Camp Manito-wish: A Century-Old Philosophy of Life

Vicki Bachmann
September 2018

Richard, a camper in the 1950s, recently returned to Camp Manito-wish YMCA where he spent five summers as a youth. The camp recently commemorated its 100th summer with a celebration for the ages, and while he enjoyed his nostalgic walk through camp immensely, Richard said the Paul Bunyan Breakfast resonated with him the most. Traditions associated with this breakfast have been in place almost as long as the camp itself: lively stories shared by “Paul Bunyan;” a hearty lumberjack breakfast devoured in Nash Lodge, Manito-wish’s hemlock log dining hall built in 1925; and jubilant, harmonious songs filling the room with compositions carried forward from generation to generation.

For Richard it was an occasion packed with revived traditions and reconnection. He and many former campers were immersed in the atmosphere they remembered so deeply, the one that drew them back to the glistening shores of Boulder Lake in Northern Wisconsin for the camp’s centennial anniversary.

Alumni from as far away as Japan returned to soak in the feeling that’s unique to Manito-wishers, one that is difficult to articulate but easy to get a sense of as one visits with those who’ve partaken in the “Manito-wish experience” at some point in their lives. Proponents of summer camp know its transformative power to change lives. Anne Derber, CEO since 2000, said, “To us, Manito-wish is more than a beautiful place; it’s a philosophy of life. Our recent celebration of 100 years was filled with nostalgia to reflect that sentiment.” Thousands of former campers carry Camp Manito-wish with them through life in the form of inner strength, confidence, and a sense of belonging instilled through the thoughtful programming the camp offers stressing eight character and leadership attributes — humility, empathy, awareness of self and others, resourcefulness, resilience, optimism, adaptability, and responsibility — in short, HEAR the ROAR.

Since 1919, Manito-wish has been helping youth build character, embrace traditional values, and cultivate leadership skills — and their extraordinary focus on these guiding principles keeps the organization as effective for youth today as it was 100 years ago. While times may have changed, the methods haven’t. The same young men and women who once set out on Manito-wish trails are now encouraging their own children and grandchildren to join in the legacy of friendship, stewardship, and leadership through their own camp experiences.

Derber reflects, “With each passing year we’re planting seeds for the future; it is Manito-wish’s hope that in the decades to follow thousands more will feel the same passionate connection to camp.” The results tell a remarkable tale: Throughout its 100-year history, Manito-wish has served over 150,000 youth ages 10–18. And in the past five years alone, the organization has given over $1.5 million in financial assistance to bring kids to camp.

Adds Derber: “We’re confident that ten decades from now, Camp Manito-wish YMCA will be positively serving the youth of 2118.”

Photo courtesy of Camp Manito-wish and Lake Nipigon, Boulder Junction, Wisconsin.

Note: Camp Manito-wish YMCA is a nonprofit 501(c)(3) charitable organization and American Camp Association accredited. This hundred-years-and-going-strong Wisconsin Northwoods icon celebrated its 100th year over Labor Day weekend. Over 15,000 alumni and friends were invited to attend the celebration.

Vicki Bachmann is the 100th anniversary coordinator for Camp Manito-wish YMCA.