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Pemi 2021 Is In The Books

Camp Pemigewassett Newsletter #7, 2021

Incredibly, Pemi 2021 is in the books. It was always going to be an historic season—the first-ever re-opening after a year’s hiatus—but what good fortune that it has gone as it has! The spirit of Pemi has never been better, judging by the volume and animation of singing in our messhall. Veterans and new boys alike have taken to the old Pemi chestnuts—“The Marching Song,” “The Clam Song,” “Are You from Wooster”?—belting them out with the passion of tipsy Munichers (and this on nothing stronger than tap water!) Surely one of the highlights occurred just last Saturday when the Juniors brought into the main dining room a song they’d been taught while eating Week 4 in the Junior Lodge. As they burst into a rollicking rendition of “The Rattlin’ Bog,” all of the older boys picked up the chorus with a gusto we’ve seldom witnessed in these parts. If you could only have seen the delight in faces of the 8-, 9-, and 10-year-olds as their elders and idols picked up their cue and joined in the leaping and thumping and clapping of it all! Talk about infectious conviviality.

Junior campers introduce “The Rattlin’ Bog” to the entire camp, to everyone’s delight
Kevin O’Brien, Nolan Katcher, Eli Brennan, and Pierce Haley receive 10-year ties

Overall, Pemi Week has been a wonderful capstone to the year, with all of the events unrolling just as they should: Games Day, the Triathlon, the Swimming and Tennis Championships, the Track and Field Pentathlon, Woodsdudes’ Day, the cabin Soccer Tournament, this year’s Gilbert and Sullivan show (see below) and all. Last night was the final Bean Soup and Campfire, and the night before was our Final Banquet—turkey with all the fixin’s as a coda to as delicious and varied a series of meals all season as we can remember. One highlight amidst a program that consists of nothing but highlights was the giving of Pemi ties to those of us for whom this was the tenth Pemi season. Watching decade-plus vets Nick Davini, Dan Reed, Nick Gordon, and Charlie Malcolm welcome Eli Brennan, Pierce Haley, Nolan Katcher, and Kevin O’Brien into their ranks was to be given a peek into a wonderful siblinghood of dedication, commitment, and joy.

An even more singular highlight of the banquet was an acknowledgement and celebration of Danny Kerr’s round dozen years as Director of Pemi. You can read Kenny Moore’s and Tom Reed’s tributes, here. The most telling tribute, though, was the minutes-long standing ovation that Danny received from campers and staff alike, testimony to the steady, principled, and always optimistic leadership he has provided since the summer of 2010. We look forward to further celebration of his remarkably successful tenure at our 115th Pemi Reunion in August of 2022. For now, though, let’s allow Danny himself speak to some of the buoying specifics of his ultimate Pemi season.

Danny Kerr’s final banquet toast

May I propose a toast!

Here’s to the summer of 2021, a summer unlike any other in Pemi’s rich and significant history. A summer that has come and gone, as it always does, in the blink of an eye, though it seems a lifetime ago that the Pemi “Brain Trust” of D-Heads and seniors staff met in early June to hammer out final details for the summer, and when our first campers arrived on June 26th, in their brand new Pemi swag, with blue cards and white cards on their car’s windshield, and unbridled excitement about the summer ahead.

Danny Kerr kicks off the Final Banquet with his final toast to the Pemi family

Truth be told, planning for the summer of 2021 really began way before that, way back on May 12th, 2020, when the Pemi leadership team and Board of Directors made the difficult—yet courageous—decision to cancel the 2020 camp season, making last year the first summer since its founding in 1908 that Pemi didn’t welcome boys to the shores of Lower Baked Pond.

And while on that grim day in May, 2020, we recognized the challenges ahead, and the research and preparation that would be necessary to open in 2021 began, we also were certain of a few things: that by June 2021 our boys would need camp more than ever; that in a paradoxical way this summer would be an opportunity to shine as never before; and that there would and must be Camp Pemigewassett in 2021. And here we are gathered for our Final Banquet, with the close of camp at hand, victorious, proud, and so very thankful for this summer, even if  wasn’t always “business as usual.”

