Camp Reed directors strive to enrich lives of children, staff
A century ago, the local YMCA had a summer camp program, but no permanent site.
Boys would take streetcars to the end of the line in Hillyard, then set off on an overnight hike to a nearby lake, hauling as much gear as they could. The rest of their supplies were transported by horse-drawn wagon.
Then in 1915, Deer Park banker Frank Reed and his wife, Emma, gave the YMCA 15 acres on Fan Lake north of Spokane, and the first campers arrived that July 6. Since then, Camp Reed has grown to almost 600 acres and, since 1968, has welcomed girls along with boys.
Counselors have included former U.S. House Speaker Tom Foley, legendary track coach Tracy Walters and Bloomsday founder Don Kardong, who has served 25 years on Camp Reed’s board.
Attorney Lisa Vogt has overseen Camp Reed for the past 11 years with her husband and co-director, Tom Vogt, an elementary school teacher who manages the camp’s day-to-day operations during the summer.
Known at Reed by their camp nicknames, “Loco” and “Bucky,” the Vogts discussed the challenges and rewards of their jobs during a recent respite from their summer schedule.
S-R: What was your earliest camp experience?
Lisa: I was 7 years old at Camp Reed in 1969. My sister – “Crazy” Chris – was one of the first girl counselors, and later I was a counselor.
S-R: When did it occur to you this might be a career?
Lisa: I graduated from Gonzaga Law School in 1988 and practiced civil litigation in Spokane for 15 years. I was on a year sabbatical when a friend told me Camp Reed was looking for an interim director and suggested Tom and I do it for one summer. My first reaction was, “No way! I’m taking a break from my career.” But we tried it, and I never went back to practicing law. I run the business year round, and we live there with our family in the summers.
Tom: Our oldest son, who’s 22, worked there five summers, both as a counselor and a cook. Our daughter, who’s a junior at the University of Montana, is counseling this summer. And our other son, who’s a sophomore at Lewis and Clark, is doing the counselor-in-training program. They were the driving force behind our coming back each year.
S-R: What training do you have?
Lisa: I use every bit of my legal background, as far as contracts and collaborations and HR. Our first summer, we were asked to get the camp accredited by the American Camp Association, and that was a huge undertaking. Most of our other training has come through the American Camp Association.
S-R: Is 11 years as camp directors typical?
Tom: Before us, Camp Reed had four different directors in 10 years. The longest anyone stayed was three years, and it takes five years to really know what’s going on.
S-R: What’s the secret of Camp Reed’s success?
Lisa: Really taking to heart the goal of making it an outstanding experience for children, from the youngest all the way up to our staff. For many of our staff, it’s the first job they’ve ever had. And being in charge of a cabin full of kids for a whole week is a really big responsibility.
S-R: How has Camp Reed evolved since your first experience there?
Lisa: The important things haven’t changed – getting to know kids and building good relationships with them. As for things like cellphones, we disconnect – there are no cellphones allowed at camp.
Tom: The only thing that’s different is we get up a little later, and we stay up a little later. Back in the ’30, ’40s and ’50s, they were up at 6 in the morning and lights were out at 8 o’clock. We get up around 8 in the morning, and lights are out around 10:30 or 11 p.m.
Lisa: And we have a huge volume – 330 people on site every day. Back when I was a camper, there might have been 150.
S-R: As co-directors, how do you divide the labor?
Tom: She does the business end of it – all the planning and coordinating and hiring. But once we get out there, I’m the main person working directly with staff. And because I have 17 years of working at (low-income) schools, I handle the problem-solving with kids.
S-R: What do you like most about your job?
Lisa: The ability to really make a significant difference in the lives of staff and children.
Tom: Another reason we’ve done it so long is that we’re together, and our family is there too.
S-R: What do you like least?
Tom: The days are long. You start at around 7 in the morning, and a lot of times you’re still dealing with things at …
Lisa: Midnight. Really, really long days. People line up to talk with us, and we have to be ready for anything.
S-R: What’s “anything”?
Lisa: We’re out on 600 acres, and it’s not a contained space. There’s water. There are trees.
Tom: Lightning, thunder.
Lisa: We’re dealing with kids who have medical issues – allergies, asthma. This week we had a blind camper.
S-R: How about counselors? Are they pretty much on autopilot?
Tom: They need constant guidance. We check in with them every meal.
Lisa: But our expectations are very high, and they meet them. It’s very difficult to get a job at Camp Reed. Of our 50 staff, 35 will come back next year. And 70 great local kids will apply for those 15 openings – top-notch kids who go to Santa Clara and Notre Dame and the University of Washington.
S-R: What do you look for in counselors?
Lisa: They have to know it’s a job and be responsible. But they also have to be patient and caring, to bring out the best in a child.
S-R: How much are they paid?
Lisa: They get a per diem of $45 to $75 a day, plus room and board.
Tom: And they’re big eaters. They burn a lot of calories.
S-R: How would you characterize your leadership style?
Lisa: We really believe in servant style leadership. Campers are the most important people at camp, and as directors we make sure our staff is as trained and confident and well-equipped as possible to serve campers in the best way they can.
S-R: Has the recession affected Camp Reed?
Tom: Not in attendance. But when we started in 2002, we did about 30 to 35 scholarships a year. This year we’ll do 340.
Lisa: That’s another thing I do in the off-season: raise money.
S-R: What distinguishes Camp Reed from other camps?
Tom: I don’t know that there’s another traditional summer camp around where kids can still do archery and canoeing and hiking and arts and crafts and play capture the flag. You’d be shocked at 50 college students’ creativity when you get them away from computers and cellphones.
Lisa: Or kids can just visit. Camp Reed models good relationship-building.
Tom: The motto at Camp Reed is, “It’s the best.” If you get a mosquito bite or it’s pouring down rain or the cafeteria food isn’t exactly what you wanted, you say, “It’s the best.”
Lisa: Camp Reed is about making the most of whatever circumstances are presented to you.
S-R: What surprises people about your jobs?
Lisa: They have no idea how much work it takes to make something look simple.
Tom: They’ll make comments like, “What do you do, just sit around?”
S-R: When you’re not “just sitting around,” how do you relax?
Lisa: We don’t in the summer. But camp has taught us that we really have to be present in the moment, and deal with what’s in front of us calmly and thoughtfully. That way we don’t ride rollercoasters of stress. We just do the best we can and support each other.
Spokane freelance writer Michael Guilfoil can be reached via email at email@example.com.