Gratitude Celebration 24: Leading Women

I’m celebrating my 60th birthday by writing 60 essays thanking people who made a difference in my life.

Today, I want to express my gratitude to three women who modeled inspired leadership in Nature Education, opening doors for me in the field where my heart sang!  Remembering Regina Goode, Patti Haye, and Nell Maloney brings a broad smile to my face and a warm fire to my heart.

With a name like “Regina”, she had to be good!  And she was that too! In fact, her name was Regina Goode and she was a very good catalyst for my initiation as a leader. I realize now, as a mom myself, that she and my mom may have been in cahoots to have Mrs. Goode be my co-leader instead of herself. I was undoubtedly more open to the guidance of Mrs. Goode than my own mom as an 18-year old with ideas of what a fun Girl Scout troop could be.  I did enjoy going over to her house and talking about my ideas and having her agree with them then add her wisdom to make them effective plans.

I was certain that our troop did have the most fun because we went on adventures! Once, we rode bikes to a nearby camp. Another time, we went to the Girl Scout camp lodge for a winter weekend.  I supervised the girls, Junior Scouts in 4th-6th grade, in planning, buying, and preparing their own meals, making #10 tin can stoves, and having fire building contests. We sang and went on long hikes, which were all the things I loved to do! Thanks to Regina Goode (and my own parents), I was a happy leader playing in my creative world. I hope my sister, Mary Rose, who was a member of the troop, had fun too! 

Patti Haye showed me how to make “Thank-you ma’ams.”  I wasn’t quite sure of the importance of the ditches she was digging in the trail, but she did it with such enthusiasm and conviction that I knew that the Girl Scout Camp depended on them. I laugh when I realize that the dozens of what I now call “Waterbars” that I have built were all foreshadowed by my forays with Patti Haye, the Conservation Director of the Buckeye Trails Girl Scout Council. My mom had introduced me to her, guessing that I would enjoy going with Patti, and she was right!

We spread woodchips, threw cast off Christmas trees into ravines and walked the trails of Camp Whip-poor-will even before I got to work there the first summer after I started college. I still enjoy doing trail work  and can’t walk on a trail without pulling aside dead branches and cutting small trees that have fallen on the trails. Patti Haye gave me my start as a trail maintainer and I’m thankful for her leadership!

It was Patti Haye who told my mom about her friend, Nell Maloney and her camp in Ontario, Canada. She thought that  my brother, Tom, might want to go there. As she described the Nature Camp on the Canadian Shield that specialized in wilderness  lake canoe trips my brother was unimpressed, but it sounded like a marvelous world of adventure to me! “Does she need summer staff?” I asked. The next day, I was talking on the phone with the director, Nell, who lived within a couple of miles of our house! I wanted to entice my friend, Mark, a fellow biology student at Thomas More College, to apply for a job there too. He thought herding 8-14 year old kids through the boggy wilderness sounded awful, but our friend, Mike, lit up with the prospects of spending the summer in the Canadian wilderness. He was undaunted by the requirements of being a camp counselor.  Nell hired both of us and in a few weeks we were crammed in the back seat of a Greyhound bus, with everything we needed for the summer packed in small duffle bags, riding 12 hours from Dayton, Ohio to Buffalo, New York on the first leg of our journey.

Nell fascinated and inspired me. Here she was, a slight, pre-maturely grey haired geologist who migrated every summer with her two daughters about 700 miles north to run a science camp with 30 kids. The owners, The Fisks, lived in Buffalo. They had bought the hunting camp that they named Camp Blue Heron for their large family of grandchildren. Then, friends came too, and soon they just opened it up as a summer camp! Most of the campers came from either Dayton or Buffalo, arriving all together on the bus, hired from the tiny town of Port Loring near the camp, after an eight hour ride from Buffalo.

