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Brantwood Camp and St. Mark's: A Century of Collaboration

Brantwood Camp and St. Mark's: A Century of Collaboration
Mallory Munro

1920 was a watershed year for St. Mark's School in many ways. For the first time, a process for financial aid support was introduced: meager perhaps by today's standards, but clearly a step in the right direction. That year also saw a significant renovation of Belmont Chapel, expanding it to accommodate increased enrollment and dedicating it as a memorial to those St. Markers who had served in the Great War. Another memorial to the fallen would have an even more substantial impact on the School and its philosophy. Today, St. Mark's proudly asserts in its mission statement that it "educates young people for lives of leadership and service." It was in 1920 that St. Mark's introduced its very first formal program of community service and outside leadership opportunity, when it began a collaborative relationship with Brantwood Camp in Peterborough, New Hampshire.

Brantwood had been established in 1904 as a place where choirboys from urban Episcopal parishes in Massachusetts, many of them from low-income neighborhoods, could have an outdoor, fresh-air experience during the summer months. In 1917, with the wartime draft and economic concerns making it difficult to find qualified counselors and funding for its programs, Brantwood closed its doors. Mrs. Mary Lyon Cheney Schofield, a prominent Peterborough resident, chaired the Brantwood board of trustees at the time. On January 20, 1918, her son, Lieutenant William H. Cheney, St. Mark's Class of 1916, was killed while piloting his biplane in the skies over Foggia, Italy. Mrs. Schofield soon contacted the Rev. William Greenough Thayer, headmaster of St. Mark's, to discuss an appropriate memorial for her son.

The result of their correspondence and conversations was the reopening of Brantwood Camp in 1920, under the auspices of St. Mark's School. Dr. Thayer would take over as President of a new Brantwood Board. St. Mark's alumnus G. Gardner Monks, SM Class of 1917, pursuing a course of study for the Episcopal priesthood, would become Board Secretary. Faculty member Maurice Cary Blake, a veteran of the Great War, would serve as Treasurer of the Board and would run Brantwood Camp as its onsite Director. St. Markers—both young alumni and current students—would staff the Camp as counselors. Campers would be needy youth from inner-city neighborhoods in and around Boston. Dr. Thayer, already headmaster for 26 years, saw Brantwood as the perfect opportunity for St. Markers to truly learn about those less fortunate than they, to discover the value of community service, and to experience a taste of genuine leadership through hard work and commitment to helping others.

For 100 years, St. Markers have gone up to Brantwood Camp, first as volunteers working primarily with low-income youth and then in several cases becoming full-time members of the Brantwood staff. Over the course of a century, close to 2000 alumni have volunteered as Brantwood counselors, while more than 50 St. Mark's graduates have served as directors, associate directors, assistant directors, and senior staff members during that same time. Certainly lives of leadership and service.

Among those was Tom Kean '53, who was Assistant Director and later Associate Director at Brantwood from 1953 through 1957. "That place taught me much," he said. "Black and white disappeared. You were in close quarters, doing the same job, living in the same bunks." Kean would go on to serve two terms as Governor of New Jersey, co-chair the 9/11 Commission, and serve for more than 40 years on the Brantwood Board. He is currently an Honorary Trustee of the Camp.

Linzee Coolidge '55 (pictured at right) was also an Assistant and Associate Director of Brantwood, in 1957 and 1958. He became an Associate Trustee in 1957 and was elected a full Trustee in 1961. He is currently in his 60th year on the Brantwood Board, having served as both Treasurer and President during that time. "Sometimes it's hard to say which has been more important in my life, St. Marks School or Brantwood Camp, says Coolidge. "The school was a wonderful place for getting an education, for athletics, for socializing, and venturing into the teen-age years. But Brantwood went way past this experience. It gave me a beginning compass course for traveling from a sixteen year old spoiled brat into a young adult. Within a few summer weeks I realized the responsibilities that come with living in a real world.

"Put in my hands for several weeks was the job of coordinating the daily life of about twelve kids, some of whom were just about my age. They all called 'Mr. Coolidge' as counselors were addressed, which seemed to feel nice, but I had to face all kinds of challenges I'd never had before. I had to bring all those in my cabin or 'shack' to every single activity from dawn till bedtime, and speed and timeliness was often not a strong point with the kids. Often there were confrontations and minor fights ('Mr. Coolidge, he's hitting me') to settle, and finding the way to lower the temperature enough to move the kids back into a quiet state became a learned exercise for me. Sometimes there are areas of advice and showing ways of doing things that they didn't know before, and you can see they are taking it in, and this made you feel really good. They were always something of a challenge but you got to know them so well there it created a loyalty between yourself and the kids. For both campers and counselors this is a road of learning of the responsibilities and challenges for the future ahead of them. So St. Marks had supported this different kind of learning opportunity for its students, and many of us feel lucky that it did."

