1957 - Don Kelsey


What years were you on the Tomahawk staff?

1957 – 1962


What were your positions?

Program staff ‘57 &’ 58, Waterfront staff ’59 – ’61, Sioux Camp Director ‘62


What was happening at Tomahawk during your tenure?  What was new?

In the early years, the camp was very much in its formative years. The camp was only a few years old, so in a sense almost everything was new.   The sites that eventually became Sioux Camp were only used by troops who could pretty much camp on their own.  In 1957, several of us went down a few times a week to what eventually became the Sioux Camp waterfront to hand clear the shoreline.  A few aquatics staff went by boat to the south end of camp to provide swimming activities.  

My first year as a camp staff member got off to a pretty challenging start when a tornado went through camp at the start of work week!  The clean-up effort that followed just so we would be ready for the arrival of the first wave of campers was pretty intense!  At the same time, the team spirit which was fundamental to everything at Tomahawk was really strong for me right from the beginning of my years there.


What was your most memorable experience?

In some ways the answer to this question should be “too many to count”!  Being on the Tomahawk staff was a very maturing experience for me.  I have reflected many times since those years about how much responsibility was given to us.  Although little was actually said about being an example to the campers in our trust, that expectation did a lot to shape me as an individual.

In a way, though, “most memorable” has to go to meeting Ralph Underhill that first year and learning at his knee to play the guitar and sing folk songs.  Ralph and I were only on the staff together for one year, but over the next five years I took on the role of the camp balladeer.


How did your experience at Tomahawk affect your life?

I had to smile as I read this question!  Hmmmm…”affect my life”…let’s see.  Meeting a tall blonde camp nurse, getting married at the end of the ’62 season, 48+ years of marriage, three children…  I could go on quite a bit longer.  In the truest sense, Tomahawk changed everything about my life and all for the better!


What was your favorite place at camp?

I guess my favorite place would have to be the Sioux Camp waterfront.  Of all the teaching I did during my years on the staff, nothing brought me more satisfaction that teaching boys to swim.  There is nothing more delightful than the face of a boy who has learned to swim.  Second to my experiences on the beach, my favorite places were the evening campfires filled with singing and story-telling.
Do you have any advice for the current staff?

Spending a week in the woods camping has the power to be a life-changing experience for every Scout who comes to Tomahawk.  Regardless of where your role on the Tomahawk staff puts you, each of you have a part in enabling that experience.  Enjoy what you do and know that you are part of something special in the lives of the young people you serve.


When was your last visit to Tomahawk?  What was different?

We visited the camp at the end of the season a couple of years ago.  My goodness!  What hasn’t changed?  I was really impressed by the growth in the camp and its offerings.  At the same time, the growth has occurred with a sensitivity to preserving the wilderness.  Tomahawk is still what Scouting at its core is really all about.


What is your current occupation/affiliation with Scouting?

I am retired from the University of Minnesota after a thirty-eight career there doing the planning for the renovation and/or new construction of the libraries on the Twin Cities Campus of the University.  I had several wonderful years as a Scoutmaster during the years when our boys were Scouting age.  (I also got to experience Tomahawk as a leader…one of those ex-staffers the current staff frown to see arriving I suspect!)  Sharing Scouting with our boys enabled me to test my skills as an “arm chair Scoutmaster”.  It was a wonderful addendum to my staff years.


Which former staff members do you keep in touch with?

Sadly, without the formation of the alumni group, I have not kept in touch with my generation of staff members.  I am grateful that the alumni association allows us to get back in touch.


Do you have any other comments?

I suspect this sentiment is pretty common in the whole community of former camp staff members, but the six summers from 1957 to 1962 were genuinely the best six summers of my life.  Would I do it again?  In a heart-beat.  (Provided, of course, that the same slender blonde walked into my life at the start of the fifth year!)

1957 - Don Kelsey