COMMENTS ON NAMANU HISTORY
Presented at Leaders’ Retreat
Camp Namanu – Fall 1989
by Ginny Denton
The first Camp Fire groups or Clubs on record as being active in the Portland area were formed in 1911. I don't
know how Camp Fire came to have such an early start here. In 1910, Dr. And Mrs. Gulick were inventing the Camp
Fire program back in Maine and yet here, clear across the country in Forest Grove, there was a Camp Fire group
the next year. None of the people who have shared information with me about the early days of Camp Fire in this
part of the world have known how it developed here so quickly. But we do have records and pictures —snapshots
— that have the dates of 1911 and 1912 on the back. They indicate that Alice Wilbur was one of the first Guardians.
Some of you know that the building here at Namanu which we call Guardians is actually named the Alice Wilbur Cottage.
Some of the other early leaders were Mrs. Bushnell, Mrs. Gerlinger, and Mrs. White. They were, along with others,
the early founders of Camp Fire in the Portland Area.
A little more than ten years after the Gulicks and some of their colleagues started Camp Fire in the east, the
Portland Council was nationally chartered in 1921, with Mrs. Arlan as the first President. I have found no other
information about her. The first Executive Director was Mrs. Elizabeth White. The first organized camp was held
in that same year, located on the Clackamas River near Carver. It was called Camp Namanu. Mary Lou See, a past
Camp Namanu director and Camp Fire staff member, and a friend of hers were recently exploring the area around
Carver and decided to see if they could find the original Namanu site. They are not sure if they did find it,
but they think they were somewhere close. They are the only folks I know of who have looked for the site in recent
Daddy Raker (W. S. Raker) became Camp Committee Chairman in 1923, actually before Uncle Toby became active. He
worked with Mrs. Thomas and Eathel Moore in looking for a permanent campsite. I have been told by people who knew
both Daddy Raker and Uncle Toby that Daddy Raker was a little bit more the businessman. As chairman of the Camp
Committee he was more apt to take on the worry over the day to day kind of things that demanded attention while
Uncle Toby dreamed, helped to build innovative facilities and told stories to the campers. Balagan was Uncle Toby's
unit; he imagined it — dreamed the dream. He convinced Camp Fire to build the cabins very close to the bank over
the river which must have taken a little doing. It would probably be very difficult for us to do that today.
(You may notice that I am still having a little trouble with the personal pronoun. I seem to continue to use a
lot of “us” and “we” — I suspect I will grow out of that in a few years.
Camp Namanu was held at the Carver site for two years, three or four weeks each year. In 1923 a different site
was found which was felt to be more appropriate for a permanent campsite. However, that location on Eagle Creek
proved to be impractical because of flooding. At this time the President of the Council was Mrs. Mary Thomas and
together with the Executive, Eathel Moore, Daddy Raker, and some other volunteers, she went on a search to try
to find a site which would be suitable for a permanent campsite. They did find what they were looking for — what
is today the central part of the present Camp Namanu. It was owned by Samuel B. Cobb. A combination of a donation
from Mr. Cobb and a small sum of money resulted in the acquisition of this property by Camp Fire.
A couple of years ago, I received a letter from a lady who identified herself as the daughter of Eathel Moore, the
Executive Director who worked with Mrs. Thomas. She remembered hearing stories from her mother about those days,
although her mother had been able to stay in Portland for only a short time before family responsibilities in the
Midwest made it necessary for her to return there. Eathel Moore's daughter and her husband were planning a trip
to the northwest and wanted to visit Camp Namanu. They did come to Portland and did visit camp. I was able to
spend some time with them in my home and had the opportunity of seeing many of her mother’s snapshots which she
had kept over the years. It was a wonderful couple of hours for me — a real piece of Namanu history that came to
One of the best pieces of information that we have on the early days of Camp Fire in the Portland area was compiled
by Marguerite Davis. Marguerite, who passed away a number of years ago, was a leader, a Board member, and worked
on the staff for a short time. She served for a time as an informal historian for the Council and put together a
document which is in a scrapbook at the office with information about development of the Council in the twenties
and early thirties. After that, the minutes of Board meetings provide information about the various areas of Camp
Fire and the development of Camp Namanu.
A piece of historical lore is that the name “Namanu” means Beaver in some Indian language. I know of no one who has
ever been able to document this as to which Indian language loaned Camp Fire the word, but we have been telling many
generations of Namanu campers that it is so!
I came to Camp Namanu as a counselor in 1946 and came back as Assistant Camp Director in 1952 and then as a full
time member of the staff and Director of Camp Namanu in 1953. Sweyolaken, the camp operated by the Spokane Camp
Fire Council, has for a long time had a symbol which they use for many purposes, one of them being its inscription
on a silver medallion which is given to every camp staff member who serves for a full summer as a member of the
camp staff. It is also used as a design on the leather tokens given to campers each year. The Chairman of the Camp
Namanu Committee saw one of the Sweyolaken staff medallions which was being worn by a friend of mine who was visiting.
He immediately felt that there should be a symbol for Camp Namanu which could be used in the same way in the Portland
Area Council. Others agreed with him and the Camp Namanu symbol was born. I do not remember who designed it — whether
someone on the camp staff did it, whether we had a contest for Club members or whether it was contributed by someone
else, but I do know the intent of the symbolism. The bottom line is meant to be the symbol for beaver, because it
has the five little notches which stand for the beaver's five toes. The three trees are pretty obviously the Wohelo
Trees and the wavy line is interpreted as a symbol for water, the Sandy River and the swimming pool.