Throughout the years, so many St. Markers have found their time at Brantwood to be uniquely challenging and rewarding. "It is difficult to explain the nature of the Brantwood experience," wrote one St. Mark's alumnus. "You have to witness it in action, be a part of it, in order to define it." For the volunteer shack counselor it is an exciting and demanding job "leading the kids, living with them, coaching with them, tutoring them, and guiding them throughout the two-week term. The Five Brantwood Ideals—honesty, loyalty, cooperation, good sportsmanship, unselfishness— are emphasized daily. Suffice it to say that Brantwood is more than a fresh-air camp, more than a sports camp. It is a camp where you learn, but that learning goes beyond the various challenges studied by its campers. It is an idealistic place formed by realities. It is a realistic place dedicated to its ideals."

"I have interviewed scores of St. Mark's alums who have worked at Brantwood," says Stephen DiCicco '64, Director of the Camp from 1971 through 1977 and a Brantwood trustee since 1973 (serving as Secretary and President during the past 47 years). "They remain impressed by the impact the camp experience had on their lives. Many report that they 'grew up' at Brantwood, and developed leadership skills that would serve them well forever. Similarly, former campers regularly report the positive influence and role modeling they saw from the St. Mark's students and graduates. Truly a symbiotic relationship. Certainly this writer, significantly involved with the camp since 1963 would agree!"

This remains true today. "My time at Brantwood was one of the must impactful experiences of my life," says Reily Scott '21, a rising VI Former from Concord, Massachusetts. "As much as I was leading the campers, they were also teaching me great skills without even knowing it. I still remember every name of every camper in my cabin, what they liked to do back home, what kinds of pets they had, what their favorite ice cream flavor was, and so much more. I also learned never to underestimate an 11-year-old. They put me through situations that I had no idea how to control in the moment, but now coming out the other side I'm extremely happy that they did because it taught me great techniques on how to take a step back and see eye to eye. Brantwood was a fantastic experience and I wouldn't ever trade those payless two weeks for anything." Scott is pictured at left with Stephen DiCicco at Brantwood in 2019.

In 1982, Brantwood started a program for girls, and today both Brantwood for Boys and Brantwood for Girls are thriving successfully on the slopes of North Pack Mountain in New Hampshire, exemplifying the spirit of service to others that has been the hallmark of St. Mark's School over a century-and-a-half. Catherine Pellini '20 (pictured at right), who graduated from St. Mark's this past June, served as a Brantwood counselor for two summers. "After twice volunteering as a counselor in a senior cabin, I can truly say that Brantwood was an incredible experience," asserts Pellini. "Every part of the 16 days, from the challenges to the successes, helped me to grow and discover who I was as a leader while serving as a role model for the campers. I was able to combat challenges that I never would have thought possible at the beginning my time at Brantwood and form strong bonds with both the campers and other counselors. Because of our shared experiences, some of my best friends at St. Mark's are the girls that I volunteered with, and I am so thankful that Brantwood allowed me to become closer with the SM community."

Currently, Brantwood enrolls campers between the ages of 11 and 15, mostly from Massachusetts, New York, New Jersey, Connecticut, and New Hampshire, who might not otherwise have an opportunity to attend summer camp. Brantwood campers engage in athletic competition; work on achievement "challenges" involving first aid, swimming, and other aspects of camp life; and prepare their cabins-- called "shacks" in the Brantwood tradition-- for daily inspection. Spirit and collaborative teamwork are important parts of the overall experience, and campers are active on ropes course elements, hikes, visits to Brantwood's property on Silver Lake in Nelson, New Hampshire, and enthusiastic singing at campfire gatherings each evening.

While this year, due to COVID-19, Brantwood did not open for on-site in-person programming this summer, Executive Director Doug Sutherland and his staff offered online opportunities for campers and Junior Counselors. The camper program took place over four weeks with positive feedback from parents. Campers received a "care package" which included a camp t-shirt, a Brantwood logo masks and a certificate of participation. The Junior Counselor program; included modules on leadership, the Brantwood program and risk management.

Providing leadership education and opportunities for both older campers and counselors is a principal focus of the Brantwood experience. St. Mark's alumnus Max Hinkley '15 (pictured at left) is currently a member of the Camp's senior staff, and this is his eighth summer working for Brantwood. He was among those Brantwood counselors appearing in a video made by Mr. Sutherland for the Brantwood community earlier this summer. In it, Hinkley called for positivity and encouraged campers to exercise. Mr. Hinkley will be assisting Mr. Sutherland in facilitating a virtual LIT (Leaders-In-Training) mentorship program for older campers and aspiring Junior Counselors in 2020-2021.

