It’s a camp family affair! Welcome to our newest installment of our Camper of the Week posts — this time, it’s family edition! We are going to chronicle mothers and daughters, fathers and sons, grandparents and grandchildren, and every and all family members who have their camp colors running in their blood! Camp families are unique. They have instilled camp lessons, cheers, sayings, and pride into their members, and they are intensely proud of their camp legacy. Needless to say… we LOVE these people!
To kick off September with an awesome pair of campers, give a warm camp welcome to Gina and Lani Mandelbaum, mother and daughter, respectively, who are die-hard, life-long, camp-obsessed girls! They even recently attended their camp’s 60th Anniversary reunion! They both grew up in New Jersey and both went to their all-girls camp in New Hampshire for seven years as campers and each did one year as a counselor… like mother, like daughter! Let’s hear it straight from the amazing duo themselves; they are so in-sync, they even gave some of the same answers (ahem, Gary’s French Toast), completely coincidentally! Guess it’s once a camp thing, always a camp thing!
Let’s hear it from Lani first!
What are you currently doing?
I currently work for Bloomingdales as a Planner in Women’s shoes where I manage the merchandise at store locations to maximize sales, inventory and profit, as well as directing the distribution of goods to achieve store sales, gross margin, and turnover goals. I visit vendor showrooms every 3 months to select the merchandise we will put in our stores in the upcoming seasons.
How has camp influenced what you do/your career path?
Camp taught me how to be part of a team, become a leader and collaborate with others to reach mutual goals (beating the blue team of course). I participated in various activities, lived with many girls in tight quarters and discovered new things about myself. As the white team Songleader, I lead the team in The Sing and Color War and was a role model to the younger campers. Today, at work, I utilize what I learned as a passionate leader to make strong decisions, work with different personalities and form relationships with vendors and teammates. Additionally, I loved picking out social outfits for my bunkmates and myself and then applying their makeup, which was probably a sign I would end up in the retail industry.
What are your top three essentials that you packed in your trunk?
White team paraphernalia! Social clothes and a Crazy Creek (for evening activities and comfy bunk time hanging).
What are three words to describe your camp experience?
BEST TIME EVER!!
Who was someone at camp that you looked up to?
All of the older girls — they were so pretty and knew how to straighten their hair!
Why do you think it is important to go to camp?
Camp helped me become the person I am now. I learned how to become confident, independent, form relationships, and become a leader. I shaped long-lasting relationships with girls from different areas and really grew up as a person. It was so exciting returning each summer to the same place with the same people after a whole school year, each with our own stories to share.
What is your favorite/most epic camp memory?
I have a few to choose from:
1. Dressing like this…
And having the honor of being elected the White Co-Songleader. (You run for Co-Songleader your second to last summer and Songleader your last summer.) The white team votes on the camper who they think is the most spirited and can lead the team to victory. Afterwards, I had phone privileges to call my mom who was the Blue team Songleader 30 years before and telling her I had won!!!!!
2. Running across the WHOLE camp for Senior apache, from the waterfront, up a steep hill, past the bocce ball court, past the infirmary, and up to the flagpole to pass the baton to the next apache activity.
3. Performing as Nemo in the white team’s Sing and leading the team to victory as the Songleader in the paper mache Whale Songleader stand. Sing is the culminating event of Blue and White, where each team puts on a play and performs seven songs about the play and camp. The oldest bunk works the whole summer writing the lyrics to the songs and preparing for Sing. Sing 2013 will live with me forever and I will never forget that magical night. I still find myself singing the words we wrote when I hear the songs on the radio.
4. ALSO! When my mom and I went back to camp for a weekend to celebrate Robindel’s 60th reunion. I drove up with my friends and she drove up with hers and we both stayed in the bunks at camp! (We are clearly the campers in the family compared to my brother and my dad, because when they went up to camp recently they refused to stay in the bunk and stayed at a hotel…. Losers.) As you can tell, we look exactly alike so there was no denying her all weekend. Every girl who knew me from my days at camp continually told me how amazingly spirited and cute my mom was, especially when she was leading the cheers. It was also amazing to be on the patio stage together, but on separate teams leading the Blue and White cheering!
How has camp affected your adult life? Is there something you learned there that you still do today?
I think there are many things I learned at camp that helped me become the person I am today. I became confident, independent, and formed relationships with girls from different areas. At camp I was able to make my own choices without asking my parents their opinion and I believe this helped me become a self-confident person. Of course, I still ask my parents for advice but I know that I can make decisions on my own and trust my instincts.
