Long-ago campfires still burn

The memories of boating and catching frogs have stayed with John Petrie, who decided to give back.

08/01/2011 12:00 AM

08/01/2011 6:39 AM

John Petrie lives in Fort Mill, a long way from his hometown of Toledo, Ohio. Still, he remembers his summer adventures at Camp Storer in Jackson, Mich., which he regularly attended from 1947 to the early 1950s.

Today he's 71 years old and a contributor to The Summer Camp Fund.

The Summer Camp Fund is an effort by the nonprofit POST (Partners in Out-of-School-Time) and The Charlotte Observer. Readers are asked to make monetary donations so economically disadvantaged children can attend camp.

"I think one of the nice things about it is that I can be the age I am now, and when I think about what we did at camp way back when, it still excites me," Petrie said. "I want to help some other child have those same experiences."

The Toledo YMCA ran the camp that he attended.

It was about 60 miles north of Toledo. Petrie and his brother looked forward to two weeks there every summer.

"My father was a truck driver and we lived in a blue-collar area. My parents saved all year long to get enough money to send us to camp. I started looking forward to it in May, and the hardest part of the summer was getting through June knowing we'd be going to camp in July," Petrie said.

"We got a break from our parents, and they got a break from us. But even more enjoyable were the things you could do at camp that you couldn't do at home."

Petrie remembers swimming in Stoney Lake, and piloting rowboats, canoes and sailboats. He enjoyed horseback riding so much that, when he was old enough, he returned to the camp and ran the horseback-riding program for a summer.

He remembers taking a rowboat out in the evening when the frogs were plentiful.

"We'd catch them with a net and put them in a bucket. Then we'd let them go, 'cause what else are you going to do with frogs? But that's something you sure couldn't do in the city," he said.

Petrie remembers making crafts and sitting around the campfire telling ghost stories, and how the counselors always made sure the resident ghost, Mona, issued a few moans to appropriately alarm the campers.

"It scared the heck out of us, but we knew it wasn't real," Petrie said.

Looking back, he also sees the way camp helped him learn about community.

"You didn't think about it at the time, but you had to learn to get along with a lot of different people. You had 10-12 kids living together in a cabin and you all had to get along with each other," Petrie said.

Those experiences and so many more helped prompt his contribution to The Summer Camp Fund.

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