Category Archives: camper qualities


July 07, 2016

  1. Flag in Dining Hall

    Our flag from 1908 (Camp was 8 years old by then!) hangs proudly in the dining room

    The Fourth of July is a little funny around here. Really, it’s just like any other day–except that we have the boys board buses to head into Sayner for a front row seat at the Sayner firework display. Although it’s SUPPOSED to be a surprise, truth is most of them already know. But that doesn’t make it any less fun.
    Yesterday morning I had an all camp contest to see who could tell me the year and presiding President was when the flag that hangs in our Dining Hall hung over the capitol. There are 46 stars.
    Believe it or not, a number figured it out. Whether it is because they are history buffs (which a few folks are) or because they remembered from our Teddy Roosevelt Theme Day last year, in total 14 boys got it right. (The answer is 1908, Teddy Roosevelt; but it’s special because the 46th state was admitted to the Union on the 4th of July of that year. Cool, huh?)
    Here at Camp Highlands we celebrate the gifts of independence. Not in a, “Rah, Yay, America!” way, but in a way that is perhaps a little more in tune with the character of independence that fostered such actions to make this country great so many years ago. The gift of self-rule; self-control and personal responsibility are high on our list of what celebrating independence is all about.
    Another contest I had (and will continue to have until Wednesday noon) is to see who can memorize our 18 Honor Camper Qualities and recite them in front of everyone in the Dining Hall. It’s a daunting feat; one that Hans F., Brewster H., Declan M., Jack R. and Quinn B. have already taken on, and accomplished. Impressive acts of initiative and leadership that are serving to inspire us all.
    This is the kind of independence we cherish at Camp Highlands. When young men aren’t afraid to take on a task and see it through to completion, for the honor, pride (and ice cream) the accomplishment merits.
    How lucky we are.
    Better. Worthwhile. Highlands.


    This morning, walking up to flag raising I overheard one of our staff guys comment to a young camper as he was gazing out over the boating bay, “Another day in paradise, eh?” The young man simply grinned and nodded. Another day in paradise, indeed.
    It’s been quite a week at Camp Highlands. This past Saturday we had our 4th of July Army/Navy Track Meet (on the 25th of June…don’t ask…) where it was LITERALLY neck and neck the entire time, INCLUDING our final lap on our final relay which saw an absolute TIE at the finish line, resulting in the first ever TIE of the track meet. At the announcement in the Dining Hall, with the anxious Admiral Armstrong and General Fox waiting to hear who would bear the brunt of the challenge, what I thought would be a disappointing announcement actually produced the opposite result. The hall erupted in cheers, and a spontaneous chant of, “Highlands! Highlands! Highlands! We’re all friends!” Everyone was thrilled—and the General and Admiral thought it only fair that they BOTH participate in the challenge. Go Highlands!
    On Sunday at our Assembly, after telling the boys the story of I’m Third, we had some powerful testimonies from some of our men from Cabin One. It was great. Then, with a heavy heart I inducted Ross Freeland into the Camp Highlands Hall of Fame, and announced that we have renamed our ball fields, “Freeland Field.”
    And then we added a new Honor Camper Quality to our list of 17. The new quality added is one that is exemplified in the I’m Third motto. This trait encourages us to measure our sense of self esteem and pride against a higher moral code; a moral code that places our value in the ways in which we act and interact with the world around us, not by the amount of “likes” we get on our selfies.
    Truth is we are flawed people; we make mistakes and fall short; we let our vanity take advantage of our morals, and our desires overcome our hopes and visions. And that is just part of who we are. Which is why this value is a good one to have.
    This value affirms us in our brokenness, and invites us to give life a go again; to try, and to fail, and to try again.
    So we add our 18th honor camper quality. It is, “Humility.”
    Author CS Lewis said, “Humility is not thinking less of yourself, but thinking of yourself less.”
    Contrary to what popular culture may want us to believe, we believe that the greatest rewards in this life come from our ability to live well, love others and be of good service. And this trait is the cornerstone to understanding that and living into it well. And this place is one where we are affirmed in our willingness to try again, to be good to one another, and to have a great time while doing it. Another beautiful day in paradise, indeed.
    Better. Wortwhile. Highlands.

