Letter to those considering applying for the curator position:
I served as the summer history curator at Camp Kawanhee in the summer of 2018, and it was one of the best jobs that I have had the fortune of holding. For 7 weeks (8 counting pre-camp) you have the opportunity to be immersed in a completely new environment and come to understand and teach about its history to 150 kids and countless alumni via the museum and the Kawanhee history website. There are so many opportunities with this position, and you truly can make it anything you want it to be.
Eliza Graumlich’s 2017 letter, contains a lot of the technical information about the position. The only correction I have to make to her content is that by the end of the 2018 camp season, the museum averaged a lot more than one visitor per week (even though most of those visitors were campers). Because the technical information about the position exists, I want to share with you a personal account of my summer at Kawanhee in hopes of providing you with important information about the position as well as to hopefully encourage you to apply or answer any questions that you may not have been able to find the answers to in the other material provided on this website.
At the time of writing this letter, I am an undergraduate student studying English in Kansas, and I applied for this position because of my interest in library and information science (in which I plan to pursue a graduate degree). I’d never been to Maine before and besides the information of the position had no idea what to expect. Of course, Maine is naturally beautiful, and where Kawanhee is situated on Webb lake is no different. Kawanhee is a camp, so the accommodations can be pleasantly described as rustic, but honestly, you’ll spend so little time in your room that it won’t matter anyways.
One of my big worries in coming to camp was being a female at an all boys camp (if you’re a male applicant, clearly this won’t be a concern you share). I lived in what is known as the “barracks” which is housing for non-lodge staff, and I shared a pod of rooms with two other young female staffers. There are many female staffers at camp both younger and older, and I never had any issues with any of the male counselors or campers. Sure, it was a different environment, but I also learned that camp functions on hype and if you can set any qualms you have aside, and just be one of the boys when it means getting a little loud and crazy then you’ll be just fine. Plus, if I ever needed something from another female staffer there was always someone to turn to who was in a similar position as myself. I like to tell people that the kids and the counselors were great, and I mean it.
I also mean it when I say that camp gets wild and crazy sometimes, and it’s a really good environment for an extrovert; however, I am not an extrovert. I consider myself an outgoing introvert, and sometimes I need time to myself to recharge the introvert batteries. I won’t deny that near the end of the camp season I was definitely feeling overwhelmed, but rest hour and evenings made it possible for me to feel like I had no problems with my introversion. I think you have to ask yourself if you’re ready to be constantly surrounded by people when considering applying for this job, because there are times when it can be a lot, but I found it worth it and I hope you will too.
The job itself has a lot of possibilities about what you can accomplish. As you can tell from this beautifully designed website, Eliza spent a lot of her time working on digitizing and then curating those digital files. While I have the skills to have continued her work, I chose to take a more physical focus and work on projects that could have a direct impact on camp during the season. Therefore, I spent a lot of the early days at camp reorganizing and making the museum a little more coherent and allowing it to flow better. I redesigned exhibits and wrote new signs for exhibits that were already in the museum. My big focus then became camper engagement, I want to be a children’s librarian, so with my mindset and skillset I wanted to try and get campers to connect more with the museum, because while many campers knew it was there a lot of them had never been inside of it.
I started by running history activities during free time such as map making and lake diving (searching for materials in the shallow water in front of the dining hall). I also led multiple history field trips to local sites that are of interest to camp history. When these activities started becoming slightly popular I worked with the assistant director as well as the director of activities to run history as an activity that campers could sign into for one period a day. We did this for the last two weeks of camp and I had 8-10 kids a day come in and we were able to explore camp history through materials in the history cabin as well as by taking a camp history tour. Kids were excited to partake in history, and I even gave several history awards at the end of season awards ceremony, something I never would have predicted 7 weeks earlier.
I think that it’s important that you think about how you would like to engage with camp history as you make your application for this position. As Kawanhee approaches its 100th anniversary, there really does need to be someone digitizing and preserving and curating material for alumni engagement like Eliza did; however, I also think that there’s a need to connect campers to their history. Or, you could have a completely different idea about how to approach Kawanhee history that would be phenomenal.
That’s the beauty of this position, the ability to self-direct your work. That’s also one of the hardest parts of this position. There is so much to do and so many projects that sometimes it’s hard to pick one start on or decide what to dedicate yourself to. Occasionally you may be asked to take on a project by the camp administration, for example, I spent a period of time researching Chief Kawanhee in the archives. There are also people to ask for opinions such as Mike and B.A. Altmaier who have both been at camp for over 50 years, which can help direct your form of work, and of course Tom always has ideas for projects as well.
Another thing I found that worked well at camp was just a willingness to become a part of camp life and to help out when asked. I hung out with a lodge of younger kids and became their “lodge mom” and I was a designated non-lodge staff member to help provide coverage for another lodge as needed. Because I didn’t live in a lodge, I also took my turn doing night-watch, driving kids to the doctor, or driving kids to and from the airport. I gained a couple of extra jobs at camp because I recognize the importance of helping out and trying to provide a good camp experience to kids, and sometimes that requires doing more than you were initially asked to do. Of course, you can always say no to these things, but I found it incredibly rewarding to help out.
Beyond the fact that this position is a job, working at camp is fun and can provide wonderful experiences. I learned to water ski, over the course of several weeks of going to free swim in the afternoon I learned to do a front flip, I went out to the ropes course, and overall I experienced so much more than I had expected. There is a staff hike up an area mountain, opportunities to go outside of camp, and with your one day off a week there is a chance to explore Maine. Working at camp was easily one of the best summer experiences that I’ve ever had, and I’m trying my best to return to camp in the summer of 2019, just in a different capacity. I always thought that people who said working at a summer camp was super rewarding were just being cheesy and hokey, but after the summer of 2018 I realized that they were completely right.
It’s hard to capture just what 7 weeks can mean in one letter, but I hope I’ve given you an idea of what working at Camp Kawanhee can be like. I’d encourage you to apply for this position and take a chance on what could be one of the best summers you’ve ever had.