although it's not a Y Camp, it is a Christian retreat center where I am using my God-given & Croix-fostered gifts to lead others in camping experiences. I do hope one of the events/reunions happens someday over Christmas break (perhaps during Wintercroix?!) so while in town, I can come past and show my family the St. Croix I hold dearly in my heart :).

Best memory (btw) is a water fight in the dish room (with PA's Patty Mihelich, Reid & Jessie) & John Duntley (Director) walking into water ALL over the floor & quietly asking us to "ahem, clean it up." John remains a friend & mentor today!

Liz Flinn

Camp Widjiwagan

It’s 1988 and I have been hired by Widji as a Northwester. While I don’t remember a lot of staff training, I very vividly recall our staff break-in trip. My leader was Brenda Cram (who has her back to the camera in this photo). Jeff Benjamin (also in the photo) was on our trip along with (and I think I’m recalling the rest of our group correctly, although I think I’m missing a person or two) Slater Neimeyer, Rollie Brusseau, Dave Mink, and Cindy Pierce. We paddled out from camp and headed to Crab Lake. I shared a pack with Brenda and the reason I recall this is because I learned a very valuable lesson from her about how to manage a campsite. Brenda claimed she was paranoid about rain showers popping up at any time and always kept her pack closed with the liner rolled up. This was new to me but it stuck with me for years. Since that time I have always kept my pack liner rolled up and pack closed and taught all my campers at Widji and with other organizations to do the same. The only other thing that stands out from this trip was that somewhere along the portage back out of Crab, one of our group members “injured” her knee and was unable to put any weight on it. So we carried her across most of the portage. Unbeknownst to us, it was actually a simulation, which she disclosed to us at the end of the portage.

Cameron Demetrius

Camp Menogyn

I had an educational experience. This camp showed me just what I could do if I put my mind to it and the skills I learned and friends I made I will never forget. I didn't know I was a legacy until I saw the paddle in the mess hall with my mom's name on it, Leona Wilbur. 

Jennifer Wiliamson Olson

Camp Widjiwagan

I found Widjiwagan from a reference from another camp — seeking a camp experience that had more adventure and challenges. I never looked back nor wondered if there was something better out there. One of the things that strikes me as I think back to my 3 trips was the foundational training or what we called the "Widji Way". Getting a group all on the same page, educated in common processes, focused on a common goal, learning how to work together. We had to learn how to work together and we had good days and bad days. We had to learn how to problem-solve and know that the answers had to come from us. I use these skills every day in my job — leading a large group of individuals in multiple time zones, and countries.  

Since my experiences as Widji, I have encouraged many other family members to go to Widji. We have watched as my nephew Tyler went on to be a Mountaineer and my cousin Lisa went on to do a Voyageur trip. All of my 3 children have attended Widji as well. I believe that it is an experience that you can't get anywhere else. Life-changing. That's usually how I talk about it.    

Jennifer Ehara (Cowger)

Camp Widjiwagan

I was a camper for 6 years, ending with my Voyageur trip in 1985. My children now attend Widji. I think about why I want my boys to experience Widji, and there are so many reasons, but perhaps the most valuable for me as a child were these. I had the chance to be away from everything I knew: my family, friends, school and report cards, city life. It was my world that no one else in my "regular" life ever experienced. That is priceless. I felt not only independent but also connected to the nature I was surrounded by. I loved the hard work, perhaps because it was such basic labor and perhaps because it wasn't being evaluated or judged by anyone but myself. I was able to try new aspects of my inner personality, and build relationships with people I might never see again. I loved the monotony of every day: get up, make breakfast, break camp, canoe, portage, eat gorp, canoe, sing, set up camp, cook, clean, sleep, repeat. Wonderful! I loved the singing. Singing camp songs at Widji at my son's campfires now brings tears to my eyes. As a mother, I add to this the faith that my boys' physical selves will be safe while at Widji (never thought of this as a child!), and that their spiritual selves will be protected and nurtured. I can think of no greater positive influence outside of the home on my childhood than Widji. 

