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News Eagle - Hawley, PA
  • Camp Oneka: making summer memories since 1908

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  • TAFTON - An element of the Poconos, that’s as ordinary as the bugs that come with the season, summer camps are scattered throughout the region, offering families and youth a chance to embark on a journey where memories and friendships can only be made in the woods.
        Since 1908, Camp Oneka has been one of the many camps in the area, where generations of girls have traveled to retreat from the normalities of life, and enjoy the company of others, who only understand the traditions that are a part of camp.
        Located on seven acres with a stretch on Fairview Lake in Tafton, a few changes through the years include the camp relocating to its current site, from a spot on the banks of the Delaware River, says Camp Co-Director Kevin Mackrell. Through the years, different families have owned the camp and families were raised with children experiencing the many aspects of camp, such as being counselors. In 1987, Dale Dohner who was the program director with his wife Barbara who was the nurse, obtained Camp Oneka, where their daughter Becky and her husband Kevin are now co-directors.
        This year marks the 106th season for Camp Oneka, and to keep with tradition, Becky says the family has tried very hard to maintain the old-style look of the structures, only using natural woods, and none of the facilities have air conditioning. As people revisit, Becky says they often say how it still looks and smells the same. But, things appear smaller. That, she says, is because people grow up.
        Changes through the years, include no longer serving beef stew or having regular Wednesday night cook outs. With a laugh, Becky tells of how campers were sent to clean their mess kits, but never wanted to do so and so they hid them. After enough of that, the regular cookouts were changed.
        Additions include a 30 foot climbing tower, a dodge ball court and numerous activities that have developed over the years. Becky says Oneka is “pretty traditional,” in that campers aren’t allowed to have cell phones and meals are served family style without cafeteria lines. Uniforms are worn every night to dinner and all day on Sundays, with the campers wearing white shirts and red shorts, and staff in white shirts and blue shorts. These traditions, Becky says, are what make Oneka unique as the campers embrace the customs.
        Working to help girls develop self-confidence and try new things, Becky says the staff tries to teach the campers the importance of face-to-face communication and know how to say what they mean, rather than simply escaping their realities by hiding behind a computer screen.
        A very activity based camp; Becky says the campers learn how to do many things like rigging boats, and reading the wind as they try to sail. Participating in the activities, Becky says is important because the experiences gained are something the campers likely won’t learn elsewhere. Trips include a four-day trek to the Adirondacks, an overnight trip on the Appalachian trail, a day at Hershey Park and more.
    Page 2 of 3 -     Campers are from near and afar, many from the Philadelphia area and others scattered throughout the United States, with a few international as well. Many of the campers are second and third generation, which means their older sisters, mothers or other females in their family attended Oneka. One current camper is from France, whose mother was also a camper.
        A third generation camper, Alice Pope has been camping at Oneka for seven years, where she comes back because she has made great friends. For Pope, camp is fun because everyone is nice, plus she enjoys the activities. The best part of camping, she says, are the people she sees every year.
        For Pope, dinner on the dock is one of her favorite traditions. She says it’s, “weird” because it simply means everyone is eating sandwiches either at the play field or on the dock. But more importantly, its simply “fun.” Every Saturday night, Becky explains that dinner on the dock means everyone has either peanut butter and jelly, or turkey and cheese with potato chips or carrot sticks at one of the two spots.
        The waterfront activities are Pope’s favorite, specifically playing on the WASP. Appearing like a big banana, the WASP seats five people and is pulled around the lake by a motorboat.
        A tradition that carries through with each generation, every camper is designated as being red or white. Pope for instance is red, as was her grandmother who was a red team captain.
        This summer was CeCe Kenneally’s first year attending the second half of camp, which was different because it meant she was meeting a lot of new people and experiencing new aspects of camp. Having always wanted to go to a sleep away camp, Kenneally says her mom chose Oneka because of the many traditions. Initially, she actually wanted to go to a sports camp, but in the end with the many activities at Oneka, she experienced the, “best of both worlds.”
        A camper for six years, Kenneally says Oneka is like no other place she has ever been, as there are “really cool traditions,” red/white being one of them. This year, Kenneally was actually selected by her peers to be the white team captain. Although being a captain is “awesome,” Kenneally says the first week was a challenge, as she had to get used to the younger campers looking up to her.
        As an older camper, Kennealy who is 15 has additional privileges as she is in the leadership class (LC). Becky says its hard keeping teenagers at camp, and so the privileges are to acknowledge the girls’ age and the fact that they are in leadership roles. One such bonus, is some phone time, once a week for 30 minutes or leaving camp to go to the blueberry farm down the road.
    Page 3 of 3 -     There are three age groups at Oneka, with younger campers staying in cabins and the older girls in tents, that are placed on platforms with one light on a string.  
        As part of the camp experience, Becky says the staff tries to teach campers about responsibility, respecting others and self-confidence. This is done by acknowledging when the campers are trying new things that can be intimidating, like participating in the talent show. The campers are awarded courage stars or feet charms for necklaces, when they go the extra mile and help others.
        One of the five oldest camps in the country, Dale says Oneka tries to stay “current in a traditional environment.” Oneka, he says, was the name of a Delaware Indian Chief many years ago. Aside from the generations of campers, Grace Kelly actually attended Oneka, as did her children and granddaughter. As a camping professional, Dale says it is his job to make memories.
        This summer was Madison Vetterlein’s second year attending Oneka, which she says was great because of how “welcoming,” everyone was and the fun activities she participated in. Her favorite meal, is “corn flake chicken.” Truly a Camp Oneka meal, Vetterlein explains that the meal consists of chicken, cornflakes, rice and gravy. Becky says the recipe came off a cereal box years ago and through the years it has been “tweaked,” for camp.
        The tower is Vetterlein’s favorite activity, because she enjoys rock climbing and receiving the feet charms as she moves higher up the tower. Vetterlein says camp is “fun,” because she loves meeting new people from other countries and states.
        A bonus to camp, Becky says is putting on a goofy wig, wearing clashing clothes while singing silly songs and knowing the laughter isn’t directed at someone. That uniqueness, makes people special.  Camp in general, she says are a place for kids to develop and learn about themselves.

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