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How Girls Got to GAC (Sierra Summers Excerpt)

Following is an excerpt from Sierra Summers: The History of Gold Arrow Camp (publish date: November, 2017).

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[…] In the meantime, Jeanie was hatching a much bigger change in her mind, one that she’d broached only briefly with Manny in casual conversation. “Wouldn’t it be interesting to try having girls at Gold Arrow?” she’d suggest, a prompt Manny would often shrug off as nonsense and “out of the question.” Gold Arrow was, after all, the last of the rugged camps for boys. “It was definitely appropriately named,” said Jeanie. “It was for boys only.” In those days, wrote Jeanie, “Manny liked the role of Frontiersman. He wore buckskin clothes, moccasins, and had a real Indian chant wakeup and goodnight. He liked the idea of the outdoor toilets, no electricity except where positively necessary, and certainly very little plumbing and no telephone.” But the question of having girls was fair, she’d thought, one that a number of parents had begun asking as well. The more she persisted, the more Manny relented, until one day he asked Jeanie if she thought girls would like Gold Arrow. “I’m a girl and I LOVE it,” she said.

Following the 1961 season, the idea of having girls at Gold Arrow became a question of when, not if; it was a question that would move toward resolution on an early spring evening in 1962, when Manny and Jeanie paid a social call to the home of Pat Rauen, one of Manny’s first campers in the 1930s, who now had a family of his own and whose son Mike had just finished his first summer on the mountain; it was expected that younger brother Tim would soon follow. Manny had put together a slide show, which featured Mike and his camp mates participating in activities like archery, canoeing, sailing, and waterskiing; there were also archived slides of Pat when he was a camper, junior counselor, and finally a counselor, thrown in so Manny could wax nostalgic with him about the old times at Gold Arrow. They laughed about what a rascal Pat was at camp, recalling the famed Counselor’s Day rotten egg battle he engineered. They talked about how tough and rugged camp was and how boys played Capture the Flag armed with real pinecones, which left cuts and bumps and a few swollen eyes when they hit their mark. They recalled the Beaver singing and playing his drum to wake the boys and send them off to bed. And at one point in the evening, Pat broke out his green and gold five-year blanket—he was the first camper to earn such an honor—and he showed it off proudly to Manny and Jeanie. Manny winked at Mike and told him one day he might earn one too.

Taking it all in was nine-year-old Holley Rauen, Mike’s younger sister, who sat “transfixed by all the slides and stories,” she said, and started crying miserably when the reel was done. She was jealous of the boys and couldn’t understand why girls couldn’t go to Gold Arrow Camp too: “I remember climbing into Jeanie’s lap and whimpering, It just isn’t fair,” she said. Jeanie consoled her and let her know that she couldn’t agree more. Girls could and should do all those fun things. Moments later, the Rauen kids shuffled off to bed, leaving the grown-ups to talk into the night. Pat told Manny that if indeed he decided to open the camp to girls, Holley would be the first to sign up. It was certainly something Manny would consider, and now that Jeanie was in his life, she’d help him consider it even more. Manny was no pushover, but soon enough he conceded and in the summer of 1962, Gold Arrow welcomed its first group of girls to camp. Holley was overjoyed when her dad told her that both she and Mike would be going to Gold Arrow that summer. “I was the very first girl camper to sign up,” she said, “and I am proud to say that.”

Thirty-four more girls followed Holley for that summer of 1962. Jeanie said often that the limited number was by design; the Vezies wanted to keep enrollment low and manageable so they could spend a lot of time with the girls and ensure they were having a good experience. They went with them to regular programs and outposts, with Manny filming their every move. Said camper Judy Hoff (1962), “I remember riding up a ridge a couple times so he could get the shot just right with the sun in the background.” Capturing campers in action—even if it was staged—was a vital part of the recruiting plan, more so with girls in the fold. Manny needed footage of girls happily and successfully doing everything boys did, so the Holley Rauens of the world would no longer have to watch with envy as boys rode horses and sailed.

