My Memories of Camp Don Bosco

Newton, NJ

We shall not cease from exploration
And the end of all our exploring
Will be to arrive where we started
And know the place for the first time.

T.S. Eliot -- "Little Gidding"

07-2012
D. Vautier


The camp

Camp Don Bosco was located on a hill behind the lake at Don Bosco College which was then the major seminary for the Salesians, a catholic order of priests and brothers founded by St. John Bosco.  The primary purpose of the Salesians was the education of boys and young men.  Their development and support of the camp fit the mission well.

I worked at the camp as a Salesian brother for two summers in 62’ and 63’.  These are some of my recollections mostly from the summer of 62’, but I may have mixed up events of the two summers.  My one big regret was my lack of documentation during the time I was there.  I have no pictures even though I was school photographer at the college.  Like everybody else working at camp I was just way too busy to think much about pictures or anything other than my job.

These are my own recollections and some may be inaccurate as time has a way of doing that. 

I want to thank my close friend Larry Mullaly for his help in establishing some of the details in this short chronology.  It's probably true that none of the brothers who worked at the camp had much of an idea of what went on elsewhere in the world because we were much involved in our own activities, and there were a lot of activities.    

 

        


Vatican II opened that first year in 1962 under Pope John XXIII that fall, but our camp master Fr. Emery Stegman was very excited about the event. He ran an elaborate catechism contest for the campers on the meaning and importance of the council offering great prizes (for those days anyway) like swim fins and snorkels. One of the campers, of Irish Catholic descent memorized most of the answers and came in first.

 

Also in 1962 Fr. Bianchi was director at the college and Fr. Borgatello was prefect.  The camp was administered by the college but Fr. Stegman was in charge of day-to-day operations. Our General Assistant that first summer was Dave Goris, a tall blonde headed athletic kind of guy.  Several years later I met him while he was in Germany.  

During my second year at the camp Tony Fasulo was the General Assistant.  

Fr. Borgatello, the prefect, so I heard, apparently was a little too extravagant with the budget that year (1961-2) because DBC ran a deficit despite financial input from the camp, the farm and the many cooperators.  But the camp did turn in a respectable profit each year.  Anyway the prefect was replaced for the  1963-64 with someone of a more austere nature.  Among some of Fr. Borgatello’s accomplishments during the very hot summer of ’62 was the installation of an air conditioner for the office which was very unusual but very popular, that is if you happen to work in the office.  The camp brothers who were accustomed to cassock and collar when it was hot were taken aback, but at camp we were allowed to wear white short sleeve shirts and black pants.

I believe 1962 was the last summer in which cassocks were required to be worn throughout the day at camp. One exception was when we left the property for long hikes or in our annual pilgrimage to the amusement park at Lake Hopatcong.  Also many of the activities such as boating and riflry, cassocks were not warn for obvious safety reasons. 


The camp master had installed a coke machine in the brothers’ dining room at camp.  It was supposed to last one session.  It lasted two days.  The machine was taken out.  I can’t believe how much coke we drank in those two days.

 

        

 

     

Organization

A normal camp session was three weeks.  We had three continuous sessions over the summer and some campers got to stay all three times.  The camp master and the brothers ate separate from the campers.  The hardest job at camp without any question was doing dining room patrol.  There was probably no way to keep the kids under control.  It was total bedlam.

The cabins were arranged in a circle around the center camp area with the canteen and assembly hall to the south side.  Each cabin was named after a saint.  The chapel was right in the middle of the cabins.  A brother was assigned to each cabin as the "cabin counselor" and it was his responsibility to keep track of the kids in his charge at all times.      

Tony Fasulo ran the canteen during my second season at the camp.  He played a lot of great music during the day over the loud speakers.  I recall some of his favorites were the four seasons and Peter, Paul & Mary.  I loved the music.  The four seasons did not come along until the summer of ’63 but I remember well “Candy girl” and “Sherry” and “Walk like a Man”.  Whenever I hear this music today I automatically bring camp life back to mind.

Church

Mass was held every day.  It was what you would call a quick Mass or a bullet Mass or maybe a Missa super Brava. We had the kids sing constantly to keep their minds occupied.  There was no way they would behave otherwise.  A brother went to the front and would lead in the singing while the organ (harmonium) played as loud as possible.  Most of the songs were simple, nothing fancy.