Rich Harmer

Camp St. Croix

My name is Rich Harmer and I love Camp St. Croix. I started coming to camp with my friend Chuck Westerberg and worked my way through Pioneer, Trailblazer, Frontier, Voyager, Explorer, and LDP (I think I repeated one of those). I have many wonderful memories of canoeing and camping with some amazing counselors. Steve Benjamin, Bob Ott, and Wally Nielsen to name a few. I've paddled the entire distance of the St. Croix, I portaged canoes all by myself (flip-up, carry, flip-down) great distances, I've been through crazy rapids on the Flambau river, made fires and dinner in the rain, learned to take care of and ride a horse, seen beautiful lakes and sunsets, and I had fantastic companionship throughout this journey. Camp St. Croix is such a special place that Chuck and I wanted to do more. We volunteered for special events and worked in the kitchen on numerous weekends. Then Chuck and I worked as Counselors (1 summer for me, and 5 or 6 for Chuck). I continue to return to this magical place every year to be the photographer for the Croixathlon - a sprint Triathlon.

Pictures cover the 6 years of me as a camper at Croix, One summer of LDP, and one year as an AC.


Ashira Malka

Camp Widjiwagan

We’d moved to Maryland from the Negev desert of Israel when I was nine, and I never was able to acclimate until I came to Widji ten full years later. Nobody had ever taught me just how to dress for the weather. Through interning at NWRC I learned myself, and I have never had those kinds of problems again since then — not only with cold weather but all kinds. I learned to investigate the situation, ‘map it out,’ talk to people, ask the right questions to make good decisions. The teaching I did came in handy in so many realms, whether it was the map and compass, orienteering, explaining eclipses type of teaching I did at Widji, or the self-defense, martial arts, yoga, arts and crafts, or any other kind of teaching I did later.

After Widji, I went canoeing often, teaching my mom, aunt, anyone I could how to plant your paddle steadily like a tree and bring yourself to it. Widji didn’t just teach me how to teach, it taught me how to teach myself to teach. The excitement and high-interest level combined with science, the physical and mental together made it all stick, and my confidence as a teacher grew long after I left. You could say it’s like I planted myself, made me my own tree-paddle to bring myself to so that my goals have ever increased and still do. Widji changed me inside and out: the clothes I wear, where I shop, what I eat, how I see the weather, how I relate to people … there really isn’t much it didn’t touch. Oh, and I’ve never ever had the kinds of breathing problems I used to have since then, either. It strengthened my lungs, muscles, and outlook.

KaSen Lor

Camp Widjiwagan

Every winter my elementary school would bring us here for a week. It was definitely a trip I look forward to every year. I still remember the importance of eating all your food otherwise you were contributing to the daily food waste. The snowshoe across the lake was one of my favorite times. I wished I had more photos to capture these memories. I learned a lot about the outdoor and survival tactics. I gained stronger friendships and not only that, I experienced a world outside of books and pencils. It was great and I hope that many more schools are offering similar opportunities to their students.


Jeff Wadley

Camp Widjiwagan

In 1964 Nelson Bennett from YMCA Camp Ocoee in Tennessee led a group of campers to Widji for a week of canoeing in the brand newly named BWCA WILDERNESS. He came back in the following years and worked at Widji along with his wife. Since then Nelson has brought groups for the past 50 years to BWCAW. Along with that, he began restoring wood canvas canoes at Widji and with Joe Seliga. In 1987 Nelson brought Charlie Wimmer to Widji and Charlie (my best friend) brought me in 2004. I came home and built a wood strip canoe and have since brought over 25 people to BWCAW in 9 trips. On one of those trips was my two sons who have been twice each ... in summer AND winter. In 2011 I began my Masters in Outdoor Education through Southern Adventist University. Our classroom was Camp Widjiwagan! One morning as I was walking around camp I noticed many signs about a new capital fund campaign.  I decided as a poor graduate student I would commit to the $1,000 pledge. In addition, I have restored three Seliga's including W109, W73, and recently W30. So, for me, I have been impacted by Widji through Nelson Bennett, Charlie Wimmer, Joe Seliga, canoe restorations, and the capital campaign. I have been challenged to never lose my sense of Wonder! Thanks, Widji.