Here’s to a summer that concludes with the saplings below the soccer pitch turning an autumn tint and Pemi boys returning to their cabins for an 8:30 taps with barely a shred of daylight left, a summer that has shown Pemi’s character, resiliency, and capacity to be the best boys camp in America, no matter what the circumstances.

Here’s to the 251 campers who graced the shores of Lower Baker Pond this summer,

campers from 24 states, and four countries; to the 124 campers who made the decision to attend sleep away camp for the first time; to the 45 who have, or will, collect their five-year bowls; and yes, Nathan Gonzales, Andrew Muffett, and Stig Soderberg, here’s to campers in their eighth summer.

Here’s to the talented and dedicated counselor staff at Pemi in 2021, led by Division Heads Nick Gordon, Josh Scarponi, Jarrod Henry, and Cole Valente; what an exceptional group! Thank you to each and every cabin counselor and assistant counselor—we asked you to do more than ever in 2021 and you answered the call again, and again, and again.

Cheers to the incredibly hard-working buildings and grounds crew that Reed Harrigan leads each day with such vigor, dedication, and love; Frank, Dennis, Jen, Connie, and Matthew; to our Office Managers extraordinaire, Victoria and Kim, and to Kim in particular for masterminding our Covid preparation, protocol, and practices. Thank you, Kim, for your amazing work, all winter, spring, and summer, and for allowing us to “do camp” despite all the hurdles in front of us when the summer began.

Here’s to Dottie who always has time and advice for us all (free of charge), and to Tom Reed, the patriarch of Camp Pemi, who leads us in song and provides invaluable institutional memory, not to mention the continuing story of Metal Boy each Saturday night.

Tremendous ups to the chefs and kitchen crew this summer, led by our Dining Service Director Tom Ciglar and his first Lieutenant Charlie Malcolm, the crew that tackled the herculean task of providing a community of 275 with delicious meals three times a day, many of those days in three different places, and did so with a sincere desire to meet the needs of everyone in the community. From freshly baked bread to a Quetzi-sized smile each day, was there ever a better summer for food at Pemi!

Cheers to Deb Pannell and all the creative endeavors down in Art World; to Chris Johnson, our massively energetic and upbeat Athletic Director for masterminding our new Blue v Gold intramural competitions (and picking up after us at every turn); to Sam and the trippies who sent scores of trips tramp, tramp, tramping over the mountains despite some un-cooperative weather; to Beanie, Theo, and Taiko, for managing a remarkable G & S performance despite the complications this summer presented; and to Michaella and her troubadours for another summer of beautiful music at Pemi.

To Ted, Luke, Jack, Dan, and Molly for all the exhilarating, yet safe, fun we had in the water, to Harry “O” and Enrique for their leadership in the wood shop, to Deb Kure and her nature crew; to Taiko on the archery range; and to all of the other instructors who brought major energy and mojo to activity periods every day.

And let’s not forget Head of Program, Wendy Young, for overseeing a rather unusual schedule for 251 boys this summer, with proficiency, thoughtfulness, and a positive vibe each and every day; or our Head of Staff, Will Meinke, who offered leadership and accountability at every turn.

And thank you to our Health Staff, the strongest I’ve seen in my years at Pemi; Rachael, Callie, Danie, Liz, and Bronco, for the countless hours, band-aids, doctor’s appointments, and TLC administered at all hours of the day and night. Watching you all drive around in your golf cart each night, handing out meds and laughing all the way, will forever be one of my happiest visions of this summer.

Here’s to my fellow directors Kenny, Charlie, and Pat, who field bad hops in the West Wing with a gold glove each day, and whose love for Pemi is so evident as they manage staff, campers, parents, the daily schedule, and so much more. And did I mention bad hops?

Here’s to the things that were unique at Pemi in 2021. And, wow, there were so many of them! Wise men and Rattling Bogs, Blue v Gold and 16-year-old campers, dining tents and cohort groups, Sundays that were Mondays and Mondays that were Sundays, a new Lodge for the staff, the Junior Bistro, six activity period days, tubing, yurts, and Pemi Bronze, Silver, and Gold.  And probably others I’ve forgotten.

Here’s to all-camp events at Pemi, Bean Soup when we laugh at ourselves and anticipate “things to look for,” Campfire when we entertain ourselves in front of some of the most majestic sunsets one will ever see, and Sunday Service when we take a quiet moment to consider such topics as beauty, courage, diversity, the history of Pemi and…1-4-3 Nicholas Gordon.

