OSWEGO — Seventy-five years ago this summer, Camp Hollis began providing recreation and respite for the children of Oswego County.
Earlier that year, in the spring of 1946, Eugene F. Sullivan was leading the mission to re-open the abandoned health camp on Lake Ontario in the town of Oswego. Sullivan, who was the Oswego County Children’s Court Judge, saw many needy children in his court chambers and believed that a summer camp experience could have a positive influence on their lives. However, he needed help to fulfill his dream.
Sullivan knew that re-starting a camp in the post-World War II years would require much support and he reached out to youth-serving organizations such as school districts and medical facilities. Wanting his camp to serve children from all parts of Oswego County, the judge also asked the county’s elected Board of Supervisors — today known as the County Legislature — if they might consider providing financial support for his camp. Convincing the group would not be easy.
One major roadblock in winning the Board of Supervisors’ favor was the fact that counties were not then — and still not now — in the habit of providing overnight summer camp experiences for children. Those kinds of recreation programs were usually only available through YMCAs and churches. Sullivan wanted a camp that could serve children whose families did not have access to those organizations. He wanted to provide the children with a camp experience at no cost to their families, which meant that the judge sorely needed funds to accomplish this.
As the start of summer crept closer, Sullivan finally got his chance to speak with the Board of Supervisors. A special session was called on July 2, 1946, and all 27 members of the board met in the county chambers. After Sullivan explained his proposed camp project, he introduced H.H. Stevens, who’d previously directed a health camp, and Kenneth Miller, Oswego County 4-H Agent. The recreation leaders made a strong case for summer respite for all children and in a resolution that would take effect immediately, all 27 supervisors voted in favor of the new camp.
For 75 years, through both bountiful and lean times, Camp Hollis has continued to receive strong support from Oswego County and its legislators. As the Oswego City-County Youth Bureau, which oversees the camp, prepares to celebrate this milestone, one current legislator shared his thoughts about Camp Hollis.
Oswego County Legislator James Karasek, whose District 22 covers parts of Granby and Fulton, wasn’t familiar with Camp Hollis when he began his service to the county. However, Karasek grew up in the Midwest, where he enjoyed summer camp experiences. “I attended a YMCA Camp in Iowa,” he said. “It sits near the Mississippi River and we were able to canoe and go through gun safety classes, archery, arts and crafts, and outdoor cooking. Added to that, the traditional camp songs, food, storytelling, and sporting activities. It was a week I looked forward to every year.”
Karasek moved to New York state and he began his public service as an Oswego County Legislator in 2010. “When I became a legislator, I was fortunate to have a couple great mentors who made sure I understood that I needed to represent the whole of Oswego County, not just the people who elected me,” he said. “I asked fellow legislators for their opinion of the camp and almost to the person I was told, ‘It’s a great place, loved it as a kid, my kids went there, we are lucky to have it for our youth.’”
Karasek admits that his understanding of Camp Hollis did not come easily in his role as legislator. He said he began to appreciate the camp’s ability to meet the needs of county residents through “a gradual growth of understanding the unique advantages of our county owning this camp.”
One way to understand something is to experience it. Karasek made sure to attend special events held at Camp Hollis, like its annual Legislators Day, “where I shared the couple of hours with not only campers, but young people as mentors with adult supervision layered in a way that allowed kids to be kids.”
This led Karasek to begin to see Camp Hollis as “a treasure”.
“What other county owns a camp on Lake Ontario, secluded and providing a safe haven for young campers, yet allows itself to be utilized for so much more?” he said. “Camp Hollis has beauty, it has charm, it has its own character, it is there to serve the community in many other ways, and it is accessible for the disabled.”
He continued, “Camp Hollis has a rich history that has endured over time, writing, and re-writing what it stands for, yet retaining the basic value of why it is there. It has a lengthy history that adds new chapters every year.”
Legislator Karasek is contributing to that history by serving on the Camp Hollis 75th Anniversary Committee, along with Oswego County Coordinator of Parks and Recreation Zach Grulich, and former Camp Hollis staff members Jim Farfaglia, Elizabeth Filkins, Patrick Fink, Joe Glerum, Jim Hooper, Linda Knowles and Brandon Morey.
For more information about how Oswego County and Camp Hollis plan to celebrate the anniversary, visit the camp’s website at Oswego County, NY and the Friends of Camp Hollis website at Friends of Camp Hollis | Providing Support for Camp Hollis | Oswego, NY.