As with any great and longstanding institution, Camp Menominee has a rich history and a heralded tradition. Follow Menominee’s path from its founding in 1928 to today, with Jason Feldgreber as current Owner and Director.
Nathan Wasserman was born on October 5, 1899 in Russia and eventually immigrated to the Chicago area where he would meet Edna Greenberg, who was born there on December 4, 1901. The founders of Menominee were married on March 16, 1926 and gave birth to Alan Wasserman on March 23, 1927.
Nate was a school teacher and coach at Parker and South Shore High Schools on the South Side. (At South Shore Nate coached future NFL Hall of Fame Head Coach and Camp Interlaken rival Marv Levy. Marv mentioned Nate in his induction ceremony speech at Canton.)
Nate got his first taste of camping as he teamed with Edna to direct Camp Wooster, an agency overnight camp which eventually became Camp Henry Horner. With their appetite for camping whetted, Nate went into business with Al Schwartz in 1927 and opened a camp called Menominee in Three Lakes, Wisconsin.
While their relationship remained cordial, it soon became apparent that the two strong leaders were better suited to run their own camps. So, Nate and Edna established their own Camp Menominee in Rhinelander, Wisconsin in 1928. Al Schwartz went on to found Camp Ojibwa.
With onslaught of World War II and the economy improving as it came out of the Great Depression, camp’s enrollment increased to the point where a new Menominee site was sought and also one for a new girls’ camp. The search finally settled in 1947 on Eagle River where Camp Marimeta was founded on Meta Lake and where Menominee was moved to the old Charles Comisky Estate on Sand Lake in unincorporated Sugar Camp.
The “Old Roman” and owner of the Chicago White Sox, Comisky left behind the Green and White pillars outside the grounds that were transplanted from the original Comisky Park. They’re still the first view of camp you see as you make the drive up Highway D while crossing over the bridge by the Sand and Dam Lakes Boat Landing. The White Sox players visited the estate frequently and even did some training there.
After the move, Nate Wass and Curt Melnick went into business together at the original location in Rhinelander and founded Camp Mohawk there. The concept was that Mohawk would take 8-10 year old boys and then direct them in future years to Menominee which would be a camp for 11-15 year olds. That idea only lasted a few summers. Menominee then began welcoming campers 8-15.
The new cabins at the new camp were erected based on Herman Hansen’s plans for Marimeta’s cabins. These new structures were added to the already existing buildings that became known as Wass’ Cabin (The Lodge) which was the Comisky house, current cabins 16 & 17 (old 13 & 14) which was transformed from a chicken coupe, the Rec Hall (now Wasserman Hall) which was a barn, and the Infirmary (now Health Club) which was a guest house. In fact, when carpet was recently pulled up in the infirmary, old newspapers from 1921 with box scores that included the names of Babe Ruth and Lou Gehrig were found having been used for padding back then.
Menominee’s initial program featured sports, tripping, horseback riding, and a concept called color war, “Green and White”. Over the years, canoe and other trips down the Wisconsin River and to exotic sounding places like Lone Pine Landing, Rainbow Flowage, Copper Falls, Ely, Minnesota, Mt. Rushmore, the Wolf River, Minneapolis, Green Bay, Mackinac Island, Rainbow Falls Water Park, and the Wisconsin Dells were always highlights and major memory-makers.
Nate’s philosophy was to focus on summer sports which boys would not be able to participate in the city during the winter. So, very little football, basketball, and soccer were seen in the first half century. Campers were required to take instruction in swimming, tennis, and softball. Medal testing was done at the end of each season to see the improvement the boys had made (not to injure them–see Needles/Ross Cohan). Eventually campers’ thirst for more activities saw strong team programs like football, basketball, soccer, volleyball, and roller blade hockey emerge.
Early inter-camp competitions were done primarily with Camps Interlaken and Macabee. Eventually events were held against Ojibwa, Mohawk, Deerhorn (an Arnie Harris home run there plunked a horse outside their barn over the centerfield fence), Towering Pines, Timberlane, a traveling sports camp from Michigan named Sea Gull, trips for tennis tournaments at Nebagabon and North Star, and Little League baseball against teams from town like the Nelson Aces and Spees Spitfires.When Camp Interlaken was sold to the JCC in 1965, C.M. began a major competition against Camp Kawaga in Minocqua. Al Lewis, pipe in mouth and balls in hand, started the hardball program having coached baseball and future major leaguer Del Maxville in Granite City, Illinois. Al Lewis Field was named after him honoring Al’s long run at C.M. Bert Roundtree started the riflery program as a camp activity, which eventually became one of the campers’ favorite.
Where most camp’s have little field space, Menominee’s unique spacious layout allowed for many land activities including the Golf Course, one of the only camp golf courses in the country. Counselor 16″ softball games on the Senior Diamond were always well attended by the campers after lunch. The beautiful setting and top rate facility was always well looked after. Most notably by Mr. Hansen, Reubin Nitzel the legendary strongman, and all-time great camp character-caretaker, the very gifted Eugene Fleck, all took care of the camp as if it were their own.
