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YWCA CAMP WY-CA-KEY

A different world across the lake   printed with permission from Martha Hardcastle Gurthrie (Mothra@woh.rr.com, http://www.myspace.com/elizabethkey)

Poor me - All camping days were not so sunny - Martha Hardcastle's (camper far right) first year at Wy-Ca-Key in 1966 at age eight was marred by homesickness and the misery of being chubby and a head taller (at least) than the other eight and nine-year-olds in her cabin.

Martha Hardcastle at age 10 on the last day of camp at Wy-Ca-Key in 1968. - Despite an obvious case of "My First Camel Toe" and other woes, Hardcastle had a triumphant exit and dash for caffeine at the end of the week. It didn't start so well - her camp week coincided with her second menstrual period, a horrific and embarrassing event for a girl just going into fifth grade. And worse, because of the state of feminine hygiene products for younger girls, she couldn't even get into the pool for the first few days of her stay. But the triumph was won when she was finally allowed to get into her beloved pool and swim, thanks to Carole the swim counselor. Carole berated the other girls saying that Hardcastle had missed most of the week but was still ahead in her efforts and performance! To the right of Hardcastle is the main camp building and mess hall. To the rear, "Grand Central," the only facility at the time with flush toilets and showers.

In the early days of Camp Kern, the cooks, nurses and their children and Marilyn and Diane Singerman were the only females at camp. But starting in 1949, there were females just out of sight with the establishment of YWCA Camp Wy-Ca-Key.

Wy-Ca-Key was a play on the letters of YWCA.

The girls' camp remained in operation until 1982 when it was sold to the Columbus Church of God, which still operates a camp there.

To discourage the inevitable panty raids and curious visits, Jack Singerman stretched the truth a bit at Kern's opening campfire each session.

"I told them that there was an electrified fence and a man with a shotgun," he said.

Perhaps the counterparts of the happy campers at Kern were not quite as happy. Over at Wy-Ca-Key girls participated in similar activities but with a number of differences.

In the 1960s, at least, they were weighed in at check-in and weighed out at the end of the session. While boys and girls both did "KP" duty, girls were required to clean both the outhouses and the flush toilets "Grand Central" at the main camp, take turns waiting the tables and also washing dishes in reportedly "boiling" water, complete with a three step-process including an iodine rinse.

"We never made the boys clean toilets unless they plugged it up somehow," Singerman said. "They did have to set up the tables and if they finished a dish, they had to get a refill. 'You kill it, you fill it.'"

None of the women contacted remember camp as being a time of escape and pleasure.

"It was like they were preparing us for the drudgery of what would be expected of us as housewives," said Valryn Warren, born in 1958 and who attended in 1968 and 1969.

Warren got a cut on her leg that last year that became infected and caused her much pain. When she complained, the counselors told her to buck up and quit being a baby. The leg got worse and she was finally taken to a doctor.

"Get her to a hospital and call her parents," the doctor said. Had it gone on much longer, Warren would have lost her leg to gangrene.

Another quaint but less bothersome memory was the required bathing caps. No YWCA facility would think of letting a woman in the water without a bathing cap to ostensibly prevent hair from getting in the drains.

Wy-Ca-Key got horses in 1969 but in 1970, Camp Kern opened the ranch camp to girls. By 1977, the camp had gone completely co-ed and Wy-Ca-Key, with more limited resources, was on the decline.

"We would have liked to buy their property, but they sold it to the Church of God," Singerman said.

But the women brought some new traditions to Kern, particularly in singing. For girls, camp songs, including folk songs, spirituals and rounds, were a big part of life. In addition, they played a "rhythm" game sitting in a circle where each participant had a number and had to respond when their number was called or go to the end of the number."

Some of the songs at Wy-Ca-Key came out of "Sing Along," a YWCA songbook published in 1957 and again in 1965. They included , "Our Song," the Y-Teens hymn, "The Ash Grove," "Peace of the River," "Witchcraft," "Donkey Riding," "Zum Gali Gali," "Sarasponda," "Holla Hi, Holla Ho," "Cuckoo," "Shuckin' of the Corn," "Ol' Texas," "Kookaburra" and of course, "Kum Bah Yah."

Miss Jeanne DeCelle was a long-time (and fondly remembered) director at the camp.