Erin Walsh

Camp Widjiwagan

One of the incredible things about Camp Widjiwagan is that though the equipment changes through the ages — the Widji Way remains so similar. In this way, we are connected to each other through decades of experience. I created this short video after attending the 80th Widjiwagan Reunion and what was incredible to me is just how similar my experience in the late '90s was with people who had traveled lakes and streams with Widji in the '50s. As a community, Widji staff and campers know how to laugh heartily, work hard, and build lasting friendships.

Shonda Nelson

Camp Ihduhpi

My experience with Camp Ihduhapi started with day camp and transitioned into overnight camp. I loved every moment spent there. I also did horse camp. I remember waking up every morning and doing Polar Bears to wake me up! I remember sitting around a campfire and singing and going to church service on Sunday. I remember writing a letter to my mom while I was away at camp and getting a fishing hook stuck in my hand. I love the girls that I bunked within our cabin and I remember our counselors being 2 of the best girls to meet. I also remember one night in the woods when we made a goulash and learned how to rough it. I can't wait to send my son here this summer and hope that he loves it just as much as I did!

Annie Hoyt Taff

Camp Widjiwagan

My favorite memories of Widji always fall in one of three categories: student experiences, staff adventures, and personal growth. Watching a student learn why leaves change colors or what exactly frogs are doing in the winter. Always finding coworkers ready to head out on a long ski or paddle with staff, even after weeks of working long hours in close quarters. Realizing how important and restorative nature will always be in my life. Thank you Widji! 


Cecelia Benson

Camp Icaghowan

I made a new family in cabin 2 again and it was so nice making new friends and growing a family out and keeping in touch.

Riona Gipple

Camp Widjiwagan

I have gone on 3 Widji canoe trips, and it has shaped who I am and what my beliefs are. I have a strong set of skills and morals I intend to share with the world and my future campmates in the years to come. Thank you Widji for making me who I am today. 

John Bussey

Camp Widjiwagan

My 2002 Widji Explorer trip was absolutely transformative in my life. Specifically the last day — the portage. I remember being so nervous about the prospect of not being up to the challenge, and then doing it, and proving to myself that I could accomplish far more than I ever thought possible if I was part of a supportive team. I remember getting to the shore of Superior and freezing my butt off as I dipped in to wash off. It was so cold, SO COLD, but a swim has never felt so good. 

CeCe Benson

Camp Icaghowan

I've been going to camp for 4 years, I was taught many things that one kid could dream of having, like target sports, new songs, games, and even more friends. Camp IC has helped me and made my life a lot better. Camp Icaghowan has made me feel very welcome and it feels like a second home to me. 

Tori Philippi

Camp Menogyn

Words can not describe my story.

Henry Wasylik

Camp Menogyn

Menogyn is a place unlike any other. It teaches you skills that you can’t learn from an online YouTube video, it reinforces the idea that working as a team will always get the job done, even when you are all exhausted and sweaty from a 300-rod portage, but most importantly, it gives you a sense of community, family. A place where you can go and feel safe and welcome, and be a part of a group, a team.

Before I had gone to Camp Menogyn, I had already gone to two other sleepaway camps. At both, I felt lonely beyond compare, and at both; I had a miserable time. Given my past experiences, I was nervous to try another sleep-away camp, my fear of alone almost overcoming my decision to come to camp, but being as stubborn as I am, I chose to give it a try. Immediately when I arrived at camp, we began a large bag chain down to the lake, passing each bag along for about 25 minutes. After which we split up into our groups for the week, I had Forest (the counselor, not the large area of grouped) trees). We Canoed across the lake in “la petite” and unloaded our stuff. After a quick tour of our cabin and a not-so-quick orientation, we began working. We practiced swamping and swimming, which was fun.

The rest of the day went very well, with an excellent trip out onto the water and an excellent dinner where all of the counselors yelled “I GOT A GROUP TODAY” ... it was very loud.

