Offering joy to challenged people
Keller’s Lake Day Camp celebrates 50 years
By Bert Lehman
The 50th annual Keller’s Lake Day Camp for developmentally disabled and intellectually challenged individuals was held at Keller Lake Aug. 4-7, with organizers and campers celebrating half a century of fun and friendship.
Pat Schoen, who has volunteered at the camp for close to 45 years, said the youngest camp participant was 4 years old, while the oldest was 85.
“We cover a range of ages,” Schoen said. “Some of the campers have been coming almost as long as the camp has been in session.”
She added that around 95 campers attending the day camp at some point during the week. Most of the campers are from Waupaca County, but there were a couple from the Hortonville area. In the past some have attended from the Shawano area.
“If someone else hears about it and asks if they can come, we don’t turn them away,” Schoen said.
To help celebrate its 50th anniversary the day camp included many special activities, including themed days. Monday was Wear your old Keller’s Lake Day Camp T-shirt Day. Tuesday was Crazy Hair and Hat Day. Wednesday was Hawaiian Day, with each camper receiving a Lei. Thursday was Sports Day, with campers asked to wear their favorite sports hat, t-shirt, or other items. Friday was the traditional day to wear the brand new Keller’s Lake Day Camp t-shirt.
There were also balloons, and special performances, such as a polka band, Schoen said.
“Just a few extra things to make it feel special for the campers,” Schoen said.
She added that campers enjoyed the celebratory activities.
“Some of them really got into it,” Schoen said. “Guys with their hair up in pigtails, and the staff did it too.”
There was also a dunk tank at the camp. Campers had the opportunity to dunk staff members.
“They really thought that was terrific when they throw the ball and hit, even if they didn’t hit the target, they hit the bar, it would trip it and down would go the staff member,” Schoen said. “They had a ball with that so I think that might have to return.”
A day at camp
Schoen said campers arrived each day by bus at approximately 9:30 a.m.
“We then gather on the big hill at Keller Lake and have a flag ceremony and some group singing. Following that they break up into what are called different units, somewhat based on ages, but not strictly age-wise.”
Once in their units, campers are assigned a volunteer staff member to spend time with them during the day.
“They can go hiking, they can go boating, they can do fishing, and we have some craft activities,” Schoen said.
She added, “If it’s warm weather they can go swimming and hang out with their friends and be outside doing something different than they probably do the other days of the year.”
The camp was originally started through efforts of the New London Girl Scouts in 1965 after receiving a grant from Reader’s Digest. The first two years of the camp were held at Camp Vic-to-Rae.
The camp then moved to Keller Lake and is funded by the United Way and other businesses and individuals making in-kind donations.
Around 108 volunteers helped at this year’s camp, Schoen said.
“There’s no way we could have the camp if they didn’t come and volunteer,” she added.
Schoen first became a volunteer after her developmentally disabled daughter attended the camp when she was 5 years old.
“I was a little bit worried because she didn’t talk,” Schoen said. “She survived the week. Then the next year they said they needed volunteers so I volunteered as a staffer, and I’ve been going ever since.”
She said the satisfaction she receives from volunteering is knowing that campers are having good time.
“Knowing that we are probably providing an experience for some of them that they wouldn’t have otherwise,” Schoen said.
She added, “I was glad my daughter was able to participate because there were some camps where you had to be functioning at a much higher level.”
Many volunteers schedule around the camp each year, so they can volunteer at each camp.
“They take vacations to come and do something they’re not getting paid for,” Schoen said.
She added that many volunteers started when they were teenagers and continue to volunteer each year.
Schoen said she will volunteer as long as she is physically able to.
“I hope it continues on after some of us oldsters are gone,” she said.