Widjiwagan celebrates 90 years!

On Friday, July 12th of this past summer Widji alumni from across the country made their way to the shores of Burnstide Lake to celebrate 90 years of Camp Widjiwagan! Some drove up from the Twin Cities, others made Widji a stop in their cross-country summer road trip, others flew in from the East and West Coast, along with a variety of other paths that brought folks together.

While the event occurred July 12-14, planning had begun almost a year earlier. Widji alums Sara Mairs and Mark Holloway graciously agreed to co-chair the 90th Reunion Planning Committee. Sara and Mark pulled together a core group of additional committee members with a good representation from different eras, to brainstorm, plan, and execute Widji’s 90th birthday party. Additional volunteers contributed to help with everything from program input to schedule design and housing logistics. It was incredible to see the energy and passion of people working together for this event.

After almost a year of meetings, emails, and phone calls, we were ready. The weather also cooperated with a nearly perfectly warm and sunny blue-sky weekend. If there were any concerns about the weekend, they quickly vanished as people arrived to check in at the Sigurd Olson Center. Hugs, pictures, and nametag coloring kept everyone excited and busy in settling back into a place so special. Joe Smith even provided a little fiddle background music to add to the charm.

Once folks were checked in the festivities began. On Saturday night there was a Barn Dance in Kirby Dining Hall along with a campfire happening in Burntside Circle. Saturday morning allowed the chance to explore camp, take a canoe out for a paddle, or a hike in the woods. Bruce Casselton also worked extensively on a “Pop Up Museum” in the Trail Building capturing the unique history of Widjiwagan.

By lunch on Saturday, we hit our maximum attendance at about 240 people! During lunch, we recognized Lois Eyink, the first female Voyageur Trail Counselor from 1956, along with Bonnie Mairs, a Widji alum who had been inducted in the YMCA Hall of Fame.

Saturday afternoon was focused on the dedication of 2 BN Morris canoes that were originally owned by Joe Seliga’s family. These canoes had been donated to Widji years ago and had been in pretty rough shape. Widji worked with Alex Comb at Stewart River Boatworks and Tim Eaton at Urban Boat Builders to restore these two canoes. They were dedicated back to Widji to recognize the history and legacy of Joe and Norah Seliga as well as adding two more canoes to the fleet for Widji campers to paddle. Representatives from the Seliga family attended the event making it even more special.

The restoration of these canoes also aligned well with the release of Canoeman Joe, a children’s book written by Robin Radcliffe and illustrated by Consie Powell. This book chronicles Joe Seliga’s journey as a canoe builder and references the 2 BN Morris canoes as part of his early work and inspiration. Robin and Consie were on site for a book reading and signing. Proceeds from the sale of the book are generously going towards the Seliga Wood Canvas Canoe Endowment. Saturday night many gathered on rocks in Burntside Circle for a sing-a-long led by Widji alum, Phil Bratnober. Saunas under the northern sky concluded the full day of activities.

On Sunday morning we gathered at Chapel Point for a beautiful Reflection Service coordinated by Phil Bratnober and facilitated by Katie Lawson. Readings and reflections were shared that made us all think of the experiences and friendships we’ve made at Widji, while also acknowledging loss in our lives. A reading of the names of those who have passed help expand our circle a little wider that morning.

It was an incredible weekend that reminded us all how powerful the experiences at Widji can be generation after generation. Conversations could have lingered well into the afternoon, but as we were all reminded, campers were packing up in preparation for their Widji experience to start that next Monday.