Stand Up and Cheer for the Bensen Family
The Bensen family has been represented for many summers at Camp Agawam. Beginning in 1950 and covering 3 generations, they’ve worked with 4 directors, witnessed massive changes in how camps are operated, and shared many memories and Agawam traditions. Now living throughout the US, many will be joining us during the 100th Celebration and Alumni Reunion in August.
How many members of your family have been associated with Agawam?
“Commander” Ben and Bar: 1950, 1957-1961
“Capt” Gary: 1957-1961, ’63-’66, ’68;
“Lt” Mike: 1989-2000, 2011 – present (plus some Main Ideas)
“Major” Julia: 1999-2000 (plus some Main Ideas)
“Soup” Dick: 1959-1970, ’72, ’74 (plus some Main Ideas)
“Colonel” Tom: 1966-1976, (plus some Main Ideas)
Bob: 1971-1974. (son of “Commander” Ben’s brother, Bob, Sr.)
“Ensign” Cor: 2005-2007, 2011-2012 (plus some Main Ideas)
“Dusty” Ali: 2014-2016 (plus some Main Ideas)
Who or what originally brought your family to camp?
Gary: My parents met Dave and his first wife in Honolulu a year or two after WWII. Dave hired them for the summer of 1950. Mum, Dad, Peg and Dave really enjoyed each other’s company and maintained a friendship long after their years at Agawam.
Tom: Our Dad was on the staff of Camp Timanous while in college, but then met Dave Mason while teaching at the Punahou School after WWII. A few years later, when they were both stateside, Dad met Ap Mason who was the Assistant Head of the New Canaan Country School. Ap suggested he apply for a teaching job there, and he and Dave offered him and Bar summer jobs as well.
Julia: I grew up hearing wonderful stories of Agawam from my grandparents, father, uncles and brother. Agawam has been a cherished part of my family for a long time, and as a child I wished I could attend camp as well. So naturally, as soon as I was old enough I wanted to work at Agawam and be a part of such a special place.
Dick: Never thought there was an option to attend any camp other than Agawam (When your dad and mom run Agawam-Kezar, you go to camp, right?).
Ali: Growing up, I heard all about the experiences that my Dad (Bob) and brother (Cor) had at Agawam. I always knew I wanted to work at camp since I was not able to attend camp as a camper.
Did you overlap with one another?
Gary: Mum and Dad were counselors at Agawam in 1950 and ran Agawam Kezar (the summer version for younger boys) for its first five years 1957-61. My brothers and I overlapped quite a few years. We were separated by age and interests, but certainly enjoyed each other’s presence on campus.
Mike: I was at camp with “Major” Julia Bensen for a summer. She was in Trinity with “Chief” Calhoun; I believe as a first female cabin counselor. Nice to have the common Agawam bond with her. I crossed over with Cor and Ali, too, and I was grateful to work Main Idea with “Soup” in 2018.
Tom: From my earliest memory, Agawam was an extension of home. Between the ages of 0 and 5, I accompanied my parents when they were directors of Agawam Kezar. Then when I attended as a young camper, both older brothers were there as well. That we all attended was not something forced – it was natural.
Bob: I was at camp with Tom and Dick.
Where do you all live now and how are you occupying your time?
Gary: Rosie and I have lived in Newcastle, ME for 40 years. I taught, coached and held down various administrative posts at Lincoln Academy, our local town academy, for 26 years. Worked with Agawam Council for a number of years. Since retirement I have helped Rosie and another friend run our local used book store: an all-volunteer operation, all books donated, all income to the library.
Dick: Gary & I are retired; Tom runs Arts Missoula; Mike solicits wisely; the rest can speak for themselves. Gary and I both taught school.
Tom: Living in Missoula, Montana. Executive Director of Arts Missoula, a nonprofit arts agency, Pete lives in the “other” Portland and attends Portland State University
Julia: I live up in the mountains (9,500 ft.) in Colorado with my husband and three sons. I taught middle school English for 8 years, but now I spend my days with my sons Clark (5), Graham (3), and Fritz (5 months).