The first night of girls’ camp in 1962 likely provided the defining moment of the entire summer, a moment that Jeanie shared in various iterations over the years. It began with Manny and Jeanie visiting each of the tents and sprinkling the campfires with “fairy dust” (sawdust soaked in gasoline), which cast magical silver sparkles above the flames. They chatted with the girls and shared in the camaraderie, then returned as they were getting tucked in. Jeanie made it a point that night to visit Holley Rauen first: “She came back and tucked me into my cot and was so delighted that I had my dad’s green and gold blanket covering my sleeping bag,” Holley said. Jeanie also crowed over Holley’s foot locker, how it was organized so perfectly with all the clothes rolled up and organized by type: “I sure loved the extra attention.”

It was a big moment for the Vezies, too. Seeing Pat Rauen’s five-year blanket over Holley’s sleeping bag was emotional; it was the first blanket Manny had ever awarded, and now it had returned some two decades later to warm the very first Gold Arrow girl. “Needless to say,” Jeanie wrote, “we had difficulty controlling our emotions.”

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Girls arrived in greater numbers in the summers that followed, and they traveled to camp the same way the boys did—by train from Glendale to Fresno—which six-year camper Ellen (Fead) Fields (1966-1971) said was the best part of the journey because the train was where you “met all your camp friends for the first time.” Once off the train, campers were loaded onto a bus for the slow, uphill climb to Gold Arrow. It was an unpleasant trip, as buses lacked air conditioning, and open windows let in only hot air. Fields said she actually didn’t come up in a bus her first summer, recalling instead travelling in “the back of a big, open truck”:

[t]hey piled our trunks in, then our duffel bags, then we rode on top of our duffel bags. It was a hot, long drive and I was really homesick. One girl started crying and said she missed her parents, then everyone started crying.

Once off the bus (or truck), Jeanie said that girls settled into a camp where the “quarters had softened a bit” compared to when Gold Arrow was just for boys. Manny had added two shower/toilet rooms, one in the center of camp near the horse riding circle and living area, another below the dining porch. They were a step up from the outdoor bathtubs and outhouses used in previous summers and, said Jeanie, would better satisfy the Forest Service, which had become more demanding in its requirements as Gold Arrow welcomed more campers. Despite added facilities, Jeanie continued to use outdoor tubs for a tradition that became known as “Jeanie baths,” where campers were scrubbed clean and hosed down the day before heading home.

There was nothing pleasant about the practice, and many referenced being “scrubbed raw” in an effort to remove dirt that had gotten underneath their skin. Wrote Jeanie, “I wish I had a dollar for every camper I scrubbed and shampooed because some of them were too modest to be naked with others.” Campers continued to use the small, unlit outhouses too, which became famously known as KYBOs, a crude acronym encouraging efficient visits to the toilet when Nature called: get in, Keep Your Bowels Open, and get out. “The outhouses used when it was The Last of the Rugged Camps for Boys might not be acceptable for the girls and for our increased enrollment,” Jeanie said. The Vezies in fact went to “considerable expense” to please the Forest Service in the 1960s, Jeanie said, elevating electricity and plumbing standards while also adding a staff bathhouse with toilets and showers on one side for women, with the same on the other side for men.

In addition, Manny had built a number of tent platforms and outfitted them with cots, which remained out-of-doors, on decks. Part of the allure of Gold Arrow for four-year camper Harry Chandler (1962-1965) and his older brother Norman was sleeping under the stars, much like their dad Otis did more than twenty years before them. Camper Claudia Gregory said she and her cabinmates in the late-sixties had a pact that they couldn’t go to sleep each night until they’d counted ten falling stars: “Talk about idyllic summers!” she wrote. Harry Chandler remembers “the big wooden platforms with a tent on one side and sleeping cots on the other”: “When it rained, you had to scurry inside,” he said. And if campers were lucky enough to have an all-wood cabin, they could scurry indoors to huddle around a potbelly stove during a rainstorm. Camper Dede Heintz (1964) recalled her cabin group drying their wet rubber sneakers on the stove, only to have the soles melt from the heat.

The infamous “Jeanie Baths.” Campers were hosed down and scrubbed with a brush before going home. Photo: Gold Arrow Camp archive.

Camper Ellen Fields and friend on Shaver Island with pine needles in their hair, 1966, her first summer at GAC. Photo: Ellen Fields.

The Vezies standing together at Big Campfire. Gold Arrow Camp archive.

Want to read many more stories like this one? Order your copy of Sierra Summers!

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