Every evening after the last verses are sung loud and long about kookaburra birds sitting in old gum trees and Eddie Cootchie, Catchie Camma, and all the rest of his names, the girls at camp from Green Bay, Wisconsin, gather into a circle.
To get everyone into one large circle, the group has to spread out against the walls of the lodge. There is some last-minute shuffling and shifting. Someone scoots over to let another girl into the formation. The circle includes everyone at camp that night, girls and leaders and parents, arms around each other, and they begin to sing softly. The song they choose to sing every night before they go to bed is a tradition at this stake girls’ camp. At first, the words seem strange to the nine nonmembers who have come with their friends. But after a few days they too can sing the song as well as anyone. “I am a child of God. …”
The Young Women of the Green Bay Wisconsin Stake drove up into the “thumb” of Wisconsin in Door County near Lake Michigan. The camp was hidden in a broadleaf and pine forest in rolling hills among picture perfect farms and herds of grazing milk cows. What the leaders and the girls hoped would happen at their girls’ camp didn’t have a whole lot to do with learning a new way to build a fire or lashing a three-legged wash stand, although they did learn those things. They wanted to learn to love each other and to grow closer to their Savior. And it happened.
Jenny Rowley, a junior counselor, was able to talk about the spiritual feelings she had at camp. “Learning to listen to the promptings that the Lord gives you is so important. We’ve had a chance to hear those promptings this week.”
And the girls heard that their friends and leaders love them. One girl yelled down the trail to her leader. “I love you, Kim.” Kim in turn yelled back, “I love you, too.” Besides the loving feeling at camp, the girls just plain had a lot of fun. Each evening there were game competitions. In the improvised basketball game, with human basketball standards at each end of the field, the teams remained intact but the ball got the stuffing beat out of it. The “ball” for this evening’s game was a round stuffed animal.
It may sound impossible to have a ski slalom competition with no snow and no hill, but these girls did. The custom-made cardboard skis, affixed to feet with regulation bindings of strapping tape, were all that was needed. The ski gates, spaced across an open grassy field, were held by volunteers, and the only rule was that the skis could not leave the ground. Each team chose an entrant and two raced side by side through matching sets of gates. The winner shuffled through several heats to victory.
One of the great joys of camp in Wisconsin is swimming in Lake Michigan. Every day, the girls escaped the heat of camp by taking a dip in the lake. With a sand beach and breakers that resemble the ocean, the fresh-water lake offered a cool break.
Sue Hennig, the camp director, even found ways to make the most despised chores bearable. Instead of dragging out the cleaning of the latrines over protests and complaints, the crews were well armed with brushes and disinfectant. Then they competed against the clock. What could have been a job that dragged on for hours was over in seven minutes or under with everyone working together.
As in most girls’ camps, the highlight of the week was the testimony meeting. When questioned about their favorite experiences at camp, the girl who spoke first was non-LDS and had attended camp for several years. “The testimonies are my favorite part,” she said.
Her LDS friend turned and said, only half teasing, “You ought to be a Mormon.” The girl answered without hesitation, “I know.”
Missionary work was also the emphasis in camp. Chris Johnson had been instrumental in introducing the gospel to her best friend and her friend’s family. Chris had yearned for her friend to grow in the gospel until she could bear her testimony to a group. In a small testimony meeting with the Adventurers, Chris said, “I do have a strong testimony. I love the Book of Mormon with all my heart. Missionary work strengthens you so much. “Then Chris heard her friend bear her testimony for the first time. “She told me that she loved me, and she trusted me. She said she knew she is a child of God. I’ve waited so long to hear that.”
When testimony night for the whole camp came, the girls had some loving things to say, not only to their real sisters but to their sisters in the gospel. Dione DeFerrari, with complete sincerity, said, “Sisters are the most important friends you have in life, except brothers.”
Dione’s sister, Paige, had to work and couldn’t come to camp for the whole week. She made a special effort to come join the Adventurers for the last two days. Paige said, “This is the only place I know that when you walk down the path you can hug anyone you meet, and they won’t think you are weird.”
Ann Peregoi expressed the feeling many of the girls in camp had. “I never knew I had so many best friends who showed me they loved me.”
On the last night of camp, after all the tears had been shed in testimony meeting, the girls gathered in their circle one last time for that year’s camp. And it was a circle that drew everyone in.