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Kamp Kiwanis - Owned and operated by the New York District Kiwanis Foundation

The History of Kamp Kiwanis


Fifty some years ago The Utica Observer, a local newspaper in Utica, NY, began a feature article about the property which Kamp Kiwanis occupies today with this statement: "A haven more than 100 years ago is one again today. That's the history of the Laney property at Fort Lee, used in pre-Civil War days as a station for slaves traveling the underground railroad and in use now as the Rome Kiwanis Health Camp for Boys."

The camp is no longer called the Rome Kiwanis Health Camp for Boys, and there are few people left who even know that the area was once called Fort Lee. Today, all New York District Kiwanians can be proud that Kamp Kiwanis not only accommodates co-ed camping but is also wheelchair accessible and hosts a program for adult seniors and welcomes all ages with many different forms of special needs. Yes, the camp is still there but some remarkable things have happened over the years to make it the facility it is today.

It is an interesting story of how the New York District Kiwanis Foundation came to own what is now called Kamp Kiwanis.

Also see Kamp Kiwanis Nostalgia and Key Kamp Kiwanis People

The Early Years

1832 - The earliest records show that William S. Laney Jr. purchased the land now occupied by Kamp Kiwanis in 1832. He erected a tannery on Mitchell Brook, which runs through the property, and a four-room boot and shoe manufacturing shop which employed several workers.

Historic House

Laney was a member of the Old Presbyterian Church and some years just prior to the start of the Civil War, a division occurred in the church over slavery. Many local residents, including Laney, were strong abolitionists and withdrew from the church. It was during this period that the underground railroad was in operation. The underground railroad was a system of stations which provided a secret means of passing the runaway slaves from the South to the North and eventually to Canada and freedom. The slaves, who traveled by night, were hidden at the various stations during the day. The property Kamp Kiwanis now stands on was one of those stations. To the right is a picture of the original house which contained the "secret passages". This structure was destroyed by fire in 1968. The current Administration Building is located on that site.

1893 - About 1893, Harvey Bartlett bought the property and later sold it to Ernest Porter of Lee.

1921 - Harvey Bartlett sold the property to the Rome YMCA's executive director, Arthur Hollis, who established a camp for Sentinel (newspaper) carriers in 1921.

Rome Kiwanis Group Acquires Property

1930 - The Rome Kiwanis Club purchased the camp on March 14, 1930, and incorporated the Rome Kiwanis Recreation Association on April 4, 1930. The Kiwanis Health Camp for Boys, sponsored by the Association, opened on July 1, 1930, a move the Utica Observer described as "What once provided for the enslaved peoples of the South now provides a sanctuary for youthful slaves of the cities."

An old camp history described the Rome Kiwanis Recreation Association as "the functioning organization for the club in all legal and financial matters." It continued that the "YMCA, from the very beginning has been the program functioning for the camp organization, with Carl Clippinger, a member of the Kiwanis Club and General Secretary of the YMCA, as the directing genius of this camp since its very beginning in 1930 under the Kiwanis sponsorship." From its inception until its first closing after 28 years, Carl H. Clippinger served as the Kiwanis Camp director. The old historical article noted that it was through "this joint plan of operation this health camp for boys has built up a very enviable record of good will and public interest." A constant reference is made to the "arduous work and devoted interest of Kiwanians, the Izaak Walton League, the Rome State School Employment Club and the Ro-Men's Club."

Memory Lane

1932 - In the spring of 1932, the Izaak Walton League members erected a new mess hall. The Rome Kiwanis Club was also aided by members of the Izaak Walton League in its initial work of getting its property into shape for use as a camp, including the construction of a dam for a swimming pool.

This early newspaper photo from the Rome's Jervis Library archives shows members of the Rome Kiwanis Club and the Izaak Walton League working together at the site of a dam during the construction phase in 1932.

