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08/28/2012

Anyone who turns on a faucet at Antlers, the easily accessible half of the College’s Environmental and Outdoor Education Center at Raquette Lake, and finds it working correctly has amateur plumber and Adirondacks lover Lewis Cowan ’73 to thank.

Those who have hiked the Huntington Camp’s bumpy “corduroy” trails along Long Point Peninsula without getting their feet wet should credit teams of former sorority sisters from the 1970s and 1980s. During various scheduled volunteer work weekends, the women got down and dirty, literally, carrying and placing sizeable logs fresh-cut from woodland glades.

At Antlers, an enormous white pine was hollow inside and needed to come down, along with several other large conifers. The husband-and-wife team of Allison Barnes ’94, M.S.Ed. ’97 and William Tucker had the knowledge, the ability and the proper tools to safely section the trees and cut them up for firewood. Think of the couple, too, when admiring the handmade flower boxes decorating the porches should you visit the camps.

William Tucker
William Tucker, the husband of alumna Allison Barnes ’94, M.S.Ed. ’97, demonstrated the correct way to dismantle an enormous conifer on the Antlers property — one large limb at a time. The images on this page were taken by Cindy Rosenhaus Santner ’76 and Jean Needle. 

Have you admired the smoothed-over and freshly painted walls inside the charmingly rustic-looking Cedars cottage at Antlers? This summer, Thomas Needle ’76 patched the dilapidated interior and plied his paint roller to finish the job, assisted by an eager crew of Auxiliary Services Corporation summer employees: Caitlyn Jenkins, Amelia Welch and Bridgette Thurman.

 “Jay Cummings (the former center assistant director) would give me a call every once in awhile if he needed me to do something there,” recalls Needle of Liverpool, N.Y. An independent building contractor, he began lending his know-how and muscle to fix Antlers’ assorted rustic chimneys, fireplaces and floors many years ago. During the summer he’ll also return for a week of more traditional camp relaxation with his whole family.

“I don’t want to let any secrets out,” Needle said. “It’s kind of a diamond in the rough there and I don’t want to get everybody running up here.”

For decades, many of SUNY Cortland’s alumni, student groups and others have been helping the College maintain its beloved branch campus in the northern New York wilderness.

The Huntington property was acquired by the College in 1948. In the mid-1960s, Antlers was purchased by the SUNY Cortland Auxiliary Services Corporation, primarily to provide dock access to the lake and far more remote Camp Huntington. Alumni have been traveling to Raquette Lake since the late-1960s to camp and relax with classmates during scheduled weeks at the facilities. An almost equally long tradition has had some of them assisting with the considerable tasks of upkeep as well.

“The Recreation and Physical Education departments have the work project time built right into their schedules, hearkening back to the beginnings of Camp Huntington and the first few groups there,” said Rhonda Jacobs ’01, the Center’s assistant director and manager of Antlers. “They did more service-type projects and building the camp up than is done nowadays. It teaches stewardship and gives them another opportunity for students to bond to each other and the property.”

The volunteers do everything from washing and oiling the walls in the Casino classroom of Antlers and the Main Lodge to fixing weighted windows, pressure washing moss and slime off sidewalks, staining and painting exterior woodwork, building benches and sewing and hanging curtains. Fans of Huntington and Antlers also devote time away from camp to purchase items for the educational centers or to conduct historical research and records preservation.

During the past year, the helpers contributed a total of almost 650 hours, split fairly evenly between both camps. The alumni and student handy persons include individual alumni, couples and family groups, Class of 1959 friends and the former sorority sisters of Theta Phi Alpha, Arethusa and Alpha Kappa Phi/Agonian, Sigma Sigma Sigma and Sigma Rho Sigma. During some years members of student clubs in biology, political science and psychology have assisted. Additionally, a pair of individuals who runs Nature Ed-Ventures adult education programs also get their participants involved in camp improvements.

Deborah Creedon-Cunningham '76
Deborah Creeden-Cunningham ’03 sprawled beside Antlers as she repaired a chair during the Spring 2012 Work Weekend. 

“The Class of 1959 has done a work day since 2000,” Jacobs said. “I’ve had an official work weekend since 2005, I think. The first one had about 12 people and we now have 30.”

At Huntington, the need is more limited as the camp has two employees to do most of the repair and maintenance, Center Director Rob Rubendall said.

“We do have a traditional spring clean-up weekend to get the camp looking great for the upcoming season,” he said. “There are three major sorority players who come to those and also do projects when they are in camp for their own reunion weeks. Each has a slightly different approach to contributing at Camp Huntington.”

Theta Phi Alpha sorority’s history with the camps goes back to about 1965.

Kim Mayer ’82, who’s returned to the camp for about 30 years, almost every year since she graduated, and organizes her sorority’s reunions there, was on site when Huntington lost many buildings to a fire in 1983.

“We (Theta Phi Alpha) were the group that had been in camp that weekend,” Mayer said. “We left camp the day of the fire. After the fire, all of the stones from the fireplace in the dining room were moved back to the ‘dump.’ During our next weekend there, we hauled all of those stones into the old green pickup truck and brought them back to the new dining hall. I remember all of these women lifting these sizable rocks into the pickup truck,” under the direction of the center’s first director, the late George Fuge ’49.

