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Archives Three weeks & $3,000: The birth of youth camp

June 19, 2019

By Darcy Fargo
Editoryouth camp

SARANAC LAKE – Though Edmond Guggenheim gave use of part of his property on the Lower Saranac Lake to the diocese in 1963, it wasn’t until a flurry of happenings in 1972 that a youth camp could be opened there.

“Edmond Guggenheim had donated the property and the main dorm building was there,” said Father Arthur J. LaBaff, who was instrumental in the camp’s founding. “He was still using the lodge. He only allowed seminarians and religious women to use the property. I wanted to use the center – then it was called Casa de Loa – for youth ministry. I wrote to Mr. Guggenheim’s secretary. The response was, ‘Mr. Guggenheim doesn’t want young people.’”

The facility was used to train seminarians to speak Spanish for mission work in Mollendo, Peru.

Then, in March 1972, Guggenheim died at age 84, leaving the camp property to the Diocese of Ogdensburg.
“Bishop (Stanislaus J. Brzana) said, ‘you can open a summer camping program,’” Father LaBaff remembered. “I had three weeks to organize it and $3,000.”

Father LaBaff said he wrote to the priests of the diocese to announce the camp’s creation and to seek their support in promoting the camp.

“It was wonderful how the priests responded,” Father LaBaff said. “We had 60 campers – for the first week of camp and every week after.”

The camp opened with a staff comprised of Dan Benware, Mark Bennett, Tom Kilian, Mary Lou Dupré (now Kilian), Tom Schnedeger, three former religious sisters, a waterfront director and a camp physician, Dr. John Murphy.

“We had the waterfront and the dorms, and we took the kids up Mount Baker, we walked to the fish hatchery, we showed films we checked out at the library at night, and we started the volleyball court,” said Father LaBaff. “We did four weeks of camp, six days of camp each week. We’d get done Saturday at noon, and we’d immediately start washing the floors, cleaning the bathrooms and cleaning the kitchen. The staff had to do it all, and it had to be done in a hurry.”

The reaction to the first year of camp was positive, Father LaBaff said.

“We wanted to give young people a good experience of church and liturgy,” Father LaBaff said. “Even if they got into high school and college and wandered away, we wanted them to remember these good experiences and come home. And many did.”

Father LaBaff noted many of the youth participants were invigorated in their faith by their camp experience and returned to their home parishes to start youth programs and youth groups.

The efforts to involve campers in liturgy was bolstered by Father Peter Butler, who, working with Father LaBaff, created the camp’s initial liturgy workshop series.

“We wrote different workshops for each day of the program,” Father LaBaff said. “The youth fully participated in the liturgy. They did the readings, they sang. The waterfront was always wonderful, but liturgy has always been the center of everything at camp.”

While the camp has operated under a number of different directors and staff over the year, Father LaBaff said it’s always made a difference.

“Camp has been a great source of vocations – to priesthood, religious life and family life,” he said. “A lot of people in this diocese who are active in ministries, active in their parishes attended camp. When I first arrived here in Clayton, I was approached by a parishioner, Donna Orvis. She said to me, ‘I was at the first week of Guggenheim.’ Now, she’s a trustee of the parish and a commissioned lay minister. There are stories like that all around the diocese.”

Camp Guggenheim will continue to impact lives when it begins this year’s youth camp sessions, starting June 30. For registration or more information, go to rcdony.org.


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