1950 - Another newspaper photo from Rome's Jervis Library archives shows Kamp Kiwanis as it appeared in 1950 "after 20 years of successful operation in the molding of better citizens", the newspaper caption stated. On the left edge of the picture is the corner of the original Laney home which was built in 1832 and used to harbor runaway slaves. At the time the picture was taken the house was still being used as the camp's administrative building and the nursing station. On the right of the picture is the dining hall built in 1932.

New York District Searches for Camp Site

1966 - In 1966, District Governor Thomas T. Pierce, who had experience operating a Children's Day Care Center, appointed a District Committee to investigate the feasibility of obtaining a piece of property for the establishment of a District Children's Camp for use as a sleep-away camp for underprivileged boys.

1968 - It was reported in the May 1968 issue of the Empire State Kiwanian that the "administration and storage building in the popular Rome Kiwanis Club Boys Camp at West Lee was gutted by fire on April 6th." "Forty firemen from two volunteer companies battled the blaze for an hour before getting it under control." "The fire devastated a historical landmark which dated back to pre-Civil War days. Underneath the building is an area which formerly served as a way station for slaves heading north."

Lt. Gov. Robert Teamerson of the Finger Lakes Division, an attorney, undertook the legal work to form the Foundation. Various members of the District Board, including Lt. Govs. Jack A. Tetamore of the Genesee Division, Donald Miekam of the Central Division, Hugh Trainor from Van Rensselaer, District Treasurer Louis L. Theiss, Jr. of the Bayside Club, who was to become the President of the Kiwanis International Foundation, and Gov. Steven Hart, who was to become the District Foundation's first President, checked out possible camp sites throughout the state. Sites were inspected in Van Rensselaer, on Lake Ontario, along the Southern Tier and in the Catskill Mountains.

Kamp Kiwanis Transferred to New York District

Then the Kiwanis Club of Rome contacted Steve Hart to offer its existing camp to the Foundation for one dollar ($1). "The price sure sounded right," Hart had indicated, so the District Board authorized Hart and Miekam to attend a mid-December meeting with the Rome Kiwanis Club. At that meeting the camp was transferred to the Foundation. Gov. Hart relates that he "paid the purchase price of $1 from my own wallet and, to this day, (he) has never gotten as much pleasure out of spending a dollar as (he) did on that occasion." He calls that Dec. 16, 1968, transaction, the day that "our Foundation and Kamp Kiwanis was officially founded."

The Foundation had not actually been formally established in 1968 when the agreement was reached with the Rome Kiwanis Club. Therefore, the original deed actually ran from Rome Kiwanis Recreational Association, Inc. to the New York District of Kiwanis International.

New York District Foundation Formed

1969 - Governor Stephen Hart and the District Board of Lt. Governors completed the formation of the New York District Kiwanis Foundation, Inc. and the New York District conveyed the property to the Foundation. The primary purpose of forming the Foundation was to own and operate Kamp Kiwanis, a camp for underprivileged boys throughout the New York District of Kiwanis. It should be noted also that incorporation meant the Foundation became a not-for-profit corporation with a 501(c)3 classification as a charitable organization. This meant that all donations to it were tax-deductible.

Official Opening of Kamp Kiwanis Under District Foundation

1971 - The official opening of Kamp Kiwanis took place in the summer of 1971 for a six week program with six cabins and a new administration building.

At the Jan. 15, 1971, meeting of the Foundation Board of Directors President Donald Miekam announced the appointment of the first Camp Executive Committee to oversee camp operations and handle any problems arising between meetings of the Board. It included himself, District Secretary Norman C. Kidder, Victor Perretta and E. J. Usselman. Governor Fisher announced the creation of the first District "Satellite Golf Tournament to be played at the Concord from Aug. 25-29, 1971, to be sponsored by Liggett and Meyers Company and the Concord. A purse of $60,000 was to be paid, with Liggett and Meyers providing $40,000 and the Concord $20.000."

1972 - In 1972 six additional cabins were built enabling us to double the capacity.

