Sleep-away camp a real wake-up call
By Bob and Dick Chancia
A-S-S-I-S-I-U - M spells Assisium.
That’s the place for my vacation. Lots of fun and recreation. A S-S-I-S-I-U-M you see, first we swim, then we hike, then we play with all our might - Its Assisium for me!
We were taught that song when we first arrived at the sleep-away camp at Fourth Lake in Adirondacks during the summer of 1949. It’s remained in our cerebral computers for 70 years along with other indelible memories.
That summer, Lila Karam, the wise mom of our best buddy Joe, suggested to our very overprotective mom that we would greatly benefit from a summer camp experience along with her son. After a little convincing, the idea took shape and became contagious in the neighborhood.
Besides us, three other kids — Roger Bruni, Joe DeLorenzo and Richard Vedete — accompanied Joe to the Catholic Charities summer camp at Inlet. It later was relocated to another Adirondack Lake and renamed Camp Nazareth.
The Camp Assisium experience was a real wake-up call for us.
Getting out of our comfy neighborhood, experiencing structure, camaraderie, discipline, diversity plus lots of fun was the perfect prelude for dorm life at college and more importantly, valuable for basic training at Ft.
Dix, New Jersey, which came 10 years later. Our pal, George Fanelli, missed out on the experience as he had already committed to spend most of that summer bean picking.
Besides the song, the memories are forever.
Up at the crack of dawn for reveille ’til curfew at 9 p.m., all 14 activity packed days concluded with a camp bonfire and sing-along led by Camp Director Funzi Rienzo.
Five army-style barrack dwellings with bunk beds, foot lockers and wash room, amazingly foreshadowed the Fort Dix barracks which would be an assignment for a future day. We’ll never forget our counselor, Eddie Fenton from Rome, who in retrospect, was much more amicable than the army sergeants to come.
The bunk houses were arranged in an L around the ball field opposite the Craft Barn; ours faced the lake. The mess hall was positioned just before the lake’s sandy beach. We can still taste the institutional spaghetti and meat sauce, a total antithesis to Mama’s and Coluzza’s Restaurant on Bleecker Street, that later became Grimaldi’s.
The brown masonite cups of Kool-Aid were a favorite and a staple at every meal.
Glen Kingsbury ran the Craft Barn next to the ball field. Besides the mandatory boondoggles, Bob made a 5-inch-high Indian Chief head, mounted on plywood and painted with bright crimson glaze. We were crushed when it tumbled off our bedroom shelf and smashed to smithereens a few years later.
Dick still has his hammered metal circular ashtray with our dad’s name etched on it. It proudly sits in his trophy case of treasured memorabilia, dominated by miniature 50s car models.
Right after swimming, the afternoon softball games, cabin vs. cabin, were our favorite activity. Dick’s greatest disappointment was when our big game against rival Eagle Bay Camp was rained out the day he was scheduled to pitch.
Instead, we went to town and saw the movie “Mighty Joe Young,” playing at Inlet’s lone movie house.
We can still hum the tune “Beautiful Dreamer,” though most of the plot is now forgotten. Written in 1864 by American songwriter Stephen Foster, “Beautiful Dreamer” is the only melody that would calm down Joe, a 15-foot, 2,000 pound mountain gorilla. Joe’s guardian, played by Terry Moore, was able to handle this guardian of the mountain.
It’s ironic that we saw it in a mountain village, only because our softball game was rained out. The 1949 RKO Radio picture’s B&W fantasy film won an Academy Award for Best Visual Effects.
Another friend and future high school classmate Frank Romano attended that summer and was a real good ballplayer. Some days included hikes in the mountains and we once got lost in the woods. That is still a vivid memory. We praised counselor Tony Cucci for finally leading us back to camp. An overnight hike to Bald Mountain offered an awesome view of the Fulton Chain of lakes plus we survived a rainy night in sleeping bags on the mountain’s hard rocky surface.
We never achieved Camper of the Week or Camper of the Cycle but wouldn’t trade that summer of ’49 at Camp Assisium for anything. It even topped a one-day New York Central RR excursion to see a Yankee/ Red Sox game. Why? The Yankees beat the Red Sox that day and the Bronx fans waved crying towels at our idol Ted Williams every time he came to bat.
Sleep-away Camp was a win-win situation. No sweat Fort Dix …”Its ASSISIUM for ME!”
Now you have the opportunity to get under the Operation Sunshine umbrella and help a child have that experience of a lifetime. Fund a campership online at www.
opsun.org. It’ll be a summer well spent by all!
Brothers Bob and Dick Chancia are native Uticans. Bob lives in New York City. Dick lives in Utica.
Camp Assisium cabin mates in 1949 at Fourth lake included, bottom row from left: Unknown, Bob Chancia, Dick Chancia, unknown, Richard Vedete; second row: Unknown, unknown, Joe DeLorenzo, John Deal, unknown, unknown; standing: Counselor Ed Fenton, unknown, Tex Maloof, unknown, Frank Romano, Roger Bruni and Joe Karam.