We were lucky to have Bob Bower in 62’.  He just happened to be an excellent organist who played often at the college during mass.  In 63', my second year at Camp Don Bosco, I was the only guy who could play, and believe me, I couldn’t play very well.  But since the songs were simple and I managed OK.

A harmonium is like an organ except you have to generate the air by pumping on a couple of foot pedals. The first time I began to play the harmonium in chapel it started moving forward so I had to hop on one foot pumping furiously with the other until the harmonium came to rest against the back pew.  My next attempt worked out a lot better.

Larry Mullaly was usually the brother who got up in front of the kids and lead them in singing.  He was a brave guy. I don't remember many of the songs we did in chapel.  The only one that comes to mind was Daily, Daily sing to Mary.  We never did any elaborate songs like Amazing Grace.  

Camp fires

The great talent of the day was Henry Forschino, who could play just about any instrument.  His favorite was the  accordion.  He led a group of campers to sing songs from the Sound of Music’s rich musical score such as Do Re Me.  Many of the other camp favorites were based on songs made popular by Mitch Miller such as Side by Side.

 

Camp Size

There were a lot of kids at camp.  It was a very popular place, but it was also exhausting work for all of us brothers.  I estimate as many as 140 campers per session because we had two junior cabins, three intermediate and two senior cabins.  Each cabin had around 18 to 20 kids.  The juniors were 10 and 11 year olds, the intermediates were 12 and the seniors were 13, 14 and some 15 yearolds.  Each cabin had a cabin counselor and sometimes an activity counselor.  I don't think any of the original cabins still exist today, nor does the chapel, canteen, kitchen, or assembly building.

 

Riflry

When I was first assigned to work at the camp they sent me to a training school for rifle instructors.  I remember taking a lot of classes, testing, learning about rifles, safety, cleaning, shooting and target practice.  After a series of tests I was certified as a junior rifle instructor for the NRA.  It was an honor that I greatly appreciated.  I renewed my membership again in ’63.

We had a very popular riflry program at the camp and it made a lot of money for the college.  We were able to buy 22 long rifle rounds directly from the army for less than a penny apiece and charge the campers about 5 cents.  Of course that included all the instruction, targets, facilities and most importantly, supervision.  It was a very high stress job and believe me I did not sleep well some nights worrying about safety issues.  Only seniors (kids 13 and 14) were able to participate in the riflry program and I could dismiss anyone who fooled around.

I started out as assistant rifle instructor working for Ralph Giarnella who was a close friend of Dave Goris, the Camp Assistant my first year. Ralph left after two weeks at camp that first year and apparently went to Padua, Italy to study medicine.  I hear that he wound up practicing medicine in Connecticut.

There was lots of work to be done on the rifle range.  The ports were not set up correctly.  The equipment was not well secured and the target holders were all shot to hell.  We needed a more secure rifle room.  All this kept me very busy.

Other camps around the area offered lots of rifle competition but we usually got beaten badly.  We had old Remington bolt actions.  The other camps had really first class target rifles.  Still it was a lot of fun to hold competition with other camps. I had some very good shooters.

 

 

Wrong bird wrong place

Now I’m a decent shot, certainly nothing to brag about as I would discover later in life, but I was decent and could often demonstrate firing positions well.

One morning I was going through a demonstration of the standing position, which was one of the more difficult qualification positions for junior marksmanship accreditation.  Suddenly this little sparrow landed on one of the target holders downrange and the kids dared me to take a shot.  As human nature would have it and as the odds were so slight that I would even come close to injuring the bird I used the opportunity to follow proper procedure.  I went through the usual checklist.  Clear on the right, clear on the left, good backstop-check. So I chambered a round and issued the usual command ‘ready on the right, ready on the left, commence firing”, but only to myself of course, and I took a shot at the bird from well over 70 feet away.  Now I have to explain just how difficult it is to even hit a standard NRA target in standing position at 70 feet with an old unbalanced miss-sighted Remington let alone hit a little tiny bird.  To my own great surprise I actually did hit the bird.  With coolness and grace I issued the usual “cease fire, open bolts, clear chamber, rack weapon” which I alone did.  The kids and I walked downrange and found what was left of the bird.  I became an absolute although undeserving hero.  

