One of our segments here on the Winona Camps blog is called “Meet the Counselor”. Last time we got to meet one of the BATs from the 2015 summer, this week we get to hear from the BAT in 2010, Uncle Benjie Messinger-Barnes. Enjoy!
When did you begin at Winona?
– My first summer was 1996. I was in Junior cabin five.
Where did you go to school and what are you up to now?
– I went to Wesleyan University and I have been teaching math ever since. I teach at the Friends Seminary school in New York City – 5th grade math. I previously taught high school math where I also coached high school boys and girls tennis. So, yeah, teaching!
Do you believe camp helped contribute to that desire for teaching and coaching?
– One hundred percent. So, a few things – I never even thought about teaching until I had a conversation with Senior Unit Director Clay Miles. After college I had always thought I wanted to be pre-med, but then I wasn’t really feeling that, I didn’t have a passion for it, and I had little clarity on what it was I wanted to do. I was having a casual conversation with Uncle Clay on the porch of the Totem Cabin porch when he mentioned that I would be “one heck of a math teacher” and that I was obviously good with the material and good with the kids. It wasn’t something I had ever though of before, but by putting the idea of teaching into a camp perspective I realized it could be a real possibility for me and that it made so much sense. Certainly, the experiences I had at camp as a counselor helped give me many of the skills that would be integral for being a successful teacher. Just interacting with folks, experiencing how to carry yourself and knowing you are always a role model at every moment really set me up well for a career as a teacher.
Here is an easy one: what tribe and color are you?
– Oh, come on, like you don’t already know that? I am a Red Mohawk – the most successful combination in Winona camps history!
Which activities were you most into as a camper, where could you be found most?
– Definitely canoe trips. Canoe tripping was definitely number one for me. I would say campcraft was number two and then tennis and archery were two other activities I loved.
Obviously Winona has tons of life lessons that can be learned on a day-to-day basis, but what do you believe to be the most important one that you’ve learned that helps you now?
– The two biggest lessons that are closely related are: One, attitude is a choice. You can take any situation and choose to be happy in it. It’s as simple as puddle jumping on a rainy day or somehow deriving great pleasure from the worst sore on a canoe trip. You know, going out when it is blisteringly hot, sweating, and buggy and just taking pleasure in felling a tree and dragging back firewood. Definitely the number one lesson is how to always hold a positive attitude and have a great time no matter what you are doing. Lesson number two is that everything you do you get out exactly as much as you put in. I learned that in a number of ways from being a camper on canoe trips. The understanding that the harder you work, you realize the trip is so much better if you really put everything you’ve got into it – from paddling hard, to cleaning up well, to gathering firewood – it is just so rewarding to put your all in and get out exactly what you put in. So those are two lessons that are definitely still used in my life today.
What is your favorite part about camp?
– The opportunity to exceed even your own expectations and to impress yourself. For me, growing up in the city, canoe trips were a great opportunity to do something that I never got to do. To be in the middle of a lake, in the middle of nowhere, do it and to try was something that was hard for myself; it forced me to push myself way out of my comfort zone. Camp’s knack for pushing yourself out of your comfort zone and causing you to grow, be scared – whether it was rolling a kayak, being on top of the rock wall, or the idea of paddling one hundred miles on the Allagash Wilderness Waterway – and to not know whether or not you would be able to finish. Rarely do we try something that we don’t know we are going to succeed at and camp constantly gives us ample opportunity to do that. Having the risk of failure and being able to succeed is so much more rewarding.
Of the many traditions that Winona continues on each summer, which would be your favorite?
– I think my favorite tradition would be Red-Gray week. I actually really love all the
individual parts of Red-Gray week. Red-Gray basketball – I love that. Red-Grey baseball – I love that. Just in general that there are all these individual culminating activities and competitions is something special. And now that I think about it: Treasure Hunt. Especially Treasure Hunt in Senior. That aspect within Red-Gray week is definitely my favorite. It gets me pumped up just thinking about it.
What’s then most valuable part of camp that you hold onto while outside of camp?
– The easier answer to that, also the truthful one, is the camaraderie and the friendship – especially for the younger folks. The relationships that you form and the intimacy of those relationships is so strong. It’s incredible that in just a couple of weeks you can form these super tight bonds. For instance, I went to a day school all through high school and the relationships that I made at camp were much more strong than those with my best and closest of friends at school. The commitment to those around you, the camaraderie, and the friendship are definitely what I hold onto most outside of camp.
If you were talking to someone who’s never been to Winona and was considering a summer on the shores of Moose Pond, what would you want to be able to tell them?
– If I could tell one thing about Winona to a potential camper it would be that they will have so much fun in ways that they never could imagine during the year. It’s easy to have plenty of fun during the school year hanging out with friends and doing those activities, but there is just a whole new quality of fun at Winona. To say that it will be the best time is true, but it will also be just be a whole new sense of quality time – it will be so much fun and you will come out of it feeling really good. If I was speaking to the parents I would want to tell them that their son may very well grow and mature more in those seven weeks than he would in the other forty-five throughout the year. He will grow personally, he will grow socially, his confidence will grow, and he will come back with a more mature sense of responsibility and sense of self.
Is there anything else you would like to add about camp or about your Winona experience in general?
– Yeah, you know what I also think is awesome and is so incredible? I think it is remarkable that the extreme sense of completion at camp is also only healthy competition. You have young men battling it out on the EP field and moments later they are doing things like helping each other up, yelling out the loudest Brix Brax cheer they can, teaming up in camper-counselor rounds, or buddying-up during free swims. I think that it is incredible that there is this strong sense of competition and competitive spirit, but it is such a classy way of chivalry that lives at Winona and people all carry themselves in this honor. It is remarkable how well Winona has set this as a tradition summer after summer.
Brix Brax, Uncle Benjie “BMB” Messinger-Barnes.