How Love of Camp Became a Lifelong Vocation and Career

The author lost a childhood friend–who she had first met at summer camp–but is consoled to know that her friend’s life-long love of the camp experience led her first to a counselor’s job and then to a camp director position, as well as a career in education. And she passed her love of camping down to her three daughters.

| 19 Jan 2024 | 03:53

With “Happy Camper” as her social media handle, it’s easy to figure out that the summer camp experience played a pivotal role in the life of native New Yorker, Marian Kramer Vosk.

It’s also understandable, especially for those such as myself who knew and loved her, that the one-time division director of Gate Hill Day Camp in Stony Point, NY found a way to bring her love of this youth rite of passage into her adulthood.

Marian and I both attended the now-shuttered Woodlane Country Day Camp in Irvington, NY, throughout the 1960s and very early ‘70s. Most of us Bronx kids who headed up the Hudson each morning via yellow school bus to the sprawling 16-acre estate probably didn’t realize how good we had it. But my recollection of Marian—the camper’s camper—is that she not only enjoyed but appreciated every moment of our days where we moved from archery, horseback riding, volleyball, and arts & crafts to hot lunch, play practice, bowling, and softball—plus twice-a-day swims.

I left Woodlane in my last year as a camper, but no shock here, Marian went the distance transitioning from attendee to employee as a CIT, then counselor, which evolved into the role of head counselor. She worked at Woodlane until a couple of years shy of its closure in 1980.

That was around the time she was finishing her degree in sociology from Lehman College, CUNY.

Her history of working with children each summer led to post-grad careers teaching pre-school and joining the public school system as a teacher’s assistant. At one point, she discovered her entrepreneurial side when she started a children’s party planning/organizing business. And, of course, becoming a camp administrator when, for almost a decade and a half, Marian embodied the community and family feel that defines the summer experience.

Sadly, Marian passed away from lung cancer in 2021. Her three daughters Stephanie Vosk Smartschan, Amy Vosk Balick, and Lisa Vosk Paravati whom she shared with her husband of 39 years, Rick Vosk, were gracious enough to reminisce about their mother’s journey.

“My mother lived and breathed camp,” said Amy, adding that “all the best memories from camp made her the person she was.” That person was someone who loved guiding young people, saw no reason why any situation couldn’t be made into something fun, and had impressive leadership skills, cultivated during her summers in the great outdoors. “Camp is where my mother felt safe and made true friendships.”

“Friends for life,” is how Stephanie described them. She then shared that for Marian, school was rough, not fitting in and being picked on for it. “Camp was a totally different world.” Also, according to Stephanie, having her three children know the positivity of that world “was all [Marian] ever wanted.”

So much so, that even after the Vosks moved to Georgia, each summer Marian would pack up her family and head back to New York. Her daughter Lisa explained: “We stayed at hotels and friends’ apartments for entire summers just to get to continue living the camp dream. My mom loved camp so much and wanted to make sure all three of her daughters would get to experience it. It meant so much to her and now it means just as much to me.”

Marian’s girls followed in her footsteps, first as campers then camp employees.

What’s it like to be at a place where your mom is an administrator?

According to Amy, “My mother was the person standing on the picnic table leading everyone in camp songs,” of which she apparently knew a million.

Stephanie made a point of stressing the impact Marian had on people, mentioning that after her mother’s passing “so many of those who reached out to us were people who knew her from camp.”

The best tribute to their mother though is carrying on the family tradition by giving Marian’s grandchildren the summer experience she so valued.

It’s said that if you do what you love you’ll never work another day in your life. Marian Kramer Vosk embraced a child’s summer activity and turned it into a career. She used the skills she acquired to enhance the other jobs she loved during her lifetime: wife, mother, friend, educator, and businesswoman, earning her the ultimate title of Happy Camper.

Lorraine Duffy Merkl is the author of three novels, the latest is “The Last Single Woman in New York City.”