“George knew we could handle it and we embraced the challenge,” Mayer said. “Of course, we were much younger and had no limits.”

The women have cleared trails using pruners, axes and chainsaws, repaired trails, cleaned windows, cleared snow and ice from roofs, inventoried the library, and cleaned the houseboat. They designed and purchased the dining hall plates. More recently, the sisters converted, at their own expense, Fuge’s original film photography library to a digital format on DVDs for the sake of preserving the camp’s history.

Rick Wheeler '96, left, and Thomas Needle '76
Rick Wheeler M.S.Ed. ’96, left, and Thomas Needle ’76, fixed a sign familiar to campers in front of Antlers. 

In casting around for a major project at Huntington, the former sorority members pooled their resources and underwrote the refurbishment of the historic, glass dining room. It was named for their beloved professor emeritus of physical education and honorary C-Club Hall of Fame member, Louise M. Moseley.

“Our love of Camp Huntington runs very deep,” Mayer said. “George instilled in each of us the love of the outdoors and that everyone should help out at camp. We all feel a responsibility to assist at camp in some fashion. Whether it be doing KP or cleaning up around camp. It really made for a sense of ownership and that ownership runs deep with Theta Phi Alpha.”

Beyond keeping the buildings in shape, for decades graduates have helped furnish the facilities.

“We’ve had people bring up their sewing machine for the week and make curtains,” recalls Jay Cummings, who retired from the College in 2002 as assistant director emeritus of outdoor education.

“After they’ve been here a couple of years, they have a good idea of what we needed. They would bring lamps, decorative pictures, they would come up here with all kinds of stuff.”

“One day we noticed that construction materials were being delivered and we helped offload the materials from the truck and carry them over to the barge,” observed Cowan, explaining how it all began for him. “We did help and it was fun to do for a couple hours on a summer afternoon.

“This will be my fourth time going back to the work weekend at Antlers,” said Cowan, noting he developed his plumbing skills during college to earn extra money. “Don’t blame me if you find a faucet that doesn’t work because I didn’t get around to that yet.”

“It’s a very important place to us because many of us enjoy the outdoors,” said Kathy Flack ’71, who annually spends a long weekend with three or four fellow Arethusa sisters getting Huntington Camp ready to open in the spring. As a physical education major, Flack experienced Huntington Camp for two weeks as a student.

The center appreciates alumni volunteers. Huntington Camp’s next spring work weekend is set for May 3 to 5, 2013. The next work weekend at Antlers is May 17 to 19, 2013. Camp space will be limited. New volunteers may offer their services by contacting the center at (607) 753-5488.

“Actually, some of the women who do the work weekend with us didn’t have the opportunity to go there while we were in college,” Flack said. “We are absolutely so excited that we get to go there now. The sisters have fallen absolutely in love with the place.”

For several years, Raquette Lake has served as the location of an annual retreat for some early 1970s members of the former sorority, which lost its house decades ago. The sisters travel from Philadelphia, the Washington, D.C., area, Syracuse and Cazenovia to renew a sense of fellowship in the bunkhouses at Huntington Camp.

“It’s a really nice experience for the sisters,” Flack said. “For some of them, their first reaction is, ‘I’m not going up there camping.’” I say, ‘It’s not really ‘camping’ camping — a tent situation.’ It’s like living in a sorority house in Cortland.’

“They’re concerned about the history, about the camps always being there, about the upkeep of the camps,” Flack said. “We try to help out.”

window cleaning and new curtains
Cindy Rosenhaus Santner '76 showed no fear of heights as she installed fresh curtains inside the Antlers building’s Casino classroom. 

Joining other small spring work groups at Huntington, the women most of the time perform mundane — but necessary — tasks: raking the entire property, picking up sticks and doing a little garden work. Flack recalls the time the former center director, Jack Sheltmire M.S.Ed. ’73, asked them to help build a corduroy road.

“He had two ATVs and a chainsaw and went out the woods,” Flack said. “He had five women. We didn’t mind. We would pick the logs up in the woods, carry them to the road and throw them down in the muck. That’s really what we did one fall.”

“Jack (Sheltmire) had dropped a bunch of trees he cut into logs so they could be placed on the trail in low areas,” said Mayer, remembering her version of the same experience. “Well, some of those logs were 10 inches in diameter and 75 to 125 feet into the woods. It took some doing, but we moved every one of those logs and we were darn proud of ourselves. By the time the other group met up with us we had taken all of our outerwear off and we were filthy! It is an experience we will not soon forget.”

The new director, Rubendall, is very organized, according to Flack. Volunteers can choose their tasks from a very long list.

“If it weren’t for us, I’m not sure how they could keep up with it all,” Flack said. “We try to help out when we’re up there and when we can get there.

“We really feel that we should give back to the school.”

One week this past summer, Needle came up to Antlers without his family and tackled the ruined walls inside the otherwise beautiful rustic cottage, Cedars. By day, he sweated out the hard labor. By late afternoon, he was lifeguarding children on the beach or socializing on a porch with other campers.

“It’s a million-dollar view,” said Needle, who’s been coming to Antlers since 1975. “I will sit there at 5 o’clock in the morning with my cup of coffee, just me and the loons watching the mist roll in and the sun coming up over Blue Mountain Lake. You can’t beat it.”Then Needle will dive into his toolbox and go back to work.