  3. CHOF's on Parade

    I had an interesting realization the other day.
    I was sitting with THREE of my former counselors at supper. And there were only 4 of us at the table.
    How lucky am I?
    Someone recently remarked to me that they thought it might be odd that we have SO many CHOF’s on staff. To me, it would be odd NOT to have them here.
    I’m a big fan of depth; whether it is on my staff here at Highlands, or really in any worthwhile organization. At a camp, having guys who are 19 years old is important. They can be your high energy, every minute is an opportunity to do something zany, let’s go ahead and play dodgeball for two hours kind of guys. And their energy and enthusiasm drives camp—keeps it action packed and adventurous. And we need that- and we love that.
    But it is also important to me to balance that with our seasoned veterans- our 24 year old guys who are swinging through Highlands during their grad school years, or as a last gasp before they head into the corporate world. These guys can still bring the enthusiasm, but they’re also the guys who are willing to step up to leadership opportunities; whether it is leading our big trips or teaching fellow staff members about trip safety and cabin bonding. They are gold.
    And then I have our CHOF’s (Camp Highlands Old…Fellas). The CHOF’s are those of us (yes, us…) who range in age from 27-77. Dave runs the trip room. Otter helps there, and pretty much anywhere else he’s needed. When not at Highlands, Loren is a teacher in Kansas; here he teaches canoeing. Kent is a retired teacher and cross-country coach. Here he leads our low-ropes course, and is the head counselor of our youngest guys. I have 14 guys over the age of 40 on staff.
    The value of having this 60 year swing in staff age is that I have a grounded, well-rounded group of guys who can bring their passion for all things Highlands, and provide the kind of coverage and decision making skills necessary to ensure that our campers have an incredible experience here. Their history at Highlands (heck, I have a few 19 year old guys who already have 10 years at Highlands!) means our values and the qualities we hold dear run deep. Both (2!) of our new staff men caught on pretty quick to the Highlands Way. My hope is your campers catch the spirit as well. I believe that having the old guys around is just as important as having the young. And I consider myself quite lucky to have the opportunity to bring them all back, year after year after year. To me, this is just one of the reasons why we have thrived for so long at Camp Highlands. And, to me, it is so cool to have my first counselor here, my last counselor here, and not one but TWO of the guys in the middle.
    Better. Worthwhile. Highlands.

    From right to left, AB's last counselor, Craig Ericksen, his first counselor, Dave Baker, and one from the middle, Jim DiDomenico

    From right to left, AB’s last counselor, Craig Ericksen, his first counselor, Dave Baker, and one from the middle, Jim DiDomenico

  4. #BEFREE

    IMG_0075It’s hard to say goodbye to the ones we love. You know them. The army of iPhones, Androids, Kindles and Nooks. Oh how we’ll miss you.
    I overheard our Office Assistant, (the amazing) Sally Glowiak as she accepted one boy’s cell phone. She said, “Congratulations! You’re FREE!”
    I love that. I love that Sally made a point to emphasize the positive impact of what we hope to accomplish by being “tech free.” I love that this older camper WILLINGLY brought his phone into the office to be held in safe-keeping for the season. And I love that we have upheld a tradition that goes back to the beginnings of the camping days.
    At a gathering of the American Camping Association that I attended last year, I heard one camping expert admonish camps for trying to take away the tech. “Embrace it,” he told us. “Use it to your advantage!” he told us. He seemed to think that the more our campers were Facebooking their experiences—the more they Tweeted about it, texted about it, Instagrammed about it, the better it would be for us. “It’ll drive traffic to your site, which will drive campers to your camp.”
    When Tracy and I started talking about it, we both came to the same conclusion.
    When Camp Highlands was established in 1904, their primary mission was to give boys, “a real, wilderness experience.” This was when the most cutting-edge technology in the city of Chicago was a gas-powered “Horseless Carriage.” This even predates things like the toaster, the radio and the theory of relativity. THAT was the world from which parents wanted their boys to escape. Can you imagine?
    It is a liberating experience to go gadgetless in this day and age. And I am here to tell you, when you allow your boys to #BeFree of the gadgets and the gizmos, something incredible happens. They run. They play. They have conversations. And they are engaged in the right-here and the right-now, and nothing else matters. And they do just fine…
    Wouldn’t it be nice if we could all be so lucky?
    Camp Highlands has been in the business of providing young men and boys with real wilderness experiences that shape character and inspire self-discovery for 112 years. And we’ll take a pre-toaster world any day.
    Better, Worthwhile, Highlands.

  5. Strength in Failure

    It’s official. We’re in our last week here at Camp. It’s a series of “lasts” now. The last turkey supper (my waistline will be happy about that), the last Sunday Night Sing, the last Sunday Assembly.
    Andy and Ross went out with a bang today during Assembly. Our discussion was about vulnerability and failure. Wait, what? Aren’t we here to make your boys into strong young men? Failure?