What I loved about Nell was her wise awareness of what made camp really fun for kids – a reliable schedule based on a few basic activities. Every day, we could count on the rhythmic flow of the day from the breakfast bell to the family-style breakfast, followed by the hands-on science activity then lunch. The afternoon had only two sessions: rest time and waterfront time, which included swimming and canoeing lessons. When that ended, signaled by Nell’s bell, we all played volleyball until supper. After supper, everyone headed back to the waterfront on the lake for relaxed play, singing, and recreational canoeing. Evening program, usually stories and songs near the living room fireplace was promptly at dark before the mosquitoes came out. Within this rhythm, all sorts of adventures in the swamps, fields, and lakes unfolded with joy and wonder.

Most of the daily adventures would be planned by Nell and the staff as we sat together at the small dining room table, eating leftover desserts or salt and vinegar potato chips and drinking the local Molson ale after the campers went to bed.  This rhythm would continue at the base camp while my co-leader, Ormond, and I would take ten campers at a time on two to four-day canoe trips in the nearby wilderness. She wasn’t adverse to interrupting the rhythm, however, if a valuable experience with Nature called. When the Perseid Meteor Showers arrived, she had all 30 of us camp out on the hill where anyone who could stay awake had full view of the sky.  Alec, our super-excited Canadian counselor, made sure that each meteor was cheered across the sky! Our usual morning rhythm was relaxed the next day, and sleepy stargazers went back to their cabins to rest ‘til brunch.

Nell did all sorts of inspiring things. She netted and banded birds, often bringing a gently handled flash of brilliance into the breakfast room, spreading her own sense of wonder and reverence over the whole room with her quiet introduction to the precious bird. She was the first person I met who could turn rocks into marvelous wonders as well. The granite shield at our feet revealed its beauty, unmasked by her explanations and enthusiasm. By her side, knee deep in swamp water, we discovered amazing creatures and plants like Bryozoans, Pitcher plants, dragonfly larvae, and Blue flag irises. Her camera lens caught their beauty and significance.

One thing that stands out in Nell’s leadership, though, was how she handled crises.  When something disruptive happened, after the initial emergency was handled, Nell would say, “OK. Let’s sit down and have a cup of tea and talk about what to do next.” In that calm, conversational attitude, she, and usually Ormond, would lay out a myriad of options, and then choose the best approach.

I’m grateful for Nell’s modeling of authority that had room for creativity, serendipity, and understanding of children. During my second year as a counselor at Camp Blue Heron, I was the dorm counselor for a handful of “older” girls. They were the 13-year olds who had been coming to camp since they were eight! They needed something different, and for them, that meant skinny-dipping at night! They didn’t know it, but Nell and I, along with the scheming support of the other counselors, had the night all planned out when the girls would “sneak” out for their rite of passage. It went off without a hitch, and by 10 p.m. five giggling girls were slipping back into their beds feeling bold and happy.  Thanks to Nell, they could have their moment of bravado wrapped in a cloak of wisdom!


4 Replies to “Gratitude Celebration 24: Leading Women”

  1. I went to camp blue heron and loved reading your description of it here! I remember well staying up all night to watch the meteor showers!!!

  2. Wow Regina, what a beautifully written ode to these women.

    I’ve stumbled across your blog by chance after Googling Camp Blue Heron. I am Jeanne & Bob Fisk’s granddaughter. They have both since passed and I read your stunning tribute to Nell and recollections of camp through teary eyes.

    I would love to speak with you sometime if you were willing and hear more tales of star gazing, skinny dipping, exploration and adventure.

    Wishing you well, you’ve already made my day without even knowing it.

  3. Wow, just found this. I am a CBH alum from back on the day. It was a welcome retreat from East Harlem NYC. Thanks for this!

  4. Thank you for this! Nell Maloney was a friend of my mother, and I attended Camp Blue Heron twice as a camper and twice as a counsellor and swimming instructor. I well remember the skinny dipping tradition, and Alec was a good friend with whom I’ve recently connected. I remember Nell’s Bell, the breakfasts, Molson’s beer at night, and the bird nets.
    Nell was an inspiration and she gave us a long leash. She instilled in me a lifelong love of geology and adventure.

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