Partly in honor of Mother’s Day, I thought it would be fun to interview my mom, Bonnie Dawson, longtime Camp Alleghany sidekick whose many, many, many different roles over the years, and many hidden contributions to camp, seem to me deserving of special note.
I say “partly,” in honor of Mother’s Day because Bonnie would deserve this kind of recognition even if it wasn’t almost Mother’s Day.
So read on to learn all about Bonnie’s unique stamp on Camp Alleghany, told interview style.
How long have you been working at Alleghany, and tell us about some of the positions you have held. Besides your current position, what has been a favorite?
I first worked only second term of 1982, 1984, and 1985.
In 1982, I helped with Drama. 1984 was our first summer at camp as a family and I was Head of Drama with my best friend from college, Sandy Stallings.
In 1985, I only helped Franny in the store. In 1986, Sam’s father, Cooper, called me three days before I was to arrive at camp and insisted I be Head of Wild World (then called Camp Craft). I agreed but only if I didn’t have to do the overnights. I instituted the caving trips that year, too, which Sam led for many years.
Then in 1987, I took over Drama again until 1990. In 1991, I was Head Hopper all summer, and in 1992, I ran the Store and was in charge of Banquet. I was Head Hopper again in 1993, but only for 2nd term because I was taking classes for teaching recertification. I returned to Drama from 1994-1998.
I was only in camp on the weekends in 1999 again because I was taking classes for recertification, but I also was in charge of Banquet.
In 2003 we created the position of Program Director, which I held first, but the job was very different than it is now. I was back in Drama from 2000 until 2002, when I stepped down from Drama head all together, but at the request of both Drama heads, worked on the full term play in ‘02 and ‘’03 and still added Banquet to my list of jobs.
Then in 2008, Elizabeth, as Assistant Director, took on the duties and responsibilities of Program Director, and I became the Head of Special Events. I have held this last job since then, but was called back to help with Drama in 2012 and worked with them through 2014.
I don’t have one favorite, I have two which are equal — Drama and Banquet. Both require organization and planning and both have given me great satisfaction. I like seeing things when they come together well. I especially like the behind the scenes aspect of both.
Having not grown up going to summer camp, what was your very first impression of Camp Alleghany?
Sam brought me to camp in the summer of 1969, when we were dating, to show me what he had been talking about.
I had gone to church camp twice for one week each. That is a very different experience, more like school.
I was most impressed with the excitement and “freedom” the girls had and with the absolute beauty of the setting. Never, however, in my wildest dreams did I ever expect to be not only working there but also becoming a director and owner!
Oh, and on that first visit, Sam got the Whippoorwill song sung to him at every meal! Of course, I had no idea what it meant.
Tell us about your current position, Head of Special Events. What does that entail?
Special Events includes:
The Mini Camp Banquet/ and Show of Shows Campfire, which concludes their week.
Babies’ Boats campfire, which concludes First Term.
Candlelight Campfire, the last campfire of the summer.
The final Banquet.
I’m also in charge of the Play Hall, especially when it comes to events such as the Dance and Drama Shows, when parents and guests may attend.
And Special Events encompasses the Emergency Procedures and Plans, including drills and practices.
Play Hall duties include setting up for events, teaching the staff where the various light switches are, and which one to leave alone.
And, finally, assisting both Drama and Dance with organizing the Green Room at the end of the summer.
For Mini Camp Banquet, I choose the theme from four rotating ones. Since Mini Campers only come once for Mini Camp (and then transition to Term Camp), we can reuse decorations and themes.
I also am responsible for ordering replacements for napkins, etc, and for determining the menu and printing and decorating their place cards.
For Babies’ Boats, I organize the “boats” and candles for the campers, organize the program, make certain the Head Counselors choose the campers to do “I Remembers,” check with Head of Rifle to see if there is an Alleghany Rifle award to be given, and make certain Alleghany Singers are prepared for their performance.
I also remind the Upstart Mom to work with the 16s on their special part in the ceremony. Elizabeth is the MC for this campfire.
That night, I arrange the awards on the table, and assist in the presentation of them. I’m also responsible for ordering the candles — small for the boats and large ones for the 16s.
For Candlelight, the job is very similar to Babies’ Boats, but there are no awards presented, unless there is an Alleghany Rifle, and I am the MC, again, for this program. We still need candles, but it is one per camper and counselor whereas Babies’ Boats is one per tent.
As Special Events Director, organizing Banquet is part of this job, as well as the Emergency Procedures (discussed below).
How did you develop the Emergency Procedures?
I began the Emergency Procedures when I saw among some old staff manuals, a page headed “Fire Evacuation.” I realized as I read that we had never practiced this; indeed I didn’t know such a plan existed.
I asked Sam about it and he said, “Well, go ahead and make a plan.”
