Home Page Home Page Events Events Photos Photos Diocese of Ogdensburg Home Page  
Follow Us on Facebook

Archives Celebrating 50 years of Camp Guggenheim

June 8, 2022

By Darcy Fargo

SARANAC LAKE – Rain didn’t dampen the spirits at the Camp Guggenheim 50th Anniversary celebration.

Past, present and future campers and staff, gathered with Bishop Terry R. LaValley and priests of the diocese to celebrate the 50th anniversary of the founding of youth camp on Saturday, May 28.

“It only rained in the morning on Saturday,” said Michelle Watkins, former camp director and member of the celebration organizing committee. “We celebrated Mass in the Inn instead of outside as originally planned. Bishop was wonderfully accommodating, and Deacon (James) Crowley helped by getting extra chairs from the Lodge basement. It cleared up later in the day, and we were able to do a scavenger hunt, tie dye t-shirts, we had adventure activities and volleyball at the ready. Some of the itsy bitsies enjoyed sticking their toes in the water.”

Bishop LaValley celebrated the Mass, and the homily was delivered by Father Arthur J. LaBaff, the priest credited with establishing the youth camp.

Father LaBaff noted that over its 50 years in existence, Camp Guggenheim has “sown the seeds of faith” in thousands of young people, seeds that have spread and continue to bear fruit.

“For some of the staff, it’s been a time in which they found a partner for life,” Father LaBaff said. “For others, it may have been a vocation to serve the Church in the priesthood or permanent diaconate. For individuals and families, many have become commissioned lay ministers… When I arrived at my present assignment, a lady in the parish came up to me. She said, ‘I remember you. I was at the first week of Guggenheim.’ She was a trustee of the parish. She’s now a commissioned lay minister. She carries the Eucharist to the homebound and nourishes the parish along with the others who know Jesus and found Jesus here at Guggenheim.”

Father LaBaff reflected on the joy and love shared at the camp.

“Here, children dance,” he said. “Laughter rings through the trees. The love that’s found, it’s all around. It’s in the breeze. Even on a day like today, children dance. Yes, the seeds of faith have been planted. Please, Guggenheim Jesus, let these seeds grow.”

Bishop LaValley echoed Father LaBaff’s remarks.

“Something is deeply different about this holy ground, where nature, where youth, where wisdom all comes together and meets and goes forth from this altar,” he said.

Bishop LaValley noted that 50 years ago, as camp was being established, he was in high school, and a merger was planned that would unite his school in Mooers with Rouses Point and Champlain.

“We made the change, and we’ve been blessed big time,” he said. “We came together. Fifty years ago, the Church was different in some respects – in many respects – from the way it is today, but one thing has remained constant: Jesus is Lord. What happens at the altar? He said, ‘Do this in memory of me.’ For the last 2,000 years, we’ve been doing that, praise God. We are nourished by Jesus in the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass.”

Bishop LaValley thanked the campers, staffers, priests, music ministers, diocesan staff and others involved in keeping the camp running over the years.

“Camp is alive and well,” Bishop LaValley concluded. “Thank you for being here. Thank you for your support of Camp Guggenheim.”

Those campers, staffers, priests and others enjoyed the opportunity to gather for the celebration, Watkins said.

“We had people coming in from all over the place,” she said. “One staffer traveled in from Minnesota. That, for me, tells the story of how important (Camp Guggenheim) is to people. Friday evening, staff alum gathered in Lodge for catchup time and a ‘welcome home’ reception; we had some good food and some good conversation. A handful of people stayed at camp. The staff was wonderful. It was evident that everyone is used to life at camp and the all-hands-on-deck mentality. Everyone kept saying, ‘hey, what do you need?’”

In addition to gathering for fellowship and fun, the camp alumni staffers completed clean-up and preparation tasks to help get camp ready for the Saturday event and the opening of the camp season in July. In completing the tasks, the former staffers were able to become familiar with the renovations and upgrades that had been completed over the last two summers.