Bob: I have lived in Sandpoint, Idaho for 40 years and have worked at Schweitzer Mountain Ski area. I have a property management company that my wife and I run. I enjoy mountain biking, skiing, hiking and dirt bike riding.
Ali: I am originally from Sandpoint, Idaho, but now live in Boston with my fiancé “Cujo” Noreña. I am a teacher and love working with children of all different ages. I enjoy skiing, being outside, seeing family and traveling.
Mike: I’m still at camp !
Do each of you have a particularly favorite Agawam memory?
Gary: Many memories, but no particular favorite. I do recall the special twinge of excitement driving down the camp road at the start of another summer season. In the “other” memory department, getting nicked by lightening near Centerfield Rock during a thunderstorm stands out.
Dick: For me? It would feature Tom Gammill if it wasn’t the ’74 tornado. I will never forget the staff’s collective gasp when the logging company Dave hired to help clear up the mess (THAT was a year for Camp Improvement!) arrived with a monstrous truck equipped with a giant crane/boom adorned with the gorgeous name: “SKYHOOK!”. Ask Gary about the lightning bolt that hit Centerfield Rock.
Tom: Woodcraft Laws and … Soap dip! (A thing of the past, which for many reasons is for the best).
Mike: I remember arriving at Agawam early on Day One and being welcomed by Coleman Long, a big stud 15 year old who was so warm and welcoming.
Julia: Working Main Idea’s with my brother, laughter and wonderful people.
Bob: Korana, War Games
Ali: My favorite memory would be my first summer working at camp, the summer of 2014. I experienced what an amazing place camp was, met some of the best people and met my future husband, “Cujo” Noreña. There were many good memories and friendships I made while I was there.
What are you most looking forward to at the 100th Reunion?
Gary: Catching up with old friends and watching everyone enjoy the celebration.
Dick: Seeing people who meant a lot to me.
Mike: Seeing old friends
Bob: Seeing old friends and revisiting camp.
Ali: I am looking forward to going back to a place that changed my life in the best way possible and to reconnecting with old friends.
Do you think your time at Camp Agawam helped shape who you are today?
Gary: We didn’t specifically refer to them often, but the Woodcraft laws continue to sit in prime position on our refrigerator and their spirit certainly has influenced us over the years. Agawam songs have been a car ride and bed time staple for our children and now we’re recycling them for our grandsons. Dave and his influence on so many of us.
Tom: The Woodcraft Laws have been my “rules to live by” all my life.
Bob: Yes, good influences from the counselors and staff that ran camp.
Julia: I think my time at Agawam made me a little more willing to take on a challenge and not be intimidated by being outnumbered.
Ali: I am most proud of taking the leap of faith to leave Idaho and work at Camp Agawam. When I arrived at Agawam, I knew no one, and was living farther away from my family than ever before. It has led me to explore different parts of the country, move to Boston and I am moving to NYC in October! I gained leadership qualities and self-confidence, made lifelong friends and learned how to deal with a bunch of stinky boys!
Do you have any memories of the director that stand out for you?
Gary: Dave’s smile. Peg and Dave as a team. My father’s memorial service in 2012 which all three living directors attended: Dave, Garth & Erik.
Dick: If I had to choose a father who wasn’t my own, he would have been Dave.
Tom: All memories of Dave are positive. He was the finest mentor and role model I’ve ever known.
Mike: “Chief” Nelson’s manner of speaking, way of moving around camp are ingrained in my memory, I’m frequently reminded of him.
Julia: “Chief” Nelson’s kindness and patient demeanor. “Chief” Calhoun’s laughter and joy.
Bob: Dave Mason would walk around and patrol camp at night. I remember him coming to the window when cabins were loud and saying “poor show boys.”
Ali: I remember “Chief” Calhoun always being so positive and encouraging to staff and campers.
Ags or Wams?