    Boys shared their greatest achievement at camp and what else they'd like to accomplish this summer.

    Boys shared their greatest achievement at camp and what else they’d like to accomplish this summer.

    We talked about how through failure and perseverance comes experience and ultimately success. It teaches us GRIT. Falling down on skis over and over again can be frustrating. Judah B. shared how he’s been going for his “drop a ski” Achievement Credit (AC) for two years. He did it last week, and this week he easily got his “deep-water slalom AC.” Success­–after a lot of falling down. Charlie Z. shared his experiences in baseball this summer working on a particularly difficult AC. Ross would hit the highest fly ball possible and Charlie had to catch it. It took him try after try to do it. Lots of failure there. But guess what? He did it.
    So often we think that if we fall down we’ve failed. In our culture of Facebook bragging and Instagram showoffing we don’t want to admit when things don’t go quite right. But your boys heard it loud and clear today. Fail! Do it often! Get back up! Try again! Andy even made us chant it: “Don’t give up, don’t give up. You can do it. Try again.” (I’m paraphrasing, but it was something along those lines!)
    Your guys are out running around today, making the most of their last few days at Highlands. Tomorrow will be the last regular day of camp. Tuesday is Division Day, Wednesday will bring us the stunt show, Thursday the Kerchief Ceremony and Friday… well, you know, Friday’s the end. Saturday morning by 9 a.m. camp will quiet.
    We get let down easy, though! We don’t have to go right back to it, thankfully, as Friends and Family Camp starts on Saturday evening!
    And on that note…
    I ❤ CH // tracy b.
    Things you’ll need to know for these coming days:
    Friday’s festivities: Please arrive at 3 p.m. for some end of term fun. The picnic supper is on Junior Hill at 6 p.m. followed by the banquet ceremonies in the dining room and wrapping up about 8:30.
    If your child is traveling by car you may take him home that night, or you may pick him up in the morning at 9 a.m.
    If your child is traveling by bus, he’ll be on his way by 9 a.m. on Saturday morning. The bus will arrive in Madison at the Pinecone Shell at 1 p.m. The bus reaches Rockford at 2:15 p.m. and then depending on traffic is scheduled to arrive at O’Hare
    Airport about 3:30 p.m. Once boys are dropped off at the airport the bus travels over to the O’Hare Oasis and should arrive between 3:45 and 4:00 p.m.

  6. Tales from Tower Three

    Anyone who has been to camp knows of our famous towers. Our lake neighbors love to come down and gawk as the boys perform feats of courage and craziness as they leap into the air, 18 feet above the water.
    From down on the dock, the towers are really not that daunting. But once you climb them, and stand on that third platform in particular, it can seem like you’re 500 feet off the surface. And it can be intimidating. I still get nervous when I stand up there.
    So the other day when I saw a camper from way down in Cabin 25 take his first step off Tower Three I knew I got to witness one of the greatest moments of the summer.
    There are lots of “firsts” at Camp. First time you paddle a kayak, first time you get up on water skis – heck! – first time you are away from your parents home for more that a night! And we love to celebrate those “firsts.” We celebrate them because we know how special they are. We know how important they are in helping to shape these young men lives into our Worthwhile Man line that says, “Give me the courage of the man who knows that if he will, he can.”

    Give me the courage of the man who knows that if he will, he can.

    “Give me the courage of the man who knows that if he will, he can.” The little guy who *jumped* pictured above.

    That little guy from Cabin 25 stood on Tower Three for 45 minutes. Then the bugle blew, calling the waiters to come get supper ready. But the lifeguards didn’t budge. And neither did his cousins (all 4 of them). Everybody stood by, eyes to the sky, waiting.
    He’d walk to the edge, then skitter back. He’d try to take a running start, only to stop short. He stood there for an eternity. Finally his cousins climbed up, and jumped off, to show him how easy it can be. One of our lifeguards went up and jumped off, showing him how he could do it. But still, he waited…
    Finally, first call blew, calling all of us to supper. And suddenly he did it – he took off of that tower and even before he hit the water the roar of the crowd erupted. It was awesome. He emerged from the water triumphant – beaming with pride and accomplishment.
    All of our sons are experiencing plenty of soul-stretching, discomforting moments of first-ness all the time. And when they do something new the smiles that shine forth from their faces are those of young men who know that they are living into a new reality; a world where they are beginning to get the sense that if they set their mind to something, then chances are good that they can accomplish it. Whether it’s jumping off Tower Three for the first time, or simply being away from mom and dad for four weeks. It is a special thing to witness those breakthrough moments. And it is a moment that I don’t think any of us will soon forget.
    Better. Worthwhile. Highlands.
    Andy B.

