Old-fash­ioned fun

Ne­wark’s Rit­ten­house Day Camp de­light­ing its third gen­er­a­tion of kids

Newark Post - - FRONT PAGE - By JON BUZBY JonBuzby@hot­mail.com

Dur­ing the sum­mers five decades ago, chil­dren ar­rived at Rit­ten­house Park ex­cited to at­tend the an­nual Rit­ten­house Day Camp, where they par­tic­i­pated in tra­di­tional camp ac­tiv­i­ties in­clud­ing hik­ing, ca­noe­ing and archery. They also en­joyed just run­ning around in the woods get­ting dirty and splash­ing around in the creek.

Kids learned camp­ing skills, sang songs, cooked over a camp­fire and de­signed na­ture crafts us­ing leaves, sticks, acorns and other art ma­te­ri­als Mother Na­ture pro­vided.

There were no iPhones, elec­tronic de­vices or PlayS­ta­tions. There were no air-con­di­tioned rooms to es­cape the swel­ter­ing tem­per­a­tures on the ex­tra hot and sticky days.

To­day, the se­cond and third­gen­er­a­tion de­scen­dants of those orig­i­nal campers are ar­riv­ing to the same spot off West Ch­est­nut Hill Road to par­tic­i­pate in the same tra­di­tional camp ac­tiv­i­ties. And what might come as a sur­prise for many of to­day’s “tech” gen­er­a­tion is that they are do­ing so with the same ex­cite­ment as their par­ents, and in some cases, even their grand­par­ents.

Rit­ten­house Day Camp is one of the Ne­wark Parks and Recre­ation Depart­ment’s old­est – and most pop­u­lar – sum­mer ac­tiv­i­ties. The cur­rent it­er­a­tion of the camp dates back to the the late 1960s or early 1970s, of­fi­cials said, but Rit­ten­house Park has been the site of sum­mer pro­grams since at least the 1950s.

This year, four two-week ses­sions are of­fered and each ac­com­mo­date 85 kids ages 6 to 12. The depart­ment also of­fers a half-day Rit­ten­house Explorers for younger kids.

Seven-year-old Gray­den Dech­ene is at­tend­ing for the se­cond year.

“I look for­ward to Rit­ten­house Camp be­cause it re­minds me of my dad,” Gray­den said.

His Dad is James Dech­ene, who even at age 37, can re­late to his son’s camp ex­pe­ri­ence.

“Gray­den is hav­ing a ton of fun,” he said. “You know he’s hav­ing fun be­cause he comes home filthy and ex­hausted ever y day.”

The “filth” comes from the same trails and creeks that James Dech­ene used to run through and splash around in as a camper in the early 1990s when he would at­tend Rit­ten­house Camp while vis­it­ing his grand­par­ents dur­ing the sum­mer months.

“It was awe­some,” James Dech­ene, who grew up in Ge­orge­town, re­called. “We did all the tra­di­tional camp ac­tiv­i­ties. We had a lot of free­dom around the prop­erty to hike and ex­plore.”

He pointed to ca­noe­ing and archery as his fa­vorite camp ac­tiv­i­ties and ex­cit­edly re­called one of his fa­vorite games – hide the lunches.

“One group would pile all the lunches into a laun­dry bas­ket and hide it and then leave clues where the other group could find it,” he ex­plained. “We hid the bas­ket duct-taped un­der the bridge, strung over the creek and other cre­ative places. Silly things like that were fun.”

He had so much fun as a camper, he de­cided to spend two sum­mers work­ing at the camp as a coun­selor while at­tend­ing the Univer­sity of Delaware.

“I had such fond mem­o­ries of be­ing a camper, I thought it would be a lot of fun to be a coun­selor, and I was right,” he said. “By and large, all of the main coun­selors were col­lege kids. And most were up­per­class­men. They seemed to re­ally get into it.”

Tori Paruszewski “got into it” so much as a coun­selor dur­ing her high school years that she re­turned in 2009 as the camp’s art di­rec­tor, three years af­ter grad­u­at­ing with a de­gree in fine art from UARTS in Philadel­phia.