The Foundation Board and the Camp Operations Committee began a "Work Weekend" Program so that Kiwanians, their families and friends could make much needed, hands-on contributions at fixing up the camp to make it ready for the youngsters. The first of these plans were developed in a period when the Foundation President would begin making the announcement that Kamp Kiwanis is currently covered by four or five feet of snow.

1974 - The official report on the 1974 camping season reported that "only 58 clubs sponsored 178 campers during the six week season." It was noted that the "fine cabin and dining hall facilities can accommodate 50 boys a week." The Hudson River Division was complimented for pooling its efforts and reserving a whole week for its campers.

1975 - The 1975 Kamp Kiwanis season was successful, with attendance up approximately 35 percent over 1974 to 279 campers, part of which Foundation President Jack Tetamore attributed to the promotional and public relations campaign that utilized Division Coordinators to reach the club members and a new camp promotional slide program they had available to show at club and division meetings. The Kiwanis Club of Buffalo also brought 48 special needs children during the week following the camp's regular season.

The Foundation Board at its October 1975 meeting voted to approve the construction of an in-ground swimming pool at the camp. It was costing Kiwanis $1,000 per season to bus the boys to Lake Delta, which was necessary because the state Health Department did not approve of swimming in the pond on the camp property.

New Pool Built

Pool dedication Aug. 2, 1976 1976 - During the 1975-76 year, the District Foundation introduced a new fund-raising tool for local clubs, giant coloring books. While the sale of each book netted the Foundation only ten cents, New York State Kiwanians proceeded to sell 260,000 coloring books, which brought the Foundation $26,000. The Foundation used this money to construct a $20,000 in-ground swimming pool on the lower level near the cabins and bathhouse. This picture was taken at the pool's dedication on Sunday, Aug. 2, 1976. From the left are Willard Sauter, Kiwanis Lt. Governor of the Central Division; Jack Tetamore, President of the Kiwanis Foundation presenting a plaque to John Piersma, Chairman of the Construction Committee; Harry Seaburg, Governor-elect of the New York District; and Don Reese, Camp Director.

1977 - The fee per camper rose to $70 per week for the 1977 summer season, with a goal of 384 youngsters, since two new cabins had been built, making it eight cabins on the 56.7 acre camp, accommodating 64 boys a week. President Tetamore commended Camp Operations Committee Chairman Clarence Vanderzell and his team for their tremendous work and called on Kiwanians and clubs to support the Foundation District Patron Program.

1978 - A new narrated slide presentation was prepared for the 1978 season, with Division Coordinators and other Kiwanians receiving an orientation at the January regional training conferences. The Empire State Kiwanian began in 1978 to include a four page "Foundation Report" twice a year.

In his 1978 annual report, President Jack Tetamore reminded all 14,000 members of Kiwanis Clubs in the New York District that the Kiwanis Foundation is their vehicle to use to participate in service projects too broad or immense for individual or local abilities. He pointed out the Foundation sponsored the annual Key Club, Circle K and Tri-K conferences and, once again promoted the Circle K Board meeting and training conference for club officers at Kamp Kiwanis. The Giant Coloring Book program produced another $6,000 for the Foundation. The Kamp Kiwanis operation was in the black for the second year in a row.

The New York District Kiwanis Foundation, celebrating its 10th anniversary in the 1978-79 year, marked the occasion by creating a $100,000 interest income producing fund, half of which was planned to be raised that year. All Kiwanians were invited to contribute $10.

During 1978, 318 campers enjoyed the facilities of the well located, modern, well run Kamp Kiwanis. There was room for 448 campers, so the facility only operated at 71 percent of capacity. The camp broke even financially again that year, as 10 divisions increased the number of campers sent.

1980 - The June 1980 Empire State Kiwanian pointed out that the cost of camp was now $75 and the Endowment Fund was now over $15,000. Banner patches are now being offered for contributions of $4 per club member, with special paperweights being presented for individual contributions of $100 or more.

