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This summer camp is a family passion

By Nathan Tsukroff

RAYMOND – Summer camp is fun and educational. And for the Slovenski family, it’s a family passion.

After attending summer camps where their parents worked, the Slovenski brothers and sisters went on to become counselors, trustees and directors in Maine summer camps.

And then one of the brothers, Peter, who lives in Brunswick, opened a summer camp in Raymond.

Camp Hawthorne on the west side of Panther Pond in Raymond was closing, so Peter worked out a deal with the Plummer family to take over the camp in 2010, renaming it Slovenski Camps. The property is part of what used to be the Plummer family farm that was developed more than 200 years ago.

The story of camping goes back a generation, starting with parents Walter and Ruth.

Steven Slovenski chats with his mother, Ruth, outside the healthcare facility named in her honor at the Slovenski Camps, a summer camp for children in grades 3-11 on Panther Pond in Raymond. Ruth Slovenski was school nurse in the Lewiston and Lisbon school districts, and spent summers as a summer camp nurse in the Lakes Region area. (Tsukroff photo)

Walter Slovenski was raised in western Pennsylvania and attended Syracuse University after serving several years as a Seabee in the Pacific theater during World War II. He met Ruth, a nursing student at Syracuse School of Nursing, and they were married in 1949. Slovenski went on to earn a master’s degree at New York University and coached both basketball track at Oneonta State College in New York for two years, where their oldest son, Steven, was born.

The family moved to Lewiston in 1952 for Walter to take on the role of head track coach and assistant football coach at Bates College.

The other Slovenski children – Susan, Peter, Paul, Sally, and Patti – were born in Lewiston, where Ruth worked as a school nurse in first the Lewiston and then the Lisbon school districts.

Ruth was offered a position as a summer camp nurse at Maine State YMCA Camp in Winthrop in 1959, with Steven enrolled as a first-year camper.

In the following years, they went to work at Camp Arcadia on Pleasant Lake in Casco, Ruth as camp nurse and Walter as a woodcraft instructor.

“That’s where we really go into this area, and really got to love the Lakes Region, so close to Lewiston,” Peter said.

The family spent a school year in the 1960’s in Calexico, CA, which borders Mexico, while Walter took a sabbatical from Bates to serve as assistant coach for the Mexican Olympic Team in its preparations for hosting the 1968 Olympics.

After returning to Lewiston, the children played sports at Lewiston High School, and then at their various colleges.

Over 43 years, Walter led the Bobcat track and cross country teams to 726 victories, five undefeated seasons, more than 20 State of Maine championships and four New England regional championships. He guided 26 All-Americans, including five national champions. His track and cross country teams produced the highest finishes by any Bates team at an NCAA championship, placing fifth at the indoor track and field meet in 1989 and sixth at the cross country championships in 1977.

The indoor track at Merrill Gymnasium at Bates is dedicated in his honor. He retired from Bates in 1995 and died at age 79 in 1999 after a long battle with cancer.

Zachary Jawor, known to campers by his camp name, “Caesar”, supervises Fletcher McDonough on the water rope swing at Slovenki Camps on Panther Pond in Raymond during the last week of the summer camp season. (Tsukroff photo)

The Slovenski children were adventurous and restless, following the lead of their parents and diving headfirst into travel, academics, sports and camping.

The love of sports and camping are combined at Slovenski Camps with what Peter Slovenski calls a liberal arts program for children that includes swimming, dodgeball, capture the flag, singing, dancing, paddling, sailing, reading, manners, thoughtfulness, and cleaning up after themselves. About two-thirds of the campers at Slovenski Camps are from Maine.

There is a campfire gathering each evening that features contests, singing, dancing, recognition, stories, and encouragement for good standards of outdoor living and self-reliance.

“The beauty of summer camping is that you’re just seeing the joy and excitement in children’s eyes, and that’s why it’s so rewarding to all of us,” Steven said.

The new camp health center is named for 95-year-old matriarch, Ruth, who spends her summer days enjoying the company of her family and the campers at the camp.

There are generally more than 100 campers each week in the rustic cabins during the nine-week season. Some campers stay a single week, while others stay for multiple weeks.

Councilors are usually college students.

Tess Hogan, Eva Cusano, and Summer Duarte pull parts for a robot they are building in one of the afternoon activity classes at Slovenski Camps in Raymond. The camp presents a liberal arts agenda for the campers in grades 3-11 during the nine-week summer program. (Tsukroff photo)

Peter, Paul, and Steven attended Camp Agawam as both campers and counselors. The Slovenski siblings have all helped out at Slovenski camps over the years. Steven, who now lives nearby in New Hampshire is on the board of directors at Camp Agawam located on Crescent Lake in Raymond, continuing the family tradition in another way.

The COVID-19 pandemic forced the camp to restrict access to only Maine residents for the summer of 2020, which saw a drop to about 60% of regular attendance. The number of campers this year is about 80% of that in previous years, and Peter said he expects attendance to return to full next summer.

The camp creates what Peter calls a “bubble” as campers are not allowed to interact with the general public during the week. Vaccinated campers and regular testing for COVID-19 has helped the camp to avoid any virus outbreaks in 2020 and 2021, he said.

One Response to “This summer camp is a family passion”

  • Dean Skelley:

    I was a counselor at the YMCA Camp summer of 1956.
    Had it not been for the camp, I would probably not have
    gone to Bates College that fall (the 2 nurses there had just graduated from Bates). At Bates I had the pleasure of meeting and knowing Walt Slovenski.
    Good luck in your camping venture.

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