“We happy danced at every turn about the renovations,” Watkins said. “Insightful shifts and changes were made. Of course, between the projects and two years of no camp, there was also some mess. We had done a significant amount of cleaning to make the Summer Fun Days possible last year, but it’s a big place, with lots of dust. People put in a ton of elbow grease. There had been an Octave of Service group earlier in the week, but there was still plenty to be done. But all the work was worth it. It sets the stage so summer camp staff will find camp more camp ready than they would’ve had we not proceeded.”

In addition to Watkins and Deacon Crowley, the Camp Guggenheim 50th Anniversary Celebration was planned by a committee that included Kelly (Donnelly) D’Souza, RoseAnn Hickey, Father Bryan Stitt, Bill Todd, Dan Benware, Scott McDonald and Tom Semeraro, with additional camp alumni and interested parties aiding in various ways.

“A lot of people stepped up to the plate to help with this,” Watkins said. “That seems to be a common theme with camp people – people love camp, and they want to stay connected to it and each other, and they’re willing to help. The whole celebration was a blessing, and there were a lot of great moments at the celebration and leading up to it. It’s camp. I think there will always be great moments.”

Memories from Camp Guggenheim

The following memories were shared by Deacon Mark Bennett and Dan Benware, part of the first Camp Guggenheim staff:
• I was working at Camp Holy Cross in Mallet’s Bay Vermont and Father Art Labaff asked me to be one of the first counsellors at the new Diocesan camp, Camp Guggenheim.

• The transition was challenging as I was now supervising teenagers rather than eight year old boys.

• Some of the names that I remember from 50 years are: Dan, John Engels, Dick Moon, Karen Germain, Deacon Fred and Linda Oberst, and Sister Rhea Bean.

• Our Director was Father Art Labaff and our first chaplain was Msgr. Joseph Aubin.

• I remember planning the day’s meals and then traveling into town to pick up groceries.

• I was told I was the nature counsellor, which apparently meant I was to climb Mt. Baker about 25 times during the summer. Looking back, I was in the best shape of my life!

• Our first waterfront equipment consisted of a leaky rowboat and a couple of life preservers.

• We made do and all of us enjoyed the beauty of Camp Guggenheim.

• The most important component of camp that has been consistent over the 50 years has been the Eucharist, the source and summit of our life.

The following memories were shared by former camp staff member Andrew Lauria:
In thinking about the past 50 years of camp history and what camp has meant to me, I think about all of the humor that has been shared between us. Camp has been a very funny place for a very long time now. From the infinite amount of variety show moments, Around-the-Rooms, staff “characters”, to the daily joy found in morning program and that which comes naturally from making new friends, camp has been a blessed place for joy.

From my first summer as a camper in 1997 to my last summer on staff in 2009, I have laughed so much and with such intensity at camp. I think that joy is one of the most enduring fruits of the camp community in my life. Joy is a sign of the spirit and our up roaring laughter for 50 years has been an ever clear sign of that joy. Our world has become very serious in recent years and so it is as important as ever to remember that “where the spirit of the Lord is, there is freedom”.

One memory of joy and laughter that sticks out was the production of “The Rulsical”, the rules video of 2008, of which was a full-blown musical, an ingenious creation spearheaded by the incomparably creative and hilarious Chris Calderone. Each scene depicted a camp rule in the style of a famous musical, making it a camp version of a musical revue. Our budget was $0 and the entire endeavor was conceived and produced within Staff Week. We used every single item from the dress-up closet. We used every single idea we could from Andrew Lloyd Weber. It was the largest intentional creative undertaking in staff history and I am grateful to have been a part of it.

The items needed to produce a Phantom of the Opera themed “No Running In the Halls” included an electric organ, some moving dollies and rope, a cheap plastic mask, and a window curtain as a cape. I was the masked phantom, who had to “pilot” the organ down the hallway toward the camera, while being towed by someone pulling the rope, all while singing about tripping and falling. The scene ended with me literally falling down behind the organ as it clipped the entrance of one of the dorm room doors and tipped off of the rollers. We laughed so hard in the boys’ hallway that night that I almost didn’t make it out from underneath the organ.