Pivotal Decision Year for Kamp

1984 - This became a pivotal decision year for the camp. Although the camp was continuing to serve a recognized purpose, the financing of the operation and maintenance of the camp continued to be a struggle for the Foundation year after year. There were other concerns as well. The camp still only accommodated boys and there were no provisions for serving the special needs campers as first envisioned by then Governor Thomas Pierce in 1966. A final factor was that many of the buildings needed major repairs and upgrading and it was becoming more and more difficult to meet New York State codes for youth camps. It was time to decide whether the camp should be sustained and improved or discontinued with its ownership reverting back to the Rome Kiwanis organization.

So, in the 1984-85 administrative year, Governor Jack Harten and his Board of Lt. Governors decided to hire an architectural firm from Cleveland, Ohio, which specializes in camps, Schmidt, Copeland & Associates, to evaluate Kamp Kiwanis and its property.

The consulting firm's final report detailed their findings and recommendations. Basically, they liked the setting of the camp and saw a great potential for its future expansion and development. Their report recommended that the current property be kept and that a three-phase improvement program be instituted. The first phase was a natural: Renovate the camp property and bring it up to New York State Building and Health Department codes. Phase two required that the property be renovated to be wheelchair accessible. Phase three, without giving specifics as to how or where, was to build a conference center.

New York District Kiwanis Rolls Up Its Sleeves

1984-85 - In October 1984, Governor-Elect Robert Calabrese met with the architect-consultant at Kamp Kiwanis and decided to make Kamp Kiwanis his Governor's project for the 1985-86 year. "The Pride Drive: The Governor's Project" proved so successful that Foundation endowment funds that were planned to be spent were not needed. A total of $170,000 in cash was raised. Donated services came to more than $20,000, for a grand total of $190,000. The donated materials included tools, tiles, a van, a car, a pool table, a video slide show of the camp, electrical fixtures, lawn tractor and a fire system for the kitchen.

1986-87 - During the 1986-87 year of Governor George Kane, the SMILE DRIVE brought in an additional $28,000, making the two-year total more than $190,000 in cash donations.

1987-88 - Governor Charles H. Price and Kamp Kiwanis executive director Chris Henske oversaw major changes during the 1987-88 year, including the building of a handicapped accessible bathhouse; lifts for the pool, pond and dock area; heater for the pool; paved and widened walks to accommodate wheelchairs and campers on crutches; a van with a lift and the institution of an adult/senior citizens (16 years and older) camping program. The Governor's Project, under Price's leadership, raised $77,000, all of which was designated to cover the new and changed facilities at Kamp Kiwanis.

Girls and Special Needs Accommodated by Kamp Kiwanis

1988 - The addition of new facilities combined with the new special provisions at the camp brought the laughter of young girls and special needs children to the camp during of Summer 1988. That year the camp was sold out with 672 campers, including 65 special needs children. That was indicative of a lot of divisions signing up youngsters for particular weeks at Kamp Kiwanis with the Kiwanis Club of Bedford-Stuyvesant from the Brooklyn Division of the New York District of Kiwanis International taking over a whole week.

The fees for sending a youth to Kamp Kiwanis was $160 for both 1988 and 1989. Round-trip transportation supplied by the camp was $40. Because of the special camper-to-counselor ratio requirements, the fee for sending a handicapped youth to camp was set at $375, with transportation costing $100.

1989-90 - During the 1989-90 year of Gov. Steven R. Scharoff, Chris Henske was able to obtain a $64,300 grant from New York State for expanded work on the wheelchair accessibility projects at the camp. The parking area was paved, more paved walks were added, and special provisions were implemented for the special needs kampers at the pond level and the pool.

