There’s nothing I enjoy more than planning a party. Big ones, small ones, Elizabeth’s wedding reception, birthday dinners — they’re all important and I put the same effort into the small events as I do into the big ones.
So, in 2005, when I was asked to be Director of Special Events, which included planning the final Term Camp Banquet, I was delighted to say yes!
I had overseen four Banquets previously, in ’92, ’99, ’00, and ’01, so I knew what the job involved.
The best laid plans
The key factors to any successful party are planning and organization. Those I can do! I thought to myself, “Piece of cake.”
But of course, the execution of the plans can take many avenues. And while there’ve been some hiccups (CDs used for program covers instead of the 45 RPM record for the 1950s theme) every Banquet has turned out to be great fun for the campers and staff alike.
When you talk with alums who worked in the 1970s and 1980s they tell stories of working on the posters, banners, table decorations, and programs at night in the old Counselors’ Lodge and then before breakfast having to pack everything up, praying the paint was dry, and hide it all from the campers since half of the Counselors’ Lodge was used for Arts & Crafts classes.
Also, they did all of the drawing free hand so whomever was head of Banquet prayed for an artist to be on staff so she’d be able to help.
Beginning in 2005, as I was still teaching, I’d use my overhead projector after school hours and project the needed drawings on poster board taped to my blackboard and trace them. This way all of the posters could be ready for paint when we arrived at camp. But the two large banners still remained the purview of artists.
Eventually camp purchased a projector and, praise be to all the art gods, this simplified the banner drawing as well as the posters.
Using my classroom worked very nicely until I retired in 2010 and I had to resort to using one particular wall in our house in Fredericksburg.
In 2011, the theme was Harry Potter.
This was quite a challenge since the downstairs of the Dining Hall was to be Diagon Alley, and the upstairs was Hogwarts’ Great Hall.
Downstairs was easy. We used drawings as if we were looking through the windows of the shops and painted signs that hung down in front of the windows.
But we didn’t decide about the upstairs until we all got to camp. Ultimately it was decided to use portraits of the characters and scenes from the movies and line the Hogwarts Great Hall with them. This meant I was using every Rest Hour of Mini Camp and First Term tracing the portraits in our bedroom of the Cottage and rushing them down to the Counselors’ Lodge for painting at 3 PM daily.
But it all worked out great in the end. Why, we even had floating candles — construction paper tubes with battery operated flames hanging from the ceiling.
The counselors dressing up for Banquet actually began in 1999, when the theme was “Circus.”
Having a vast knowledge of what costumes were in the Greenroom, I suggested the staff dress as circus performers and many of the girls did. This has become a tradition now, and for each Banquet since 2005, the counselors have had the option of dressing in a costume that matched the Banquet theme (and I must say, the costumes get more creative each year!).
The Wonderful World of Disney
In 2014, I informed my fellow Camp Alleghany Directors that I had decided to retire from the duties and responsibilities of the final Term Banquet and that 2015 would be my last time in charge.
I always knew what my final Banquet theme would be: Disney on Parade. I know of no happier place in the world, no more magical place than Disney World. I’ve been enchanted by everything Disney since I was a child. This, I knew, would be the best theme for me to conclude my Banquet career.
I spent most of February, all of March, and some of April planning and organizing the decorations and then tracing nearly 100 character posters for this theme. But this time, I set up the projector and computer in our garage because I didn’t want to ruin any of the walls in our new house in Staunton.
The outside decorations would represent a parade of Disney characters from as many of the cartoon movies as possible. They were led by Mickey with the Cheshire Cat of Alice In Wonderland bringing up the rear.
These characters would be stapled to the outside of the Dining Hall porch railings all leading to the Disney castle entrance. Maddie Wiklund (the Assistant Head of Junior Camp, who is also my assistant with Banquet) was charged with designing and painting this castle. She did a remarkable job! Then together we designed the turrets and accompanying flags.
The inside of the Dining Hall was festooned with posters everywhere, flying characters hanging, and Disney character dolls glued to decorated martini glasses. This was topped off by a papier mâché version of Mickey’s Sorcerer’s hat and a banner of the Disney princesses.
I spent the entire summer covered in glitter, glue, and paint! I have two shirts that I’ll only be able to wear at camp due to the paint spatters, and a pair of shorts with glitter firmly embedded on the hem of one leg.
But it was all worth it!
The gang’s all here
Almost every counselor dressed as a Disney character. And even though I’d never dressed up before, I felt it was my duty (and a privilege) to do so this summer.
As my grandchildren call me “Minnie” — their version of “Granny” —this seemed the obvious choice. But alas, I could not find a costume appropriate to my age. Then, when my sister suggested Cinderella’s Fairy Godmother, I knew that was exactly the right costume for me. While the staff may have guessed my costume, I never told anyone, not even Sam. No one saw me until that night, and they all cheered!
But the best part of all was seeing the faces of the campers as they came up the stairs to the dining hall with “When You Wish Upon a Star” playing over the loud speaker system. The girls were ecstatic and my eyes were filled with tears.
The counselors were having so much fun dancing and cavorting on the lawn between the Cottage and Dining Hall in their various costumes, I had to remind them to go inside so they could hop their tables! And I heard more than one counselor say this Banquet rivaled the Harry Potter one. My heart was filled to almost bursting! It was a perfect ending for me.
From hostess to guest
So I’m hanging up my wand and will only act in a supervisory capacity now; ready to answer questions or provide suggestions if asked.
I’m only a little sad that I won’t be in the thick of Banquet preparations, but it’s the right time to pass this job along to younger and more agile staff members.
I have no regrets. I’ve loved working on every single Banquet I’ve done from the 1992 “Happy Birthday” theme through Winnie the Pooh, Around the World, Winter Wonderland, the “Rock Around the Clock” 1950s theme through to 2015 and Disney!
I think I’ll enjoy just being a guest at Banquet, now, remembering all the beautiful happy faces of past and present campers and looking forward to the wide-eyed happy faces of our future campers!!
— Bonnie Dawson, Director of Special Events, Camp Alleghany for Girls