A History of YMCA Camping in Akron

The Young Men's Christian Association of Akron was organized in 1870 by Judge Jacob Adams Kohler and other distinguished volunteers. In 1885 Suraner Dudley; a volunteer for the Newburgh, N.Y. YMCA and a member of the Orange, N.J. YMCA; conducted the first camp for boys on Orange Lake near Newburgh, New York. From that simple beginning, YMCA Camping quickly spread to other associations.

Y.M.C.A. Camping started in Akron in 1907, when the Boy's Club headed by Frank E. Gates had Gypsy Hikes to Camp Kettle near Coshocton, Ohio. They planned to walk 20 miles a day and meet other tribes on the way. Those participating were from Toledo, Canton, Bellevue, Cleveland, Columbus, Springfield, and Dayton.

The Akron YMCA Gypsies were identified with a big red A sewed on the left hip pocket of their overalls. The covered wagon was packed Saturday afternoon to be ready for an early start on Monday morning. Mr. Gates slept inside the wagon to guard the baggage Saturday and Sunday night.

The group left at 5 A.M. with a team of horses and the covered wagon to carry the food and equipment. The boys were 14 years and older and 30 boys attended. The charge for each boy for two weeks was $45 and $2.50 for each additional day the trip took.

That same year, 1907, a second camping program was held July 22-Aug. 3rd, Camp Iroquois at Twin Lakes, Kent, Ohio attended by 36 campers and staff.

July 3-7, 1908 marked the second all-state gathering of YMCA boys at Catawba Island on Lake Erie, with 14 Associations planning the affair and 8-page circulars advertising the event. The Akron group had 29 campers including Ed Kastner.

On April 19, 1911, the Board of Trustees approved the purchase of 10 acres of land on the East Reservoir and it was called Camp Mudjekewis. Because of the financial condition of the YMCA, the site was purchased in the name of the Boys Camp Association by A. S. Mottinger, YMCA president, R. K. Crawford, and E. G. Mason.

Records show 328 attended summer and over-night camps in May, and June of 1912. The same year Andrew Noah made a gift of $4,000 for camp on condition that an additional $4,000 would be raised by public subscription. The public drive raised $3,000 but Noah did not withdraw the gift.

Ed Kastner was named Boys Work Secretary and Camp Director in March, 1913. The flood of 1913 washed out the East Reservoir and most of the facilities at Camp Mudjekewis. It was rebuilt providing a capacity of 100 boys.

The YMCA Board of Trustees at their annual meeting on January 28, 1927, recommended that a new camp for boys be built far enough removed from the city to give a real opportunity away from home under the single influence of the YMCA. At this time, Camp Mudjekewis was encircled by private homes and business interests. The Camp Committee, headed by A. H. Noah, recommended a new site in Green Township which was owned by the Wycoalin Club.

The sum of $50,000 was included in the YMCA-YWCA Joint Building Fund Campaign of 1928-29 for a new camp. Assets of the Boys Camp Association were turned over to the YMCA during the campaign. The Board of Trustees took option on the Green Township property on August 14, 1929. The original site consisted of 126.67 acres with its 35-acre lake was purchased on September 26, 1929 for $45,000.

The lake on the new property was named in honor of A. H. Noah, and he was asked to serve as Honorary Chairman of a New Camp Committee to get additional funds from public subscription. Some $15,000 was raised in cash and donations of supplies and the Boys Camp on Lake Noah was opened on June 18, 1930 and was dedicated on August 6, 1930. Facilities included the dining lodge and 17 cabins, accommodating 100 campers and some 30 leaders. Records show that 802 boys attended camp that first year. Camp Mudjekewis was leased to the Council of Jewish Women that summer.

Ed Kastner died in December of 1933. He had been Boy's Work Secretary of the Akron Y for 25 years and Director of Y Camping for 20 years. As a fitting memorial, a covered recreation hall was' approved by the Board to be built with public contributions. Thus, Kastner Lodge got its name. The Board agreed to advance up to $3,500 if necessary, to be returned from special donations and camp earnings. The Lodge was dedicated on July 28, 1935. Bob Chapman was director for 1933. Bob Maloney was named camp director in 1934. That year the kitchen was modernized and an addition built on the dining hall.

In December of 1936, East Ohio Gas Company leased a right of way through the Camp for drilling rights. The Camp Committee was authorized to build four new cabins and given permission to solicit funds for this purpose. The East Ohio Gas Company struck gas on the property on January 28, 1937. The Board of Trustees voted that income from this account be placed in a special camp reserve fund subject to change by Board action only, that expenditures from the fund be made only upon recommendation of the Camp Committee.

The Camp Committee recommended paying the balance of the loan of $3,500 for Kastner Lodge, amounting to $2,500 by transferring 58 shares of Goodrich common stock. The balance from the stock was to be used with $1,000 already in the budget for a loan of $1,200 to build 4 new cabins. The board approved the expenditure of $720 for gas pipe and labor for the installation of a heavy-duty gas range and two water heaters to take advantage of the free gas at Camp, the money to be taken from the general fund.

