A Most Unique Tradition - Camp Newaygo's Creative Summer Log Books

Incorporating Creative Story-telling at the End Of Each Summer

Camp Traditions help speak the language of your camp culture.

Camp Newaygo, now in our 91st summer, has more tradition than a “Fiddler on the Roof” soundtrack. We have wishing boats, poems, rainbow scarves, and torches made of oversized tampax pads soaked in kerosene. One room in our main lodge is dedicated entirely to our most unique tradition – Log Books.

Every summer our staff and campers create a Log Book. It’s not simply a camp scrap book, but more accurately a work of historical art, preserving the summer for generations to come. We have 90 years of Log Books. We built custom shelving in the Log Book room to accommodate these treasures.

The first camp LOG was made in 1926. It features written reports of each program with wording like: “Miss Foster presented the synchronized swimming performance to a packed dock of earnest young women.”

The log books began as actual logs for camp program and staff. They listed winners of sailing regattas and descriptions of successful programs.

In the 1930’s, the camp logs began to feature photographs of staff and campers. We’ve built an expansive photo achieve using Log Book Photos. In the 1940’s staff began to dedicate the Log Book to one outstanding staff member. Log Book Dedication continues today, as the highest honor awarded to a Camp Newaygo staff member.

Log Books vary in size and shape, mostly made of wood and leather. In the 1950’s the covers began to take on a life of their own, incorporating a theme to each log book. You can trace the decades in changing styles. One of my favorite log books from 1981 looks like it could be the cover of a Motley Crue Tour T-Shirt.

Before the renovation of the Lodge in 2010, the Log Books were stored in the attic. In 1966 a devastating fire burned the Lodge to the ground, and a brave Kitchen Staff threw the log books out the window to save them. She lived to tell the tale.

Every summer during staff training we brainstorm and select a Log Book Theme. Staff members apply to create the cover as individuals or pairs, and present their concept to myself and the Executive Director. Once a concept is chosen, only the Log Book creators and the Camp Directors know the design and view the process.

The entire staff collaborates on the pages, with each staff member working together to fill the book. Every cabin and tent unit is featured on a page, with printed names next to each camper.

The binding of the book happens in veiled secrecy, under locked office doors and blacked-out windows.

On the last campfire of the summer, “Final Final”, the log book is revealed for the whole camp to see. The book is dedicated during that time, with a Last-Year Camper announcing the camp staff awards, featured at the front of the book.

When I first started at Camp Newaygo, I appreciated the art of the books, and the history, but I didn’t fully grasp the power of the Log Books until this year’s 90th Alumni Reunion. When alumni return to camp, the first thing they want to see is the log book. They find pictures of themselves and their friends and transform into their 18 year-old self right before your eyes. The Log Books spark forgotten memories and inside jokes. They hold irrefutable facts pulled for trivia questions. Like, what color dress did President Hoover’s wife wear when he christened the war canoes? (yellow). Or, how tall was Herman the Maintenance Man who lived in shed at the waterfront? (7 foot). Log books are prominent features in scavenger hunts and rainy day activities.

The summer 2016 Log Book was created by Lillie Chamberlin and Tess Joosse. The theme chosen was “One Star Dependable And Bright”. They designed the cover as a compass, with the inspiration that Camp has always been their grounding force in life – their North Star. The inside features a map of camp, and the constellations visible at night in June and July, straight above camp.

This Log Book will travel all over the Midwest to recruit campers and staff. It will be pulled out at the Camper Winter Reunion in December, and highlighted at fundraising dinners.

If you look up at the ceiling in the Log Book Room, you see the most advanced sprinkler system money can buy. There is no way to appraise the value of these books. The books are well cared for, but also well used. As a Camp Director I often wish I could bottle up summer and carry it with me during the year. Our Log Books come as close as you can to capturing the heart of summer.

The best part is, the shelves are only half-full – we have another 90 years of books waiting to be created.