When I think back at the times in life when I laughed the most and the hardest, I’m always brought back to my summers at Camp Guggenheim. It is the place and the people with which I have had the deepest, longest relationships and these relationships are the reason that I am Catholic as an adult. Our faith is a joy and I am grateful to God that all of these years later, Guggenheim is still a source of God’s joy for so many.

The following memories were shared by former camp staff member Bill Todd:
Five foot nothing, a hundred and nothing and not a speck of an idea that I would ever go to, much less work at Camp Guggenheim (to paraphrase the movie Rudy). I had never been a camper there, but I was actually mailed a form to be a camper when I was 19 years old. I was at a crossroads in my life and wanted to do something more meaningful, so I decided to apply to work there. Long story short, Michelle Watkins - the director at the time - took a chance on me and hired me sight unseen. She trusted a phone conversation would be enough. Oh, how that radically changed my life. I remember stepping onto the grounds for the first time and thinking, “Wow, this is a beautiful place.” Then I got to meet the people I was going to work with that summer. and I said “Wow, these are beautiful people.” They hug, they pray, they say nice things to each other - this was going to be a dream job! Little did I know how much those people would affect me and how it would have a ripple effect through my life even today. I seriously don't have the time to share about each memory because this would be a book. All I can say is that everyone I worked with at Camp Guggenheim - both counselor and camper - was and is a blessing in my life.

All of Camp was new to me. The beautiful surroundings - the lake, the In, the dorms, the dining hall, the Point, the Lodge, the rappelling cliff, the stone road and sharing a bathroom with approximately 100 people. I was just in charge of the fun. All I had to do was be loud, tell jokes and drink coffee. And yet, it became so much more than that. After being there a short time, I started to realize this place is different. It's not like other summer camps, although all of the fun is there, from volleyball tournaments and swimming to crafts and talent shows to mountain climbs and canoeing. However, here, Christ is Center. Mass is every day. We had Confession every week! It’s where I learned about Adoration, and grew to have a deeper understanding of the Mass and our faith. I had the privilege of watching the Eucharist transform these youths and how they believed and lived. I also had the privilege of seeing boys and girls start to become young men and women through their years at camp.

When I started, I said I would only work there for two years. I ended up staying four. The weeks flew by. The joy that we shared, the friendships and connections that were created that I not only got to be part of but to observe the kids creating as well. Years after working there, I still love it when I run into former campers and get to hear their memories and see where they have gone in their lives. Some have even gone on to work at Camp. It was a humbling experience to be able to serve God in this way.

Of course, those connections affected my own life in deeper ways. I became so close with my fellow counselors. They became like another family, and we learned truly what it means to live in community. We met each other's families and celebrated milestones with each other. In fact, years after I left my job at camp, I reconnected with the sister of one of my fellow counselors, and soon after, we were married. Even wilder, two of the counselors I worked with, now priests, presided at our wedding. We now have three wonderful boys and our current amazing pastor is also a former Camp Guggenheim counselor. The campus minister at our parish is the Guggenheim director and we’ve gotten to see first hand the awesome things he’s done with and for our local college students, not to mention what he’s brought to Camp. I cannot be more grateful for what Camp Guggenheim has given to me - my family, stronger faith, good friends, and hope for the future of our Catholic faith.

I'm so glad that Father Art LaBaff had the vision to make Camp Guggenheim a reality for our diocese. It has had a profound effect on me. There are many sayings at camp but I think the one that keeps coming to my mind is “We stand on the shoulders of those who came before us.” I'm thankful for the camp and everyone who I worked with as well as everyone who was there before me, and I am praying for everyone who will be there after me. It was an amazing experience to meet so many young people who have a thirst for truth and faith and want to be a little closer to God. In no way have I scratched the surface of the memories and how meaningful Camp Guggenheim has been to me. If you happen to have a child who has a week free this summer I highly recommend Camp Guggenheim.

I’ll just end this with another line from camp “God is good…”

North Country Catholic North Country Catholic is
honored by Catholic Press
Association of US & Canada

Copyright © Roman Catholic Diocese of Ogdensburg. All rights reserved.