When you look at a map of Namanu, it is apparent that it is strangely shaped. This is because the entire property
did not come into Camp Fire's possession all at one time. The original piece of property acquired from Samuel Cobb
was about 125 acres according to the records, and was loaned by him to Camp Fire for the first year or two and then
it became involved in an estate, the Nottingham estate. It would seem from the records that Mr. Cobb donated his
interest in the estate and that Camp Fire paid for either one third or two thirds. The purchase price was a ridiculous
six hundred and sixty six dollars. Different time – different land values. I doubt that it would be of great interest
to many of you if I were to try and trace the exact history of how each of the other pieces of Namanu acreage were
acquired. A number of acres were purchased from the City of Portland. During the years I served as Camp Director,
several of other adjoining parcels of land were purchased from private parties. There was a great desire on the part
of the Camping Committee and the Camp Fire Board of Directors at that time to enlarge the camp area in order to
protect it — so that the boundaries were not too close to “civilization”. Now it would be very difficult to acquire
any adjoining property because the price would probably be exorbitant. Namanu is currently comprised of between six
and seven hundred acres. Some acres of that are on the other side of the Sandy River which makes it pretty unusable
for camping purposes, but it does help to protect the main camp area. Someday it may become so valuable that Camp
Fire will sell it. One piece of the property across the river was given to Camp Fire and the other piece “came with
the place”, so to speak. That property is just the other side of the river, across from where the “swimming hole”
was once located. Otherwise, the property line on that side of camp is a line in the middle of the Sandy River
— that's the way property lines along rivers were drawn many years ago.
According to reliable information, at the time the property was acquired from Mr. Cobb there was a small farm house
located approximately where the present Raker Lodge stands. The first year, 1924, they built some kind of tent
shelter out in front of the house and used the house as a cookhouse and the girls ate out in the shelter. They
slept in tents in the meadow which were put up by the National Guard. Those days are a long way away from the
various health and welfare standards and the camp site inspections of today! However, apparently even then it
was considered a bit rustic.
The very next year, 1925, Gladys Snyder became Executive Director and they held the very first doughnut sale (You
start acquiring property, responsibilities and liabilities — you start needing more money and presto, the doughnut
The first Raker Lodge was built in time for the 1925 camping season, named for the first Chairman of the Camping
Another thing that happened that second year that was important to Namanu and Camp Fire, was the beginning of
Theodore Harper's, “Uncle Toby's”, alliance with Camp Fire. I do not know who was responsible for introducing
Uncle Toby in this organization. He was, however, an intensely interesting figure and contributed so very much
to Namanu. One of the things that I have always regretted is that I came to Portland too late to know Uncle Toby.
Many of the people with whom I have worked over the years knew him when they were kids at camp, because he was a
hands-on kind of volunteer. He came to camp, told stores and nailed nails — he did this during the camp season.
There are lots of women who remember kneeling by Uncle Toby and helping him nail the floor down in Uncle Toby's
Story House. He was a mining engineer and worked for a time in Siberia. He was also an author and wrote many
children's books, although they are a little bloody and violent by today's standards. At one time there was a
complete collection of Uncle Toby's books at camp. There was also a lot of the poet in Uncle Toby. He became active
nationally in Camp Fire and wrote the original Fire Maker's Desire, the Blue Bird wish and some other poetry which
was a part of the Camp Fire program for a long time. At this point, most of them have been changed in minor or
So Uncle Toby became a very important part of Camp Namanu. He was a creative visionary. Can you imagine what Namanu
was like In 1925-26-27 when they built the Story House? This camp was a very new place. The first Raker Lodge had
come into being, there were some cabins on the hill where the Sherwood and Robin Hill units came to be located, but
can you imagine the vision it took for somebody to decide that they were going to build this multi-purpose building?
Think of its size if we went to a committee today and said we needed a building that large. They might probably have
difficulty accepting it, but the Story House, every inch of it, has been used every summer over the years. It is a
truly amazing building. It has done yeoman’s service for such a long while, being particularly valuable in this
climate where you need cover so many times, even during the summer. Uncle Toby was a dreamer, and also a doer.
Shower house and laundry facilities came along in 1926. I would be willing to bet that there people who were glad
As early as 1927, Lester Scott came to visit this Council. He was the National Executive Director from headquarters
in New York, and if you don't think this is a forward looking organization, just ponder the fact that back in 1926
we had a male Executive Director for a girl’s agency.
Lester Scott succeeded another man, Luther Halsey Gulick, who not only founded Camp Fire, but who was also the first
National Executive Director.
It was in 1928 that some of the tree houses were built — not the Balagan tree houses — these were tree houses that
used to be in the main camp area. There was one down in the middle of Blue Wing, there was one behind Glad House,
as well as at least one other. They were not places where people lived; they were just tree houses — places to climb
up into! Kids got to go up into them, sit and chat or look around or just sit! The information we have says just that
four tree houses were built by Uncle Toby and the girls.
In 1929, Gladys Snyder, the local Executive Director, left to study at Columbia University which was well known for
its forward looking curriculum in physical education for men and women. She eventually settled in Oakland, California.
