Older generation enjoys ‘summer camp’

IRON COUNTY, MICHIGAN - For most people, getting older means no more summer camp. Many people have memories of leaving home during the summer for a church, scout or music camp.

An older generation is enjoying ‘camp’ once again in the Upper Peninsula. The Iron County Youth Camp held its annual ‘Senior Days’ earlier this week.

For Dianne Jacob, she’s back in a familiar place.

“Yes, I’m a camper again,” said Jacob. “It just brings back a lot of memories. The food is good, the people are good, the music is wonderful.”

She also attended the camp 70 years ago.

“I learned how to swim,” Jacob recalled. “I took lifesaving. I got a lifesaving certificate out here.”

The camp, also known as Camp Batawagama, opened in 1944. In 1981, the ‘Senior Days’ tradition began.

Joan Luhtanen worked as counselor at Batawagama, and she returned this week as a senior.

“The atmosphere is still the same, where the emphasis is on just nature and just learning some good basic skills,” said Luhtanen.

“They have canoeing, they have rafting, they have archery, they have so many things to do indoors and out,” added Jacob. “Baskets, jewelry.”

The seniors don’t sleep at the camp. For three days, they spend about eight hours doing activities led by the camp’s staff.

“What we do here is just so special, and you can just see it on the seniors’ faces,” said camp staff member Izetta Voss.

“They treat you just like kings and queens out here,” said senior camper Betty Rose.

The Iron County Youth Camp is supported by Iron County taxpayers. For decades, voters have overwhelmingly approved a millage that funds part of the camp. The camp is also supported by private donations.

“I think since many of the seniors that come here contribute to camp financially, it’s so special to them because they see all of the proceeds that they’re putting toward camp be put to good use,” said Voss.

“I get flooded with memories,” said Rose. Memories of when I was young, which was a long time ago.”

Rose says she will keep returning to Batawagama.

“Oh yes, as long as I can come, even when I’m Medicare, they can take me in a wheelchair,” she said with a laugh.

Around 70 people were at the camp each day.

This coming week the camp offers a band camp for middle and high school students. Then for five weeks, it holds an outdoors camp for kids ages nine through 16.