Each summer the Marion Boys Club spent one week at Wagner Lake including one overnight. One contest that was very popular was the jump the pit contest. The only catch was that the pit was filled with gooey mud. The only one that wouldn’t get muddy was the winner who just happened to be Kevin Hansel. Each round the line would get further away from the pit so they would have further to jump. Once they hit the mud they would wash off in Wagner Lake which was just about as dirty as the pit. But the kids had a lot of fun that day as for some reason boys tend to like to get dirty. Fortunately we had a lake close by for them to wash the mud off. The prize was $10.
The Marion Boys Club largely made all their trips to the Big Bass Lake Store by rowboat for any extra supplies we needed at our wooded beachfront campsite. They also liked the store for an occassional snack or postcards. These were the steps leading up from the pier to the store.
There were also “dugout” wooded seats embedded in the hillside where one could relax with their snack or soft drink until everyone was ready to head back to camp. Grandma’s Hat, the tiny island, was in full view out north into the lake. The island was just to the right of where we turned west and under the bridge that led to the Big Island.
For some reason, Hostess Snowballs was a big favorite of the Marion Boys Club kids on any trip. We usually took two boats over to the store always keeping close one to the other in the event of any emergency. All the kids had life jackets on for added protection.
Our trips to the store were usually in early morning just after breakfast. The lake was fairly quiet at those times. The boys always looked forward to that store for their needs including a comic book or two. It was their personal oasis from their camping experiences that brought them a taste of a return to normalcy. Even so, they were always ready to head back to camp for whatever activities and side trips awaited them there.
Alex hated his shorter name Al and never wanted to be called that. This kid loved rowing a boat. He said it built up his arms and back. He wrote back and forth to the point nearly a hundred times. Alex was a member of the Marion Boys Club and really enjoyed the library activities because I was the educational director there. He went on all my short camping trips to Salamonie State Forest near Wabash. And he went on to Michigan trips. He missed one because he had a bad case of the flu in the fall. On that trip we rented a cabin. Alex was also a good swimmer but somewhat lazy on his chores and had to be prompted to do them. He looked on our camping trips as a vacation from his parents. He had a hard time understanding that camping has a lot of work to it. He did well in my library program because he was a smart kid and loved our quiz bowls.
I wanted to take a look back at the six Boys Clubs of America that I was a part of during that time of my life.
1. Marion, Indiana: I was the Educational Director there and part of my job was to host weekly television program on Channel 23. That club has now been sold to a church and has relocated to just south of Indiana Wesleyan University. It was from here and from Taylor University that many of my guest speakers came from. I also operated Matthew’s Indiana extension one day a week.
2. Salesian, Columbus, Ohio. This club was located in downtown Columbus and closed down a few years ago for a lack of financial resources. Part of my job there was to work at St. Ladislaus as their physical education director. The club itself has a pool, gymnasium with a running track over the gym, and an eight lane bowling alley.
3. Hoffman Estates, Illinois. This was my first job as an Executive Director and I had a renovated barn with an excellent outside facility including a football field and two softball fields. The director after my tenure caused the club to close down and the building itself was removed.
4. Joplin, Missouri: I was again the Executive Director of this club and oversaw their new facility which was partly opened during my tenure. Since that time, the old building has been razed and a second gym installed.
5. Bradenton, Florida. This club closed down in 2009. It has three large baseball fields, a Ceramics room, they gymnasium and locker rooms, a weight room, a games room, and a wood shop.
Of course over the span of some twenty-five years changes are inevitable and progress must be a part of any expansion plan. It was sad, though, to learn that Hoffman Estates, Bradenton, and the Salesian clubs are no longer in operation.Now I’m at my last Club called Mishawaka. I serve as its executive director. It has a pool, gymnasium, Learning Center, games room, Arts & Crafts Center, kitchen, and two large softball fields.
No, this isn’t a commercial for Jif Peanut Butter, nor is it our first post on fishing about going after jelly fish. How about a good tip for fishermen? Our kids found out that if you take a jar of peanut butter, like Jif, and poke holes in the lid, and then sink that jar in shallow water, the fish population in that area will increase tenfold.
We did just that just off our beach about fifty yeards from where we swim. You see, the fish are attracted to the oil from that peanut butter and once they arrive fishhooks descended from our rowboat above and caught a bunch of them. Worms and cheese were our bait but it was that peanut butter that did the trick. That night we had a fish fry and the kids gobbled them down because it always tastes better when you earn that meal yourself.
One time while fishing, without that peanut butter lure, one of the kids got a hook stuck in their hand which required a quick trip to Baldwin, Michigan, about 23 miles away, to the nearest medical facility. A tetnus shot followed extracting that hook out of the boys hand.
It seemed that fishing was at least one day’s project for some of the kids that went on camping trips to our property. They always had better luck closer in to shore then when they tried fishing in the deeper waters of Big Bass Lake. Perch were the favorite eating fish for the kids. I’ll bet some of you had been wondering when we would get around to a fishing post, eh?
The only time some kids refused to go to the haunted Island was when they saw this in the sky prior to leaving for the island. The Marion boys club kids took this as an omen of bad things to come. They were really serious about this so this was the only trip that we didn’t get to the haunted island. The boys viewed this as a monstrosity in the sky that no one could explain. It stayed in the sky almost 10 minutes before disappearing. Can you make out the eyes of the sky? If he were alive maybe Rod Serling could explain it?
On our boys club trips to our family property in Michigan it was also fun to erect tents. Erecting a new tent was always the hardest as instructions always tend to be a tad too detailed. Once any given tent was erected the second and third times they were put up went all the faster. Our tents were always stored at the end of any given trip in our grainery for use the following summer. But over the course of time, some had to be replaced.