I met her once when I was working in Oakland, before I came to Portland. She impressed me as being an interesting and
Kiwanis Lodge, the first Robin Hood's barn and four cabins in Sherwood were built during 1929 and two hundred and forty
additional acres of land were acquired. I think that today we might be suspected of losing our minds if we tried to do
that much in one year, but there was a lot to do and they got busy and did it. It wasn't until 1930 that the final deed
to the very first property which is now part of Namanu was signed.
For a good many years, Kiwanis Lodge and nearby cabins housed the most senior of the campers, usually seniors in high
school. Then as time went by and the numbers of older Camp Fire members diminished and the number of younger members
increased, that unit came to be home for 7th grade youngsters. Pioneer was designated an 8th grade unit and campers
in high school lived in Pioneer.
“Guards” (the Alice Wilbur Cottage) was built in 1931. It was originally built so that “guardians”, today known as
leaders, could come out for a week in the summertime and stay during the time that camp was operating. They lived in
the Alice Wilbur Cottage and it became known as Guardians. In my days of Camp Directing when I used to hold a session
about camp history with the counselors and told them about the original use of that building, some of them looked a
bit skeptical! You leaders would think that is just dandy, and so would I if I were in that position. But I can also
imagine that from the camp staff viewpoint it wouldn't be so great! They would probably wonder what we would do with
them would they just “get in the way?” (I do not know just what they did do. I am sure they found many ways to be
very useful.) Since 1953, when I first became Director of Camping, we have used “Guards” as a staff recreation
building during the summer. During fall and spring months it is used for Club camping. I lived upstairs in Guardians
for most of the summer while I served as Assistant Camp Director. I was young, about twenty-five years old, and I
was assigned to live with the dietician who I think was seventy-two and the weavery counselor who was probably close
to seventy. During the second or third night I had to wake one of them from a nightmare and listened to the other
one talk in her sleep. I am a light sleeper and it looked like a LONG summer! So, I moved over to the back porch of
the House of Health and lived with the bats! (At that time there were quite a number of bats who summered in the
attic of the House of Health.)
Glad Snyder left before the Camp Director's cabin, Glad House, was built and named for her. For many years, the
Camp Director and sometimes the Assistant Camp Director lived in Glad House and it was also the place where
hundreds of meetings and thousands of conversations and consultations took place. Now that the Camp Director
lives in The Loft, Glad House has been temporarily put on a shelf pending a decision as of its future use or
whether too much maintenance would be required to make it safe for use. Lesley (Lesley Thompson is the present
Camp Director, as you know) agrees with me that a decision should be made soon —that either a use should be found
for Glad House and the necessary repairs made, or that it should be taken down. It has had a long history of use
at Namanu and has meant a lot to many of us who spent a number of summers living in it — working, laughing and
Elaine Gorham became Executive Director following Glad Snyder. The Executive was also the Camp Director at that
time. Both jobs must have been a handful, but there were probably fewer governmental reports about which to worry
than there are today! Elaine Gorham was greatly loved and was a very successful Camp Director and Executive
Director for a number of years. The Star Gazing “tower” was built in her memory when she died.
Additional cabins were built in Sherwood, and Balagan came along in 1935. (Camp Adahi which then was operated by
the Washington County Council was opened in this same year. The Washington County Council and the Portland
Council merged in 1959 and became the Portland Area Council.) 1959 was an eventful year for Camp Fire in a
number of ways. In addition to the merger, the Council employed a new Executive Director, and made the decision
to buy the property in the state of Washington which became Camp Kwoneesum, but this is a digression! To get
back to Camp Adahi, it is now operated as a Camp Fire day camp.
Blue Wing Lodge was built in 1936 and it is hard to believe that was almost sixty years ago! It has been a favorite
building for many folks. One of its very popular features is the fireplace built below the floor level with steps
on which to sit.
The Kiwanis Lodge, the first of the Kiwanis cabins and the Weavery were built around 1936. The Weavery program
is an unusual one and I believe it to be fairly unique to Namanu. I have never heard just what inspired it, but
perhaps someone was volunteering in the early years who was interested in weaving and thought it would be a fine
activity to have at camp. It has been extremely popular with many campers over the years. For most, it is their
only contact with this craft and who knows — perhaps some have continued to pursue this interest as a life long
and satisfying hobby. As a part of a camp program it presents some real challenges. It is hard to find people to
maintain the looms in good order and to do the stringing of the looms just before camp opens, as well as to carry
out the duties of the Weavery Counselor during the summer weeks. I was one of the Camp Directors who avoided
learning how to handle the looms — probably because I was afraid to learn in case I ended up doing the program!
Since I didn't attend Namanu as a camper, I can't say I have even woven one mat! In fact I did not have the chance
to go to any camp as a camper. I grew up in a little town in Minnesota and there were no Camp Fire or Girl Scout
programs. During my last year at college, I roomed with a young woman from Portland and she introduced me to the
idea of coming to Camp Namanu as a counselor — she had been both a camper and a counselor at Namanu. Our physical
education instructor at Macalester College was Ruth Schellberg who spent many of her summers as a staff member
at various Camp Fire camps. She thought everyone ought to do that! So she wrote such an enthusiastic reference
for me that I was offered the job of Camp Craft Director! I think I was too dumb to know that I didn't have the
experience necessary for the job — so I took it. I learned a whole lot that summer and found that what I had
learned on a Minnesota north woods canoe trip with Ruth Schellberg equipped me more adequately than I would have
thought to teach camping skills to youngsters.