And here’s to our thirty-eight 15-year-old campers, to their combined 180 summers at Pemi (yes, you heard that right!), and to the lifelong friendships they’ve created. I know from personal experience that someday you’ll participate in each other’s weddings, be godparents to each other’s children, and hopefully become the next generation of counselors at Pemi. The system works!

And finally, here’s to spending a summer together in a place that changes lives, that invites us to be the people we want to be, that teaches us respect for others, integrity, and responsibility, and that challenges us all to reinvent the boundaries of what we expect of ourselves and what we imagine our lives can be.

Here’s to Camp Pemigewassett, 2021.

Good Luck, Long Life, and Joy!

Thank you, Danny. And now for local drama maven Clive Bean’s review of this year’s Gilbert and Sullivan production, The Pirates of Penzance:

Clive Bean’s review of The Pirates of Penzance

Last Wednesday saw history being made at the Pemigewassett Opera House, as it lit its marquee for the first time in twenty-four months and performed its first-ever matinee! The Pemi Players have offered two performances for decades in order to meet overwhelming national and international demand for seats, but they have always been on consecutive nights. This year, among the many forms of flexibility the storied camp has had to embrace given the pandemic, going with two shows in a single day became a necessity that the camp dramatic program undeniably turned into a virtue. The energy on stage only mounted as the day progressed, and at the final curtain, audience and cast alike were caught up in a whirlwind of enthusiasm, marked by much whooping, clapping, and stomping.

The show was beyond-ably directed by Beanie Lawrence (who also incidentally stole the show as Mabel.) We’d in fact do well to begin with her Director’s Note in the Playbill explaining the hurdles she and the cast had to overleap to deliver the charming show they did:

This production, similar to all of our own experiences this summer, is unlike any that has happened before here at Camp Pemigewassett. We couldn’t begin rehearsals until the second session, and once rehearsals began, they had to be segregated by division or fully masked. Due to these constraints, I worked with the administration to decide whether a Gilbert and Sullivan production was even a possibility. Fortunately, with a bit of creativity and a whole lot of flexibility, here we are: a reimagining of a G&S show into a concert setting. It’s silly, it’s been adapted and changed from the get-go, it’s an amalgamation of over 50 people’s time and hard work, and more than anything it’s filled with love for both music and theatre and a cast with a strong drive to maintain a semblance of tradition throughout a very untraditional summer. I hope you enjoy our production of The Pirates of Penzance.

And enjoy it we did, along with every knowledgeable Wentworth theater goer we were able to buttonhole for an opinion. The sparse set, devoid of the customary painted backdrops, sent the honest message from the very start that this was a novel, stripped-to-the-essence effort, but it came alive with the joy and energy of the cast. Particularly strong were the Pirates’ and Daughters’ choruses, separated (for the reasons the director noted) into First and Second Act ensembles. On the buccaneer side, Jake Cronin, Sam O’Hara, Evan Lamlein, Ben Ackerman, Lucian Thomases, and Lucas Zhang got off to a brilliant start before handing the baton (or would it be a belaying pin?) to EJ Burnett, Josh Scarponi, Jack Davini, Nick Gordon, Luke Young, and Jessie Orlow. Similarly, Cole Valente, Dan Reed, Michaella Frank, Sasha Honig, Andrew Cullen, Clayton Johnson, and Anders Morrell made it abundantly clear why the pirates’ main ambition in the show was finding an apt partner in life rather than working on their 401Ks. Girls Ensemble 2, consisting of Thomas Neilson, Pat Clare, Austin Greenberg, Davis Morrell, Grayson Woodbury, and Jackson Heller, gave up nothing to their first act equivalents in their acting or musical panache.

The police appear only in Act 2, but they were divided into two ensembles as well and always represented a group of thoughtful, principled, and sympathetic public servants no one could ever contemplate defunding. Simon Taylor, Sam Maynes, Nelson Snyder, Augie Tanzosh, and Nathan Gonzalez sang solid back-up for the up-tempo “When the Foeman Bares his Steel,” while Owen Gagnon, Henry Moore, Eli Brennan, Jarrod Henry, and Jay Williams relieved them ably for “When the Felon’s Not Engaged in His Employment.”