Words of wisdom for current and future campers?
Treasure every moment. You will never feel as carefree, happy and relaxed as you do at camp. Camp was a utopia and I wish everyday I could relive my camp days.
How do you keep in touch with your camp friends? What has kept you close through all of these years?
My camp does not have a CIT program so I had to wait 4 summers until I could go back as a counselor. Fourteen of the 25 campers from our oldest bunk of Summer ’03 went back as counselors, me included. It was a very different experience on the counselor side but going back helped me fortify bonds with my camp friends. I don’t see my camp friends as often as I would like but when we do get together it seems like nothing has changed! I of course texted my best camp friend Staci to make sure I wasn’t forgetting anything while filling this out!
What is your favorite camp tradition?
Color War every Sunday, literally EVERY Sunday. We had judges breakout, Color War fakeouts, and then ultimately Color War breakout the first week of camp. After breakout, each Sunday we participated in Blue and White activities, ending the day with a campfire filled with honor bunk, spirit awards, songs, and Color War scores! Also Sunday mornings we got to sleep in half an hour later, and go to breakfast in our pjs, AND sit with whoever we wanted! Sometimes I would sit with my camp sisters or friends in other bunks. We would always have Blue and White track meet the Sunday after Visiting day, which was a great way to distract campers from being homesick. The whole camp would convene on the upper field where a track would be drawn and each bunk participated in races. When you weren’t involved in an event, you would sit in the middle of the track and eat all your visiting day candy!
Since my mom is a camp legacy, it is very clear how many traditions have stayed alive since she was a camper. I love how we had such similar experiences because our camp is rich in traditions.
What was your favorite camp food?
Gary’s famous French toast. We could eat plates upon plates of his French toast. Or turkey dinner YUM! Gary, the cook has been at camp since my mom was a camper and he pretty much makes the same exact amazing meals. I also loved cookout, which happened every Tuesday for dinner and Sunday for lunch. We would have a cook out countdown throughout the week!
What is your favorite camp cheer?
“U-N-I-T-E-D we stand!! U-N-I-T-E-D we stand!! Stand free, fight free, courage you can tell, white Robindel. Stand free, fight free, united we staaaaand WHITE FOR VICTORY!! Oh who’s going to win oh who’s going to win today, GO WHITE, GO WHITE, GO WHITEEEEEE!”
I actually knew this cheer before I stepped off the bus, because my mom prepped me for everything camp-related. I knew every Blue and White cheer possible and how to place jacks of course! I also loved table cheers! During meals, the oldest bunk would start a TABLE CHEEER where they screamed each bunks name and when it was your bunk you would scream and bang the table to show your spirit.
What is your favorite movie about camp/that you saw at camp?
Wet Hot American Summer, although that was not the camp I experienced.
What did you prefer — pool or lake?
Our camp is old school — we only have a lake.
Favorite canteen candy?
Definitely Charleston Chews!
Favorite / most requested item on visiting day?
OREOS!! I was in love with Oreos. My last summer we were allowed to have food in the bunk, which was such a luxury compared to our past summers. My aunt asked my mom what she should send me at camp and my mom responded Oreos. I literally got a package about half my size filled with all different types of Oreos — classic, double-stuffed, chocolate, golden, cool mint, peanut butter, and make your own. The office staff didn’t even know what to do with the box so they just handed it to me and shook their heads. My bunk was eating Oreos the whole summer. I definitely did not need any more Oreos on visiting day that summer.
What was your favorite camp activity?
Besides Color war or Sing practice? Softball, tennis, or free period
If you had to have something from camp tattooed on you, what would it be?
What is your favorite camp word/expression?
JUNIPER ‘03 (oldest bunk at camp).
Favorite camp memento?
All the pictures and videos that I have from my last summer at camp and the official Sing 2013 Camp Robindel video. I also have this gorgeous framed picture of a sunset at Robindel that was taken and given to me by my best camp friend, Staci. It is literally the loveliest sunset I have ever seen. I still have a rock in my bedroom in NJ that I took from the final campfire of 2013. Oh, and dirt in a jar from our tree planting ceremony.
Did you ever get homesick at camp? How did you deal with that?
Yes, I was SOOOO homesick my first summer, especially the first week and right after visiting day; but campers should know homesickness is totally normal! I probably was the most homesick camper in Knotty Pine ‘97, but just remember — nobody has their mom or dad at camp, you are all in it together and you will make it through the tough nights—its all worth it for the life altering camp experience!
What were the biggest trends/must have items when you went to camp or representative of the time you went to camp?