To go back to Kiwanis for a bit — the cabins in that unit were originally built on two levels, below the Lodge.
Those two levels became known as Upper and Lower Slabovia, but I cannot tell you why. Lower Slabovia still exists,
but the two upper Slabovia cabins were replaced with two cabins, on the other side of the camp road, out a little
way from the Lodge.
Daddy Raker died in 1939 after many years of being so very helpful and important to Camp Fire. The story of his
death is poignant. He was about to participate in a Council-wide Council Fire, probably at the Auditorium. He
stopped to have his shoes shined, had a heart attack and died. It must have been a pretty dramatic evening for
the folks supervising the Council Fire and it surely was a great loss to the Council. The Camp Craft Cottage was
built that same year. Perhaps you can visualize the meadow as the buildings which ring it were added one by one.
An exciting development in 1940 was the acquisition of the Ranch property. From its inception, the Ranch program
has been somewhat different than the riding program in most other camps. Commonly, a place is found not too far
from the central camp area and a riding ring is developed there. The campers have a short, perhaps daily ride
around the ring and that pretty much constitutes the riding program. So it was a real departure for this Council
to establish a unit quite a distance from main camp, and to develop a full program centered around horses where
the campers not only learned to ride, but to take care of the horses, the corral and the manure! The Ranch campers
also have always cooked their own meals with the supervision of the staff. Because horses are expensive to either
own or lease, and to maintain, the Ranch program fee has always been higher than that of main camp. More property
adjoining the Ranch was gradually acquired including nearly forty acres next to the Ranch house area (as you drive
into the unit.) The house on that property and a small parcel of land around it does not belong to Camp Fire. The
seller did not want to sell the house. It has since changed hands and it has been just too costly for the Council
to buy it. Perhaps someday, someone will own it who will come to love us so much they will leave it to us!
The Fort Pioneer Unit was built in 1941, and has been a favorite of campers ever since.
Uncle Toby died in 1942. To me he is somehow the more romantic of the two figures of Daddy Raker and Uncle Toby.
It would have been a real privilege to have known him, and I am sure he has been greatly missed by his many friends.
It was also in 1942, actually December of 1941, that the world changed for everyone and Camp Fire was no exception.
The war years were difficult for organizations such as Camp Fire, particularly camp operations. Many things were hard
— it must have been nearly impossible to recruit staff for camp. I am reading David Brinkley's book on Washington,
DC during the time of the war and have been fascinated with his picture of how that city changed and grew in a very
short time. It is incredible how many people went to Washington to help carry on the war effort. It was no wonder
that it was hard to keep Camp Fire and Namanu going when there were job opportunities exploding all over the
country. During one of the summers during the war, the President of the Council, Mrs. Ray Vester, lived at camp
for all of one summer because the Executive Director was under twenty-five which was the minimum age that Camp
Fire required for camp directors. There is not a lot of information in the Camp Fire files about what went on
in camp during those years. There is mention of victory gardens, but I am not sure where they were located.
For one or two summers, they bussed campers out to the berry fields to help with the harvest. It was a tough
time to keep camp going. Marge Dibble Platt and Marianbeth Wolfenden both served during those years as Executive
Directors and there were a number of others in a relatively short length of time.
The first year after the war when building activity at camp resumed was 1948 when the Nature House was built.
I have always admired the imagination that went into the design of the Nature House. However, three redwood
trees were planted right in front of it and they quickly grew so large that the middle one had to be cut.
The fish pond, created by the creek that was incorporated into the design of the building has been home to
a number of creatures over the years. Some years there have actually been fish in it.
Some one of you asked when the Camp Fire office was located in the Meier and Frank store downtown. I don't
know when the office was first located there, but it was moved out in 1949 to a building at 729 S.W. Park,
called, appropriately enough, the Park Building. In 1946, the year I first came to Namanu as a counselor,
the office was in Meier and Frank and camp registration was done in their auditorium. When I returned to
Portland in 1953 as a member of the year around staff, the office was in the Park Building and was there
for a number of years. From there, it was moved to a small building on the corner of 12th and Alder, across
from the First Presbyterian Church. When Camp Fire left that building, a “men’s bath” moved in. Previous to
Camp Fire's occupancy, the building was empty for quite awhile after Ruth Barnett moved out. Ruth Barnett was
a well known abortionist in the days when abortion was illegal. The cover for her operation must have been that
of a reducing salon, because the name of the place was “The Slim U Clinic”! (I believe she was sent to prison
at least once and she wrote a book which enjoyed good sales in Portland — a serious little book called “They
Cried On My Doorstep”.)
From 12th and Alder, the Camp Fire office moved in 1951 to its present location in the United Way Building on
the corner of Broadway and Burnside.
I first came to Namanu as a counselor in 1946 and returned as Assistant Camp Director in the summer of 1952.
The next May I came back to Portland and accepted a full time position on the year around staff, the duties
of which included the direction of Camp Namanu.
Claire Barricks who had been the Council’s Executive Director for several years left in 1951 and Dorothy Preuss
The CIT (Counselor-In-Training) program — a National Camp Fire program) was launched at Namanu in the summer of
1953. This was an exciting program in many ways, not the least of which was the stimulating effect it had on
the whole camp program. The younger campers really looked up to the CITs and looked forward to the day when
they, too, could be like their heroines. These older campers slept in tents on the river side of the meadow
and for the first years they had no lodge. This was a program that combined learning in many ways, including
a kind of intern program their second year, when they worked alongside cabin counselors – never substituting
for the counselors, but attaining practical experience.