At the end of the day, to my surprise, I was not homesick, not in the slightest. This came as a shock to me because I had always been homesick at other sleepaway camps, And after each day progressed, I began to just feel safer and safer, (besides when my best friend “accidentally” tipped me out of our canoe on the second day). 

Camp Menogyn is a place where a homesick kid can go and have one hell of a time, make new friends (if Tyler and Josh ever read this, hi guys), and learn new skills. Camp Menogyn ... is just totally epic.

Anne Cowie, Tom Hiendlmayr, Dave Jerde, Elizabeth Miller, Audrey Haynes, and Chris Lauth

Camp Widjiwagan

"We" are the first Widji Board member trip, including Anne Cowie, Tom Hiendlmayr, Dave Jerde, and Elizabeth Miller, and led by Widji staff Audrey Haynes and Chris Lauth. We had completed our evening tasks, tucking everything into its proper place as per the Widji way at our campsite on Lake Agnes, and settled down by the shoreline to watch the full, blue moon of August 2012 rise in the southern sky. It had been a challenging but good day, paddling into headwinds and rain squalls up Lac La Croix towards Warrior Hill in search of pictographs near there. We had found them, then safely returned to our base camp feeling successful in our efforts. Winds had ceased and skies cleared, and so in the evening's moon-lit quiet, we, in turn, shared our day's roses, buds, and thorns. After the last words were spoken, off down the lake a loon began calling, wailing and yodeling unanswered, and continuing for several minutes. We held ourselves as in a sacred space; saying nothing; listening; discerning nature's words; our hearts and spirits lifting, floating, then soaring.

Emma Burgeson and Mitzi Peine

Camp Widjiwagan

We often hear about how Widji trips change people's lives, about how lifelong friendships are made and respect for the environment is learned, but what we don’t hear about as much is what happens after camp. What happens when that trail glow from our trips doesn’t fade? It inspires us to seek adventure and push the limits on where we can go and what we can do. We try to have a positive impact on the world one small step at a time.

Mitzi and I met on our voyageur trip in 2010 and remained close ever since. We guided glacier tours in Alaska for a summer and schemed about what our next adventure would be. This summer, we will be the first all-female to compete in the Yukon 1000, the world’s longest canoe and kayak race.

We want to share our story with anyone that’s willing to listen. We want everyone to know what happens after camp ends can be exhilarating and life-changing if you let it be. Many have asked why we are doing this, and the first answer we give is that we want something challenging and memorable to mark the end of our college careers. The honest answer is that we want to show kids that you can race a thousand miles if you want to, all you have to do is believe in yourself. Widji gave us the confidence we needed to go out and pursue our passions, and for that, we cannot be any more grateful.

Follow us in our attempts to make a difference.

Peace on the waterways.

Alana Weier

Camp Icaghowan

Camp is the only place I really feel at home. Camp Icaghowan is the only place that will ever make me as happy as I can be. I love the staff and the friends I meet here. My favorite memory from camp so far is getting my chip. I have 4 chips. My favorite chip that I have gotten has a sun on it. My favorite chip venture was my most recent time at camp. We went out in the A field and the counselors gave us papers with clues on them as to where our chip was. I really liked looking for my chip and in the end, it was in the archery range. Anyways that's my favorite stuff about my chips!

Graeham Handcock

Camp Widjiwagan

Tayva Madsen

Camp St. Croix

I have been going to Camp St. Croix for three years alone until very recently last summer my best friend came with me we got put into the same cabin with cabin requests, and got put into the same activities we spent an entire week together it was amazing we came out like we were sisters and we've been extremely close since then we had the most amazing counselors and we even got to name one since she was new to camp I'm extremely excited for my fifth year at camp and her second we've been waiting all year and it's coming up around the corner.

Hadley Alt

Camp Icaghowan

I've gone to camp for three years here and I've had so many wonderful experiences. I've met so many amazing people and will always remember all the great things I've done here. I've learned new skills, such as teamwork, and going to camp helped me learn to interact with people I may not know. I've always loved this camp and it has really impacted my life and I will never forget that. 

Two young ladies at a climbing course

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