A Hundred Years of Campfire Stories at YMCA Storer Camps

Linda Smith Kerwin
September 2019

The year was 1918.

World War I was winding down overseas, the Spanish flu epidemic was raging across the globe, and Woodrow Wilson was in the White House. It was also the year Storer Camps was founded on Stony Lake in Jackson County, Michigan, as the summer camp location for the YMCA of Greater Toledo.

YMCA Storer Camps, named after George Butler Storer, who gave the camp $1,000 in 1919, began on eight rented acres with 24 boys sleeping in tents for two weeks. They were under the supervision of Bill Warr, the boy’s work secretary for the Y, along with Robert Dale “Doc” Miller, who went on to serve as director of Storer for over two decades.

Fast forward to the summer of 2018 when 844 former and current campers and staff of all ages gathered to celebrate the 100th anniversary of YMCA Storer Camps, which has grown to a year-round facility on 1,200 acres. The beautiful and accessible Malachi Dining Hall, which served its first meals to campers in 2000, was the gathering site for the centennial festivities. The weekend was filled with joyous reunions and traditional camp activities, and led into Storer’s annual Family Camp Week, which kicked off in 1961.

Our family discovered Storer in 1990, and members of our family have attended a total of 14 Family Camps, a multigenerational event that has been a bonding experience for many families — along with being one of the most relaxing vacations I have taken. No cooking, no dishes, and activities for all ages and abilities!

Another rewarding aspect of Storer is its international counselor program. We have met young people from across the world and once had the pleasure of attending a performance by a Brazilian counselor who sang “The Girl from Ipanema” in Portuguese at the annual Family Camp Talent Show.

Our daughter worked as a counselor and arts and crafts facilitator for several Family Camps when she was in college, giving her the opportunity to see camp from the staff’s viewpoint after being a “family camper.”

I, myself, have participated in family weeks at Storer with my husband and our three children, with a niece and two nephews, and with our grandchildren. Each experience has been unique, yet always encompassing the enduring traditions and values YMCA Storer Camps offer.

Last year, my husband Mark and I had the pleasure of being at Storer with all seven of our grandchildren (ages almost two to 11) and their parents for the centennial celebrations, an experience the children are still talking about.

Friends, memories, camp traditions — these build a sense of family and community, which Storer has given us in abundance. And, judging from the outpour of enthusiasm and appreciation we witnessed at the 100th anniversary celebrations of this special camp, I believe the values embodied in the YMCA Storer Camps experience, whose motto “I’m Third” expresses the meaning of self-sacrifice and concern for others, will carry on far into the future.

We certainly look forward to more summers of Family Camp where we will once again swim in Stony Lake, sail, canoe, ride horses, do crafts, reconnect with camp friends, and share stories around the campfire.

Photo courtesy of Linda Smith Kerwin and YMCA Storer Camps, Jackson, Michigan; Julia B. Kerwin, photographer.

Linda Smith Kerwin has a BA in Education with an English Language and Literature concentration. She has attended Family Camp at YMCA Storer Camps 14 times.