Sweat bands, visors (oyyy), bandanas, specifically with rhinestones, and Soffee shorts/pants with words on the butt.
Any firsts at camp?
My first kiss at a Winaukee social next to the coke machines… classssy.
Anything else you want to share with the camp world?
If you didn’t go to camp it is hard to understand it, but I would recommend every parent to send his or her child to camp. I feel so blessed that I was able to spend 8 summers at camp. It is an experience unlike any other and it truly molded me at a young age. I feel that I can easily connect with people who have also gone to camp and I know that I will 100% send my child to camp, and if I have a daughter she will be encouraged to attend my camp. We need a third Songleader in the lineage obviously! There may be a battle over blue or white though….
Now, let’s see what Gina has to say about her camp experience!
I spent many wonderful summers at camp on Lake Winnipesaukee, New Hampshire. I was fortunate enough to attend camp from 1968-1973, for seven of the best summers of my life. I grew up in South Orange, N.J. and presently live one town over in Short Hills. I have raised my children in this area and my daughter, Lani, was able to follow in my footsteps as well as in those of her aunt, Jeanne Levey Jemal, to camp.
As I reflect on my camp experience, I feel fortunate that I have come away with so many life skills. The concept of living with approximately sixteen girls in a bunk was a feat in itself. Learning to share, cooperate, compromise and function cohesively as a group was another accomplishment. Making friends, respecting others, and working together are tools that have made me better equipped to handle very many aspects in my life. I am somewhat of a professional volunteer (school, UJA, Israel Bonds, Jewish Family Service, to name a few) and truly believe that camp has helped shape me for these roles. Being a song leader, and enjoying every minute of it, has also given me confidence and motivational skills that have enhanced my path in life. We used to call it SPIRIT! Of course, being open to learning new sports has enabled me to face new challenges. Learning how to water ski and mastering a head stand on a disc were life-changing experiences. Tennis instruction at camp gave me a foot up on a sport that I play weekly in my adult life. Color war has given me a thirst for healthy competition with myself as well as the opposition. I also am a gym rat and have challenged myself to sample various types of classes.
Now to the fun stuff.
Five essential items were packed annually in my trunk.Quarters for the soda machine, blue cut off shorts, blue team paraphernalia, self-addressed envelopes, and a few super balls to go with a set of jacks.
As color war was my favorite part of camp, I always looked up to the leaders. Even when I was in the oldest bunk, the counselor captain and co-captain were role models. Crying at the end of the Sing and holding on to my friends and teammates was also a touching, emotional experience. A trip to Kellerhaus was definitely a real treat. But, my all-time incredible memory was standing on a chair in the dining room as a song leader and screaming our blue team cheers. A Monday morning was not the same unless I had a sore throat and spent rest period trying to calculate the color war scores of the weekend from my trusty clipboard.
It is wonderful to run into campers near my home or in various random places. I attended the reunion, as did my daughter, and keep in touch with some of my friends that shared that experience with me. I am not tied to Facebook as most people are these days, but I do check in here and there.
My words of wisdom to current and future campers are to cherish each moment while you are fortunate to attend the best camp ever. My camp experience was awesome, memorable, and life altering. They were the best summers of my life!
Here are some other camp favorites:
Camp traditions – Color War, bonfires, camp sisters, and Sunday morning pj breakfast
Camp food – S’mores, Gary’s Challah, French toast, and pizza
Camp Cheer – “Heidi, Heidi, Heidi Ho! Iggly, wiggly wagolly woe! Raise your hands up to the sky; blue team girls go marching by. Better, better than the rest. Blue team girls are the BEST!” (Repeat three times with escalating crescendo.)
Canteen Item – Frozen Charleston Chews
Visiting Day Treat – Salami, rye bread, and mustard
Camp Activity – Water Skiing
Memento – Annual Color War Record Albums
Trends – Disposable cameras, signed pillowcases and easy cheese
Firsts – Socials, water skiing, sailing, archery, bocce and apaches
I would like to include a verse that epitomizes my feelings about camp.
“Robindel, the time has come once more, to dedicate our love to you. How can we tell what is within our hearts, of treasured memories we have gathered here. You’ve helped us find, the friends we love so well, we’ve been united through your care. Our song is now, a song of thanks to you, wherever we may be, Robindel.”
The perfect execution of this paragraph in legible form was a station of the senior camp apache. I wrote this on the steps of the lodge and then carried a baton to the beach as fast as my legs could run. Practicing to write this lament with speed and precision expedited the taking of notes in high school and college. I seemed to have memorized it by heart.