 

 

 

Rabbit Down (range)

There were a lot of jack rabbits around DBC. One time a jack rabbit came hopping along behind the targets while we were in the middle of shooting.  I immediately issued a “cease fire, clear weapons, open bolts” and went down the line checking each gun but not before many of the kids had gotten off several shots at the hapless rabbit.  Nobody hit it. That was one lucky rabbit.  This was not the first time.  It seems like rabbits were always wondering onto the range.  But I told the kids that they did not get any credit for hitting a jack rabbit.

 

Story telling

One of my favorite pastimes was storytelling.  I had a collection of about 12 stories put together from different sources.  A lot of them followed the short stories of Poe and the science fiction writing of Asimov and Bradbury.  Other stories were of my own making.  My favorite was “The house with 12 Rooms".  I went out sometimes along in the woods and faithfully rehearsed these stories often and got fairly good at delivery.  A lot of the cabin brothers ask me to tell their campers a story at night after lights out and I was usually booked up all the time.

On one occasion I asked a brother to listen in on “The house with 12 rooms” and at the climax open the cabin door and throw in volleyball sort of as a joke.  The story was about an initiation ceremony where this guy had to go through each room of an old house in total darkness with just 12 matches and collect bones in a bag from each room to form a skeleton.  The 12th room at the top of some stairs contained the final piece, the skull.  When he went up the stairs there was a headless skeleton that threw the skull at him.  Anyway the volleyball incident sent the cabin into chaos.  The camp master had words with me.

 

 

My Own Big Scare

Late in the evening soft breezes came in from the west and after the campers were settled in I often read books under one of the lights between the two intermediate cabins.  It was also at this time the skunks and raccoons came in rummaging around under the cabins.  The skunks were not to be worried about as long as you respected them but the whole atmosphere seemed kind of creepy.  I was collecting reading material for perhaps a new and scarier story so I began reading Poe’s ‘The Facts in the case of M. Valdemar’. It turned out to be so scary that I actually became frozen with fear.  I couldn’t move.  The raccoons and skunks continued to scamper about but there I remained for what seemed like a very long time.  Finally I snapped out of it and threw the book away.  It’s a story about a man who is soon to die and gets a hypnotist to take him to the lowest level of hypnosis – somnomulation.  The man remains that way for some time until he is awakened.  That’s when things go from worse to worsted.

 

 

Three Raccoons

In my 1963 season at the camp I started helping Larry Mullaly with trapping.  I just loved to build things and was good at making fall traps and showing the campers how they worked.  I was strongly opposed to the snap traps that maimed animals so they had to be destroyed.  Whenever I found a dangerous trap I would immediately confiscate it.

Each night we would go out with the campers and set traps.  The next morning we checked the traps.  I designed low traps because often we got skunks.   If a skunk can’t rise up it can’t spray.  Besides skunks are quite gentle and don’t seem to get agitated like raccoons do. The skunks were turned loose.  The raccoons were kept for a few days.

The camp had this huge garbage dump out behind.  This was of course before the time of environmental correctness and if you went out at night in the direction of the garbage dump you could hear many raccoons digging about.

Later on we built the Bastille which consisted of a four foot section of this huge cement storm drain pipe turned on end.  It held about 3 raccoons.  A larger raccoon could easily scale the rough cement wall and get away.  One day while I was talking to the camp master and several other brothers a camper came up to me and excitedly announced.  “Bro.  Dominic, they’ve escaped from the Bastille.”  I understood this perfectly but nobody else did.

Since the Bastille had failed I began work on a better set of cages for raccoons.  I found two old church pews, cut them up and constructed a set of three adjoining cages.  Each cage was covered on the front with a steel mesh from an old bed.  Next day we caught this big ill-mannered raccoon and I thought up several names, something that would be an appropriate raccoon name.  I came up with “Brailsworth”, “Oswald” and “Herkimer” and the campers liked “Oswald”.  The next day we caught two more raccoons, a smaller female that looked more like a rabbit so I named her “Harvey” after the legendary invisible rabbit.  The third animal was rather nondescript and the campers wanted to call the third one just plain old “Lee” I believe.

The next morning all three animals had clawed through the steel netting and were gone.  It was August 1963.  The coincidence of this particular event did not strike me until several years later.
 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

To California

I was sent to camp St. Francis in Watsonville California during the summer of ’64 with my good friend Larry Mullaly  but the two summers I spent working at Camp Don Bosco at Newton were perhaps some of the most exciting and fulfilling times of my life.  It was so condensed.  So much happened in such a short time that it seems like a dream, almost impossible to describe.