  7. Highlands Time

    Whew!! What a weekend! Have you had a chance to look through the gallery? Yesterday was a gorgeous day. Hot and sunny. It may have been the best day all summer! The Steeplechase, Senior Carnival and Games on the Hill were EPIC. Call me crazy, but it’s a day like yesterday that really makes camp feel like a big family. We are bonded after participating in decades-old traditions. One hundred and eleven. Now that’s a birthday, you guys. We did our very best to celebrate in style!

    The biggest Seniors start off the race with a bang.

    The biggest Seniors start off the race with a bang.

    Today it seems like someone must have known that we were tired and gave us a cool, quiet and intermittently rainy day. The kind of day that makes turkey dinner taste especially good!
    During Sunday Assembly, we got to take a look at some old medium-format photos of camp from *way* back in the day. Andy walked us through a little history of the first few summers at camp, when the boys simply felled trees and cleared the space for what is now Junior Hill (not sure what that activity would have been named. Lumberjacking?). You might find the history of camp interesting, too, and if you haven’t already, take a look at the Highlands Archives for all sorts of fascinating stories about former campers and staff members.
    After our brief history lesson Shaun Trenholm offered a reflection on the art of saying “thank you” in a letter. Shaun’s words remind me how lucky we are to know each other here at Camp and how each one of us has something unique and important to offer to the group. Shaun’s legacy at Highlands is legendary. He started Highlands as a camper in 1968 and then started coming back as a counselor in 1984. I’ve not met many people that illustrate the Highlands Honor Camper Qualities so well. THANK YOU Shaun for all that you do for Highlands!
    After the noon meal, we enjoyed an extended rest hour. Then boys enjoyed open activities this afternoon. The best thing about Sunday, though, is Sing. The fun just keeps on coming!
    We are looking forward to the week ahead. Week three of four, my favorite week at camp. The boys know each other now, and real friendships have developed. Many guys have been on their trip. They have attended all the activities and had the opportunity to experience trial and failure and then…success! I am incredibly happy that *my* kid has the time and space to work on dropping a ski. He’s been at it for two whole summers, and he got very close on Friday. He’ll get assigned to skiing this week, and he’ll turn up at free-time and I bet he is slaloming by this Friday. That’s the true gift of four weeks at Camp. Time and space to figure out what you are good at, and what you would like to improve upon.
    These boys amaze me. From the Cub that’s learning to repel in Adventure, to the Senior that’s hiking 100 miles across Isle Royale – I’m inspired by them. I’m inspired by our counselors that have the patience to teach and coach them. I’m inspired by the opportunities for leadership our older campers have.
    Your boys will have four (or maybe seven) weeks to play, grow, learn, stretch and lead. And Camp has had 111 years to play, grow, learn, stretch and lead.
    How lucky we are.
    And on that note…
    I ❤ CH // tracy b.

  8. Boys Will Run

    Sometimes I take the little things for granted. And then something as simple as watching a flock of boys run past me will remind me of just how special summer camp can be.
    This morning I had one of those moments. I was sitting on the office porch enjoying one last cup of coffee before the onslaught of the day, and the bugle blew- and there they were- a flock of Cubbies clomping past the porch on their way to their activities. Running. I don’t know what it is about these little guys, but it seems like they are always in a rush to the next great adventure. They greet the day with enthusiasm and pep (Honor Camper Quality #3), and they don’t let a moment go to waste.
    Some of that zest probably comes from the compressed energy of the last two days. Long car or plane rides. A forever-taking bus. Then all those safety talks! Riflery, Waterfront, Boating Bay, Free Swim. Then the instructional talks- how to be a waiter, how to request an activity, how to put up a tent, how to sweep the cabin, how to make a bed! And then the swim test! And then the bad weather drill! It’s no wonder they’re ready to rock on this second day at camp.

    photo 2

    Waterfront safety talk. Boring? Maybe. Important? You bet!

    Ross gives the thumbs up after a successful storm drill. Boring? Maybe. Important? You bet!

    Ross gives the thumbs up after a successful storm drill. Boring? Perhaps. Important? Definitely!