All camping days were not sunny - Martha Hardcastle (now Guthrie) first attended a session at Wy-Ca-Key in 1966 at age eight. Her week was marred by homesickness and the misery of being chubby and a head taller (at least) than the other eight and nine-year-olds in her cabin.

She felt nauseous every time she had to use "Sitting Bull" (the outhouse near the younger girls' cabins) let alone when their cabin had the responsibility of cleaning Sitting Bull. The green monster of envy was her bunkmate. As the only camper without a sleeping bag, she had to actually make her bed every morning. Hikes were torture and the salt pills the girls were forced to take didn't do anything to ease her suffering.

Morning swim lessons were in frigid water, even in summer. Perhaps 1966 was a particularly unseasonable summer in southwest Ohio -- or maybe it just seemed that way.

Other chores including "hopping" the tables, where Elmer's Glue brand oatmeal and stewed prunes were served for breakfast. The girls were limited to two glasses of milk per meal, which left her still thirsty. And when it was her cabin's turn to wash the dishes, she learned they were first scrubbed in boiling water with detergent, then dipped in boiling iodine solution and finally, rinsed in boiling rinse water.

She also was righteously jealous that due to a bad back, her father had been rejected for service in World War II in the last stop in the enlistment process in Cincinnati. All the other girls had Army footlockers and she was stuck with mother's musty college luggage, circa 1940.

She did not know it at the time, but she was also going through caffeine withdrawal without her daily Pepsi and Mountain Dew.

Camp tuition: $40
Money for the camp canteen: $2
Incidentals required for camp such as sun hat and a new swim cap: $5

Losing five pounds due to horrible food
Stopping at the first service station on the way back to Dayton for a much needed Pepsi
and most importantly -
Not having to practice the piano for a whole week!

Priceless!


The following postcard images were obtained and contributed by Martha Hardcastle Guthrie:


Another reflection on Wy-Ca-Key, 37 years later
posted 11/10/06 with permission from Martha Hardcastle Gurthrie

I sometimes wonder why I went for four years straight. I was not forced to go. But I was miserable pretty much the whole time I was there - ages 8, 9, 10 and 11 - but always looked forward to returning. I still sometimes have dreams that I'm there.

Well, I really did hate playing the piano . . . ; ) It was also a relief to get out of Sunday School, as my mother was always pushing for me to earn attendance pins. The Sunday vespers was a nice alternative and "qualified" so that I didn't miss a Sunday and mess up my record - I think I was up to a three-year pin at one time.

In 1969, my hormones were really kicking in, and I had an insatiable passion developing - rock 'n roll. I had a transistor radio I listened to every night and I brought along my new Paul Revere and the Raiders album, "Hard 'n Heavy With Marshmallow." I did get to play it a little one rainy afternoon when we were using the room above the mess hall.

But when my counselor found out about my radio, she confiscated it. I went into massive depression and took to wearing sunglasses all the time to hide my tears. They gave it back to me a day later. I think they decided it was better to let me keep my radio (in Morrow, you could pick up WING *and *the much cooler WSAI in Cincinnati equally!) than for me to have a breakdown. I think most of all, they didn't want to have to refund my tuition to my parents!

My favorite show was "Happening '69," a Saturday afternoon show that aired on ABC-TV right after American Bandstand. I was madly in love with Mark Lindsay of Paul Revere and the Raiders, and he and Paul were hosts of the show. In this seemingly ancient landscape, my greatest concern was that I would have to miss the show. So I developed a scheme to feign illness and get myself thrown into the infirmary - where the only TV was located.

On July 21, 1969, I was ready to throw myself into an exotic but brief ailment, but history intervened. It just so happened that a gentleman named Neil Armstrong took the first step onto the moon right about the time Happening was supposed to air. Can you imagine? Some guy going for a walk pre-empted the regularly scheduled network programming on every channel! And there was one more historic moment - for the first and perhaps only time, a TV was brought into the great room above the mess hall for all campers to watch!

I was relieved that I wasn't really missing the show, but still upset that I lost my weekly Raider fix. Maybe it's a good thing I didn't know that the show had been canceled and I would never, ever see it again. Today, there are few brief clips on youtube.com, but it's just not the same!