The waterfront featured the ever-popular waterslide, Red Cross swimming lessons, waterskiing, sailing, windsurfing, canoeing, water basketball, kayaking, row-boating, fishing, greased watermelon polo, and (until the ’80s) skinny dips on particularly warm evenings. The C.M. Regatta was a sailing race that ran during the ’80s and ’90s where upwards of ten camps would bring up to four sunfish sailboats and unleash them in a beautiful spectacle on Sand Lake.
Initially Menominee relied on college students, teachers, and coaches as counselors. Eventually former campers started graduating to the staff. One of the first campers (besides Alan) to become a counselor was Mickey Lyons. Mickey, who himself became a teacher and coach, enhanced the Green and White experience with the innovation of the All-Camp Sing which started in 1959.
The Sing would be followed the next day by the All-Camp Relay which encompassed every area of camp life from sports, to making beds, changing clothes, and making a fire to boil water. When a fifteen year old Senior Cabin member finished his camper career, he had the option of returning as “Waiter” as a 16 year old. Only after that could they become counselors. Other early former campers turned notable staff members were: Dick Adler, Jess Levine, Steve Wellner, Alan Kaplan, Fred Benjamin, and Steve Victor. “Waiters” ultimately gave way to a Counselor In Training program. C.I.T.s were additional help (or hindrance) to counselors in cabins, assisted at activities but were still able to compete against other camps.
One of the early C.I.T. groups that were known as “Purple” was comprised of such luminaries Steve Ehrlich, Bobby Sachs, Jeff Schwartz, Alan Zenoff, Bob Feldman, Terry Davis, and Donnie Bachrach. Eventually teacher salaries became such that a summer away at camp ceased to be so attractive. One of the last longtime counselors who taught and coached was Rhinelander’s own Dennis Kosloski who started at camp in 1969. And other than a hiatus in the early ’80s, he has been at C.M. every since. “Koz” took over running the waterfront from Don Walters. “Sea Daddy”, hailing from the Garden Spot of the universe-Oglesby, Illinois, was a fixture down at Sand Lake for decades. Don’s booming voice: “Revilous in the Swamp”, “Yellow in the front/brown in the back”, “Leave it alone boys, it’ll grow”, “One, two three-don’t forget your underwear”, “Grab you socks, grab your jocks,” “that must be jelly ’cause jam don’t shake like that”, and “It’s a cold one boys-fur-lined jocks” echo throughout camp to this day. 1969 was a big year at camp in many ways.
It was Al Lewis’ last year as a cabin counselor.The next year Al would become Menominee’s first non-owner/director since its early days. Al Wass’ feeling for years was that there were so many outstanding counselors who could have been assistant directors that to pull any of them out of the cabins would have been problematic. But by 1970 Al Lewis was one of the only remaining “old timers” and was promoted to “Al’s Condo” between the Staff Cabin and Reubin’s Shop. ’69 was also the year Glenn Klein commenced his Menominee career. Al Lewis’ co-counselor in the Senior Cabin 15 that year was a young man from Scotland named Ally Spowage, who along with countryman Stu Duncan, was Menominee’s first of scores of staff from overseas.
Other early “foreign” staff included Chick Carvell, who transformed the Golf Course from three to five holes and soccer instructor Shawn Short. These guys paved the way for other long-term staffers from other countries like Andy “Hippo” Owens (Wales), Ross Allen, David “Woody” Wood (England), Jeff Toombs (Canada), and Jens Haag (Sweden). After four years at camp, it would be 25 years until Ally would return to C.M. to receive his Five Year Jacket. All of Ally and his wife former Marimeta counselor Lyndsey’s four children have spent time on staff including Gavin and Gordon who was also a camper. 1969’s Senior Cabin with David Niedelman, Mike “Marge” Cohen, Gary Olshan, Rich Worsek, Barry Fryfield, Lew Klein and Robby Dann led C.M. to a huge Super Softball Sweep over Kawaga. Rich Worsek originated the twirling finger jump start to the camp cheer “Alvevo” that year, borrowing it from Cubs’ reliever Dick Selma who would get the Wrigley Field Bleacher Bums going with the gesture during that fateful season. Nothing burned “Joe Kawaga” in effigy better than a Robby Dann pre-competition bond fire. 69 divine degrees became the official desired morning temperature.
The Menominee/Kawaga tilt would gain intensity over the years–Mark Roth-K.S.T.B.G.D.-and go back and forth with each camp winning during certain eras with most notably a huge “Grand Slam” 48-6 fourth consecutive win in 1992. Mike Burg, Peter Burg, and Cliff Seidner who upgraded from Kawaga to Menominee, were especially favorite targets for the camp from Minocqua. But no domination was ever sweeter than the 16A Softball’s thirteen straight years of triumphs. Players like Billy Michlin, Kenny Stern, Jimmy Lazar, David Berzon, Al Levine, Stu Levey, Jimmy Klein, Dan “the Man” Kramer, Jamie Rosen, Willie Zimberoff, and Ross Auslander shined.
