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That Time Icaghowan Forgot Its Own Birthday

Marjorie in 1963
Marjorie in 1963
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It’s been said that a camp without knowledge of its history is like a tree without roots. This is a story about recovering history, and the twists and turns such journeys often take. It’s a story about YMCA Camp Icaghowan, and people like Marjorie Meffert and Mark Dobbelmann. It’s a story about the time camp forgot it’s birthday.

And especially a story about declaring, without reservation, that Camp Icaghowan got its start in 1908, not 1909.

The journey started with Marjorie

The way Marjorie recalls the memory, “it was maybe a 5-minute interaction.” A gentleman came into the YMCA of Metropolitan Minneapolis’ Human Resources office holding a $10,000 medical bill. He hadn’t filled out his benefits forms correctly, or maybe he missed them altogether. His eyes were desperate as he asked her what he was supposed to do.

“No one was overseeing the paperwork,” said Marjorie. It was 1979 and, in that moment, she vowed that “would never again happen on her watch.”

Marjorie worked for the YMCA from 1959-98, spending the majority of her 39-year career in the Human Resources department. She confessed that she wouldn’t have aspired to be in HR, but she enjoyed getting to know people from all the branches across the association. During her career, there wasn’t a computer system, so she had to do everything manually and come up with her own systems for organization. She said, “If you are going to do something, you need to do it right. Especially in HR, you need to dot the “i’s” and cross the “t’s.’”

She wonders if that’s how this whole confusion about Icaghowan’s origin date happened in the first place, but nobody really knows the answer to that question.

After Marjorie retired, she put her attention to detail and love of history to use as a volunteer at the Kautz Family Library YMCA Archives at the University of Minnesota, which holds historical records for the national YMCA offices and the YMCA of the North, among other YMCAs . It was important to her that the archives were complete, accurate and thorough. During that time, she assisted with research for the publication of the book, “Breaking Ground, Building Strong Lives: 140 Years of Youth Work with the Minneapolis YMCA (1866-2006).”

Marjorie shared, “It was a fun project because I have some love for detective work in me.” She enjoyed looking through old records, and said, “that’s the stuff you need — that’s your history.”

While researching the book, sometime in the mid-2000’s, she came across a memo that listed the founding of YMCA Camp Icaghowan as 1908. But she remembered from working at the YMCA, that the camp letterhead listed the date as 1909.

She continued her research, finding additional documents that confirmed it: the founding date of Camp Icaghowan was 1908, not 1909!

Marjorie mentioned the date discrepancy to a few different people, but the Y’s focus at the time was on the publication of the book.

Foiled by circumstances beyond her control, she moved on to other projects, her research put aside, to be nearly forgotten.

Another attempt at resurfacing history

Years later, in 2019, former camper Mark Dobbelmann was helping to prepare camp for its 110th anniversary — still mistakenly believed to be in 2019. Mark, a camper at Icaghowan in 1961 with his own truly remarkable story, started helping with research on Icaghowan history. He was interested in learning more about the camp that had become so important to him because of both his daughter Laura and granddaughter Ruth’s love for camp. He was also curious if the research would help him remember anything about his time as a camper.

Mark visited the archives — the same ones where Marjorie had volunteered years before — scanning old photos, going through documents, and eventually Mark assembled a bound book of information. In that process, like Marjorie, he discovered that the founding date of Icaghowan was not 1909, but actually 1908.

Michel Tigan was camp’s executive director at the time. As she was preparing for the 110th celebration, she and Mark discussed how to go about fixing the mistake.

But then, the pandemic struck.

Before Michel could fix the error, the entire team of Y Camping staff, including Michel, was thrown into a tailspin of crisis management, the cancellation of the 2020 season, and the subsequent re-structuring of programming to safely run in 2021. Amid all that, Michel became the executive director of YMCA Camp St. Croix, and shortly after, the Vice President of Adventure & Camp Operations. The box of photos, the research, and the information about the founding date was put on a shelf amidst the turmoil.

As before, the research was set aside, and the letterhead still read “1909.”

A responsibility to preserve camp culture

In late January 2023, Marjorie re- entered the story. She read the first issue of “Letters From Camp,” and with her well-trained eye for detail, saw every camp had its founding date. She checked Icaghowan’s and immediately saw “1909” in bold type.

She decided she would try one more time to get the error fixed.

Her e-mail landed in the inbox of Camp Icaghowan Executive Director, Georgia Wagner. Georgia talked with Michel and learned about all the work Mark Dobbelmann had done too.

“This matters,” replied Georgia. “It’s worth the time, energy, and resources.” Georgia brought the information to the Icaghowan Community Board, who also agreed that this was a detail that needed to be corrected.

Georgia and the board set out to plan camp’s 115th anniversary. It seemed like a fantastic opportunity to finally make the fix.

“This information has lit a fire in the community,” said Georgia.

The camp board responded by creating a preservation strategy to digitize records to care for this and other information. The date has been corrected on the website, in publications, on camp store merchandise, and staff will continue to edit the date where they find it listed incorrectly.

“We have a responsibility to preserve our camp culture,” said Georgia. “All of that has come from this project.”

You might even say, all of this has come because wonderful people like Marjorie and Mark cared to make a difference.

This summer Icaghowan will celebrate its — correctly described now — 116th anniversary. Alumni and friends will return to Icaghowan for a day-long celebration with camp activities, archives on display and the official announcement of 1908 as the founding year.

When asked why this was important to her, Marjorie said, “What does a year difference matter? Well, it’s part of the truth of history. There is documentation to back it up and it should be known. There is so much we let go in this world, but maybe we shouldn’t. If you are going to pound in a nail, pound it in straight. It will make it stronger.”