One year I brought up a dining tent for times of rain or heavy mosquitoes. It was very little canvas and almost all a meshed window. The kids also used it as a sort of lounge because it caught the winds nicely off of Big Bass Lake and served them well for rest times.
On most trips two tents were erected and a couple of times three. Two were fairly close together and the two times a third tent was put up it was off about thirty yards from the other two. The reason why was due to the area not having enough room.
On a very stormy night one summer my grandmother came all the way from her house (about a half mile away) in that storm to demand that for that night we all move to the guest cottage. She was concerned about our metal rods on the tents attracting lightning. So eight boys and I shared that two room guest cottage for that night. It also had a screened in porch that was put to use.
After a week in a tent civilized living sure looks good again. Still, I highly recommend tent camping. Try it sometime.
In all the trips our various boys clubs have taken to Big Bass Lake there were no serious accidents except for the time Keith Hansel got a hook stuck in his finger. To be on the safe side it was not removed. I took Keith to nearby Baldwin to have medical professionals do it and they did so adding a tetnus shot. With that lone exception the fishing times at Big Bass Lake were great.
Fishing was never a major activity for us but some of the boys who liked to fish had that opportunity. Plus it provided us some additional meals when the boys caught some perch or bass. Near the swamp they sunk a jar of peanut butter in about four feet of water. Holes had been punched in the lid and fish seem to have liked the oils from that peanut butter as they came to that site in droves.
Some boys used a rowboat to fish while others preferred fishing off the pointe. Those that fished near the swamp had the better luck. Those that caught the fish also got to clean and fry them up for the rest of us. I have to admit that nothing seems to smell better than fish frying in a fry pan over an open fire.
All our fishing was confined to Big Bass Lake. In retrospect, since we did take side trips to the Little Manistee and Pine Rivers the boys could have tried those areas as well. Very few boys took an interest in fishing as they were more there for the swimming and hiking. But on the trips there was at least one boy that wanted to fish with the exception of one trip with the Hoffman Estates Boys Club. Those kids just didn’t like to fish all that much.
On a very stormy night at our campsite on our wooded beach we were surprised by an unexpected visit by my grandmother who had walked the nearly half mile from the new cottage because she was worried that a lightning strike on our metallic tent poles might cause us to be in danger. She insisted that we abandon our campsite for the night and instead take shelter in the old cottage.
The cottage you see in this picture used to have screens and insect lights when I was younger but now the cottage was just about as you see it now. There are two rooms both with large queen size beds on rather comfortable mattresses. That particular trip consisted of six boys. That meant four boys in one bed and three of us in another. Due to the rain the weather was rather humid demanding that we open the one window in each bedroom for some circulating air.
Needless to say no one got much sleep that night and in the morning we headed back to the tents for some much needed sleep. Strange how tents offered more sleep comfort than did those beds in the old cottage?
I recall the first day at dusk with our boys club trips to Big Bass Lake. This would be the first time the boys were enveloped in thick darkness without the benefit of city lights. It would be a whole new experience for them. I remember that I had left a few canteens in my car about a hundred yards or so up the hill toward Noreika Road and I has asked one of the boys to get them for me. “By myself?”, he questioned and this is a kid that would walk the streets of his city at night. And, this was at dusk, mind you, not yet being full dark.
Our first campfire on any trip at night had the boys very close in to each other. As darkness permeated the area the boys were apprehensive even more so there were no ghost stories that night even though the Haunted Island was well in site over a brightly lit moon clad sky.
Instead we covered our chores for the coming day and a little about what we would be doing the next couple of days. Then I told them about our first night hike on our property within the next hour. They were both anxious about that hike while at the same time looking forward to it. It would be down the old logging trail just off Noreika Road and the hike would be relatively short. Yet the boys would become used to the darkened sky and be ready for the hikes to come which were to be even longer and some off our property.
Yes, that first dusk evening was special to the kids as it began their journey into a camping experience they would not soon forget.
At our wooded beach on our property we had two swings. One was located at the Pointe, some forty yards east of our main camp site. The other was behind the tents about twenty yards toward the swamp. Both were used often on two or three trips.
Our two tents were erected within ten yards of the lake itself and between our two fire pits. Just behind the tents were our clothe lines for anything wet. Then a few yards away from that was our “wooded” tire swing which drew a lot of attention in the evening hours.
Between the shoreline Pointe rope swing and the main campsite was our latrine area. The Pointe rope swing was largely used in the daytime. We tried to utilize as much space on that small piece of land that was surrounded by either the lake or the swamp.
There really wasn’t a general play area for sports but that was not the reason we were there. The kids played around in the lake or took the row boat out for a brief twilight trip to the Pointe.
Since I had gone to the trouble of rowing a boat from the southwest corner of Big Bass Lake, through the channel between the lakes, and finally exiting into Little Bass Lake, I decided to take my time to explore the little brother of my home lake. I had three boys with me om the Marion Boys Club, and they alone took turns rowing only through the channel between the lakes. I was one weary rower upon our return to our wooded beachfront on Big Bass Lake later that day.
But the kids had the opportunity to explore Little Bass Lake and view the scenery there as we did. The first thing they noticed there was that there were NO islands on that lake. Big Bass Lake had five islands and one that was haunted to boot! The boys also noticed that there weren’t as many cottages on the shores of Little Bass Lake. I told them that this lake was sightly deeper than its older brother and did not have nearly as many speedboats around it. On the day we were there I counted only two speedboats. However we ran across many fishermen with motor boats as they were trolling that lake as they fished.
It was well worth the weariness of making that trip as the kids learned a lot about Little Bass Lake from a man who owned a cottage near the channel between the lakes on the Little Bass side. They were VERY impressed with the channel between the lakes as well.