The Camp Mudjekewis property was rented during the summer months and a small piece was sold to D. J. Brunner for $250 in 1938. In 1941 the South Akron Branch took over the property and started a hobby and craft program. The headquarters building was burned out in April of 1943. Mr. Brunner purchased the balance of the property in January, 1945, for $17,100. Net proceeds amounted to $16,646.62 of which $10,640.52 came to the YMCA, the balance going to the YWCA according to the terms of the Joint Drive.

Bob Maloney became executive of Central Men's Branch in 1945 and Frank 0. Anderson was director in 1945. Cletus M. Becker served as director from 1946-1951. A typical camp period involved singing at meals, athletic events, work periods, swimming, free time, rest periods, special programs, cabin devotions and last night Camp Fire.

In January, 1948, the Camp Committee requested the additional $8,000 for repairs and development. In April a loan of $8,500 was approved by the Board of Trustees to complete the modernization program, a new KYBO in the Orchard Section, strengthening of the porch on Kastner Lodge, building new steps, landscaping the Cedarcrest section and purchasing 212 steel lockers. The loan was to be repaid from the Expansion Campaign and bear 2i% interest but the drive was canceled.

Use of Camp Y-Noah as the living quarters of champions in the All American Soap Box Derby starting in 1949 helped spread the fame of the Akron YMCA Boys' Camp. Many improvements were made with the financial help of the Chevrolet Motor Co.

After Cletus Becker, Richard C. Good served from 1952-1953, and Robert 0. Snyder, 1954 - 1958 served as the directors. George "Bo" Lehman was named director in 1958. The YMCA conducted a capital campaign in 1958 that raised $114,000 for camp repairs and renovation.

Robert G. Hawkins was camp director from 1961-1965. The Camp Y-Noah Memorial Foundation was set up in 1962 to perpetuate and improve the YMCA Camp. During his tenure a camp hospital was built from receipts of the Loomis Estate and the Babcox Memorial Chapel was added to facilities. Camp acreage was increased to 250 acres by the purchase of the Hoffman Farm and the Straight Farm. In the late 1960's the YMCA and the camp went through some difficult financial problems.

Directors were: James Hamlin 1966, C. Robert Wells 1967-1969, Don Nelson 1970, and Bruce Merritt 1971. The rapid turnover of directors was an indicator of the unstable nature of the camp. Selling the camp was one of the considerations. Through the efforts of committed laymen and staff, however the camp was not sold. The camp became co-ed in the early "70's and one week sports camps (soccer, gymnastics, wrestling, basketball, cross county running) became very popular.

In 1972 under the leadership of William A. Markell, Executive Director of the Akron YMCA, Mr. Ralph Drake was hired as Camp Director During Ralph's tenure at Camp, 1972-1976, the following things occurred two contracts that had been secured from Akron Board of Education were implemented -- one for an outdoor education program which used camp during the week nine months of the year, and the other for a vocational academy that also used camp during the week nine months of the year. An accrued deficit of $140,000 was repaid from operations. The first Clete Becker Alumni Reunion was held in 1975. The services of I.C.C.P. counselors were used. Day campers began using Y-Noah when Bob Phipps began bringing kids out from the Northwest and West Branch programs. The weekend use of camp accelerated through the use of parent/child programs. The Powertown unit was winterized and remodeled. Camp Y-Noah's logo (tent, tree, and "Y") was developed. A sign with the new logo was installed at Mt. Pleasant Road in June 1976. Ralph Drake left for the Detroit YMCA in October of 1976. William Cassidy was hired November, 1976, as the new Camp Director. In 1977, Edward E. Montgomery Jr. made a significant contribution of money to camp. Mr. Montgomery was a camper, staff member in the 1940's and a real friend of camp during his adult years. His donation funded a long-range planning process. The process involved the Camp Committee, staff, and Todd Schmidt and Associates (camp planners and architects).

The one-year study resulted in the Camp Y-Noah Development Plan. The plan was unveiled at the annual "Friends of Camp" alumni reunion of August 30, 1979. Dr. Verne Petrie chaired the 1979 reunion committee. His invitation to fellow alumni said, "This master plan will be vitally important to Camp Y-Noah's future for years and years to come.

Bill Cassidy went to work for the Cincinnati YMCA in September 1979. Larry Griffin, Assistant Camp Director, took over as Interim Camp Director and was appointed Camp Director on January 1, 1980.

That same year, the Akron Public Schools eliminated its resident outdoor education program, a loss of $50,000 to camp. Also, under the leadership of Fred Fuerst, General Executive, the Board of Trustees established a Task Force 'to study issues related to the implementation of the Development Plan.