The swimming pool was built in 1953, another major project for the Council. There was a lot of sentiment
involved with swimming in the river — some said that the meadow would be ruined with a pool. Others felt
that swimming in the river was “traditional”. However, the hazards of the Sandy River, which is considered
to be a very dangerous, and the discomfort of the frigidly cold water outweighed the objections and the pool
was built. It proved to be successful and very popular with the campers, and as the camp staff used to tire
of hearing me say, “camp is for the campers”! It was very fortunate that there has never been a drowning at
Namanu when so many youngsters swam in the river for many years. In addition to being very swift and cold,
the Sandy also receives water from the Bull Run River just upstream from camp and the flow of that river is
regulated by a dam, also upstream. When a large quantity of water is released at the dam site, there is a
tendency for it to change the bottom of the river in the area which was used for swimming and it is was possible
for the water depth there to change from day to day and place to place. Thus, extreme vigilance was required
on the part of the swimming staff to avert accidents.
The shape of the swimming pool allows for a lot of shallow space in the two “wings” for the younger campers and
beginning swimmers. But there is still ample length from the deep end to the center of the more shallow end for
regulation swimming lanes, and the water is deep enough at the deep end for low platform diving. For a long
while we resisted the State Health Department's request for a fence around the pool, but finally were agreed
to put one up. It is strange that there is no fence required around a lake or a river which may be part of a
camp, but when it is an artificially created body of water, it becomes more dangerous!
Twenty-seven years after it was built, the original Raker Lodge had become too small, the kitchen with its wood
stoves was inadequate, and the camp needed to upgrade its refrigeration capabilities. So in 1952, the old Lodge
was razed and the “new Raker Lodge” was built — complete with gas stoves, two fireplaces, a dishwashing kitchen,
walk-in cooler and a seating capacity for 350 people. The Council's annual doughnut sales and later, candy sales,
helped to provide the money for this facility as well as the others throughout the years.
A selective timber harvest program was initiated at Camp Namanu in 1955. It was carefully controlled and supervised
by a professional forest manager and I feel it has remained pretty unobtrusive over the years. The major objective
of the program was to protect the health of the trees. The income was important, but secondary to the beauty and
safety of a healthy forest. Another benefit to the camp was the improvement of access to the “far reaches” of
the property by the trails that resulted from the logging roads.
While still operating as a separate Council, the Washington County Council purchased an eighty acre site on which
to develop a resident camp. They had a camp on leased land (Camp Adahi), but felt that a much better program for
older girls could take place on this more primitive site. The property, known as Camp Pioneer was purchased by
the Washington County Council in 1956. After the two councils merged, that property was sold.
The Star House was built at Namanu in 1957 and is a memorial to Elaine Gorham, who served as Executive Director
and Camp Director for twelve years. A telescope was purchased at the same time and looking at the stars on a
clear night quickly became a popular activity.
After more than a year of planning by the Camp Committee it took several presentations to convince the Board of
Directors of the need for Spruce Lodge which was built in 1958. There had been no central place with the right
facilities for the Camp Director or any of the camp staff to do paperwork, and it did take some effort to
convince the Board that there truly was paperwork at camp. The feeling seem to prevail that all the paper
work was done in the office in town! However, Unit Directors have lists of cabin assignments to make, reports
to make at the end of the summer, Craft Directors have schedules to prepare, the Business Manager keeps
statistical records, there are stacks of invoices to check and approve, and there are many other tasks that
require desk space, typewriters, etc. We used to have three typewriters sitting on the floor in Glad House
with people sitting-cross legged in front of them or else they were trying to do it in Guards when radios were
playing and counselors talking, playing cards — whatever! Securing agreement on funding the building of Spruce
Lodge was about the only time that the Board was hesitant to agree with a Camping Committee recommendation
about needs at Namanu. It took a long time to name Spruce Lodge, but we finally tired of calling it the
Administration Building and agreed upon Spruce Lodge. However, strangely enough, there wasn't a spruce tree
in camp. So I personally planted a four or five year old spruce tree in front of the Lodge. Apparently the
location is faulty, because the tree never did grow very enthusiastically! In addition, the campers from the
now defunct Tepee unit used to gather there and wait for the Sammy Truck for their out of camp trip. They
would reach up sort of absent mindedly and pull the needles off the lower branches! However, the poor tree
is still alive and somehow it has never occurred to anyone to consider renaming the building and it is still
the only spruce tree in camp as far as I know. I should not fail to say that Spruce Lodge was built to be a
multiuse building. During the off seasons, bookcases which served as a partition to create a small bedroom
for the occasional overnight guest were removed at the end of each summer to enlarge the main area. The long
counter which served as desk space was hinged and could be folded down out of the way. Bunks were brought in
and it became a facility for Club camping.
And all of this reminds me of a wonderful joke that a group of the counselors pulled one year. Folks tend to
lump fir trees and pine trees together. However, although we have lots and lots of fir trees, cedar trees,
vine maples and other trees at Camp Namanu, we don't have pines as they grow naturally in central or eastern
Oregon. This group of counselors had spent a break between sessions in eastern Oregon and came back with a box
of large pine cones. Without saying anything to anyone they scattered them around on Robin Hill. That year we
had an excellent nature counselor named Miss Skippy. The story goes that on the first or second day of that
session, she was busily working in the Nature House and a youngster came up to her and told her she had found
a pine cone. Without looking up, Skippy said “No dear, you found a fir cone, there are no pine cones in camp.”