St. Markers, then—students, alumni, faculty, and staff— are continually involved with the Camp in a variety of ways: as camp staff, trustees, supporters, and advocates to the greater community. Currently, Head of School John C. Warren '74, St. Mark's Chaplain Barbara Talcott, and St. Mark's Communications Manager Nick Noble '76 serve on the Brantwood Board from the School. In addition to Messrs. Coolidge, DiCicco, Warren and Noble, St. Mark's alumni also currently serving as Brantwood Trustees include John Hall '57, Peter DiMaggio '74, Peter Swaim '75. Tom Martinson '80, Chris Perkins '87, and Julie Merritt '96. In addition to Governor Kean, Honorary Trustees of Brantwood include SM alumni Peter Freeman '50, Oakleigh Thorne '50, Bob Colgate '62, and James Hamlen '64. There are several former Brantwood counselors on the St. Mark's Board of Trustees, including Diane Kurzontkowski '83 and the Rev. Patricia Phaneuf '84, both of whom were among the first female counselors at Brantwood from St. Mark's.

Patty Phaneuf (pictured at right) remembers those early days. "I first traveled up Sand Hill Road in the summer of 1983, to serve for two weeks as a Shack Counselor in Skatutahkee," she writes. "I had no idea what I was getting myself into, or how those two weeks ultimately would change the trajectory of my life. That was only the second time that Brantwood was offering a session for girls, and there were still some kinks to be worked out as the traditional boys' programming was adapted for female campers and counselors. Nevertheless, it was a transformative experience for this shy, sheltered 16 year-old day student from Southborough. That was the first time that I had been entrusted with a position of leadership, and I had so much to learn. No one had ever looked to me as a role model before. I was humbled, and over the course of the next two weeks I began to grow more confident and comfortable in my own skin. I also awakened to what has become a lifelong passion for serving others.

"That initial stint as a volunteer counselor at Brantwood made such an impression on me that I went back the following year as a Permanent Counselor (PC), charged with running the Nature program. It was the first year that Brantwood for Girls was held on a separate campus, at Camp Holiday, run by the Girls' Friendly Society in Milford, New Hampshire. It was an honor to be part of that inaugural season, helping to build a uniquely girls' program that reflected the boys' experience but did not duplicate it. We laughed a lot that summer - particularly when the camp pig, 'Bacon,' entrusted to my care, escaped from his pen and made the front page of the local newspaper the next day!

"In 1985 I returned to Brantwood Camp for the third and final time, again as a PC. It was there, in a Chapel service, that I offered my first 'homily,' on the Brantwood ideal of honesty. I have no idea now what I said then, but I have never forgotten the simultaneous joy and terror of speaking in front of a camp full of teenagers. I drew on that experience regularly nearly 30 years later, when serving as an Episcopal School Chaplain. I was and am grateful for all that Brantwood taught me.

"So much of what I know now about leadership— not to mention resilience, compassion, hard work, and humor— I learned by participating in those early days of Brantwood for Girls. I cherish those memories, and even now, so many years later, I still think it's the best camp in the land."

Opportunities for leadership development make the Brantwood experience particularly rewarding for St. Markers, so many of whom have found it to be a significant asset in the college application process, in their collegiate endeavors, and on beyond college into their lives and careers.

"The partnership forged between Brantwood Camp and St Mark's School 100 years ago in 1920 was certainly visionary," declared the most recent edition of the Brantwood Newsletter. "Looking back, who would have predicted that well over 1,800 SM students would not only serve the camp as shack counselors, permanent staff members, directors and trustees, but also be impacted by the experiences and values of campers, and make career and life decisions based on their time at camp. Brantwood offered, and offers, an opportunity for SM students to shoulder real responsibility for the lives of young people, to grow as young adults and realize the value of service to others. Both students and campers were and are teachers for one another. . . In more recent years, the school has taken its III Formers up to camp during Spring Lion Term where the class has an off-campus experience enabling them to bond as a form. One of the activities during the week is carrying out a project for Brantwood that enhances the program. Third Formers have created an outdoor campfire area, rebuilt the Boys' Camp outdoor chapel and last year, created an outdoor chapel/classroom next to the Girls' Camp beaver pond.

"Looking forward to the next 100 years, these two dynamic organizations continue to explore how to bring together young people from diverse backgrounds in ways which are mutually beneficial. . . While many of the activities scheduled to celebrate the 100th anniversary of the relationship between Brantwood and St. Mark's have been postponed, whether held this year or next, this milestone will be recognized with cheer, pride and spirit."

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