But pitching was the key. And Menominee has had a tradition of slow pitch blooper specialists that have performed brilliantly on the hill over the years, including Don Bachrach, Marge Cohen (son Jonathan a camper), Jeff Ruby, Jeff “Tiny” Silverman, Mike Levey, Gary Lazar (little Lazars Sam and Jack are following in dad’s footsteps), Jeff Gurevitz, Scott Bronstein, and Joe Klein (Glenn and Dawn’s firstborn). Playing the “Menominee Way” has always been at the heart of what the camp was always about. Regardless of victory or defeat, Al would always remind us that, “The sun will rise tomorrow.”
The Counselors got to show of their stuff in the annual Eagle River Slow Pitch Tournament starting in the early ’70s and continuing through the ’90s. Although the long ball was never our major strong-point, Lew Klein actually led the 1975 E.R. Tournament in Home Runs. Ray “Benda” Thomas is reputed to be the only Menominee man every to hit a clincher from the home plate on the Senior Diamond into the woods beyond Diamond 2. The Adamovich brothers were North Woods homegrown homerun hitters and led the feared Dr. K’s Chiefs town team, who even made trips from Eagle River to play our guys in exhibitions on the Senior Diamond. Speaking of Dr. K’s, the Clinic was just one of the staff’s favorite haunts over the years. Pitlik’s Sand Beach Resort was (and still is) so convenient just down the road from camp.
Watowsa Lodge was just across the bridge with its little grocery store, so nice for Cabin Sneak-outs. “Dead Man’s Curve” had to be navigated on Hwy. H en route to E. R. Town (although some navigated that turn and other North Woods roads better than others). More places counselors have frequented over the years were/are: Denoyer’s (where Five Year Night is held and where Mark “Denoyer” Naige entertained by playing the spoons as a kid and is now the owner), the Mint (best burger in town), the Twilight Inn, the Cloverland Barrel House (she’s a fine lady), the Header Inn (gut-bombs and spuds), Ken Clark’s Waukegan Inn, the Yacht Club, TIOTL, Gene and Rose Fleck’s Meadow Inn, the Village Tavern, the WholeFamDamily, Kathan Inn, the Boom Bay Bar, Weasel’s, the Frontier, the Thunderbird, Knocker’s, Country Flair, Wolf Pack Cafe, McGregor’s Blink Bonnie, Pasta Cottage, White Stag, Molgaard’s Indian Lodge, Spange’s, Geo’s, and Shooters.
Former campers as counselors were the predominant force on the staff throughout the late ’60s into the early ’80s. Guys like Sandy Cohen (who followed his mom Barb to Gaffney Drive and went on to own and direct Marimeta with his wife Terry and whose sons C.J. and Frankie attend Menominee), Jeff Crane, Steve Sider (son’s Mark and Jon were campers and counselors), Donnie Sider, Jerry Sider (Danny’s at camp), Mike Weiss, Mark Jacobs (Saul and Alex come from Toledo), Bob Jacobs, Jeff Glick, Jack and Bob (BK) Kaplan, Bob and Mike Gantz, Jeff (“Big Hor”) Horwich, Larry (“Lil Hor”) Horwich (camper Jordan ), Arnie Harris (Sammy a camper), Mike Karras, Spinner Forman, Mitch Roth, David Harris, Scott Wagman (son’s Alex and Eric), Todd Gordon, and Loren Blumenfeld kept up traditions good (and not so good) like putting first year campers on silence, running laps, Rag Man, the Midnight Raiders, Green Cripplers, Grungies, the Green Bench, the Burma Road, the Toothpaste Treatment, and the Meatman Story (Meatman’s Grave, of course, located right off Old Counselor’s Road), signing the Cement, picking for clean-up jobs, late night Cookie Quiz (Shelf-Shots,) and getting surprised in the middle of the night with Team Jerseys.
During the winter of 1976 longtime camper and counselor Jeff Schwartz came on as full-time director and in just one recruiting season filled the camp’s enrollment to its largest total to that date. In 1977 146 boys allowed for two new cabins to be built on the hill toward the lake, instituting a new number system for a couple of summers. Cabins were referred by both their old and new number. Jeff then saw the camp through its biggest challenge ever, “the sickness” an epidemic of micro-plasma pneumonia in 1978. The CDC from Atlanta was called in and the camp got kudos from them for how well the outbreak was handled. Half the camp was sent home in the third week to recuperate and then returned on Visiting Day. With the kids and staff that remained in camp, Glenn Klein and Peter Burg originated the intra-camp event Army-Navy, which later evolved into Sun & Wind which continues to this day. Counselors are on the teams with the kids. S & W features such fun all-camp activities like Creatively Acquire the Energy Source and All-Camp Bombardment.
Al Lewis retired after that season, too, and Steve Kanefsky spent his first summer at camp having been recruited by Jeff Schwartz. Jeff and Linda Schwartz’ sons Barry and David Schwartz would later be key members of Steve’s staff. In 1979 Bob Bender returned to camp to be co-director with Lloyd Lindquist. Bob was the director in ’80 but was ill at the beginning of the 1981 season and Al Lewis came out of retirement to lead the camp one more time. By 4th of July, Bob was feeling better, returned to camp, and then teamed with Glenn to co-direct the camp from 1981-83.