“But,” said the child, “I looked it up in a book and it looks like a pine cone.” She finally convinced Miss
Skippy that it was indeed a pine cone! I thought that was one of the better jokes that any bunch of camp staff
ever brought off.
1960 and 1961 were quiet and that was made up for in the fall of 1962 when Namanu was affected, as was so much
of the northwest, by the Columbus Day storm. People recall that storm in much the same way that they recall
President Kennedy's assassination in that they remember where they were and what they were doing when the storm
struck. Namanu was very, very fortunate, as it was just out of the path of the worst of the wind. However,
there was a Horizon Club Conference scheduled for that weekend and most of the kids had arrived on the busses
late on that Friday afternoon. The storm hit about six o'clock p.m. The power was knocked out, of course,
and the telephone. I was not there at the time of the storm. I had changed jobs from Camp Director to Executive
Director that fall and I was planning on coming to camp for dinner that night. I did drive to camp after the
storm had blown itself out, before I knew how bad it really had been. I arrived at the gate to find fire
trucks and an ambulance parked there with firemen using chain saws to open the road from that end while the
camp caretaker was using a chain saw to open it from the camp end. Two Horizon Club girls had been injured
during the storm when the upper part of a tree snapped off and hit them both on their heads. When the road
was open they were taken by ambulance to a hospital in Portland. It turned out that they both had concussions,
but both recovered fully. However, there was no way of knowing that that night and things were pretty tense.
The water was out over most of the camp as various pipes had been broken, but the worst break was at one of the
main water tanks. By the time I got to camp the kids were bedded down in the bigger buildings, utilizing floor
space! Somehow dinner had been produced — one interesting story which I heard was about someone holding a candle
over the huge mixing bowl while someone else did their best to mash the potatoes without the benefit of
electricity! Water was hauled to the kitchen in big pots in a camp vehicle. The main toilet facility which
was open was the one at the swimming pool.
There was very little lasting damage to camp, but there was an enormous cleanup job to do. But even so,
there was a much worse clean up job to do two years later after a terrible ice storm!
An actual benefit of the Columbus Day storm was the solution to the problem of the Love Tree! The biggest
of the old Wohelo trees which overlooked the meadow, it had become diseased and needed to be taken down,
but because of the way it was leaning, we had been unable to find a tree faller who was willing to take on
the job. During the storm, it came down — straight along side the road down past Pioneer. A broken water
line and one smashed skylight in the Blue Wing Lodge was the only damage aside from the mess made by the
fall. If it had fallen the way it was leaning, it could have totally destroyed the Blue Wing Lodge or cracked
the swimming pool.
Virginia Ramsay assumed the position of Camp Director early in 1963 and served in that capacity until 1967.
She had prior camp experience as a Namanu counselor and was succeeded four years later by Mary Lou See who
had been at Namanu as a camper and for a number of summers as a camp staff member, including that of cabin
counselor and unit director.
About the time the northwest had recovered somewhat from the Columbus Day storm, along came the big flood in
December of 1964. A heavy and warm chinook rain followed a big snow storm and every river and creek in northwest
Oregon rose and overflowed their banks. The outer part of the camp entrance road was totally washed out;
the worst damage sustained by camp and made for great inconvenience until it could be professionally rebuilt
at considerable cost. We had feared for the Balagan cabins since the water in the Sandy River rose so high
that we were afraid it might have damaged the root system of the trees supporting the cabins. Again, Camp
Namanu was fortunate and that did not happen.
In 1966 the headquarters office of Camp Fire in Portland was moved from 12th and Alder to the present location
on Burnside and Broadway. United Way bought the building at that location and renovated it. It is an
advantageous financial situation that at least partially makes up for the decor of early American cardboard
boxes which is necessitated by limited space.
The building next to the CIT Lodge at Namanu had been known as the A-Frame since it was reconstructed by the
Sea Bees from the pieces which were supposed to all fit together! This building was given to Camp Fire by
the U.S. National Bank. It was meant to be portable and had been used in several different locations as
temporary housing for new branch offices of the bank. However, after having been put up and taken down
several times, time had taken its toll, and it was a real challenge to put it together this last time.
A naval Sea Bee reserve unit was recruited and they proved equal to the task.
Karen House became Namanu Camp Director in 1973 when Mary Lou See left to become Executive Director for
the Camp Fire Council in Cedar Rapids, Iowa.
I wonder how many of you have ever really seen the “warehouse” – the metal building on your right as you
come into camp. I believe that the warehouse is the perfect example of the saying that opines something
about nature abhorring a vacuum! It was built because we needed a place to store the equipment from Camp
Kwoneesum. We no longer have that equipment but before we sold it, we had to build an addition to the warehouse!
Except for the day camp equipment which is now stored there during the off season, all the “stuff” that is
in this large building was somewhere else at Namanu. Until we had the need for the Kwoneesum things, we
had never even thought of having a “warehouse”, but the minute we got it, we couldn't live without it!
The Loft was built as an improved residence for the Camp Director in 1974 so it isn't a very new building,
but it seems that way to some of us! That was the same year that the Ranch House burned.
(Following is Teddy Tetherow's account of the fire. Teddy was on the camp staff that summer, and had been
at Namanu for many summers, both as a camper and counselor.)