“I loved this camp as a kid and made some of my most mem­o­rable child­hood mem­o­ries there,” said Paruszewski, who at­tended the camp as a child and then vol­un­teered when she turned 14 be­fore be­ing hired as a coun­selor at the age of 16. “Most of my fa­vorite mem­o­ries had to do with the free­dom to get as dirty and muddy as I wanted. I loved to find cray­fish, snakes and tur­tles in the creek. My fond­est mem­o­ries were made be­cause of the awe­some coun­selors, whose names I still re­mem­ber.”

Paruszewski pointed to just a few small dif­fer­ences in to­day’s camp com­pared to when she at­tended as a young­ster. Field trips are made to dif­fer­ent places, groups are no longer as­signed their own camp­site in the woods, and the cook­outs are held on one of the creek beaches rather than in the woods. They are small changes made for a va­ri­ety of rea­sons, but have not im­pacted the foun­da­tional val­ues on which the camp was orig­i­nally es­tab­lished.

“De­spite these changes, the core ac­tiv­i­ties such as be­ing in­tro­duced to na­ture, ca­noe­ing, archery, arts and crafts, and of course get­ting dirty, are still go­ing strong,” said Paruszewski, who is fin­ish­ing up grad­u­ate school at Wilm­ing­ton Univer­sity where she will earn her teacher cer­ti­fi­ca­tion and mas­ter’s de­gree in el­e­men­tary ed­u­ca­tion with plans to be­come an art teacher.

Get­ting dirty and “ac­ci­den­tally” fall­ing in the creek is a re­cur­rent theme among campers.

“I like the creek the best,” James Kel­ley said as brother Ian agreed. “You get to play in it and get dirty. When we are in the ca­noe, we have a good time be­cause if you are not bal­anced, you can fall in. It’s fun when that hap­pens.”

The boys’ mother, Mau­reen Kel­ley, doesn’t mind the dirty, wet clothes when they ar­rive home.

“As par­ents, we feel it is su­per im­por­tant for kids to be kids, to get dirty, be com­fort­able with na­ture, learn re­spect for parks and na­ture, and learn life lessons that we might not be able to pro­vide like archery, rock climb­ing and ca­noe­ing,” Kel­ley said. “The kids come home pretty ex­hausted, but very an­i­mated with sto­ries of other campers and their fol­lies of the day. It’s nice to send them to a com­mu­ni­ty­minded place and have a full day filled with great ac­tiv­i­ties. Most camps have a few high­lights, but Rit­ten­house is the com­plete pack­age, worth ev­ery cent and more. We tell any­one that will lis­ten that this camp is one you don’t want your kids to miss out on.”

Thou­sands of kids have had the op­por­tu­nity to at­tend the camp over the years, and de­spite its “age,” Rit­ten­house Camp con­tin­ues to en­ter­tain hun­dreds of kids ev­ery sum­mer, cre­at­ing mem­o­ries that will last long into adult­hood – mem­o­ries that are so fond, many wish they could live them all over again.

“I still wish they had a ver­sion of Rit­ten­house Camp for adults,” James Dech­ene said, smil­ing ear to ear. “Be­cause it would be a trip.”


Rit­ten­house campers pad­dle a ca­noe down the Christina Creek on Wed­nes­day.


Romeo Rea, 7, proudly shouts “I made it!” af­ter cross­ing the creek by jumping from rock to rock.


Rit­ten­house campers have fun play­ing in the creek on Wed­nes­day.


Cas­san­dra Huntley, 7, gets an archery les­son from Rit­ten­house Day Camp coun­selor Brit­tany Grubb.


Rit­ten­house campers take a break to eat lunch on Wed­nes­day.


This 1955 photo shows kids splash­ing in the creek dur­ing a sum­mer pro­gram at Rit­ten­house Park.

Newspapers in English

Newspapers from USA

© PressReader. All rights reserved.