A different world across the lake
printed with permission from Martha Hardcastle Gurthrie (Mothra@woh.rr.com,
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
"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
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
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
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
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!
The following postcard images were obtained and contributed by Martha Hardcastle Guthrie: