Summer Camp Legacies

Carrying on the tradition and become a second-generation campers

Lucy Currence didn’t bat an eye when her mother asked the then-7-year-old if she wanted to spend two weeks at Camp Merrie-Woode, a summer camp in North Carolina. Mathilde Currence knew that her daughter would be one of the youngest campers, barely able to pull her own hair back in a ponytail. However, this was the same all-girls’ camp that Currence had attended, and both Lucy and her younger sister, Frances, grew up hearing her Merrie-Woode stories.
Lucy Currence (top left) swimming at Camp Merrie-Woode with two of her best friends, Camden Alford and Mary Stephen Straske.

It seemed only natural for Lucy to carry on the tradition and become a second-generation camp legacy, with Frances following in her footsteps two years later. Lucy is now 18, and she will spend her 12th summer at Merrie-Woode in just a few months. Currence, who lives Uptown with her family, is thrilled that both of her girls have found a niche there. “This is where we grew up,” she says.
Founded in 1919, Camp Merrie-Woode is owned by its camper alumni, who formed a foundation to keep it going in the late 1970s when the camp was in danger of being sold to a developer. It is now celebrating its centennial year with many of the returning girls being third- and fourth-generation campers.
Denice Dunn, executive director of Merrie-Woode, credits its large pool of legacies to the enduring bonds that are formed between the girls, especially those who choose to stay for the five-week session. “There is a sense of independence and empowerment of being in an all-women environment,” Dunn says. “It is a safe place to take healthy risks and do things that you maybe can’t do if you are coming from a city.”
Sharing Memories
Marion Graffagnini (far left) poses with friends for a photo at Camp Point Clear.

Gigi Graffagnini admits she would have been disappointed if her daughter, Marian, had asked to go to a summer camp other than Camp Point Clear. “I know how much I liked it, so I wanted her to have the same experience that I did, and I knew that she would get it there,” Graffagnini says. And she did. Marian, 14, has spent the last three summers at Camp Point Clear, participating in many of the same activities as her mother in 1987.
Located in Guntersville, Ala., Camp Point Clear is run by Penny McIntosh and her two sisters, Patty and Beth. Their mother, Betty, started the camp in 1972 after the girls’ camp
Gigi Graffagnini, (middle row, sixth from left) poses for a group picture on the last day of Camp Point Clear in the 1908s.

she had attended closed. She wanted her daughters to have the same enriching summer experience as she had, and McIntosh says she and her sisters have made sure to keep the traditions the same.
The most memorable tradition for newcomers is choosing a piece of paper on the first night that names campers either a “Whitecap” or “Seagull.” Both Graffagnini and her daughter drew Whitecaps. The two teams compete in friendly games and collect points to determine a winner at the end of each session. Graffagnini remembers Marian calling her, ecstatic, because her team had won. It was a nostalgic moment for Graffagnini, and she was happy that she could share this same memory with her daughter.
Close to home
Being away from home for several weeks may not be an ideal summer vacation for some young girls. Luckily, New Orleans has many day camps that are as rich in customs as their sleepaway counterparts. The Jewish Community Center has been operating its summer camp for more than 60 years and has many legacies, some returning as third-generation campers.
Ellen Kempner grew up going to camp at the JCC in Chicago, so when she and her husband moved to New Orleans and started a family, she couldn’t wait to send her daughter, Jamie, to camp at the Uptown JCC. And now that Jamie is a mom, she plans to send her 2-year-old son, Wyatt O’Berry, to camp at the JCC for the first time this summer. “My love of the JCC growing up, I see in Wyatt’s eyes,” Kempner says of her grandson, who already attends nursery school at the JCC. “He loves being there.”
Much has remained the same over the years, and campers are still doing arts and crafts, having dress-up days and going swimming. “We can add all of the fancy field trips that we want,” JCC Camp Director Carolyn Shillinglaw says. “But the reason that they keep coming back to camp is because it is one of the only things left where your grandparents and parents, and now your kids, can all have the same experience.”
Back to Nature
Camp Corral at Arden Cahill Academy in Gretna also has its fair share of legacies, having been in business for more than 50 years. Kelly Cahill, owner and daughter of the founders, says that parents who were campers want to send their children to Camp Corral so they can share in some of those same summer memories. “It hasn’t changed much,” Cahill says. “Of course, we try to make things better where we can, but we hold onto those traditional days that we had when they were here as well.”
Colleen D’Aquila playing Twister at Camp Corral in Gretna.
Shannon D’Aquila of Gretna attended Camp Corral when she was 6 and began sending her daughter, Colleen, when she was in Pre-K3. Now in fifth grade, Colleen looks forward to her time at summer camp – especially her favorite tradition, the annual camp out. Kids arrive in the evening with a sleeping bag and snacks, and stay until morning. D’Aquila fondly remembers going to the camp outs and says no one slept because they were too busy night swimming and making s’mores with friends. She says Colleen comes home exhausted, just as she had, and that “there is a lot to be said for just being able to be a kid.”
Not too far outside the city in St. Rose is The Jimmy Club, known for its cheerful symbol – a girl in a polka-dotted pink “J.” Vanessa Miles runs the all-girls’ camp, which her grandfather, Jimmy, began as a boys’ camp in the 1960s. Ansley Marshall of Uptown began going to Jimmy Club when she was 7 and now sends her two daughters, Elle, 8, and Charlotte, 6. “It’s pretty cool because it is exactly like it was when I went in the 80s,” Marshall says. “It has the feel of going to sleepaway camp because you go out on a bus into the country, but you get to come home and sleep.”
Elle Marshall (far right) and Charlotte Marshall (front) waiting at the bus stop last summer on the first day of Jimmy Club. The other girls are their first cousins, whose mothers also attended the camp.
Vanessa says she has tried to keep the camp just as it was when it first opened – an old-fashioned, outdoor adventure, where there is no air conditioning but plenty of swimming, archery and timeless camp songs. Marshall remembers one of the daily highlights was getting a snowball before piling into the buses that would bring them back into the city.
Life has come full circle, and Marshall now waits with her girls at the bus stop, as do many of her friends from Jimmy Club – now mothers to young girls themselves. “It is fun to see the next generation become friends,” she says, “and make the same memories that we had.”
Sarah Herndon is a mother of three and frequent contributor to Nola Family Magazine.

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