“We were down in main camp when the neighbors
next to the Ranch called and said, “Your Ranch House is on fire! Marion and Doris Huff were the caretakers
at that time. We had planned to go into Sandy but re-routed to the Ranch and sure enough, it was the bluest,
hottest fire I have ever seen. The whole house was engulfed by the time we got there. The Sandy Fire
Department had just enough time to disconnect the gas tank. The electric lines burned right away so there
was no way to use the ranch water because the pump was out of commission. So the firemen used what water
they had in their pumper truck and we watched the ranch house burn. The bunkhouse next to it was still
there. The next morning when we went back up everything was gone, including the bunkhouse. The fire had
started up in the night again. One of the firemen had taken the truck home and they came back and put the
fire out again and didn't tell us, so when we went up the next morning to check it, another building was
gone! (The Sandy Fire Department is largely volunteer.) The thing that happened was that as the counselors
were cleaning up before leaving the Ranch they filled the fireplace full of cardboard boxes and you know
what happens when you get a lot of paper in a fireplace and the flames go up the chimney. It just roars and
there were some chinks in the chimney and so some burning debris got between those chinks at the second floor
level and that started the fire. We found out later that when the neighbors first saw the fire it was in
the upstairs and that is one of the reasons we know what happened. When I called Ginny she would hardly believe
me; thought that I was pulling her leg!”
(End of Teddy’s comments)
I guess maybe I really did think it was a joke at the very beginning of the call, but it didn't take very
long for me to know Teddy was serious — she sounded too shaken up to be joking. The fire happened on the
Sunday just after we had closed camp. The staff had finished up the cleaning and had left camp except for
Teddy who had stayed to visit with the caretaker and his wife.
During 1975 there was no building at Namanu, but a very significant thing happened which has had an on going
benefit for kids and for camp. Camp Fire received a legacy called the Jack Lynch Fund. A gentleman by the name
of Jack Lynch, who was a business man and legislator in Multnomah County, died and left a considerable amount
of money to five youth agencies, of which Camp Fire was one. There were very tight provisions in the will
pertaining to the use of the money which included the following: a) only the income on the principal may be
used b) the income has to be used for camperships or uniforms for kids in Multnomah County who have financial
need c) recipients of the camperships or uniforms have to pay 20% of the cost or “work it off” d) none of
the agencies named in the will may accept any government funds for “operation”. If any of these provisions
are not met by anyone or more of the agencies, their share of the money goes to the Shriner’s Hospital for
Crippled Children. The principal of the fund is administered by the U.S. National Bank, with the income going
into a special savings account for each agency. This fund has enabled Camp Fire to provide camperships for
a fairly large number of youngsters each year who would not have otherwise had this opportunity. The Council
has been able to designate other money for the girls and boys in Washington County who qualify for camperships.
Fire is always a frightening occurrence and Camp Fire has had its share. In addition to the fire at the Ranch,
and the shelter in the Kiwanis Unit which burned, the shelter at Camp Tolinda burned in 1976 and the shelter
at Camp Wekio burned about three weeks ago. It is strongly suspected that arson was responsible for both of
these fires. (Wekio and Tolinda are Council owned sites on which day camp programs are operated.)
The second substantial legacy which the Council received came in 1977 from the Dorothy Barth estate. While
none of the professional personnel or volunteers in the five youth agencies who were named by Ms. Barth knew
her, she surely left a positive mark on those organizations by gifting each one with approximately two
hundred thousand dollars. The Finance Committee and I misunderstood the letter from the attorney handling
the estate and were under the impression that there would be two hundred thousand dollars to divide among
the five agencies, so we had a very big and very exciting surprise when the estate was finally settled.
This was the beginning of Camp Fire's ability to establish a financial reserve. Successful candy sales,
logging income and other smaller gifts have enabled Camp Fire to add to the reserve as the years have gone
by. The income from the reserve has been very helpful in funding the agency's programs, but even with that,
the Council will very soon have to find funding sources other than the income from the reserves, the United
Way, the candy sale, and fees for services, and grants. The income over the years from selective timber
harvests on the Namanu property has been very helpful in building the reserve, but this is not regular
annual income even if it were applied to operating expenses and the amount realized varies greatly each
time it is done.
Since the early seventies, many Camp Fire Councils were forming groups of boys who carried out the Camp
Fire program, tailored to what those Councils thought boys interests were and what they wanted to do.
While several names were used, the name Blue Jays was the most common.
In 1978 some Blue Jay clubs were formed in the Portland Council and for the first time, and soon BOYS attended
Camp Namanu! Many of us felt that we would meet with resistance from old time volunteers, parents, etc. We did
them an injustice — almost all of them were supportive and accepting. But there were a few of another group
who were not — the current camp staff! Nineteen and twenty year-olds who found it very, very difficult to
accept this change at Namanu and gave the camp administration a bad time that first summer. I don't think
that the physical facilities of camp were as great a problem as we had thought they might be when boys started
attending Namanu. But as we went into that first season with really not very many boys, there were a lot of
unknowns and my hat is off to Lesley Thompson, the Camp Director who weathered that storm and somehow convinced
almost all of the staff that there really was life at Namanu with BOYS! (Lesley joined the Camp Fire staff as
Director of camping in 1983 and is still the Captain of the good ship Namanu!) At this time, you can come to
camp during the summer and walk into the dining room full of girls and boys and find no feeling that this
is strange and new. They, the boys, fit in, belong here now and each summer we have had a larger percentage
of male campers and counselors. It appears that the Council has been more successful in becoming a coed
agency as far as camp is concerned than it has in the club program. In any event, Camp Fire is now a coed
agency nationally, so local Council programs such as camp must be open to both girls and boys.