Adult/Senior Citizens and Special Needs Campers Welcomed

Dedication of Handicapped Facilities 1989 - Kamp Kiwanis began serving adult/senior citizens in 1989 and special needs kampers in 1990. The official ribbon cutting to mark the opening of Kamp Kiwanis as a wheelchair accessible facility took place on Monday, June 18, 1990. Sitting in the wheelchair and cutting the ribbon is Ethal Martin of Rome. Holding the end of the ribbon at the left is David V. Veatch, a barrier-free design advocate. Among the on-lookers in the second row from the left are: Charles Brooke of Lee Center, Harry Bilton Jr., Lt. Gov. of Central Division, Chris Henske, Executive Director of the Kamp, and Philip F. Catchpole, director of Rome Developmental Disabilities Service Office (DDSO).

The $64,000 state grant was obtained through the state Developmental Disabilities Services Office in Rome to make the camp wheelchair accessible. In his remarks Philip Catchpole said Kamp Kiwanis was the only summer camp in the state that was fully staffed and equipped to mainstream asthmatic, autistic, as well as the physically and mentally challenged youth groups right along with the other boys and girls who attend camp.

Key Clubs Support Kamp Kiwanis

1990 - In 1990, the New York District of Kiwanis Key Clubs, under the leadership of Key Club Governor Joseph McDonald, realized that they had their own cause within the District's K-Family that they should be supporting, Kamp Kiwanis. In its November 1990 issue of The Empire Key, the Key Clubbers note that Kamp Kiwanis now operates as a fully staffed and state certified co-ed camp for the physically and mentally challenged and the elderly. Its 35 staffers handle approximately 96 campers per week.

The Key Clubbers decided they would raise funds which would be used to complete the Drama Center that was originally a project initiated by the Cy Morgenroth Fund.

New Kamp Assets Dedicated in October 1996

1995/96 - On Oct. 5, 1996, a number of New York District dignitaries and other Kiwanians gathered at Kamp Kiwanis to dedicate many recently completed projects. Among the major items dedicated were:

Morgenroth Drama Center

A number of years ago the District lost a great man and fellow Kiwanian, Seymore "Cy" Morgenroth. Cy, as he preferred to be called, served his club, division, and district well. To honor this fine gentleman, the money donated in his honor was used to create this new arena for young children to find self expression and thereby foster greater self-esteem. The Drama Center serves as a focal point of programs which emphasize imagination, self-expression, and development of self-confidence and team cooperation. The District Key Clubs were also recognized for their significant funding support to the project.

The Commemorative Wall

The west-facing facade on the pavilion which will be the Governor's Hall when completely enclosed. It is comprised of engraved bricks that were bought in memory of deceased Kiwanians, in recognition of good works of others and by individual Kiwanians in support to the Kamp. This is an on-going project. Clubs and individuals are encouraged to add their name or that of a Kiwanian they would like to recognize.

Maureen and John Meir Bridge

While the bridge at the dam has actually been there a number of years, it was appropriate to recognize the Meir's, who are both now deceased, for their thoughtfulness in providing funds for this project at the time it was built.

Sun Shelter

The sun shelter at the pool was constructed in the spring of 1996 with funds raised by past-governor Dutch Craumer's Board. This large lean-to building provides relief from the hot sun for the adult/senior citizens and youth. In the spring of 1997 the brick decking was added to complete the project financed with funds raised by District Gov. Dutch Craumer's Board.

Memorial Trees

The two new trees join another memorial tree planted just a few years ago in front of the Administrative building. The trees were dedicated to the memory of Past First Lady Janice Calabrese, Past First Lady Pigeon Spiro, and Past Governor William Spataro. A new split-rail fence also adds greatly to the appearance of the camp.

Ground-Breaking for East Meadow Cabin

The East Meadow Kiwanis Club provided funding for a new cabin to be constructed on the upper-level in the area behind Governor's Hall.

Executive Kamp Director Chris Henske Departs

In the fall of 1996, after serving as the Executive Director for more than 10 years, Chris Henske resigned and left to explore new adventures in Australia, his wife Allison's homeland. For more on Chris' leadership of the kamp, see Key Kamp Kiwanis People

1997 Sees Building Improvements

1997 - In the spring of 1997 the entire roof of the dining hall was removed and replaced. The side walls of the dining hall were raised and new windows were added along the side facing the administrative building. The dining area had been widened and the kitchen area extended along the north wall to the pavilion area.

