Camp Martin Johnson by Dan Schultz


Since the camp existed for 54 years, there were a number of configurations of which I only became aware recently when people began sending in maps of camp. For the first 30 years or so, CMJ was an all boys camp. Girls came in the late 50s.

There were different styles of cabins. In my last year, I slept in Mau Mau which was a single cabin for the waterfront director. However, at some earlier point, it slept 4 in two pairs of bunk beds.

The camper cabins when I was last there in 1973 included:
Four Winds-Oldest Boys
Broadway-Oldest Girls
Boys Villages
Frontier (Younger)
Voyageur (Older)
Pere Marquette
Girls Villages (Indian Villages)
Valley- Younger

Program staff (supervisors) lived in a variety of other cabins including Mau Mau, Lewis and Clark, Rawley Lodge, Valley Lodge, The Annex, and the Program office. Each Village had a wash house with facilities. The mess hall had a shower in it that I enjoyed during my last three years (best shower in camp).

The first four week period had more campers than the second period and usually had a waiting list. I remember having up to 300 or so kids the first period. Some kids stayed for two periods or 8 weeks. We usually had a precamp with some other YMCA group. For the last three years, I worked there, the St. Thomas Children’s choir came for those two weeks; they were great kids led by a great priest, Father Oldershaw.

After the August period, we had family camp through labor day. Chicago schools started on the Wednesday after Labor Day so that was the end.

However, the camp was used in the winter for skiing. It owned a ski hill (Ward Hills). We had winter camp for a week and groups would rent out the camp throughout the ski season. I went for two weekends as a high school kid and worked ski camp for 3 different winters. Same kids as the summer although a much smaller group. Only a few cabins were heated.

I was a camper in 1962-63 and worked at camp from 1969 through 1973. From 1970 through 1973, I taught swimming. From 1971 through 1973 I participated in the running of the waterfront. I was assistant waterfront director in 1971 and director in 1973.

The waterfront was a central part of CMJ. We had 3.5 miles of lake front between Big Bass, Little Bass, and Blue Gill Lakes. We had swimming, canoeing, boating, sailing, and waterskiing programs. We had 9 sunfish sail boats and one Arrow class sailboat. Kids were very active in all of the programs. They loved coming down to the waterfront for classes, for general swim, for free activity, and for cabin activities.

We did use the buddy system as part of our safety program and were very vigorous in safety.

We taught lifesaving to staff mandatorily from 1971 through 1973. All of the kids were expected to be able to swim or had to take swimming classes until they could. We routinely taught 300 kids to swim each summer.

We did have a classification system for ranking swimmers and for granting privileges:

From 1971 through 1973, this was the system:
Red: Non-swimmer-Had to take daily classes.
Yellow: Swam 100 Yards and could use Row Boats.
Green: Swam 200 Yards and could canoe and use Row Boats.
White: Swam 500 yards and could use all activities.

The waterfront was used from 6 am for early staff canoeing classes to 9 p.m.. We taught two to three classes a day, had two cabin activities, had a very popular General Swim before dinner, a free period after dinner, and rest hour lifesaving classes for staff.

Thus, it was a 12 hour day for the waterfront directors.

We also sent canoe trips out of camp on the area rivers. We had a very popular Canadian tripping program for the older kids that sent them up to Ontario rivers and lakes for two weeks. The training for this trip was rigorous for campers and staff. This trip was instituted by Peter Moffat who is Canadian himself and an unbelievable and legendary canoeist.

Many of us are still involved in aquatics. Many still go on canoe trips. In the last 10 years, I have gone up to Ontario twice with old CMJers. Two years ago, a group of us did the Pine. I know that others have canoed many places including in countries other than Canada and the US.

On a personal note, one of my favorite jobs in my life was running the waterfront. I have many strong and fond memories of those years.

5 thoughts on “Camp Martin Johnson by Dan Schultz

  1. I was at Camp Martin Johnson in August of 1962 or 1963. I loved this camp. I was only able to go once.
    I did learn how to swim for real there ( No More Dog Paddling).
    I remember that my one of my Consulor’s. Her name was Sandy she seem tall to me at the Time. She was a blond and there was another I think her name may have been Nancy. We were Iroquois. Every Cabin had a Tribe we were named after.
    I remember one day we had a milk drinking contests in the dining hall to see which table could drink the most milk. Then they used the empty cartons and build a fort in the front of the dining hall.
    I also remember that Cookie and Natalie Cole ( Nat King Cole’s daughters) were at the camp. Natalie was in cabin down the way a bit from us. Cookie was very friendly.
    Going to the Store was great. You could stock up on candy.
    I loved horseback riding, swimming, and just wondering around the camp. I found Blue Belly Salamaders, and Crawfish (Cawdads). I saw my first water mocassin there. Boy was that exciting. I remember one of the male consulors tried to chase it away with a stick. I do remember going to another lake that wasn’t to far from the camp. It was early in the morning and the steam was coming off the lake. The water in this lake was clear and appeared light blue in the early morning, and the water was really warm. That was the best. I was one of the few black people there at the time . There was a girl who came from Mississippi because she couldn’t go to camp down there. I did meet some really nice people. It makes me feel a sad that such a wonderful place is gone forever. It was an experience I will never forget.


  2. Thanks for sharing, Dawn. Our property was on the southwest portion of the lake but also extended to the north side. Big Bass Lake was a big part of my life too.


  3. My husband and I now own property where the old camp use to be. I was told we are where the baseball field was. We are on big bass lake side. It is an amazing place. We look right at the island where the loons nest. Our neighbors parents use to own a great deal of property on Big Bass Lake as well. It’s awesome to read these stories. One question where is the Haunted Island? I can’t quiet figure that out. THanks for sharing all this interesting information.


  4. The Haunted Island is really called Matson’s Island and right across from the Big Island on the southwest portion of the lake. Our old property used to run along the extreme southwest sie of the lak frm the public landing north about a half mile. It ran on Big Bass Lake Road by the public landing all the way to Matson Road.


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