    But all this preparation is what makes for an exciting and a safe summer. So today, it is time to RUN. The fellas in Cabin 24 told me they have the BEST day today. Kayaking, Archery, Adventure (our ropes course) and Riflery. Then they couldn’t wait for Clubs this afternoon. Two will be making model rockets. Two have signed up for our Soccer tournament. All four were brimming with enthusiasm and excitement for this great adventure called “camp.” And all four were running all around, with nobody telling them to stand still or calm down or be quiet or act right. Because they were acting right! They were boys, being boys.
    I can’t remember the last time I ran just for running’s sake, but next time I see that flock of Cubbies blazing by, I think I will join them.
    Better. Worthwhile. Highlands.
    Andy B.

  9. WWJD (and it's not Jesus)

    Judah learned to make a triple-decker pita PB&J and how to explode mosquitos on this canoe trip. Oh yeah, and how to have a great attitude when it's raining out.

    Judah learned to make a triple-decker pita PB&J and how to explode mosquitos on this canoe trip. Oh yeah, and how to have a great attitude when it’s raining out thanks to his amazing counselors.

    As you know, Camp Highlands is not based in any religion, (even though we have a strong thread of values woven into just about everything we do at camp). That’s why it might surprise you that I say to my 11-year-old camper when he’s acting especially, well, eleven: “Judah, WWJD?!” And I’m not talking about Jesus. While I appreciate that fellow, he doesn’t seem to carry as much weight with Judah as his counselor from this summer, Jordan Taylor. Am I comparing Jordan and Jesus? No. It’s just a short way to say to Judah, “how would Jordan behave in this situation? How would Jordan handle this?”
    I know I’ve cited this NYT article Why Camp Counselors can Out-parent Parents before, but it bears repeating. Our favorite camp expert Michael Thompson hits the nail on the head when he says,

    “Children love to learn, but they get tired of being taught by adults. Children want to learn from older children, and, at a camp that means older campers, C.I.T.’s (counselors in training) and camp counselors. They want to live with them, emulate them, absorb them. In our age-segregated society, camp is the only place in America where an 11-year-old can get the sustained attention of a 19-year-old. In return for the attention of these “older children,” campers will make sacrifices. They will follow all kinds of rules and adhere to all kinds of rituals that they would likely fight at home.”

    Hopefully you’ve seen changes in your boys since they’ve been home from camp. Have they been more confident and willing upon entering a new school? I had one parent email me and say her son had been incredibly helpful during their recent move. She said she thanks camp for that, and reports he’s “turning into a Highlands man.” Music to our ears!
    If you haven’t enrolled for next summer, the October 1st deadline for the free store account is quickly approaching. Remember we have a 100% refund policy, should your plans change. Just log in to your account and follow the link to the Camper Application (it’s the green square with the tree in it). We hope everyone has had a good start to the year. We are already counting down to our 111th camping season! We hope to see you there!

  10. Happiness is a by-product


    The t-shirt says it all: HAPPY HAPPY HAPPY

    Oh my goodness. Can it be? We only have how many days left of camp?! I don’t know how you feel, but it’s gone by in the blink of an eye for us.
    This coming week is filled with many traditions. From the Stunt Show on Wednesday night to Kerchiefs on Thursday, Honor Tripper recognition, Water Carnival – the list goes on. Tonight is the last Assembly, the last turkey dinner and the last Sing for our first-termers.
    I have the inside scoop that Andy Bachmann and Co. will be talking about making the most of these last days at Highlands this morning at Sunday Assembly. We should all probably listen to that advice! Andy and I have had many interesting discussions recently about Eleanor Roosevelt’s famous and brilliant quote, “Happiness is not a goal, it’s a by-product.” At Highlands we believe that a worthwhile life, is earned by working hard, persevering and adhering to those camper qualities we hold to be sacred. By making the most of every opportunity, by putting the other fellow before ourselves, by being helpful and productive – happiness is inevitable!
    Happiness also prevails when you get that boy you love so much home on Saturday, July 13th. Here are details on the last days of camp.
    The final banquet is on Friday, July 12. Festivities begin at 3 p.m. during the water carnival (think ski show, synchronized swim routines, and something with a greasy watermelon – only at camp!). This is followed by supper at 6 p.m. and the banquet which wraps up around 8:45 p.m. You are welcome to take your son home at that time, OR they can sleep the last night in their cabin and roll out of camp at 9 a.m. on July 13. It is up to you.
    The bus schedule on the way home is:
    1:00 p.m. drop off in Madison at the Pinecone Shell, DeForest exit
    2:15 p.m. drop off at Rockford Clock Tower
    3:30 p.m. O’Hare Airport drop off
    3:45 p.m. O’Hare Oasis drop off
    And on that note…
    I ❤ CH // tracy b.