By Cindy Mindell ~
MADISON – This summer, Camp Laurelwood in Madison will host a birthday bash with alumni from across the country and eight decades. Incorporated in 1937, Camp Laurelwood is the only Jewish overnight camp in Connecticut.
To coincide with the Aug. 25 celebration, Laurelwood is publishing “Fun, Friends, Forever: 75 Years of Camp Laurelwood Memories,” a coffee-table book containing many never-before-seen photographs, memorabilia, and stories about the camp, some dating back to its founding years in the late ‘30s and early ‘40s.
Co-edited by CLW alumni Stu Katz and Dan Smolen, the 160-page coffee-table book will be published in June. It will be offered as a thank-you gift to donors to the camp’s scholarship fund, and will also be available for purchase at synagogues, Jewish community centers, and Judaica gift shops throughout Connecticut.
Katz has been involved at Laurelwood since 1968, when he spent his first summer as a camper. He was a staff member through his teens, and later became a board member. A New Haven native, Katz is an award-winning TV producer and founder of the New Jersey-based Elm City Communications, Inc.
Smolen, whose daughter now attends CLW, has also been active at Laurelwood since childhood, both as a camper and a staff-member. He is founder and managing director of Virginia-based The Green Suits, LLC, an executive recruitment and career “empowerment” firm that specializes in direct marketing, consumer insights, and “green” business.
The idea for the book grew out of a Yahoo! group started by a Laurelwood alumnus that quickly drew some 200 fellow alumni.
The group eventually migrated to Facebook, where group members would post photos of everything from people to memorabilia.
Smolen was the first to suggest collecting all the postings into a book, and approached Katz, his old camp friend and bunkmate. In 2009, the two set up a website calling for electronic and hard-copy submissions, allowing two years for the collection of materials.
“We were certain that scores of former campers and staff members like us had stowed away lots of photos, song sheets, letters home, and other things to make for great content,” Katz says. “What we didn’t expect was the overwhelming response to our request for submissions, which arrived from eight decades of alumni.” Within a few months, a closet in Katz’s house was stuffed with memorabilia from all over the world. By last October, Katz and Smolen had received nearly 4,000 photographs, illustrations, and stories.
Rather than present a chronological narrative, the book compares various aspects of camp life over its lifespan – activities, Jewish culture, staff-members, structures and the physical plant – to show how the place has both changed and remained the same since its founding. The book also pays tribute to campers and staff-members “who died before their time,” Katz says. “The community is so close, that these deaths affected a lot of people,” he says.
A labor of love, the book project has become something of a second job for Smolen, responsible for most of the writing, and Katz, who has retouched hundreds of photographs.
“We only do it because of how we feel about camp and our belief that the proceeds will help more kids attend,” Katz says. “The Jewish camping experience has been documented over and over again to be very important in the maintenance of Jewish identity. A lot of Jewish camps have not made it. We recognize that 75 years is a big deal and we want to tout it.”