Moving on to the leads, Dash Cantor, Luke Gonzalez, and Ted McChesney made it clear why they were secretly Major-General Stanley’s favorite daughters, playing Isabel, Edith, and Kate with insouciant ease. Ali Shiekh was a strong Samuel, Pirate second-in-command and thus wingman to the Pirate King. The King himself was compellingly played by Nick Paris. Cast as the honest Captain Corcoran of the Pinafore two shows back, Nick’s move to the dark side of command for this one might occasion some concern over his being on some kind of criminal slippery slope (or at least slick poop deck), but his performance was easily virtuous enough for this reviewer not to worry about Nick’s ending up in a brig or slammer.

Quinn Markham was an exceptionally capable Sergeant of Police, reimagined as a West Texas Sherrif complete with Stetson hat, Tony Lama boots, and reflective shades. He looked so much like Boss Godfrey in Cool Hand Luke that older members in the audience expected him any minute to break out with the classic line, “What we’ve got here is failure to communicate.” No worry about communication, though, with Will Raduziner as Ruth. He put to rest any notion that Victorian ladies couldn’t be just like Mrs. Robinson. Ruth’s dogged pursuit of the much younger Frederic was richly comical, made all-the-more entertaining by Will’s powerful falsetto and all-the-more more hilarious by Will’s well-beyond-five-o’clock shadow.

Twelve-year-old River Hambleton made it clear he could play with the Pirate big dogs as Major-General Stanley, curiously prolific producer of attractive daughters and, in River’s case, the very model of a minor modern major-general.

This reviewer thought that Edouard Long was close to the best Frederic ever to stride the boards on Lower Baker. Blessed with a richly resonant tenor voice and looking every bit the honest, earnest, and well-meaning survivor of a horribly misconceived internship experience, Edouard was just terrific. We can only imagine the finishing touches he would have put on his performance if the show had had an additional week to gel. As it was, like Frederic, he was easily good enough to be deemed “fit to fly.”

The other half of as good a romantic couple as Pemi G&S has ever boasted was Beanie Lawrence. It’s rare enough to have a voice of professional caliber echoing off the pines on the other side of Lower Baker, but to combine it with such effortless expressiveness of acting is rare beyond description. When one acknowledges that her performances came at the end of an exhausting final week of rehearsal, re-rehearsal, production challenges, and patient but endless reminders to restless cast members to quiet down and focus on the task at hand, it’s all the more remarkable.

Kudos as well to tireless Assistant Director Teo Boruchin, Narrator Tom Reed, Jr. (who is, by the way, a recovering Major-General Stanley and who didn’t do a bad job connecting the scenes with plot summary at those times when he was awake), and especially Musical Director and Pianist Extraordinaire Taiko Pelick. As has been true every year Pemigewassett has been lucky enough to have her in its employ, her total commitment, patience, and supreme musicianship absolutely put the wind in this pirate ship’s sails.

Especially considering it had been dark for two whole years, the Pemigewassett Opera House positively rocked last Wednesday afternoon and evening. Those lucky enough to have attended 2021’s Pirates won’t soon forget the experience and are sure to queue up for next year’s tickets as soon as the next show is announced. Yours truly can’t wait.

–Clive Bean

Well, that puts a wrap on Pemi 2021. We feel truly blessed to have brought home the active, joyful, and healthy season we have had. We offer our profound thanks to all of the Pemi family: to senior staff who, led by Kim Malcolm, researched and hammered out effective protocols for keeping COVID at bay; to all of the cabin and program staff who worked tirelessly, cheerfully, and effectively under what were often very constraining circumstances; to our kitchen and support staff who handled the augmented requirements of the pandemic environment with commitment and grace; to all of the Pemi parents who entrusted us with the care of their beloved boys in a frankly frightening time; and, most of all, to the campers of 2021, who leapt at the chance to be active and happy in a beautiful outdoor space and who, from day one, embodied all of the joyous energy, whimsy, and friendship that has always been the mark of the Pemi Kid. Boundless thanks to each and every one them for Pemi 2021. Now, here’s to 2022!

                                                                                                Tom Reed, Jr.

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