Another major change which greeted campers was the completed East Meadow Cabin. The new dual-occupancy cabin was constructed with funds provided by the East Meadow Kiwanis Club. The unique design of this cabin allows two independent groups to occupy each half.

Also during the winter months additional work was done on Governor's Hall. A stage was constructed in the Drama Center.

On the lower level of the camp, a patio was added to the sun shelter at the in the early spring. The patio provides a level seating area for folding deck chairs and wheelchairs for the adult/senior citizens and special needs kampers.

"Pete's Pool" Dedicated

2002 -In the spring of 2002, a new pool replacing the one which had been built in 1976 was dedicated. Built in the same location as the old pool, it was dedicated to the memory of Pete Haller as a result of a gift from his family.

For more information, see the "Pete's Pool" page.

Dining Hall named for Frank D'Orazi

2003 -During his many years of service as vice president of the District Foundation, the Kamp's kitchen and dining hall was a favorite project of Frank D'Orazi, a Distinguished Past Lt. Gov. of the Queens West Division.

In the spring of 2003, the dining hall was named in his memory, just a few months after his death. More information is available.

The D'Orazi Dining Hall is near the John Gaglione Field, a fitting relationship since the two men worked for so many years together on the Foundation board. For more information on D'Orazi and Gaglione, see Key Kamp Kiwanis People

While making the dedication, Orlando Marrazzo, foundation president, also noted the many improvements to the complex, including the recent expansion of the kitchen, the addition of handicapped-accessible rest rooms to the building, and the enclosure of the Governor's Hall, making it an all-weather facility which also serves as an extension of the Dining Hall.

New Infirmary Added to Administration Building

2005 -In June of 2005 a new Infirmary was dedicated.

Work on the Infirmary had begun in the summer of 2004. Built as an addition to the Administration building, the project resulted in an Infirmary with adequate treatment and office areas, living quarters for the kamp nurse and even an isolation room.

On June 11, the infirmary was dedicated in the memory of Domenic Sciarrotta, past president of the Peninsula Club, past lieutenant governor of the Long Island Southwest Division, and past member of the District Foundation Board of Directors.

More information on the project is available.

International President Visits

2006 -It was raining on May 6, 2006, for the annual Kamp Kiwanis Open House but the spirits were high, bolstered by the participation of Kiwanis International President Steve Siemens, who inspired those present. More information is available.

Administration Building Dedicated

2007 -Past Foundation President Orlando "Lindy" Marrazzo was honored by having the kamp's recently expanded Administration Building dedicated to him. A newly renovated upper bathhouse also was dedicated. More information is available.

Marina Dedicated

2011 -At the 2011 Kamp Open House, the Kamp marina was named for Past Gov. James Yochum. More information is available.

New Arts and Crafts Building Dedicated

2012 -At the 2012 Kamp Open House, a new Arts and Crafts building was dedicated. More information is available.

New Library Dedicated

2013 -At the 2013 Kamp Open House, a new Kamp Library was dedicated. More information is available.

Credits - In 1994 the New York District Kiwanis Foundation dedicated the observance of its 25th Anniversary Year (1993-94) to the memory of Past First Lady Janis Calabrese. A journal published in her honor as part of that observance contained an article, "The History of Kamp Kiwanis" by James McGrath, Foundation Historian.

Information gathered by Jim for that article and information from other sources was used to create this page. Contributing to the effort were Steve Haller, Robert A Calabrese, Stephen H. Hart, John H. Meyer, Robert L. Teamerson, Chris Henske, Jerry Hennessy, Donald Miekam, Jack A Tetamore, John J. Harten, Larry Hapgood, Tony Palangi, John G. Gaglione and Norman Sturdevant.