Sunday, April 18, 2010

A Brief History of Camp Anokijig

We've noticed a spike in traffic lately to the Anokijig Insider. We're not sure why that has happened, but we're glad you're here. It did occur to us that you might not know anything about who we are or what we do, as many of our blogs are written with the idea that most of our audience is already familiar with Camp Anokijig. With that in mind, we'd like to use this blog to give a brief history of Anokijig.

In the mid-1920s, the Racine YMCA decided they wanted a summer camp for the boys in Racine and they gave two men the task of finding a suitable location, within a reasonable drive of Racine, Wisconsin. The ideal location would be a large parcel of land, located on a body of water that had not been over-run with development. Wisconsin was a popular weekend destination for the Chicagoland area in the 1920s, so this was no easy task.

The two men searched the 1920s version of Google (the real estate listings in local papers) and set out to find the perfect spot for a camp. As they continued to fan out from Racine, they stopped for lunch one day about 70 miles north of Racine, in a town called Plymouth. They were having trouble locating a lake and shared their story with the locals at the restaurant. Upon hearing their story, it was recommended that they take a look at Little Elkhart Lake, a body of water so hidden, many locals didn't even know how to find it, they just knew it was somewhere north of town.

The two men parked their vehicle and hiked through more than a half mile of Kettle Moraine forestland, before emerging on a shoreline and taking their first glimpse of Little Elkhart Lake. A local farmer was building a small cabin on the shoreline, but no other buildings were visible from their position and the water sparkled crystal-clear, with trees surrounding the shoreline and the only sounds coming from the birds in the area and the wind blowing through the trees.

The two men struck a deal with the farmer to lease both the cabin and 40 acres along the shoreline for $50 per year and Camp Anokijig was born. The idea of camping took hold in Racine and the first 40 acres was soon purchased and Anokijig's home was made permanent. In the subsequent years, more land was added and Anokijig's total acreage now approaches 400, including 3/4 of the water frontage on Little Elkhart Lake.

Camp Anokijig hasn't just grown in size. Our summer camp program now operates in nine one-week sessions and we welcome more than 2,000 summer campers (boys & girls) every year from more than 20 different states and seven foreign countries.

Why is Camp Anokijig still appealing after more than 80 years? Because kids are still kids and as much as the rest of the world has changed, much of Anokijig still remains the same. We've added quite a few cabins over the years, but many of our campers still sleep in platform tents. Our ranch program now has more than 50 horses, but it's still all located on our property and ranch campers still earn scarves in our Ranch Program.

We don't have any ipods, computers or cable TV for campers to use, but they can still shoot arrows, paddle a canoe or learn how to catch a fish. In short, anything a kid can do at home, they probably can't do at Anokijig and anything they do while they're at Anokijig, they probably can't do at home. Amazingly enough, even in the digital era we live in now, there's something very appealing about that to kids.

Getting back to the Anokijig story, Anokijig was struggling in the late-1970s and early-1980s. The Racine YMCA was even considering selling the camp at that time, but a former camper and staff member, Jim Scherer, stepped forward and offered to try and turn things around. No previous Camp Director had ever lived at Anokijig year-round, but Scherer felt that being here all the time was the only way to make the camp successful. Scherer was soon joined by other former campers and part-time staffers, Darin Holden, Scott Stewart, and Don Hill. Together they turned Anokijig around in a relatively-short amount of time and soon had it operating in the black.

The Racine YMCA continued to own Camp Anokijig until 2005. At that point, Anokijig had been operationally-profitable for more than 20 years, but the Racine YMCA found themselves in between a rock and a hard place and decided Anokijig had to be sold. Once again, Scherer and his staff rallied camp supporters and a grass roots effort was formed to save Anokijig from development.

A non-profit corporation was formed, financing was secured and the Friends of Camp Anokijig placed a successful bid to purchase Anokijig from the Racine YMCA. 2010 marks the fifth season of operation as an independent, non-profit youth and family camp, but the camping experience is very much the same as it has been for the last eight decades. Anokijig offers a wonderful environment, with a staff dedicated to maximizing the camping experience for all of our visitors.

There are plenty of great stories about Anokijig on this blog, but we'd encourage you to visit Anokijig in person, as there really is no substitute for the real thing. Thanks for stopping by and catching a bit of the Anokijig spirit!

Jim McIlvaine
Vice President, Camp Anokijig


RJ Adjemiam said...

My name is Royal Adjemian, and I was fortunate in enough to have been able to spend many of my childhood summers at Camp Anokijig. I owe much of my self esteem and positive self image to the Jim Scherer's and others like Mr. Dick Eddy, Jim Vinyard, Tom Blanchard, Wes Walker, Barry Tuttle, and most importantly Mr. Ray Vance.

As a kid, their was a large photo of Mr. Vance that was hung in the lobby of the old Racine YMCA taken over by the Racine Bible Church in later years. I was told that Mr. Ray Vance was one of the original supports of Camp Anokijig.

I have so many fond memories of my days at camp. I must admit I learned more about myself and others at camp anokijig. I'm so glad to hear that this wonderful institution is still providing the same kind of life experiences that have given me so many fond memories.

I learned to fish, canoe, swim, ride a horse, shoot a bow and arrow, build a camp fire, be responsible, become a leader, and much more. I even learned how to dance, and socialize a bit.

I currently live in New Braunfels, TX and have gather some local friends and business associates together. We have set up a 501c non profit, in honor of Mr. Ray Vance and his efforts setting up Camp Anokijig on Little Lake Elkhart, Plymouth, WI.

Our non profit, will work with kids who are from low to no income families, and we will provide skill building opportunities, to help these kids, become more self confident, and to build their self esteem.

Our non profit, is called Ray's Kids, and will have our website up and running within the next few weeks.

I'm glad I found this blog, as it will help me with the background story for our website.


Royal j. Adjemian
an Alumni of Camp Anokijig,
Hello to all our friends and fellow campers back in WI.

Anonymous said...

i used to go to camp anokijig when i was younger with my indian guides group we had so much fun and every day we would get up early and try to start the campfire back up with the leftover embers. i always had so much fun and i remember that we used to drink "beetle juice" with our meals.i am now an eighth grader and i was remembering the fun times i had and singing the penguin song and wormy the worm. thanks for the memories camp anokijig. Jessica