In 1980 there were two “mother nature” events. One was a very bad ice storm which left a clean up job of
major proportions. It took two years to really get all of the down branches and small trees cleaned up and
took hundreds and hundreds of volunteer hours. The second event was the eruption of Mt. St. Helens. The
amount of ash that fell on camp was minimal, but when it first happened, we had no idea of what was going
to happen next, whether the ash was toxic, etc. The camp season was almost upon us and it took a Herculean
effort to develop and write a contingency plan which included buying and installing a top grade CB radio,
a huge supply of face masks, written instructions for the camp staff in the event of a heavy ash fall,
and development of a plan for communication with parents in the event that was needed. We called on many
community resources as this process was implemented. Fortunately, none of these plans ever had to be put
into action. However, we did have some answers for anxious parents, and I think the fact that we tried
as hard as we did to be prepared and communicated this to parents, prevented a drop off in registration
that summer and enabled many to sleep more soundly that summer!
It ought to be reassuring to everyone that there is a very active program of inspecting swimming pools!
About this same time we were preparing for repeated St. Helen eruptions, the State Health Department decided
that we needed to install what is known as a surge tank. This provides for an automatic addition of water to
the pool as water evaporates or is splashed into the gutters. It was an expensive piece of improvement, but
gifts from Mr. and Mrs. James and the Collins Foundation provided the necessary funds, in the neighborhood
Two years ago the Council completed the second in-depth study of the resident camp program and reluctantly
made the decision to sell the Kwoneesum property in Washington. It seemed pretty clear that there was not
going to be sufficient demand in the foreseeable future in the resident camp program to justify holding
onto the Kwoneesum property and continuing to put money into its maintenance and development. This was
becoming more expensive as the state was putting more and more demands on the owners of dams to provide
fail-safe systems, and ongoing improvements, and the problems of vandalism were constantly a problem since
there was no one in residence on the site. It would have been an ideal site on which to locate a conference
center, but the capital investment would have been enormous so the decision was made to sell and to add the
money realized to the Endowment Fund. It was the end of a dream for some of us who had been involved with it
from its inception. Buying the site had been a decision made by the Council after a year of study and long
range planning. But in twenty-five years many things change and that includes long range plans!
I have mentioned Daddy Raker and Uncle Toby several times. There are scores of other volunteers whose work
over more than fifty years made it possible for Camp Namanu to be the most special place it has always been.
It would be impossible to list them all, but there are some whose contributions were too great to be
overlooked. They include the Churches, A. B. McPherson, Harry Prideaux, Dick Stockwell, Ed Geist, Phil
Loughlan, Ken Johnson, Ben Potter, Ed Swanda, Bill Hesselman, Arnie Shanks, Jim Kirkland, Dave Cox, and
There are several Camp Namanu Caretakers whose lengths of service and devotion to camp have been remarkable,
including Nick Immel, Dwight Tangeman, and Quent Clark.
I have probably talked on too long, but this has been fun. (At this point someone asked me what was special
to me in my years with Camp Fire) My answer –“What kept me in Camp Fire?” Maybe partly I never found time
to hunt for something else to do! Working with and for Camp Fire has been a wonderful way to spend my working
years. It was not a way to get rich, but I can't imagine other work that would have given me more personal
satisfaction, that was more varied, presented a bigger challenge or that would have allowed me the privilege
of working with the greatest people in the world — people who volunteer, who give of their time and themselves
for others, in this case, for kids. There were never two days alike, two weeks alike or two years alike!
I am rich in shared memories of campers' joys, laughter and tears and in the knowledge that for many of
them, their Camp Namanu summers helped them on their way to happy and healthy adulthood.
Perhaps the question also implied what I do feel is special about Camp Fire and the Camp Fire program.
Over the years the Camp Fire program has always been innovative and has always reached out to do what
needed to be done whether or not it always turned out to be possible to do it! I think that teaching kids
life skills, giving them a chance to have some say in the planning of their activities, helping them to
learn respect for diversity, encouraging them to learn by doing, keeping all programs flexible enough to
take maximum advantage of the skills and interests of the volunteers and paid staff who are working with
the kids, teaching the critical importance of environmental protection, providing a variety of experiences
with emphasis upon socialization skills — I think that a program that places importance on these things
makes a real difference in the lives of kids. So if you are wondering whether it is worth while to be a
“baby-sitter”, I want you to know that you are way more than a baby-sitter when you work with children
through Camp Fire. There may never be a way to measure what growth may have been stimulated, what self
esteem may have developed, what new interests emerged and lasted a lifetime, what sense of social
responsibility may have been newly born but I am deeply convinced that these things do happen to youngsters
through their participation in Camp Fire.
In closing — it is not only the kids who do the growing — the adults who give their time — whether in direct
leadership roles or in the many administrative volunteer positions — undergo impressive personal growth in
many areas and fulfill the important need to “make a difference” in the lives of others.
These remarks made at the Leaders' Retreat at Camp Namanu in the fall of 1989 were tape recorded and
transcribed by Barbara Hall and edited by Ginny Denton.