Over the years, following American Camp Association (ACA) guidelines I’ve added to the document to cover every possible situation: fire in buildings or woods, flood, lost camper or counselor, intruder — human or otherwise — extreme weather, and serious injury.
We make certain the counselors understand their job for all of these situations, and we practice during Staff Training week. We even actually practice evacuating camp.
In addition to following ACA guidelines, I try to think of every possible situation which can be dangerous and how best to handle it. While this can be a daunting task, being both a mother and grandmother has helped me.
And this is a fluid document. By that I mean that, within ACA conditions, it can be changed as needed.
An example, for one situation in the recent past, we found out the daytime directions didn’t really work for a nighttime situation, so I worked on adding in additional directions.
Finally, at the ACA conferences I make certain to attend the seminars designed to help me understand dangerous or hazardous situations and how best to deal with them. I also attend sessions that concern the newest laws about some situations. I am vigilant about staying current with professional development in this regard.
What are some behind-the-scene things that you do for Banquet that most people wouldn’t know about?
Banquet begins with a theme. Some of the themes I come up with myself, some are suggestions from others.
From there the inside banner, the outside decorations, the posters, the hanging decorations, choosing the program outside, the table decorations and the main centerpiece all need to be designed.
Some themes lend themselves to elaborate outdoor decorations, sometimes a more simple one. For the 1999 Circus theme, I sewed together several pieces of colored fabric each piece measuring 9 feet, to make the entrance look like a circus tent. The recent “beach party” we had included a variety of boardwalk-type vendors and beach volleyball outside instead of a banner.
Every aspect of the Banquet decorations has to be carefully considered and planned well in advance of opening day of camp. This is so that it is easier for the counselors to begin painting, etc., as soon as possible.
In the long ago past, the counselors did all of the art work without the help of projectors. As time has passed, electronic aids have become invaluable and time savers. I spend much of the spring months tracing the characters onto the posters and getting things ready so the counselors can begin painting and building. Several years ago, I decided since I had more free time during the winter than the average counselor, I would have everything well planned and all of the posters drawn before arriving at camp.
I organize the work by tasks — who will papier mâché the centerpiece; who will be the best at painting the banner; who is best at working on the table decorations; who has the steadiest hand at cutting; who simply wants to add glitter to the painted posters and so on. All of this needs to be explained to the counselors so that each girl can do the job she feels most comfortable doing.
I’m responsible for ordering the paint, the glitter, the brushes, indeed, all of the supplies that will be needed for the decorations.
It’s also part of the job to talk with the chef about the menu, write the program inside and see that it is printed and stapled into the outsides by the Junior Counselors, and organize the Banquet Hoppers and decorators.
Decorators are also the “undecorators” when dinner is over and the Hoppers help return the Dining Hall to its usual condition. I decide on which of the decorations should be kept, what can be thrown away, and which of the posters or table decorations could be taken by the campers as souvenirs.
I assign the seats at the head table and of course supervise all the decorating on Banquet afternoon. I choose which decoration items a small committee takes down to the Play Hall for the concluding ceremonies. And finally, it is my responsibility to glue (previously sew) the winning team name and year onto the Blue/Gray Banner before Banquet night. I usually have about 12 hours to get this part done.
I would estimate that 80% of Banquet is planned and organized before camp begins.
What is a funny memory you have from camp? What is a favorite?
I have two funny Banquet memories:
The announcement of the Blue/Gray scores follow closely on the heels of the department awards with only the team toasts as a prelude.
In 1992, I was sitting in the Green Room stitching on the team winner as the department awards were being given. Back then, the last department, alphabetically, was Tennis since what we now call Wild World was called Campcraft. I didn’t finish sewing until the Rifle award was announced! I just made it.
The second was when we got the new banner. I bought “iron on” letters. I dutifully followed the directions and ironed the letters on…or so I thought. As I held up the banner that night, right at the exciting moment when the winner was announced, all of the letters fell onto the floor! Fortunately, everyone laughed. I have glued these letters on since that time.
What are some of your favorite pastimes?
I have always enjoyed doing needlework. I do embroidery, needlepoint, and crocheting. I’ve offered crocheting lessons during free time at camp in the past to both campers and counselors. One summer it seemed everyone was making scarves!
This summer I’m offering to teach needlepoint during the 10:00 a.m. Arts & Crafts and again at 5:00 p.m. free time for the counselors. We will be making bookmarks, which is an easy project to do as a beginning.
I also enjoy reading, mostly historical fiction and science fiction novels. Recently I have found myself “stuck” if you will in the 14th-16th centuries.
And of course I love playing with my grandchildren, and recently teaching some science to Mason.
I hope you have enjoyed reading about Bonnie as much as we enjoy having her in our lives and at the heart of camp life!
— Elizabeth Dawson Shreckhise, Assistant Director, Camp Alleghany for Girls