Behind every object and tradition at camp, there's a story, some more fortuitous than others

By Robert Sarner, The South Tea Echo, Fall 2003

What would Tamakwa have become had a Detroit teenager not said in 1967 he could play the bugle? What would Vic Norris have become had it not been for Unca Lou's unlikely criterion for hiring a junior counselor 36 years ago? We can only speculate.

But hold on, I'm getting ahead of myself. Let us digress for a moment.

Throughout the summer, campers walk past the main office countless times, rarely giving it much thought. Occasionally they may enter the front door, usually with trepidation, to request a pen, light bulb or toilet paper from Sheri or Sara. Only in rare circumstances would they venture past the reception area.

To do so would be to infiltrate behind the scenes. To do so would be to penetrate the nerve center, the brain trust, the headquarters, the seat of power of Tamakwa. Generally, most people have little reason to go there.

Campers can only imagine what's inside, especially in the rarely seen joint office of Tamawka's two owners. This is the inner sanctum where Vic Norris and Dave Bale preside over the pressing matters and sensitive issues of the day. It's here where they deliberate and wrestle with camp dilemmas. It's here where they hold court, govern and issue their rulings. Woe betide to the Tamakwan summoned to this office for dubious conduct.

Despite the serious business conducted here, there's also a folksy side to this chamber. After so many years at camp, Vic and Dave have accumulated hundreds of mementos, knickknacks and accessories, each with its own story. Visitors marvel at the vast array of Tamakwa-related paraphernalia displayed on the walls and shelves.

Assorted plaques, pennants, posters, paddles, collages, signs, and personal photos abound. It's a feast for the eyes, reflecting the rich history of camp. But one almost hidden object has a special pride of place in this hallowed shrine.

On the eastern wall on the second coat hook from the left hangs a brass instrument that's removed once a day after dinner for the flag lowering ceremony. Like with most things at camp, there's a lot more than meets the eye when it comes to this bugle, dating back further than anyone can remember.

In a way, it was Vic's entry to the world of Tamakwa in 1967. That spring, as a 16-year-old Detroiter, he applied to work on staff. When he went to the camp office for an interview, Tamakwa founder and director Lou Handler was at his desk wearing his customary bow tie.

"I filled out an application on which you had to indicate any activities you could do or special talents you had," recalls Vic. "One of the categories I checked off was that I played a musical instrument, a trumpet. As Lou looked over my application, the first thing he asked me was whether I could play the bugle. I said, 'Yeah, of course I can play the bugle'. Without losing a beat, Lou answered: 'OK, you're hired!.'"

Lou told Vic his duties at camp would include playing the bugle every evening for flag lowering.

"And that was about it," adds Vic. "And ever since, Tamakwa has been a major part of my life." Truth was Vic had never played a bugle in his life. The closest he had come to that was playing the trumpet in the school band. He figured he'd be able to master the bugle before camp started.

To learn, Vic went to a store in Detroit and bought a Boy Scouts manual called Music and Bugling. When he got home, he turned to the page for flag lowering and started to practice. The piece was called "Retreat" and it's the same one Vic has been playing at camp for flag lowering for the past 36 years. Remarkably, he still has the manual on a shelf behind his desk.

The bugle is even older than the book. It's the same one that awaited him in the summer of 1967. Three years ago, it received a new lease on life when Associate Camp Directors Marilyn Mendelson and David Stringer had it refurbished as a gift for Vic's 50th birthday.

At the end of every summer when Vic returns home to Detroit, he leaves his trusted bugle behind. He says it just wouldn't feel right to take it to the city. So during the long, cold winter, the bugle remains in its time-honoured perch, almost as if in hibernation, waiting for its master to return when the weather turns warm again.

Vic dismisses suggestions that without the bugle, his Tamakwa career might never had happened. "I suppose that's a possibility," he says. "But I'd like to think I had other attributes that Lou would have discovered during that interview to justify hiring me as a junior counselor for $50 in 1967."

It's thanks, in no small part, to those attributes that Tamakwa has reached the place it is today. Even if over the years Vic's bugle playing and repertoire have barely progressed.

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