The camp office back then, was located at the Central YMCA branch (Currently called the Canal Square branch). That facility was closed in 1980 and the office moved to the porch of the cook's cabin until the Brown House was winterized. The U.S. Navy Seabee Reserves re-shingled the roof, rewired the electrical service and insulated the new camp office. The Director's office was furnished with recycled materials from the Central YMCA: chalkboard, doorjamb and solid oak door, paneling, ceiling and carpet.

The Board of Trustees, made a commitment to implement the Camp Y-Noah Development Plan at its September 23, 1982, meeting. They commissioned the Camp Y-Noah Development Committee under the chairmanship of Robert Botzum. That same year, Ken Hiney contributed $10,000 to build the basic facilities for an association-wide day camp program on the south side of Lake Noah. That first year, 800 children attended the new day camp program.

A major shift occurred in 1983. The Camp Committee decided to discontinue sports camps in favor of programs designed for teenagers like canoe and raft trips. Also, the Akron Area YMCA joined with other Northeast Ohio YMCAs to form a support organization for the YMCA of Spain Camp Y-Noah became involved in this international emphasis through a camp counselor exchange program that still continues as of today. Fernando Bauza, 21, of Madrid, Spain, was the first Spanish counselor to come to Y-Noah; a couple years later, Becky Brown, a Y-Noah Counselor, went to a Spanish YMCA camp.

Camp Y-Noah and other YMCA camps celebrated the 100th anniversary of YMCA camping during the summer of 1985. Y-Noah staff buried a time capsule near the main campfire circle. The capsule will be opened at the 100th anniversary of Camp Y-Noah in 2030. Edward Montgomery Jr. was honored with a bronze plaque for his foresight and generous financial support that resulted in the Camp Y-Noah Development Plan. World Camp '85 was another celebration experience. >Camp Y-Noah sent four young people to the two week intercultural experience: Sonita Harris, 17, and Shawn Wolfe, 17, from Akron, Ohio; Lizcca Velasquez, 17, and Carlos Ibanez, 16, from Panama City, Panama.

That same year, TREC, a horseback riding program for persons with disabilities was started.

Two important programs, funded by outside organizations, were reorganized in 1986 and 1987. Children's Service Board eliminated its long-standing camping program -- a loss of $27,000. Akron Public Schools moved the Pre-Vocational Academy to South High School, a loss of $19,000. This situation, along with the loss of the outdoor education program in 1979 could have had a very drastic impact on Camp Y-Noah's stability and future. The negative circumstances were overcome through the dedicated efforts of the Camp Committee and the continuity and hard work of the staff.

In the 1980's the camp benefited from the leadership of the following chairmen: James Rench, 1980; Paul Orr, 1981; Robert McLaughlin, 1982-1983; Oscar Hunsicker, III, 1984-1985; Robert Brauning, 1986-1987 ; Thomas Brubaker, 1988-1989; and J. Bruce Hunsicker, 1990. Likewise from the leadership of professional staff: Director, Larry Griffin, 1980 to 1991(the average tenure for a Camp Director at Camp Y-Noah is four years.) Larry still serves as the Vice President of Operations for the Akron Area YMCA, today.

The Camp Committee and staff of the 1980's were aggressive fundraisers. The 1979 Sustaining Campaign raised $5,761 and ten years later the 1989 campaign raised $17,057 - almost a 300% increase. In 1987, the Akron YMCA conducted at $1.9 million dollar Capital Campaign, chaired by James Glass. Oscar Hunsicker III and Robert McLaughlin, co-chaired for Camp Y-Noah. The campaign raised $450,000 for Camp Y-Noah.

Projects completed were: Dining Hall - interior renovation 1984, new lobby and restrooms 1986 and remodeled kitchen 1989; all buildings re-shingled 1983-1984; Kastner Lodge - new roof and porch 1981, and new water system, 1983; new boat dock area 1982; new campfire circle 1983; main KYBO overhauled 1983; Raymond C. Firestone Equestrian Center built 1984; Ranch House winterized 1986; Cedar Crest cabins and KYBOs renovated 1988 and 1989; new swim docks installed 1988; Kresge Lodge built 1988; Pasture 2 West fenced 1989; and Day Camp pavilion built 1990.

Projects completed in the 1990's to Present include L.D.C. Renovations, Cabin Deck Replacement, Camp Y-Noah Spillway replacement, Dining Hall Addition and renovation, Indoor Riding Arena Construction, Martin - Kisinger Horse Shelter Construction, Bucey Chapel Renovation and Rededication, Cedarcrest Cabin Replacements, Alpine Tower Construction, Archery Range Replacement and Rifle Range Replacement, and High Ropes Course Construction.

Camp Y-Noah will celebrate 80 years of service to youth in 2010. The camp committee, development committee, and staff are now planning for the next decade. They are evaluating programs and analyzing present conditions to revise and update the Camp Y-Noah Development Plan.